“India’s most independent, principled and irreverent editor” Vinod Mehta has just published a memoir. Titled Lucknow Boy, the editor-in-chief of the Outlook* group of magazines, recaptures his four-decade journalistic journey via Debonair, The Sunday Observer, The Indian Post, The Independent and The Pioneer.
With trademark candour often bordering on the salacious, the twice-married but childless Mehta reveals that he fathered a child in a tryst with a Swiss girl in his 20s, and that as a young copywriter in Bombay, he posed as a prostitute’s boyfriend to get her sister married off (and was paid Rs 500 for his services).
Along the way, Mehta also slays two very holy cows of Indian journalism, Arun Shourie and Dileep Padgaonkar, revealing their hypocrisy and duplicity in the way they dealt with colleagues while grandstanding in public as suave, softspoken, scholarly men of letters.
By VINOD MEHTA
Over the years, Arun Shourie and I have not seen eye to eye on many issues—something I don’t regret. Shourie, as editor of the Indian Express, had broken the big Antulay story, ‘Indira Gandhi as Commerce’ [in the early 1980s].
The expose revealed that the Maharashtra chief minister, A.R. Antulay, had started an organisation called the ‘Indian Gandhi Pratibha Pratishtan’ through which he collected illicit funds from builders. The corruption scandal forced Antulay to resign.
Arun Shourie and the Express, now implacably opposed to Indira Gandhi and the Congress, had bagged a big Congress scalp. Among journalists and sections of civil society Mr Shourie was flavour of the month—or shall I say many months.
A young reporter in the Free Press Journal with friends in the Express came to see me. He said he had a story, but was not sure if a recently launched paper like the Sunday Observer had the nerve to publish it. According to him, the chief reporter and several other senior reporters in the Express were sulking because Arun Shourie had hogged all the limelight.
While they acknowledged Shourie’s contribution, much of the legwork for the scoop had been done by the Express bureau, a fact which was never acknowledged in the story. Staff morale apparently was at an all-time low.
‘Shourie and the Penthouse conspiracy’ duly appeared. ‘Penthouse’ was mentioned because Mr Shourie allegedly sat in the Express penthouse with Ramnath Goenka and wrote the expose.
It did not take long for Arun Shourie to come back. He demanded a full rebuttal in the form of an extended interview with him. ‘Your story is a complete fabrication,’ he charged.
Kumar Ketkar, then a young and pugnacious Bombay journalist, jumped into the fray. In a letter to the editor [of The Sunday Observer], he noted: ‘The self-righteous breast-beating of Shourie is a fast spreading gangrene in the profession of journalism. If not checked in time, it could acquire the dimensions of witch-hunting and Macarthyism.’
And concluded: ‘Free from any constraint of veracity, Shourie is always able to provide exclusive stories.’ The debate on our letters page continued for many weeks.
On 19 October 1989, The Independent published an eight-column banner headline, ‘Y.B. Chavan, not Morarji Desai, spied for the US.’ For two days the story went largely unnoticed. Except for Mid-Day which carried our Chavan report almost verbatim, the rest of the media kept away.
That did not suit the perenially insecure editor of The Times of India, Dileep Padgaonkar.
While the other editors in the Times group were troubled by my presence, Dileep had a special and urgent reason to feel troubled. I and my team were producing an English paper every day which looked infinitely better than the paper Dileep was editing, and on many mornings it even read better.
Mr Padgaonkar’s insecurities when word got around that, at a meeting with his senior managers,[Times bossman] Samir Jain mentioned me as a possible editor of The Times of India.
Dileep and the Maharashtra Times editor, Govind Talwalkar, got together to ensure the Chavan story did not go unnoticed. In an editorial on 21 October, the Times viciously attacked me and the Independent. It went so far as to incite physical violence against me, suggesting that if it did occur, it would be my own fault.
Departing from its pompous, lofty, measured tone, the Times launched a series of vituperative onslaughts targeting me, which observers found astonishing since the two papers were ‘sister publications’. One opposition leader told the media that while the (Chavan) story was indeed objectionable, it was the Times group which created the ‘hysteria’ around it.
I hold no grudges against Dileep Padgaonkar. He is who he is. However, the man who once claimed he held ‘the second most important job in the country’ can be legitimately charged with single-handedly opening the door for the denigration and decline of the Editor as an institution.
When Dileep’s bosses asked him to bend, he crawled. Since then it has been downhill all the way for other editors.
(Lucknow Boy by Vinod Mehta, published by Penguin Viking, 325 pages, Rs 499)
Read an excerpt: Vinod Mehta on Radia tapes, Vajpayee, V.C. Shukla
Buy the book online: India Plaza offer prize Rs 299
File photograph: Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta, at home in New Delhi in 2008
Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie
‘Lone Hindu’ Dileep Padgaonkar gets it from M.J. Akbar‘s paper
How Dileep Padgaonkar christened a Pierre Cardin model
“When Dileep’s bosses asked him to bend, he crawled. Since then it has been downhill all the way for other editors.”
I was not planning to read Vinod Mehta’s book. He is too flamboyant for my taste. But now I will read his book. Because of the above quoted line. I agree with the sentiment that Vinod Mehta has expressed in that line.
Today an editor is considered to be less important than the guy who gets advertisement revenues, or the “paid news” revenues for the media house. This is very unfortunate. This trend needs to be reversed.
If there is a “perception” in the reading public, that the media houses and the top editors have sold their “soul” to corrupt establishment and are in league with the corrupt leadership, then things become really difficult for the Indian democracy.
Public perception is very important.
I am not surprised, for what Mr.Mehta experienced is merely a reflection of what was actively underway at the grass roots of journalism in different moffusils during those times. I myself have been at the receiving end in many dimensions on this count and that is one of the reason I decided to quit reporting and opt for advertising copy writing. The current decay we see in journalism – reporting and editing – is merely the same Rs.One story.
Far from judging the characters in the book merely by the account of an ageing contemporary, I will read the book just to enjoy reading about journalism from its haydays. Also Mr Kamal G, this is not to ridicule your career choice, but I hardly think advertising is a better option, if you’re sick of reporting. Yes, the fact that reporting feels like advertising many times make me sick too, but that won’t be solved by becoming a copy writer 🙂
Please don’t forget that there are editors strutting the Indian media street who helped Ramnath Goenka snuff the careers of young journalists. The man who capitulated to the manliness of Indira Gandhi. Editors who were treated by Goenka as doormats documented his life and times.
Indian editors without exception are paper tigers. Wait till another Indira Gandhi comes and see if the great Vinod Mehta can even squeak before her. They are a secretive lot who regarded the imprint on the last page as a giveaway. So, please wait till another Mehta clone tells us what is Vinod Mehta, who, from his writings, is full of himself.
In a communal riot the victim is always a Muslim. This jewel of an epigram does not come from the men who drafted the Communal Violence Bill but from the great Vinod Mehta who sold social sleaze disguised as journalism. I may tell you that I don’t like either Shourie or Padgaonkar. My point is Vinod Mehta is no different. Indian journalism is muck.
Vinod Mehta has not mentioned anything about “Indian Post” the paper which he edited.He took over editorship from S.Nihal Singh.To his credit it must be said that he edited WORLD CLASS newspapers during 80s.Papers like Sunday Observer,Indian Post & Independent were truly readable in those days when there was no Internet.Outlook was also trendsetter in many ways.It forced India Today to convert it to weekly from fortnightly publication.In personal finance also he launched Outlook Money.In travel also Outlook Traveler was a pioneer in per-internet days.He also revolutionized his publications by offering FREE GIFTS with annual subscriptions.Off late he has become “CHAMCHA” of Congress party and is its unofficial spokesperson. WHAT A DOWNFALL.
He was fiercelyl independent as seen by people til his present downfall. Nevertheless he has penchant for unearthing muck and sometime taking bold steps like Radia tape departing from main stream silence. Perhaps it is time for him to reshape his existing servitude and emerge as rebel.
So he has a 40 year illicit girl child whom he has never bothered to contact and find out if she might need some kind of assistance (monetary, guidance etc.. you know what a father ought to perform). Now, he goes around preaching how things ought to be and who is a nice person and who a jerk. He needs some introspection.
He will be rightly remembered for reducing news into titillating porn. Now you might say his magazines sell well, but so does porn.
Arun Shourie does not need certificate from jokers like Vinod Mehata. His opinion on padgaonkar is no doubt true, for he (padgaonkar) is no less a joker than Mehta. Coming to Shourie he is India’s foremost investigative journalists and is colossus among pygmies like mehtas and padgaonkars.
A hat-tip to the Mr Mehta, the only Indian editor whose integrity I trust one hundred percent. Just ordered my copy online.
Mr mehta is been a good man , a good editor ,but sadly not a corageous one.
and his attacks on the editors after so many years ,is only a sign of cowardice , as he is attacking people who are sitting on the opposite side of power.
atleast Mr shourie was attacking the ones in power.
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