Saturday, February 18, 2012

What does Democracy mean to me?

(Entry to Blog-A-Thon being organized by American Center in partnership with Youth Ki Awaaz)

“Here is the answer which I will give to President Roosevelt…We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle nor the long-drawn battles of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools and we will finish the job.” – Winston Churchill, Radio Speech, 1941.

I thought of beginning the monologue with the words of a man who was so optimistic about his own country that he looked down snobbishly at others. Winston Churchill also unfortunately belonged to that school of thought which relished as it wrote the obituary of the then newly born Indian democracy.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Then this is how I would respond if I were to visit the grave of the British Statesman with a bouquet of Lilies and probably think, “We did it Mr. Churchill! Contrary to your pessimistic notions, we did it and with panache!”

The foremost meaning of democracy for me is the ability to air my views without the fear of bearing the brunt of any tyrannical regime. I can roam around freely anywhere in this part of the country without having to face the ignominy of boards that said, ‘Dogs and Indians not allowed’. This is my India which has come a long way in a time period spanning sixty-four years. Yes, there have been pitfalls for sure nevertheless the journey has been an illustrious one.

Religion and caste have been those sores of our system that has afflicted the society in a way that goes beyond anyone’s comprehension. There have been patches of Dark Age sprinkled immediately after partition in 1947, Anti-Sikh riots of 1984, Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 and Godhra carnage in 2002. Lessons have been learnt and what masses have to watch out for is aversion of those instances that tend to incinerate and disrupt the prevalent harmony. While the migrant Sikhs have emerged as one of the prosperous communities of India, it is the Ram-Rahim model of business (referring to equal partnership between Hindu and Muslim brethren inhabiting the area) emerging in Alindra, on the outskirts of Godhra that is taking everyone by surprise. Ayodhya verdict of 2011 and the unanticipated calm that prevailed thereafter asserted a basic contention that perhaps things other than temple and mosque mattered more to people. Well, in the words of lyricist Prasoon Joshi – ‘Kisi ne kuch banaya tha, kisi ne kuch banaya hai, humein fursat kahan roti ki golai ke chakkar se, na jane kiska mandir hai, na jane kiski masjid hai”.

The thorn of caste is yet to be plucked from the garden of diverse ethnicity and culture, unpleasant dank zephyr has already taken to leeward side. Though the regime of UP Chief Minister might bear the blot of large-scale corruption, miniscule development and draining of resources over the construction of elephants and her own statues, yet for a large section of the Dalits, Mayawati is an individual to reckon with. For, she has emerged as the potent face of a community that was used to discrimination of sorts for ages. As the first and only lady Dalit Chief Minister of India, the ferocious leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has proven that power and authority is no longer restricted to the shackles of the Upper Caste. A round of applause for the proclamation that has popped up and which establishes that Harijan are more than being the despised class.

While the Parliament and even the State Assembly has been reduced to a jamboree where everyone wants to speak and nobody is ready to listen; where chairs are thrown at each other apart from scathing remarks, even porn is being viewed at in spare time, a mausoleum of hoodlums is at display as they seek refuge-cum-afterlife (after having impressive criminal records, you see!)  here, there are governing bodies like the Election Commission that can set the record straight if it wants to like it happened recently in Salman Khurshid case. The minister went around daring the EC only to render a sincere apology later on.

In fact I’m bowled over at times by the reach and control of Judiciary. After all it was only due to judicial intervention that government had to enact Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act and Right to Information Act. These have been landmark legislations indeed that are more than mere accoutrements in the democratic machinery. Who knows perhaps the Lokpal Bill might be cherry on top of this case. However in my personal opinion Anna Baba should have adapted more democratic ways of pushing through his idea rather than hopping on to autocratic ways and social media platforms for creating a superficial upsurge that seems to have gone into hibernation in a matter of few months only.

Pontificating according to me is a fool’s job and we perhaps need to stand atop a height that enables us to have a panoramic view of the entire State. Hey! What do I see? An Absent State! This black hole encompasses regions of Kashmir, North-East, Chattisgarh and other tribal areas. Something has gone terribly bad with the residents out here. While one section has resorted to stone pelting to give vent to its anger and grievances, the others have chosen to pick up arms against the very State they are citizens of. There is an underlying dissatisfaction behind this incorrigible behavior. Perhaps it’s high time when instead of Operation Green Hunt our Home Minister should focus on launching an Operation Trust Building, an initiative which rekindles the faith among these rebellions into the belief of ‘for the people & by the people’. Trust me it isn’t tough if only we can seek a way out by not eliminating the likes of Chemkuri ‘Azad’ and Kishenji via heinous and shoddy encounters; what about employing Kobad Ghandy as an interlocutor and giving it a try with utmost earnestness!

In midst of all the haranguing act that one witnesses with respect to the rising elephant that has finally come to triumph the world, some people are being left behind in this tryst with progress. Welcome to the land of Bharat a place unlike the zealous India that trundles in hope of matching its pace one day with its other counterparts enjoying the fruits of a liberalized India. Numbers are disturbing, more than 37% of   India’s population of 1.35 billion lives below the poverty line; for them every single day is a struggle for existence as they try and strike a chord with minimal means of subsistence.

Let us acknowledge the presence of Bharat and generate means where they can also claim on to the saddle of development and realize that GDP is not just a figure. That day shall redeem the status of Second Independence Day in the history of India, for our Prime minister would not deliver a mundane rhetoric of achievements from the bulwarks of the Red Fort, rather there would be spluttering over tranche of ways when empowerment has overcome frailty and agriculture contributes more than other industrial sectors in the overall economy. 

Till then I would posit my trust firmly in the lady called Democracy who actually loves playing the hopscotch with us. She has just made her presence felt in the terrain of West Asia in the form of Arab Spring and is endeavoring to dole out more such cosmic outcomes. By the way I guess it’s our turn to snuff the opportunity and play wisely by taking just the right steps around the stone.

Monday, February 13, 2012

I have to feed them…..

He wasn’t able to stand erect, and managed to maintain his straight posture by leaning against one of the pillars that mark the enigmatic ambience of CP, Delhi. Quack! Quack! The sound came prominently if one passed near to him; he was trying to sell off certain toy pieces. Those were in the shape of a duck’s face and when worn on your arms, with the flapping movement of one’s four fingers held together at one end and thumb at the bottom that sound came inadvertently from the whistle fitted in the mouth of the toy itself.

It’s not a rare sight in the bustling circular trajectory of Connaught Place, one bumps into dozens of such salesmen, trying to sell varied sorts of things from bling to belts, toys, books, magazines, not to forget spicy & savory delights like bhelpuri, sprouts and boiled shakarkandi that is often accompanied with the gushing smell of the incense roll (dhoopbatti as we call it).

He was also one among the crowd of hawkers trying to eke a living by selling those bizarre toys. Don’t know why my gaze was settled at him. Instead of moving past him, (well I don’t seem to harbor a penchant for any toy whatsoever and don’t bear a familiarity with any kid too) I tried inching towards him. There was a forlorn look beneath those wrinkles, the eyes behind the spectacles seemed to yearn to every passer-by of attention and if possible lure him enough by the sound of the piece and compel the on-looker to buy it automatically. He must have been in the age bracket of sixty to seventy, I thought so.

“How much for each piece”, I asked, forty-five beta came the reply, the eyes yet to show a glint in the hope of a prospective transaction.  “Ok I’ll buy one, give me the one in blue color” (I never forget to display my inclination towards my favorite color). “Yeah! Sure ! Sure!” He said as he ruffled through the pieces kept in a large cloth-bag hanging from his hand. “How many do you sell in a day”, I asked hoping that he wouldn’t mind those questions since he owed a polite reply to his customer. Not much on week days, I was informed, difficult to dole out even dozen or so, however weekend comes with a bundle of relief for sure. I was handed over the packet and as my hand slipped into the wallet for currency notes, the question hour continued. “Where do you live”, my final query; Haryana, came the reply. “No! No! Where do you live in Delhi?” I rectified my final take again; “I come from Haryana daily”, he went on, “starting from 7 in the morning, try selling few pieces out here and leave by 7:30 in the evening. I have my Mrs., a daughter and her child in my family. I have to feed them…”

Shocked and saddened by the helplessness of this man, I gave him the money and turned around as he said thank you and leaned against the pillar once again, his frail body-frame unable to withstand pressure of standing for long duration. Where do all the government schemes go hiding when it’s about providing economic aid to such people? Perhaps it is this ‘last mile’ fallacy, the lacuna between the aid and the beneficiary that mars the social policy of this country as pointed out by Sunil Khilnani in an article in the TOI few days back. Did someone say old age pension? You got to be kidding me man!

I wonder if the quack-quack might have boosted the sales of those toy pieces as the evening progressed. For the crowd out there was busy trying to mint the most out of flat 50% sale, caring two hoots about an aged man trying to stand straight by resting his back against a pillar. With Valentine Day round the corner, crowd comprising mostly of couples, strolled around with hands full of showy bags and jazzy labels, men & women unaware of the presence of someone, who looked forward to push the cart of life known to everyone by the name of living.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

News Laundry – Time for some real dhulai!!

Woes of the fourth state in India continue, so much so that the hollow crater has not only been exposed (thanks to the Radia Gate), it is widening with every passing day. In midst of this Kafkaesque comes another portal that is boasting of pulling down pants under the sun sparing no one from news anchors to politicians to rubble-makers of sorts. News Laundry led by Madhu Trehan is aiming to fill that vacuum which has been created in the public domain in spite of having hundreds of channels and other national as well as local dailies at our disposal.

A dhobi aka washer-man busy with his chore the effort being directed at the idiot box lying on the floor and broadsheets hung on a string, inadvertently it is this cherubic washer-man that is the brand ambassador of News Laundry.  A clothes peg in the backdrop of every scene be, it an interview or discussion reminds one where the deliberation is headed to. What seems on the very outset of it is the fact that News Laundry is daring to venture into a new genre of news altogether – humor and satire is being paired up to lampoon at the events hitting the nation-state.

Breaking the shackles of sensationalism that the Indian news has lately been accused of, NL is trying having a joust with questions that concern the fourth state per se. Hence there is a video wherein Madhu is asking some straightforward questions to Barkha Dutt. As one of the ace reporters of this country Barkha has often been accused of reporting certain important events irresponsibly leading to precarious situations. Ms. Dutt asserts how false sense of intimacy that the medium of television provides has led to the entire chaos. Though she falters on the question of camaraderie with Nira Radia dodging with innumerable contentions trying hard to pull Vinod Mehta as well into the fray.

Then there is another interesting video an interaction between Abhinandan Sekhri and Tajinder Bagga of Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena fame. Mr. Bagga is the one who boasts of thrashing Prashant Bhushan in 2011 for making a reference to the plebiscite in Kashmir. Putting forth uncomfortable questions is one thing but putting worth straight questions that causes the guest to be in a jittery state is a marvel indeed. And it is the latter form that Mr. Sekhri excels as he questions the motive and method of bizarre team led by Tajinder.

NL could very well turn out into an Indian version of Jon Stewart’s show, the satirical news parody that is credited with putting McCain into a frazzled state. Chacha’s Bulletin also seems to be entertaining enough with the man dressed as Nehru sputtering out intricacies of Congress and other regional parties in a voice laced with the eloquence of that of the first PM of India. In the wake of paid news and private equity syndrome plaguing some prominent media houses in India, there springs up a need on its own for portals like NL that dares to pull the ears of one and all. Moreover ever since Press Council of India Chairman, Justice Markandey Katju has waged an all-out scathing attack on literary hacks hailing from the world of media, one would have to wait and watch if NL can in fact rise above the level of a dilettante. For now the spectators can sit back, introspect and relish some real dhulai out there.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The ‘O’ factor – A camel ride of scorning humor, that’s Oprah for you!!

The problem with demi-gods and demi-goddesses is that along with their rabid fans even the distant ordinary personnel are in severe awe of them. When the talk show queen Oprah Winfrey descended on to the land of diverse culture and odds crisscrossing each other, men & women not only welcomed her but eventually turned out to be her stooge. Just like her popular chat show, the host-turned-guest was in complete control of the situation from the beginning till the end. While the fine points of her well-intended visit were chalked out in detail, the proceedings and her discourse particularly seemed nothing more than desultory talk to me.

Yeah I raise my hands much before, acclaiming that the writer of this post doesn’t have any intention of locking horns with the world’s most influential woman. There is this specific form of painting where the real picture is not clear to the audience unless and until it is rotated and hinged at a particular point. Similar instance comes forth in case of diva of our times, Oprah Winfrey who made sure that eyeballs were fixated and also tried to provide wholesome entertainment by what she conceived to being caught up in India amounted to.

Let’s go around picking poor victims one by one. Alas! They were not able to sense the ominous presence of sarcastic humor that tainted the very way a typical Mumbaikar or Delhiite or for that matter an ordinary village folk lives life in a country where democracy might be an accident but at least it is not as traumatic as the apartheid.

In midst of the mayhem called Jaipur Literature Festival, Ms. Winfrey also tried to rake in with hers school of thought, courtesy being that of an interaction between eminent journalist, Barkha Dutt and Oprah. If being toady is a shameful act in private it is even more outrageous in complete public glare. Can you imagine organizer of the event, Sanjoy Roy making his way across the stage to receive Oprah and hug her, the man couldn’t even wait for the guest to arrive. Have you heard of something called protocol Mr. Roy? Don’t know what sort of wisdom dawned upon Barkha and Namita Gokhale who held their positions for that matter.

The wannabe who has penned down this piece is definitely nobody to comment on someone like Barkha Dutt and for that matter I think the journo delivered her duty fabulously. Oprah was actually looking for a prompter from which Ms. Dutt was reading (obviously there wasn’t a single one Barkha is a master of words and that impromptu address came naturally to her)!

Is that car going to hhhhhit (‘hit’ with more emphasis on ‘h’) us? This is what Oprah thought about India on the very outset of it. Point taken mam, we don’t follow rules but then who are you to smirk at us for the same. So driving on roads in India, according to the one who has credit of aiding Barack Obama in being elected as the President, is that it is very similar to that of a video game. ‘Chaotic’ was the exact term to be used in this context. Realizing that such opinionating could jeopardize her ambitious trip Ms. Winfrey soon switched to cathartic mode being touched by the notion that people in India not only practice religion, they live it.

So just like our conniving politicians who either harp on to religion or caste trail when they have no other issue to talk about, the natter empress also inclined towards the religion thing. Brownie point goes to her comrade, Deepak Chopra as well for assuaging those interests. Dressed in ethnic Indian attire comprising of a golden suit with exquisite embroidery worn with pink dupatta not to forget her bangles, Oprah tried to mingle with the verve and mood defining Indian, vivacious and enthusiastic as if ‘Tom Cruise hopping on the couch act’ was about to recur in just fraction of a second.

Apparently picture of a woman on a camel that read, ‘Come to India’ was the stimulus that induced the lady into surging ahead with the vision-board that urged to visit the mystic land indeed. It’s not that one is hell-bend on criticizing her, after all that can pave way for boosting the sagging fortunes of Indian tourism you see! So the optimistic cap is still on hoping to stumble upon something more substantive from the lady’s end. By the way I’m still waiting for three things that were about to be illustrated when Barkha directed her first question to the master, regarding what struck her the most about India. So it started with emotions related to chaos and wrapped up around the underlying calm, quite diplomatic one must admit. The JLF audience was also an overtly insouciant one, dumbstruck and caught up in the frenzy of clicking photographs so much so that the words being mouthed out there didn’t seem to make a jarring sound at all. When question of marriage was hurled at her, Oprah again seemed to play it safe. While attributing respect to the system of arranged marriage fun was poked at the ability of Indian women being able to carry along with that.

Yes, Oprah is known for being outspoken and those views can be taken in a flow of mirth but then why such a big hue and cry about an international celebrity who is yet to acknowledge the importance of the very set-up of Indian society and its various aspects.

In fact one must commend CNN-IBN anchor, Suhasini Hyder for her intense and terse question managed to put the guest in the hot seat into a state of tizzy for a moment or two. Though it started off on a rhetorical note with that vision-board thing again (was that tailor-made by some speech therapist?), the conversation soon drifted to Salman Rushdie row. My heart-felt sympathies went out to Shivangini, one of the viewers who committed a mistake of sending across a question, curious enough to know whether Oprah would ever contest elections for the position of President. Dissent was expressed by a suppressed gnarl which was unlikely on the face of Oprah. Poor Shivangini, hope she wasn’t petrified when she watched the segment. Therein lay the moroseness of the scorning humor with which Oprah Winfrey enticed all and sundry. Even a mundane  camel ride would have been much better than her superficial perception of India, for god sake we are no entertainers and this country is not a show!

Surely Atithi devo bhavah but then the guest can’t go on blowing her own trumpet with blather; very much like a grain or two in a heap of chaff. Atithi perhaps didn’t do much of research before coming over for her much hyped visit to India. Apart from the slums, to the glitterati of Mumbai to JLF, India has more scenic places to boast off. Why talk about Indian women in their ‘submissive’ form when her strong alter-ego has already taken on the world or ready to climb the echelons of success in the form of Late Kalpana Chawla, Indra Nooyi, Nanina Lal Kidwai, Deepa Mehta,     Chanda Kochar, Anu Aga, Kiran Bedi and so many Beauty Queens, their accomplishments being a source of inspiration for so many others. India is not only about the Bacchans, Taj Mahal, slums and party thrown by Parmeshwar Godrej. To see the real picture our foreign tourist would have to stop feigning know-it-all attitude. Surely she wouldn’t like chants of Atithi tum kab jaoge welcoming her on next trip for another Chapter.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

JLF – A well scripted farcical play or an event marred by shrewd politics???

Literature is that medium which is nothing less than a kaleidoscope facilitating an in-depth view of culture, practices, belief prevalent in a society. Celebrating myriad form of literature hailing from different parts of the world seems to be the only achievement of the Jaipur Literature Festival. The event that was held in January this year was very much in news but for all the wrong reasons. An unfortunate thing for any event big or small is getting associated with any form of scandal that tarnishes the congregation and puts a question mark on its integrity.

Thank goodness then that JLF didn’t intend to and ran on the lines of LIFW (Lakme India Fashion Week); gentry were saved from the embarrassment of wardrobe malfunction at least! Let’s first concentrate on the objective of a literary fest – maestros of words from diverse backgrounds are called upon to share their ideas and usher in a debate and a work-out of grey cells like never before. In the eyes of a wily economist it is no more than a transactional meet whereby writers seek another platform of publicizing their work, for the genuine readers and fans a mere glimpse is more than enough backed by the euphemistic exhilaration on reading of excerpts.

In the entire play of Jaipur Literature Fest right from monologue to epilogue, and even the climax was heavily clouded by the Salman Rushdie controversy. Would-he-won’t-he was the question on top of everyone’s mind. Before I decode that puzzle here’s a brief on the profile of the man whose alleged profanity has caused him to be at loggerheads with the Muslim brethren. It was the year 1988 when Satanic Verses saw the light of day only to be shunned by a large majority owing to the blasphemous nature of this piece of fiction based on magic realism.

There is this confession that I consider important to make at this stature – I haven’t read Satanic Verses and therefore much of the perception that I harbor happens to be derived one. But one thing is sure that Mr. Rushdie’s literary piece doesn’t go down well with the religious sentiments of the followers of Allah. How else can one explain the burning notion of vindication which is expressed in the form of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian leader’s fatwa in 1989 against Salman Rushdie that threatens the very life of this famed writer! Interestingly ‘Satanic Verses’ happen to be those passages that have been removed from the holy Quran since they are regarded as the Pagan verses and are contradictory to the principle of monotheism that is the underlying principle of Islam. Rushdie has dared enough to fiddle around with something that is inherently sacrilegious, for Muhammad has been referred to as Mahound in Satanic Verses and that’s certainly not all; the name of Prophet’s wives are spelled by prostitutes that incinerates the emotions of the followers of this faith who regard Prophet’s wives as their mothers.

Does that mean Salman Rushdie is a person who should be banished universally? Creativity definitely has no limits but then literature has since ages been associated with alleviation of sorts. After all it were the writings of Rousseau, Voltaire, Thoreau that ushered in a revolution altogether. And I’m sorry Mr. Rushdie but your words worth incrimination cannot hide behind the walls of na├»ve literary skills (mind you he is regarded as a mediocre writer too by many reputed faces of the domain!). Yet I firmly believe that no matter what an attempt to hamper someone’s individuality is worth condemning.

This was not for the first time when Salman Rushdie was due to make an appearance at the JLF. He had come and gone in 2007 without causing any uproar, perhaps dazed stupor and general oblivion didn’t allow anyone to raise an eyebrow. 2012 marks the year when five states in India would be witnessing polls and amidst them Uttar Pradesh, forms the much sought after scrumptious crumb of the bigger cake called governance. Could the Rajasthan government have provided fool-proof security to Salman Rushdie? Do you really consider our forces to be that impotent that it could not prevent the hoodlums from hurling a shoe at the guest or trying and spit on him!

No one wants to be on the wrong side of voter, at least for the moment. Puissant often try to acknowledge their strength by playing stingy games of politics and try turning tables in their favor. Congress has looked upon the Muslim bloc as a hen that lays golden eggs and mints even more so during the electoral process. Nullifying the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Shah Bano case in 1986 via the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act was among one of the many bounties that was handed over to the insecure community whose fears have not been allayed even after sixty-four years of independence. Thus a mum on part of the Congress trying to showcase its callous incapability of handling the situation was explicable on its own. The other parties also did some buzzing job trying to refrain from hitting at the core of the snowballing issue of Rushdie’s visit.

Picture abhi baki hai mere dost and here comes the entertainers of the decade who literally made a fool of themselves. Writers Hari Kunzru, Ruchir Joshi, Amitava Kumar and Jeet Thayil came out as crusaders who wanted to wage a war against the hard-liners by reading excerpts from the banned book. Well, it was nothing less than the anime series of Tom & Jerry coming live for when it was time to face the consequences of their action, these writers vanished into thin air just like the affably irritable mouse used to do after committing a naughty antic. Though Article 19 of the Constitution confers upon its citizens Right to Freedom of Speech & Expression there is a clause that forbids the same on certain grounds, public disorder being just one of them. Needless to say that the authors got carried away too much by the Rushdie mania and sympathy gave way to infantile course of action.

Where does JLF stand in midst of this hullabaloo? Sadly, though the organizers Sanjoy Roy and Namita Gokhale might attribute the event with loads of praise the fact is that it turned out to be a crime-procedural where everyone waited for what’s next. Whether it was a farcical play or an event marred by shrewd politics is something only time can tell.

One might wonder at this juncture what an ideal Literature festival should be all about! Umm, if Literature is about reaching out to people then probably these litterateur should try and open gateways of wisdom to, say a boy struggling with Chunnu Pocket Book’s Rapid English Speaking Course(courtesy: Ravish ki report on NDTV hovering around Khoda, Ghaziabad), gosh! That’s the impossible thing that one could expect from these intellectuals in a lifetime; after all hobnobbing with the elite over a lunch and a booze party is all what this recently concluded fest at the Diggi Place has condensed itself up to. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Lucknow Boy a Memoir – Here lies the most sacked editor…..

An autobiography is a tell-it-all tale of whatever one has endured in a life spanning experiences of sorts, pitfalls that have stunned one, instances and hiccups that have changed the very perspective. Lucknow boy a memoir the biopic by one of the most revered editors of India, Vinod Mehta ruffles through similar aspect of the jamboree called life. For the autobiography aficionados especially the wannabes who look forward to making it big in the journalistic terrain, it is an eye opener in ways more than one!

The riveting tale starts from the city of Lucknow where Mr. Mehta spent a considerable time of his childhood and early days of youth. Like all famous men who have attained a wondrous feat, Vinod too was a laggard in academics. There was one skill however, the Punjabi lad tried mastering at and that was related to garnering attention from gorgeous lasses that larked about in midst of the usual humdrum of Hazratganj. All those not-so-boorish endeavors were not a lonely feat rather a consensual effort by three of his friends – Saeed Naqvi, Azad Khan and Ashok Kwatra, a camaraderie that has survived till date.  What did the score-card of the gang look like? Not impressive! Anyways Vinod made it to Britain, the year was 1962 and England was caught up in whirlwind ready to take the en masse by a storm. The fella from the city of Nawabs started off by working as a laborer in a factory that manufactured thermostats.

There comes in life a point when one is not able to stand a state of being into oblivion anymore and imbecility becomes nothing less than a curse. It must have been a Eureka moment for sure for Vinod Mehta as he pondered upon intellectual elevation, wherein he was lacking (well he was dumped by his first English girlfriend for not knowing what the Colombo Plan was all about!). So it all began with Malcolm Muggeridge trying to take a dig on Somerset Maugham regarding sexual orientation, occurrence of the Profumo Affair involving the promiscuous Christine Keeler and Vinod’s cultivation of profuse interest towards dailies such as The Guardian, New Statesman, Daily Telegraph, and few more, natural yet understandable penchant towards George Orwell; perhaps seeds of association with the enchanting world of words were sown way back then, weathers of successive time had to only nurture them with utmost cordiality.

There are two striking features about ‘Lucknow boy a memoir’ – firstly it treads on the path that meanders around the professional discourse of India’s most daring editor, secondly there are some startling revelations that make for the scoop of the day! For instance how many of you knew that Firaq Gorakhpuri was in fact a homosexual! Or that Meena Kumari had traits resembling that of a nymphomaniac! Anyone would however swear an oath that these uncomfortable jibes actually add on to the bawdy quotient of the book that spares virtually none.

From the heady days of being in an ad agency in Bombay in 1970, Mehta ventured into the seedy environs (not literally) of Debonair. The magazine was floated in 1973 in a bid to retrieve the Indian counterpart to Playboy nevertheless the job of an editor out there required dabbling with photos of models in au naturel form. Calling it quits at Debonair was an obvious step since even Atal Behari Vajpayee had conceded to the fact that the magazine was good but he liked keeping it under his pillow. Thus under the proprietorship of Ashwin Shah, Sunday Observer was rolled out, a weekly newspaper-cum-magazine. It was during the blooming period of Sunday Observer that a spat with JRD Tata was nearly averted when loopholes hovering around his lofty plan of NCPA (National Centre for Performing Arts), Bombay were exposed. This was the period marked by drawing of swords between Vinod Mehta and Arun Shourie when the latter tried to hog all the credit in his famous Antulay story leaving other bureau members at the Indian Express in a miffed state.

This illustrious stint was followed by an eventful sojourn at Indian Post under the proprietorship of Vijaypat Singhania. It was a rather blasphemous piece on failing Vayudoot, a subsidiary of Indian Airlines whose head was VPS’ friend followed by a voracious trail of the infantile pursuit of Satish Sharma, Rajiv Gandhi’s close aid that led to Mr. Mehta being shown the door yet again. 1989 brought the emergence of Independent under the umbrella of Bennett & Coleman the bumpy ride coming to a halt regarding the CIA mole fiasco that misled Mehta to conclude that it was YB Chavan and not Morarji Desai who was part of the espionage between Indira Gandhi cabinet and CIA; in fact it was Morarji Desai only who betrayed the nation for a paltry sum of $ 20,000 a year.

Lessons were learnt the hard way but they were learnt by heart. There were unavoidable ego-hassles yet again at Pioneer then owned by industrialist, LM Thapar. So in 1994 when Vinod Mehta was a job seeker yet again, comes in the most potent punch line – ‘Here lies the most sacked editor in India’. Outlook under the proprietorship of Rajan Raheja came his way in 1995 and the rest as they say was certainly history.

It was the grit and gumption of this one man who withstood pressure from the corridors of power and soon turned out to be a hellion for those in charge of the State. Expressing loathe against the Pokhran tests in 1998 via Arundhati Roy’s essay, ‘End of Imagination’; to beholding through the pinhole the murky affairs of Ranjan Bhattacharya-Brijesh Mishra-hallowed  PMO in 2001 to the recent Nira Radia tapes in 2011 that shook the pillar of the Fourth State, Vinod Mehta earned friends, colleagues, companions, foes and bitter adversaries but as they say it’s not worth it till you have tasted the sweet and the sour here’s to the man who has set a milestone that many scribes would strive to attain. In a milieu marked by rise of digital media jingoism, Outlook has lessons to offer to compatriots that often brushes aside reading broadsheets as a leisurely activity.