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New Yorkerji, New Yorkerji

There’s one outrage that 75-year-old Ved Mehta hasn’t been able to live down. It’s his being fired from The New Yorker, the high-brow magazine that had been his working home for 33 years till 1994.

books Updated: Dec 04, 2009 23:03 IST
Amitava Sanyal

Daddyji
* Rs 295 * pp 195
Mamaji
ROLI/LOTUS
* Rs 375 * pp 334

There’s one outrage that 75-year-old Ved Mehta hasn’t been able to live down. It’s his being fired from The New Yorker, the high-brow magazine that had been his working home for 33 years till 1994. Mehta published 18 books while working there as a staff writer. He fawned on William Shawn, the editor who hired the blind writer and, unprecedentedly for the magazine, allowed him a writer to take down his dictations.

After a tiring journey from Lahore to Bombay to Arkansas to California to Oxford and Harvard, it was as if Mehta had found himself at home in New York and at The New Yorker. Then, the sharp-nosed Tina Brown walked in as editor and in her wake blew in some chilly winds of change.

In Delhi last month, for the launch of Daddyji and Mamaji, the first two of his 11-book ‘Continents of Exile’ series, the usually soft-spoken Mehta bristled as he said, “She arrived with a wrecking ball and all but destroyed the citadel of literary journalism.”

A despondent Mehta foraged deeper inwards. Having turned blind (from cerebrospinal meningitis) at the age of four in a family where “no member had ever known blindness”, Mehta had always gleaned voluminously from his immediate surroundings.
For company within the volumes first published in the West in the early 70s, Daddyji and Mamaji already had Babuji, Mataji, Lalaji, Bhabiji, Manji... Now they were joined by the even-larger clan and ‘Mr Shawn’. He ended his ‘Exile’ series in 2004 with The Red Letters, an account his father’s affair with Rasil, a married woman.

Mehta says, “These days I’m more ready to take help than I used to. I realised I needed to after I fell a straight eight feet not long back.” As he sits down for his photograph to be taken in CMYK, the stylish new bookshop in Delhi’s Meharchand Market, his wife Linn hands him a mug of coffee. “I never have coffee in a mug, you know that,” he says in a complaining voice. A few minutes later she hands him a fine china cup and a bit of the hot liquid spills on to his tie and shirt. “You know you need to point the handle at me. Why did you not?” he says tetchily.