At the end of last year some journals published what eminent personalities were reading at the time. Sonia Gandhi replied: She was reading Vinod Mehta's autobiography Lucknow Boy (Penguin Viking). I assumed Vinod would be on cloud nine and celebrating with his friends.
Although Sonia Gandhi is not a literary critic, she is señora numero uno of Bharat Varsha. Her reading preferences are of great consequence. I have no doubt Vinod was rightly praised, but he is a grumbler and wants more.
I agree his autobiography is more readable than that of any other Indian, largely because Indians tend to praise themselves and thus become unreadable, while Vinod, despite his many achievements in Indian journalism, remains modest and mocks himself.
Vinod Mehta is a Pothohari Khatri, born in Rawalpindi in 1941. His father, a captain in the army, entered his date of birth 31 May 1942. He was educated in La Martiniere College, Lucknow.
It was primarily meant for Anglo-Indians and Indian Christians.
It was handsomely endowed: Anglos and Christians did not have to pay for their education, boarding or lodging. Some stayed on there into their 30s failing in their senior Cambridge exams year after year. Children of English fathers through Indian mothers were known as Anglo-Indians; children of Indian fathers through English mothers were not. The former described England as their home; for the latter it was India. Anglo-Indians boys were tougher than the others and bullied them. They helped themselves to whatever Indians got from their homes for their mid-day meal and occasionally sodomised them.
Although Vinod Mehta passed his senior Cambridge in the third division, he failed in Hindi. He proceeded to England for higher studies.
Vinod was better at sports than studies. He was a good tennis player, and won the UP Table Tennis Championship seven years running. He found his real métier in journalism, and was editor of seven journals in succession, wrote four books broadcasted for the BBC before he launched Outlook in 1995. He had carefully worked at a formula for its success. Most important was never praise his journal.
He devoted a few pages to Letters from readers giving preferences to those that were critical. The last page was usually a travelogue, written by well-known Indian writers and journalists. His own contributions were usually the most readable. What he thinks of his position can be gauged by the fact that he named a stray dog puppy of no pedigree he picked up from the streets, and named it Editor. I have never known a dog so named.
One of his colleagues told me that every evening as he leaves office, dozens of street urchins await him. He buys them ice-cream cones and blows up over a hundred rupees every day. For me he is the editor of the most readable weekly journals of India.
My present mood
There was a time I could recite English poetry by the hour - all of it from memory. Then Urdu poets took over and I memorised large chunks of Ghalib, Iqbal, Hafeez, Faiz and Ahmad Faraz. English poets faded from my memory. I would start with a few lines to be able to recall those that followed. I felt guilty and told Sheila Reddy of Outlook how badly I missed my anthologies of English poetry. She got up and went over shelves of English poetry in my library. They are mainly complete works of different poets - my need was a selected anthology like one by Palgrave's: But here you have The Albatross Book of Living Verse (Collins), edited by Louis Untermeyer. You don't know what there is in your own library, she reprimanded me. "You wanted John Keats (1795-1821) Ode to a Nightingale, here it is".
I grabbed the book from her hands and began to read the poem filling in lines that had eluded my memory. I paused as I came to lines that echo my present state of mind:
Darkling I listen: and for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death
Called him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain.
Friends, philosopher and guide
Our NHC chairman took us for a ride
When he said he had nothing to hide
Then why this stealth
About his wealth?
Is he not our friend, philosopher and guide?
Is God deaf ?
Our neighbour has proven religious bearings;
For public, his bhajans-keertans are snaring.
He installs loud-speakers
For divinity seekers.
As if his gods are a little hard of hearing!!!
Ward robe mal-functioning
On the ramp, a model in her full gear,
Forgot to put on her under-wear
When she got exposed
The crowd was disposed,
To all-round cheers and no jeers!!!
(contributed by JK Mathur, Lucknow).
The views expressed by the author are personal.