One of the pioneers of TV journalism in India, Karan Thapar is known for his incisive, unremitting style of interviewing that makes even his closemouthed guests yield fresh nuggets. For the last eighteen years. Thapar has interviewed everyone from prominent politicians to heads of state to celebrities, and his shows have often made headlines.
But there is also a mellower side to him - witty, quirky, reflective, affectionate - that comes through in his weekly newspaper column, ‘Sunday Sentiments’, which has now been running for twelve years in the Hindustan Times. Humour, irreverence and a sharp intelligence enliven Thapar’s writing - they bubble just beneath the surface, tickling, prodding or provoking the reader.
This book is a selection of the very best of his column. There are perceptive pieces here about Indian political figures - from Manmohna Singh and Priyanka Gandhi to L.K. Advani; Pakistani politicians - from Pervez Musharraf to Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto; and celebrities - from Khushwant Singh and Vikram Seth to Kapil Dev.
Thapar also turns his gaze towards himself and shares with us delightful anecdotes about growing up, his school (Doon) and university (Cambridge), his marriage to his late banker wife, and his slightly eccentric family. An Anglophile, Thapar brings a wickedly understated sense of humour to everything he writes - be it travel pieces, book reviews or ruminations on Indian English.
Taken together, these pieces provide a fascinating window into the life and times - and work - of one of Indian’s best journalists.
Karan Thapar is head of Infotainments Television (ITV), a production house that makes programmes for the BBC, Channel News Asia, CNBC, CNN-IBN and Doordarshan. Before his return to India in 1991, Thapar worked with London Weekend Television and for The Times (UK).
Among the programmes he has hosted is the prestigious Hard Talk India series for the BBC. He has won numerous awards, including the Indian Express Journalist of the Year (Broadcast) award for 2007-08 and as many as four Asian Television Awards for best current affairs presenter. Currently, Thapar hosts the highly regarded interview show, The Devil’s Advocate, on CNN-IBN and India Tonight on CNBC.
Thapar has written the popular column, ‘Sunday Sentiments’ for the Hindustan Times for the last twelve years.
The publication of a collection of my ‘Sunday Sentiments columns for the Hindustan Times should be an occasion for celebration. However, it fills me with a measure of dread and even certain queasiness. Though, if you think about it, that shouldn’t come as such a big surprise.
Wouldn’t you dread the prospect of re—reading in bound book form pieces that were hurriedly dashed off to meet newspaper deadlines? Do they withstand a second outing? Worse, do they betray a shallowness or, God forbid, a silliness, that went unnoticed in the rush to read the paper on a Sunday morning but now, as you encounter them in these pages, is inescapable and, possibly, unforgivable?
And queasiness? Well, whilst it’s no doubt a delight to see something you’ve written in print, wouldn’t you feel a little bilious if you suddenly found yourself holding so many pieces at one time? As the saying goes, too much of a good thing can be bad for one! So, if you venture beyond this page, let me, in advance, offer an apology if my fear or anxiety proves accurate. But if you do, let me also explain my approach to the writing of these columns. It might help you understand them — and, who knows, me? - a little better. These are not political columns. On the contrary, I tried hard not to reveal my own political views and, certainly, my political preference. As a television current affairs anchor, I believe it’s important that the audience should not know my own political position. Otherwise they will judge my interviews in the light of what they believe is my acknowledged viewpoint. So to ensure that image of neutrality I’ve struggled — hopefully successfully — to keep narrow politics and political affiliation out of these columns. However, this does not mean that I’ve avoided political subjects. Simply that I’ve tried to be analytical and not merely to opine. But if on occasion my analysis reveals a personal standpoint I won’t run away from any conclusions you draw. I may disagree but I accept your right to infer and deduce.
More importantly I believe there’s more to life than politics. These columns attempt to embrace that wider and far more interesting part of our existence. The peculiar or the inexplicable, the droll and the ironic, the ugly, even the horrifying, and the humdrum, the forgotten and, of course, the erroneous as well as the mistaken have often caught my attention and tickled my fancy. On a reflective Sunday morning, they deserve as much — if not more — attention than the political issues that impose themselves on us through the week.
A lot of the columns are about what I call Me and Mine.’ The world I live in and the characters who people it often feature in the stories I tell. They appear as I know them — chatty, casual, sometimes admonishing, frequently joking, always warm and friendly. I’ve never been hesitant about including them. And over the last twelve years they’ve become a central part of ‘Sunday Sentiments.’
Often the columns are about small, seemingly insignificant but, actually, substantial lessons that I’ve learnt. Though related anecdotally, there is a moral, simple but telling, that is embedded in each one. In a sense these have become precepts I personally observe — or, at least, try to.
But there is another side to me that these columns will also reflect. I admire outspoken people, I enjoy the company of the charming, the sight of the well—dressed and the humour of the naturally witty. In other words, I like people who stand out and impress me. And I’ve often written about them. Not surprisingly, many of the columns are personal. Not just in content but also in tone. Much of the time they are an attempt to talk directly to the reader. Almost a chat, you could say but that’s what I always wanted. My aim was to make these columns different. Not didactic, certainly not arcane and never formidable, but always accessible and friendly.
Finally, on each occasion, my conscious attempt has been to entertain. I believe a piece of writing needs to be readable to be read. Therefore, the first duty of the author is to be interesting. If he or she cannot manage that, the reader has every right to turn the page and skip to another article or, if it’s a book, leave it idling on a shelf.
This is not to suggest that content is unimportant but that if you have things to express without the necessary style for doing so, you will remain unread.
Consequently, I don’t mind being wrong, or courting controversy, or inflaming passions but I would hate to be boring. Now, if you want, read on and see if I’ve correctly understood myself and my columns or if I've misled you with my own false consciousness!
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