When Robert de Niro was feted at a jamboree called “Think” in Goa, India, in early November—a “festival” of chattering heavyweights from the entertainment and literary world—he can hardly have imagined that his host would stand accused, three weeks later, of attempting to rape the young woman who was assigned to chaperone him and his daughter while they were guests at the gathering. As matters now stand, de Niro’s name features awkwardly (if tangentially) in the incident’s First Information Report (the Indian legal term for a “booking” for a criminal offence), and it is not inconceivable that the American movie star could be called to give evidence, or to serve as a character witness, at a trial that will rivet all of India.
In truth, India is riveted already, to such an extent that discussion of this ugly episode has swept everything else—the impending national elections, cricket, Iran, the hobbled state of the economy—right off the news bulletins. The man accused of rape is Tarun Tejpal, the host of “Think,” and one of a half-dozen of India’s most celebrated journalists. He is the editor of Tehelka (the Hindi word for “sensation”), a magazine whose forte is a muckraking brand of investigative journalism (think Ida Tarbell in modern Indian guise), especially the exposure of corruption in high places through “sting” operations. The 50-year-old Tejpal is a strapping, hirsute operator who also writes ornate novels, and who counts among his mentors Sir V.S. Naipaul, a man notoriously disinclined to bestow his approval on anyone. Most recently, he has fattened his portfolio to include “Think,” a festival now in its third year, which attracts prominent panelists from across the globe (including, most recently, Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast).