By the time the rout
had played itself out, we were at the end of September. Everybody was
stunned. It is the one phase in the life of Tehelka when we could not
muster any irreverent laughter to soften the blow. The campaign had not
just failed; it had never taken off. We knew we did not have another chance.
We were losing our shirt everyday; there was little we could do to dam
the anger. It was a peculiar situation. There was no one we could really
knock. Erehwon, our interface, and in a sense, the architect of the campaign,
had acted with good intention. They had aligned with us at a time when
no other marketing company dared to. They had devoted themselves to the
task for the better part of a year and taken no money for it. They had
acted with honour. But that counted for nothing in the field. We were
in battle. And there were no arms. Around the beginning of October, we
moved into our own office in Greater Kailash II. We were in too deep.
We had to keep moving forward. We had promises to keep. A small but very
fine clutch of journalists had joined us. There was a trickle of money
coming in from Founder Subscribers. Much of it had gone in good faith
towards the launch of the campaign, but mercifully, we had set some aside
for the paper. On October 15, Tarun gathered us together and said, let's
go for the paper. November 15. We would not admit it then, but this was
an act of desperation. We felt we had reached the endgame. But we owed
ourselves - and everyone who had believed in us - at least one issue of
the paper. We also clung to the hope that if we put the paper out, something
Optimism had become
our way of life. Something did happen. Honorable to the end, Erehwon was
valiantly trying to create Plan B. But we were all out of step. We had
come to fear the white board calculations, the exponential mental math.
We did not have the emotional reserves for more dream seeking. We hurtled
towards November 15. Suddenly, Satya Sheel, another friend of Tarun's,
a rather inscrutable Delhi businessman, came on to the scene. At different
points, he had helped Tarun tide over the bad times. He was shocked to
know where things now stood. You were meant to launch a
historic paper, he told Tarun. Are you going to let three years of suffering
just go up in smoke?
We called a meeting
with all our partners. Satya presided. I had hoped he would prove to be
a shaman. He could not be that. It was a crazy chaotic meeting. It sent
us skittering for a few more days into fresh, fruitless directions. But
it had at least one positive fallout. It put a brake on our panic. It
reminded us of the larger picture.
Tehelka has been a
transformative experience for everyone who has entered its energy field.
There are many lessons it has taught, many riddles it has thrown up. It
is difficult to really explain the dynamics of Tehelka 2. Both Erehwon
and Tehelka were crippled by what we came to call "bandwidth issues."
To put it plainly, there were just not enough people to do what was needed.
The idea of Tehelka had billowed over us all with a tantalising potency,
but we could not peg it down. One of toughest lessons we all
had to learn was about the frailty of passion. To usher visions, you need
nuts and bolts men. Tehelka 2 forced us to become that.
Around the end of
October, we took back the reins to our lives. Erehwon pulled up its pegs
and went back to theirs. We set a new launch date - January 30, 2004 -
and worked ste-adily towards it, putting little pieces in place, one by
one. Somehow the mad panic had settled. There was little to go on, but
now, too many people's fates were entwined with ours. Reaching deep into
himself, Tarun created an illusion of invincibility in the office and
we all soldiered on. New people were hired. Journalists, designers, production-printing-circulation-distribution
experts, ads salesmen, marketing heads. It was a gamble. But if we were
to have even a sliver of a chance to win the game, we had to keep playing.
The Founder Subscribers
kept flowing in - a truly historic phenomenon. And ever so often, unexpected
letters would come bearing faith in Tehelka. A retired colonel who sent
us a lakh from his pension fund; a 20-year old girl, Chandni - one of
the few Mumbai "crusaders" who stayed -who converted the commissions
she earned from sales into a Founder Subscription for Tehelka; and many
others, ordinary people sharing their stories, reposing faith. These worked
like amulets of strength; reminded one of the larger covenant.
Then, around the beginning
of the year, our cards began to change. We were being dealt better hands.
On January 17, just twelve days before the launch, a young couple walked
into our lives. They'd heard of Tehelka; they were willing to back their
belief in it with money. There was talk of other investors. The virus
seemed to have passed.
Tomorrow, the idea of Tehelka will finally pass into something concrete.
Perhaps it will lose some of its potency. Or perhaps it will gather force,
slowly, incrementally, story by story, issue by issue. It is not yet all
that it promised to be. But that is as it should be. We are at the start
of another road. The tunnel seems to be behind us. For the time being,
to be out in the light is triumph enough.