I have seen Vinod Mehta often on television programs where he holds forth on a variety of issues. I have known him to be a strong supporter of the Congress Party and a self- proclaimed “pseudo-secularist.” It was with considerable interest therefore that I read his memoirs titled, “Lucknow Boy” published by Penguin India. The book gets its name from the fact that Mehta grew up in Lucknow and stayed in touch with the city of his childhood and youth.
Vinod Mehta has been called one of India’s most celebrated journalists having spent more than 40 years in the profession. In the book, he describes his experiences in founding and editing publications such as India’s first Sunday paper, the Sunday Observer, the Indian Post, the Independent and the Pioneer (Delhi edition). He gained a reputation for being the man to go to if you wanted to start a publication in those days.
Mention of his time as the Editor of Debonair back in the ’70s brought back memories of the magazine with its famed centre spread, fairly scandalous in India of those times. I, like most men of my age in India of those times, remember the magazine though I didn’t know then that Mehta was the man behind the centre spreads, in a manner of speaking. Before that he had worked in an advertising agency in Bombay (as Mumbai was then called). He wrote his first book,” Bombay: A Private View” which apparently did very well much to his surprise. In 1974, he was hired to edit Debonair by Susheel Somani. He didn’t look back after that.
Mehta is now, in his 70s, the editor-in-chief of the Outlook Group which brings out 10 magazines, including the weekly newsmagazine Outlook. In the past he authored biographies of Sanjay Gandhi and Meena Kumari, and in 2001 published a collection of his articles under the title, Mr Editor, How Close Are You to the PM?
I liked the book and it has its share of stories from the rich and the famous. Mehta seems to have led a full life beginning with his days in the UK where he worked in a factory. As is to be expected with his fairly racy memoirs, Mehta has an endless fund of stories about all kinds of celebrities, ranging from politicians like the late Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, to cricketers like Azharuddin and Kapil Dev, and film stars like Meena Kumari. You will, of course, have to read the book to know these stories.
For a person of his vintage, Mehta has been more than candid in expressing his views and about talking of his own life, and that of others, of course. It therefore surprised me that very little was mentioned by him about his first wife, when he has written so much about other people’s wives! I have to admit that he has an impressive writing style and an endless fund of yarns gathered over his long journalistic career which saw him hob nob with very ordinary people to those who ran the country.
He writes, ” Like most sinful and salacious human beings, I enjoy gossip.” That is clearly evident as you go through Mr. Mehta’s memoirs.