These days I dream that somebody is lying flat on the roof of my neighbour with a ray gun and trying to dematerialise my daughter. I also have dreams that I am Clint Eastwood and the bad guys can run up against me and I will drill a hole in their heads with my 9-mm Glock. Except that I have no Glock. In early teens it used to be the Colt and I used to be Jim Green, alias Sudden. But these days the legend of Sudden doesn't seem to inspire the same fervour. The punchline in Oliver Strange's Sudden series used to be: "Name is Green. Jim Green. They also call me Sudden." Of course, that was the point when all hell would break loose and Sudden would emerge at the end of it with his Colts smoking and the ash on his cigar undented.
Anyways, these days Tehelka has become somewhat like Wild Bill 'Hitchcock'. We come in with our guns blazing trying to save the village but nobody wants to chew the fat with us or, even more so, do any business. For, right or wrong, we seem to have acquired the reputation of muggers. That too of a special ilk. We, supposedly, mug our prey first before finding out who they are or what we've mugged them for. Such perceived rattlesnake qualities obviously breathe a lot of poison on our business acumen. For instance, do we cross over with our same unorthodox, editorial flourish into our meetings with bankers, investors or admen? That lot views us with great consternation: the way a gazelle would look at the predatory inevitability of a pride of lions. Are the lions well-fed or is hunger evolving their carnivorous gene into a sinister, unpredictable mutant?
There has been a speculative stampede as well. Tehelka is, apparently, such a well-oiled media machine with such prophetic genius that before coursing along on an investigation, it can predict its outcome and hence make profit by aligning interests with the isi, the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, certain home ministry personnel, the Hindujas, the anti-Dalit lobby, bear operators in the stockmarket, arms dealers, and so on. I wonder why the ltte is being made to sit this one out. I wonder why nobody has suggested the names of Veerappan or Osama bin Laden to our ministerial friend Arun Jaitley who was desperately trying to crank up sections of media and reporters. Jaitley, I suppose, is earning his pay. His exalted ministerial perch. If not now, then when?
The Huns from Tehelka have, apparently, going by Jaitley, done not journalism but a "hit job". If it's some consolation to the law minister, the dogs of war are paying for their misdemeanours. These days they can't enter their own office without security giving them a rectal scan. Their precious resources are going into buying sandbags and water-coolers for security. And, the icing on the cake—within days of security being provided—the Intelligence Bureau probably has a dossier thicker than the Chambers dictionary on all their sinful rendezvous. Which, of course, could be leaked at propitious moments in consultation with the official astrologers that Murli Manohar Joshi's fancy universities would soon be churning out.
If Jaitley and his ilk aren't already rubbing their hands in glee, there is certainly the rosy possibility—going by police briefings to the media—of the isi ventilating with lead the anatomies of the reckless Tehelka brigands. By the way, the only loot that the brigands can show in their ledgers is Rs 50 lakh from Zee from the sale of the telecast rights of Operation West End.Some loot!
I'm told I could be wrong, that a rich harvest of allegations is being sown about Tehelka's motives to be presented to the honourable Justice Venkatswamy commission. We await them not with trepidation but with our fumigation gear intact and on the green.
Which takes me straight to the burly question of why, even though for a tiny minority, conspiracy theories regarding Operation West End have acquired such a thermonuclear grip. An anecdote:
In 1967 there emerged a "Report from Iron Mountain". Though given birth to by a bunch of New York lefties—Leonard C. Levin, E.L. Doctorow and Victor Navasky—it rose with anonymous vengeance to the surface of public consciousness as "a highly confidential report authored by an anonymous 'Special Study Group'."
It assessed, amongst other things, "the possibility and desirability of peace", and concluded with great philosophical and administrative insight that, "lasting peace was unlikely as war fills certain functions essential to the stability of our society and until other ways of filling them are developed, the war system must be maintained".
The report suggested alternate enemies like environment pollution and extra-terrestrials as substitutes for the war system. Over the years the document went out of print but not before setting off a debate over its findings and speculation over its authorship. In the '80s, the rightists rediscovered the report and started citing it as evidence of the larger government conspiracy of suppressing individual liberties and imposing an international order under UN hegemony.
Of course, the rightists never dreamt that the report was a complete hoax and authored by three eminent lefties. The three, in fact, had done such a wonderful job that the book, according to The New Yorker, always "poised on the verge of possibility". The more the three denied that the book was real, the more right-wing conspiracy theorists thought that they were part of a government plot to cover it up.
There's also a theory in literary criticism that a body of work can have a meaning different from what its authors intended. Maybe Tehelka's operation is such a body of work. I only hope our peculiar brand of unorthodoxy spreads like a rash among young practitioners of the journalistic craft the way a flu virus moves through populations. (The writer is a former Outlook correspondent and currently works for tehelka.com.)