Sunday, 12 July 2009



We don’t get to know his name but he’s a journalist who runs a magazine. However, there’s not an iota of glamour attached to his professional life that is mired in financial hurdles. One-by-one, his staffers are quitting and our journalist is trying hard to get in a financier to pull the publication out of trouble. But then comes the reported death threats and the journalist gets Z-level security cover, and he suddenly becomes centre of public and media attraction.

Turbulence is what surrounds the protagonist of Tarun J Tejpal’s novel The Story of My Assassins. Whether it is a reported threat from unknown assassins or the rather unhappy conjugal life with a “pretty” wife — the leading character isn’t allowed peace of mind. So he seeks solace in the extra-marital relationship with a young activist called Sara. I am clueless as to why Tejpal makes the leading characters in his stories succumb to sex. Perhaps because sex sells. But sex also exposes the chinks in the armour as it does in case of this man who comes across as less of a journalist and more of a habitual sex offender.

I don’t want to sound judgemental, but the protagonist’s filthy language-filled wild sexual encounters with Sara seem to be awkward. They paint the picture of a man who deliberately wants to lose his self esteem into the quagmire of lust and hatred. Even when he finds that Sara has been hobnobbing with the alleged assassins (who are captured by the police), he cannot avoid seeing her. And then Tejpal doesn’t allow the protagonist a mask of sobriety. Throughout the novel, the journalist keeps throwing out swear words and other expletives. It brings out a man who seems to be seeking darkness rather than the bliss of a happy life.

Being a journalist, the protagonist is an observant person; he judges life around him when he views the world through a prism. But it’s a snooty prism that makes him look down on everything, be it the work of typing articles on world affairs or television journalism or the police administration.

There is an elitist mind that is working in him, seemingly disconnected with the ‘other’ India set in the northern heartland. And when the bad guys from this ‘other’ India are unleashed against the protagonist, he is completely shaken off. It is through his actions, inactions and dilemmas that the reader gets to know about the violence that lurks in the society, and its contradiction with the ‘spiritual’ and ‘non-violent’ image that India puts on.

The story ends with the protagonist being informed about the fate of his assassins; he then returns to the comfort of his marital life. How shall I treat it? Return of a husband, or defeat of a sex maniac? It is actually a story of a charmless man who is nothing more than a loser. And this man scares me because he represents many among us — people who are removed from the realities of this country, happy to live a purposeless life. Tejpal succeeds in alarming all of us.