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Last Updated: Friday, 3 June, 2005, 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK
Indian news site editor turns author
Tarun Tejpal
Tehelka began amidst India's new media revolution in 2000
Indian investigative reporter Tarun Tejpal - best known for breaking stories of government scandals - has turned to fiction with first novel The Alchemy Of Desire.

Tejpal, the editor-in-chief of investigative website Tehelka.com, wrote the book every day for 16 months - at a time of great personal turmoil.

His undercover journalists were alleged to have offered sexual favours during their investigations into corruption in the Indian military. This occurred after his site broke the news of an arms scandal that eventually brought down a minister and the chiefs of two parties.

"We were in the midst of the most pitched and vicious battle with the Indian government," Tejpal told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme.

"The government was running us into the ground. We had more than 20 lawyers representing us. There were cases, arrests, we were raided, we were run into the ground.

"It was a daily public battle in India - but in a curious way, at such a time, the voice for the book came to me and I began to write.

"Now, when I look back, I think it's the book that helped me survive those insane years."

Sexually explicit

The Alchemy Of Desire is the story of a young, poor Indian couple, told from the perspective of the man, a failed journalist who is withdrawing from his profession to become a writer.

As the couple move around the country - from the country to the city to the Himalayas - the book explores the intensity of their relationship, before the chance discovery of an American woman's diary causes problem to begin.

Tejpal said that despite the similarities in job between himself and the book's narrator, The Alchemy Of Desire was emphatically not about himself.

Tarun Tejpal
Journalism has the ability to consume your life
Tarun Tejpal
"The writer is a failed journalist, and I don't qualify as a failed journalist by any yardstick," he added.

"But the material is drawn from life... what you do with it is transform it into something original and something that can qualify as art."

Tejpal also said wanted to write, but could not in India at the time as it was impossible to make a living as a writer - "you couldn't live off that."

"Journalism has the ability to consume your life," he added.

"The years just go by, and then suddenly you realise you haven't done the serious writing you set out to do. I think something of that would be true about me.

"But I was also struggling for about 20 years to find the right kind of tone that would allow me to tell the story I wanted to tell."

The book's narrative has a strongly sexual side - hinted at by the title.

Tejpal was vehement in his defence of using graphic descriptions of sex, despite the moral conservatism that is prevalent in some parts of India.

"Passion is a very strong part of the book. I believe that - I believe that love and desire are at the heart of life," he said.

"I think the passion and emotion is dealt with in a very adult and soaring way in many of the passages.

"The other thing is I wouldn't let it worry me... if it got the knickers of some moralist in a twist, I wouldn't worry about that."


But a sexually-explicit book on relationships is something of a change for a man whose website broke several controversial stories - including secretly recorded conversations by leading cricket stars on match-fixing - as well as the arms scandal.

Defence Minister George Fernandes was forced to resign after Tejpal's team released secretly filmed footage which showed bureaucrats, politicians and military officials accepting bribes in return for a fictional arms deal.

George Fernandes
Tehelka's investigations forced George Fernandes to step down
Tejpal said journalism was now changing in India, returning to the hard investigative style of the 1980s as opposed to the 1990s, which saw "a wash of trivia."

"The heart of journalism can't be [trivia], particularly in India where issues are serious and grave every single day," he added.

"It has to be about asking uncomfortable questions, about keeping a watch on the abuse of power and the abuse of public money."

Meanwhile, Tehelka.com - which in 2004 became a weekly newspaper - has continued to break "extremely hard stories," Tejpal added, saying the site's basic tenet was to look for the abuse of power and public money.

"Money taken away from public coffers impacts people hugely," he said.

"It means pipelines and power lines won't be laid, roads won't be made. It hurts people. I think we see that as our mandate."

Scandal website reinvents itself
10 Oct 03 |  South Asia
Top Indian news site wins reprieve
24 Oct 02 |  Business
India to punish 'illegal' journalism
23 Aug 01 |  South Asia

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