The adventures of Thapar

The adventures of Thapar

I would have expected Karan Thapar’s book to bear the title More Pepper than Salt! Karan Thapar, the television interviewer is either admired for his well-researched and unrelenting interrogation or variously described as ‘detestable’, ‘an inflammatory terrorist’ and so on. However, the selection from his columns is, by and large, civil and peacable with only the occasional streaks of the normal Karan Thapar.

Of course, nothing compares with his TV appearances, with the sneering twist of his face or the confrontational tone of his challenges or the strident manner in which he forces words into the ‘interviewee’s’ mouth which the latter can neither swallow nor spit out. I was initially reluctant to start reading the book but then the content was so varied and tempting that I settled down to read and assess. If one discarded expectations of explosive, controversial material the book is readable as a narration of happenings and meetings in various stages of his life.

Almost all collections of regular columns done over years have a common weakness. The topical relevance of the writings diminishes over a period. So does their readability. Thapar’s collection is carefully put together with this weakness in mind. They are all interesting in their different ways — reminiscences from his days in UK in school and college and at work, narratives on day-to-day life, meetings with people and commentaries on political and other matters of common interest.

His piece ‘Are you married?’ describes a familiar scene at a party to which one goes without the wife. I understand the awkwardness of having to field persistent questions about the precise whereabouts of the wife, an awkwardness which transfers to the questioner when one finally reveals that he is a widower of some years.
Thapar’s ‘Is the PM listening?’ narrates a daily occurrence in Delhi with numbers of VVIPs criss-crossing the city on their avoidable and unavoidable drives. These are truly frustrating and I recall the report from some years ago of the MP Renuka Chowdhury reacting rather violently to being held up on the road to let the PM’s cavalcade  pass. The police officer involved is unlikely to forget that incident in a hurry.

I was amused by the piece ‘Words of Advice for the Silly Season’ on the British perception of outsiders. There was a time when British perceptions mattered but those days are long past and these perceptions now bother only those referred to as ‘cocoanuts’ — brown outside and white inside.

Thapar’s advice to our itinerant politicians on the use of cutlery at dinner is an exercise in futility. One’s skill at wielding knives and forks is no longer under scrutiny given the number of countries now being ruled by persons who have clawed their way up through the streets rather than public schools. Our own Lalooji made it to Harvard along his custom-made route and if at all he was entertained to dinner he has survived it with his reputation undented.

Thapar’s assessment of Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto, Zia and Musharaf made for absorbing reading. It was heartening to view them as affable persons who had tucked themselves into different, difficult slots in their political lives. Thapar’s columns must have been looked forward to by fans and detractors alike because most of them contain something to enjoy, think about or disagree with. As a collection, they make for good reading for ‘time pass’.

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