A well-written memoir is often the golden key to understanding the mind and idiosyncrasies of a public figure, especially one who has been observable for decades now. Karan Thapar, is one of my favourite interviewers, and for good measure. An ideal interviewer must be able to engage the interviewee enough to elicit a response that contributes to the central idea that the question sought to address. With his soft yet stern questioning, which more often than not is backed by concrete facts, and deeply logical assumptions and theories, Karan has managed to strike the perfect balance that this niche skill requires. The Devil’s Advocateoffers a unique insight into how this balance developed, and interestingly also comments on the development of India’s polity in the effable yet subtle style that is sui generis to Karan.
The book is peppered with anecdotes and incidents from Karan’s life which are so visibly reflected in his approach towards journalism today. For instance, he writes about one of his first bosses at in the television broadcasting field, John Birt, and the basic tenets of interviewing that John taught him, which are evident in his manner to this date. A couple of weeks ago, Karan interviewed Nitin Gadkari, and it is pleasing and yet astonishing to see Karan follow the same pattern of interviewing that he first learnt back in the 1970s.
Gently, Karan also chose to drop in sly comments that reflect on the scenario of India’s politics today. The line (mentioned in context of the timing of when Indian politicians choose to give interviews), “When in trouble, they become invisible” spoke volumes beyond the context he mentioned it in, which in beautiful fashion builds slowly throughout the book and weaves into a broader commentary on the congeniality that underlies the world of journalism, policy, diplomacy and politics that he transverses through.
Another beautiful issue the book brings out is the jovial and almost familial manner in which Indian politicians function, across the spectrum. In more ways than not, these stories are a prophetic warning to the increasingly divisive form of politics that are practised in our country, and perhaps a sounding board to many.
The book, I believe, goes beyond being a narration, and could possibly have been an exercise in self-reflection. He speaks about his equations with popular personalities, and in typical fashion, builds their principled stances, points out their hypocrisy or the non-reflective nature of their actions, and goes on to question them on the same. Albeit the people concerned are proffered no opportunity to reply, that burden in itself, is an unfair one. An average reader unaware of Karan’s profession, notwithstanding the numerous references in the book, will have no trouble believing that the book came from the mind of an inquisitive journalist.
It is always interesting to trace the foundations of a strong poplar to its roots, and the biases of a self-narrative reflection aside, this memoir lives up to its expectations, offers vivid tales that assign new traits to revaluate some of the important personalities in our subcontinent, and makes for a light yet invigorating read.