A clutch of memories that define my most memorable moments in journalism rush in as my old friend and colleague Anuradha Raman calls me up to tell me that Vinod Mehta, my former editor and mentor, is no more.
It is a moment we have been dreading since December 7, when he was rushed to hospital, complaining of shortness of breath and chest pain.
Since then, it has been a roller coaster ride, up one day, as the man would peek through the various tubes sticking into him and smile his toothy smile, and down at other times.
The face, handsome as ever, framed by his shock of white hair, eyes staring away in wonder, even as pain wracked his frail physique.
In October 2004, as I walked into the building that housed Outlook, a weekly newsmagazine he started as the founder-editor, I was apprehensive and intrigued.
This was my first major professional switch, having spent my formative years with The Indian Express. I was all set to meet a man whose formidable reputation preceded him.
In some ways, I had already met the man much earlier when, as a young and impressionable reporter in Pune, I had picked up his book ‘Mr Editor, How Close are you to the PM?’
The book opened up to me the charms and the pitfalls of journalism, as Mr Mehta went about writing about his adventures in the colourful career he had led by then.
Editing Debonair, a magazine known for pictures of topless women, always seemed right on top of his CV, framing his persona in a way I suspect he enjoyed very much.
He worked hard on the magazine, pushing in some great investigative stories, interviews and humour, while also balancing it with some “tasteful” images of semi-clad women, hired on shoe-string budgets to keep the presses alive and running.
His subsequent adventures would lead him to the offices of the rich and powerful, keen on starting new publishing ventures, and Mr Mehta would keep hoping that at least one of them would respect journalism, besides the profit margins.
Obviously, many owners ended up disappointing him, leading to his resignations and days spent in penury, fortified with a great sense of humour and pegs of whisky.
But among the essays he authored, one left a deep impression on me as I meandered through the profession. It was an essay he penned on Dhiren Bhagat, an enfant terrible of Indian journalism, who walked into Mr Mehta’s cabin one day and left a deep impression on the man.
Bhagat would go on to pen some of the most devastating investigative pieces in his all-too-brief career as a journalist, but they were stories that only Mr Mehta could steward as one of the greatest editors of his time.
He worked with the mercurial Bhagat as he did exposé after exposé, until the fateful day when Bhagat was killed in a road accident, suspected to be foul play.
His death left Mr Mehta devastated and I could see his fondness for the man as I read that essay several times over.
Saikat Datta is the Editor (National Security) with HT