ELLE Book Club

Book of the week: Gujarat Files – Anatomy Of A Cover Up by Rana Ayyub

Here's how the journalist turned author

When Rana Ayyub pitched the story to her editors at Tehelka in 2010, it was met with enthusiasm. Gujarat’s home minister and current president of the BJP, Amit Shah was in jail at the time in connection with a ‘fake encounter’ case (he was later acquitted by the CBI), one that Ayyub had reported on extensively. She now proposed going under cover to investigate further. After an eight-month investigation that yielded hours of hidden camera footage of top cops and others from the state’s law and order machinery talking about the 2002 riots and the extra-judicial killings, Tehelka decided against publishing Ayyub’s report. It’s not unusual for a journalist to have their story killed, but something about this one stayed with her. It took six years and several chats with her family, shrink and lawyers, but Rana Ayyub’s account of that time is finally out. She spoke to ELLE about the experience—and there’s good advice here for writers of all kinds.

 

Look past the fear:

“A lot of my friends have been warning me, cautioning me [against publishing this book]. My friend [lawyer] Vrinda Grover, who is my legal advisor, called me and said, ‘Rana, my dear, for my sake, don’t do this.’ And I told her, ‘I have to do this. Aren’t you fighting Kanhaiya’s case?’ She said, ‘Yes, but at least I am a lawyer. You have no power.’ I said, ‘Well, we all empower our own selves.’ It’s easy for me to give lectures on TV and on Twitter on social justice, when I have this stuff with me and I’m not putting it out in front of the people. The essential purpose of journalism, as my father taught me, is to let people know what’s happening. I’m only telling them that.”

 

Pick a story you can’t shake off:

“I would break down in front of my shrink and he would say, ‘You have two options. You could let this go; stories are killed and you have to live with it—all journalists do. The second option is you go ahead [and publish] because what you have done is the right thing.’ Then I went to meet my lawyers who said:  ‘Listen, you are by yourself. There’s no publisher to back you. You will have to face, I don’t know how many cases across the country because these people can ensure there’s a case in every state. They will be vindictive.’ I came back [from that meeting] and I had a big panic attack. I was in hospital for a week. When I met my shrink he said, ‘Just get it out of your system, I can’t see you like this.’”

 

Prepare to go it alone:

“Most retailers are not ready to stock my book. It’s on Amazon and at the book launches I’m doing. Word-of-mouth publicity is all I’m looking at right now. I don’t have a publisher to back me, so I’m doing everything myself—from booking and paying for venues to getting panellists to getting someone to write the foreword.”

 

Find your champions:

“The foreword has been written by (retired Supreme Court judge) Justice BN Srikrishna. When I told him about the book he said, ‘Who’s publishing it?’ And I said, nobody. He said, ‘Stand up, I want to give you a hug. And go home, I’m going to write your foreword for you.’ I said, ‘Are you sure?’ He said, ‘I’m 75, I might die in a few years’ time, at least let me give justice another try.’”

 

Know when to let go:

“Something tells me that people will understand where this is coming from. This is all based on taped conversations. If the CBI or any other investigative agency wants to investigate, I’ll hand over the tapes to them. I’m not going to allow this to be aired on TV, even though I’ve got offers. Once the book is out, my job is done.”