Lucknow boy yearns for daughter

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on December 14, 2011

Lucknow Boy A Memoir By Vinod Mehta Publisher: Penguin Viking Price: Rs 499

How difficult was it to write a book where you've said unpleasant things about fellow editors such as Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar…?

Once I started to write this book, I decided I was going to be as honest as I possibly can, I would not try and edit or whitewash any of the incidents. Moreover, I didn't want to show myself always as the victor in every encounter. As George Orwell said: ‘No autobiography should be believed unless it tells something disgraceful about the author.' I am 70 years old now and if I'm not going to tell the truth about my life now, then when am I going to tell it? So once I had made the decision, the writing was not difficult. And I wasn't petty or targeting anybody.

But if they were part of the story and maybe there was collateral damage, that couldn't be helped. To the best of my knowledge I've told the story as it is.

It must have been much more difficult to admit that you fathered a child with a Swiss woman?

I showed it to my wife and I have spoken to many people about it. But again I felt that if I don't do it now when I am going to do it? Autobiographies are like the last will and testament. If you're going to hold anything back, then you might as well not write it.

But surely there must have been something extremely personal that you held back?

Except when I didn't want to hurt people. There were one or two incidents which would have hurt people. I didn't want to offend people, but if they were part of my story, and were important enough in the narrative, then I had to include them and I hope I did justice to them. What happens in these cases is that you try and embellish and improve your own life. But once you've decided not to do that, and let the judgement of the reader decide whether you have lived a decent or indecent life, then everything falls into place. But that fundamental decision has to be taken, and in the course of that if you hurt somebody, well, that's unfortunate.

How much has the media scene changed over the years? In the section you describe how you were forced to leave The Pioneer, you talk about how all around you “mediocre editors were flourishing because they were adept at intra-office intrigue”, among other things. Do you think nothing much has changed?

I think the situation has become worse. The institution of the editor is even less powerful than it was sometime ago. My contention… right or wrong... doesn't matter if you're not an editor; you may be a special correspondent, a photographer, a sub editor, if you are good… outstanding at your job, then somehow, somewhere you will find a place. You will always be employable.

But if you are mediocre in your job then you have to be involved in back-stabbing and politicking and the rest.

Coming to the methodology of writing such a detailed memoir, did you have the discipline of keeping a diary or notes all these years?

I was lucky in that wherever I worked, I had a secretary. So when something interesting happened or I read something interesting, I would ask my secretary to file it. And then I had carried those files from job to job. I had no idea that I was ever going to need them. But when I began this project and looked at my files, I was astounded by the kind of material I had.

When did you begin this project, as you call it?

I wrote this book in eight months.

Gosh, only eight months?

I'll tell you why it didn't take long. And in those eight months, remember, I was also editing Outlook and I would invariably write only at home and over the weekends. I was immeasurably aided by the fact that when I put pen to paper and when you tell it like it is, the writing becomes much easier. Because you're not trying to play tricks with your own memory.

As a reader I can vouch that it is not a laboured effort!

I'm not trying to dodge anything… I was surprised at how easy it was. But once the fundamental decision had been taken that you're going to be as honest as possible…. Twenty five years ago I read the autobiography of Bertrand Russell; I forget what he wrote, but his frankness, the way he self-examined himself and his motives, all stayed with me. I thought if I ever write my autobiography, I will follow that model.

Is there a yearning within you that after reading this autobiography... if at all she gets to read it… your daughter will get in touch with you?

I hope so... I really hope so. If it does happen it would be the best present for me.

Published on November 17, 2011

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