The Tehelka Effect


Starting this Friday YourStory brings you a weekly column It's Official by Bangalore-based author Shinie Antony. Stand by for some hot gossip on office politics, workplace wars, professional rivalries. Entrepreneurs, watch out: work is not always worship.

Small talk between the sexes has dried up in offices all over India. Office Romeos have gale mei kich-kich and office Juliets have to giggle at their own jokes. Tarun Tejpal’s face on TV stopped a thousand texts from being launched. More take the stairs now compared to the elevator. And don’t even think of commenting on the weather; not rains, not thunderclouds.

Boy meets girl. Boy is girl’s boss. Uh-oh, this is not going to end well. After David Davidar and Phaneesh Murthy, it is Tejpal’s turn to take the tabloids by storm. He is right now in Goa, explaining events, emails and his apology. His predicament, no doubt, strikes fear in all those male CEOs and senior executives to whom female colleagues are nothing more than eye candy.

It is not that men have been traditionally seen as wolves in sheep’s clothing, but more that women could well be sheep in wolf’s clothing. The short skirt, the sheer top, the frequent surfacing of inner wear, the high heels, the colored hair; all stand for financial independence, equal opportunities and a feminist sensibility. Mistaken for sexual permissiveness these same externalities can cause misunderstandings in any Eden. Not to mention a lawsuit or two.

Whatever the facts in the Tehelka case – and they do seem stacked precariously high against Tejpal – we live in a country where a man trusts society’s propensity to come down heavily on its women to bail him out in the end. No way does an average Indian male say sorry, not even if it is clear to the naked eye that he has erred. While Tejpal pompously chose his own punishment, he did say in black and white that he did what he did in an email to the victim. This when he just as easily could have lied till the very end as is the norm. Also, the message he allegedly sent her – ‘The fingertips’ – smacks of smugness; he simply did not sense reluctance on his victim’s part.

And herein lies the dilemma for most men: how to tell a red from a green signal? A crash course for the colorblind is very much on the cards in most corporates. A bit like Steve Martin being coached on political correctness in one of the Pink Panther movies. Everything hinges on the word ‘consensual’; you get it wrong, you’ve had it.

Harassment cases involve either gender. Men are running scared too of the predatory female. Like in the area of domestic violence, men are reluctant to disclose, perhaps for fear of eroding their macho self-image, instances of being sexually singled out and hassled. Tarun could have been Taruna and the tableau remains.

The upshot is that people are now at pains to be professional at the workplace. No jokes, definitely no off-color jokes, and careful comments. Compliments and personal remarks better go to the HR department for clearance. With the sting king stung, mere mortals have become fiercely moral. No one wants to be remembered for their libido, or for sexting, or for being sued. No one wants to be a CCTV star. Almost no one wants to go to jail.

The thrill of chasing a member of the opposite sex cannot compensate for the out of court settlement that follows. The trial by Twitter. The unleashing of everybody’s inner Mother Superior. And ooh the lurid, lurid details in the public domain! All of which point to the probability that having been nominated for a Bad Sex literary prize some years ago for his novel Alchemy of Desire, Tejpal is in danger of winning it in real life.


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