Tehelka sexual assault case: The one and many Tarun Tejpals

TejpalA talented, ambitious journalist, a flamboyant editor - Tarun Tejpal kept pushing the envelope till 2 days in Goa. (IE Photo)

Corpulence and colour ignored, in any gathering, there are three ways of identifying a Punjabi." One of them was "he who is at the epicentre of ringing conversation".

That was Tarun Tejpal, 20 years ago, in an essay about Punjabis and Punjab. That characteristic defined him as well. Always at the epicentre of ringing conversation, Tejpal now finds himself at the centre of a national conversation on sexual harassment and relationship between employer and employee. Coming just before the anniversary of the Delhi gangrape and in a week when the Supreme Court-appointed panel named a former judge accused of harassing a law intern, Tejpal stands accused of raping a young colleague.

The Sunday Express spoke to the friends and colleagues of the Tehelka editor-in-chief, many of whom didn't want to be named, to get a glimpse of the many Tejpals.

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Friends from his early days in Chandigarh remember him as outgoing, fond of the good things in life and hugely ambitious. Colleagues at India Today, where he worked first at the desk and later took care of the books and essays section in the '90s, say he was talented, smooth-talking and in the habit of using fancy words. The flourish with words transferred easily from his pages to his conversations. "He was very ambitious and, behind that smooth and slick exterior and approach, could also be manipulative. And he spoke a lot in innuendos," says a former colleague.

That ambition took wing when he left India Today to join Vinod Mehta at Outlook as managing editor. With his abiding literary aspirations, Tejpal's star shone bright after India Ink, the publishing house he founded with photographer Sanjeev Saith, published Arundhati Roy's Booker-winning The God of Small Things, in 1997. "We came together knowing of each other but not knowing each other," says Saith. "We didn't have office space, and worked out of each other's homes. His was an open house. He was a generous man, affable, gregarious, witty. He has this quality to just pick up the phone and somehow arrange these magic releases," says Saith.

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