I should confess at the outset that I was not exactly a fan of Vinod Mehta, the maverick editor of Outlook, when I picked up his memoir, Lucknow Boy. I have (and I presume most people would also) always been eager to know what makes a maverick a maverick. Outlook is a magazine that defies slotting - it surprises, shocks, is at times tedious, titillates, provokes...to cut it short, it is respected. So, when Arnab Goswami called Vinod to his studios and interviewed him just before the book launch, I decided, it should not be long before I get my hands on it.
Editors drawn from the world of print media are often enigmatic, especially those that grace the world of television studios only occasionally to steadfastly criticize conventional perspectives. Two people who readily come to mind here are Vinod Mehta and N Ram. Shekhar Gupta and Chandan Mitra are boring because of over-exposure.
Lucknow Boy is full of Vinod Mehta, naturally, for a memoir written by Vinod himself, it should not come across as surprising. It is full of Vinod, because, it reeks of a certain self-righteousness. Perhaps, those who wield the pen for a profession are singularly guilty of this trait! That apart, the book is a captivating treatise on the evolution of the Indian print media from the early 70s. Vinod captures the power struggle prevalent in the industry and exposes a truckload of uncomfortable truths about some media Moguls and politicians! 2G scam, emergency, Gujarat riots, match fixing, media-politician-business nexus and much more make it enthralling.
The insider view of a person who waded through all the politics and churning of the last three and a half decades - owing in large measure to the credentials he built for himself and thanks to the sincerity with which he approached his profession - is bound to illuminate the lives of his contemporaries.
Some excerpts -
On Meena Kumari, "I was told about one admirer she fornicated with casually who thought he had a good thing going. After a night of satisfactory love making, he knocked the next afternoon on the door of her make-up room, 'Kaun?' (who?), asked the lady. The admirer gave his name., She again asked,'Kaun?' The admirer again gave his name, this time providing more details, reminding the actress of their union the previous night. 'Raat gayi, baat gayi' (The night has gone, so has the matter), she answered nonchalantly."
On Sanjay Gandhi, "The portrait which finally emerged was unflattering. Sanjay was a scary simpleton whose preferred reading matter was Archie comics. He manipulated his mother, sowing in her a guilt complex about him coping alone with the after-effects of a broken home. The country should be grateful Sanjay's capacity for inflicting havoc was abruptly curtailed."
On AB Vajpayee, "Since I was a self-confessed pseudo-secularist and vocal about it, most BJP politicians kept me at arms length. Not Atalji. Perhaps he was a pseudo-secularist himself too! I used to go over for tea, with appointments easily fixed through his personable press officer, Ashok Tandon. Once when I went to see him he looked uncharacteristically glum. I asked him if anything was wrong. 'App ke baad Jayalalithaa aayengi.' (After you Jayalalithaa is coming.) And then he laughed for the first time."
The penultimate chapter in which Vinod shares, "a kind of sweeper's wisdom gathered along a forty-year journey" is the best part of the book.
Some nuggets -
"The neutrality of journalists is a pompous myth. I have never met a reporter or an editor who did not have strong views."
"The task of the politician is to embellish, evade, spin, muddle, conceal the truth. The task of the journalist is as far as possible, to get to the truth....We are, thus, natural adversaries."
A memoir is also an excellent means to settle scores, paper inconsistencies and express gratitude. Vinod does this with aplomb!
He declares in his memoir, "There is no place for mavericks in the mainstream media" But the question to be asked is, "Who should judge whether Vinod is a maverick?" The Lucknow boy is highly recommended.