Saturday, March 14, 2015

RIP Vinod Mehta

I didn't know Vinod Mehta personally. My greatest regret. I have seen him from a distance and have heard a lot of stories about him from friends. There has been a body of legends around him, as with all celebrities. The stories that created the myth of Vinod Mehta are many, in fact, young journalists worshiped him. To be discovered by him meant that you have arrived. You could follow him from publication to publication, because you knew him, the God, or, at least, the prophet of modern long-form journalism.
The fact that he launched magazines and made them profitable was notable. Those were the days of magazines. It had a good readership and there was space for a short story and some poems too. These magazines provided you with enough reading materials throughout the week. The short stories and poems were part of the mix of good journalism then. Alas, no more.
I used to pounce upon the Debonair and Illustrated Weekly that my neighbour brought from office. Pritish Nandy used to edit poems for Illustrated weekly and Imtiaz Dharker used to edit poems in Debonair. My initial interest in literature and reading arose from these magazines. Also, my ambition of working in magazines started with these periodicals. 
Vinod Mehta was a bold journalist who stood for ethical journalistic values. One instance particularly stands out in my mind, narrated by a friend. It seems he was doing a story and a wealthy industrialists was trying to kill it. He called Mehta in the newsroom and, there, in front of his staff, in calmest of voices, he said, "Don't fuck with me, okay." Such bold irreverence cannot be found in today's journalism, at least, to my knowledge.
I am grateful to think such journalists existed. RIP Vinod Mehta. In a country where journalists shun publicity and coming out in the open, he was a rarity. There were other great journalists: Sadanand of Free Press being one. Sadanand is the one who was boss of RK Laxman, Bal Thackeray, MV Kamath, etc. in Free Press. He was a tough editor and during his time Free Press was the number one newspaper. In these days of self-censorship and the so-called "scissors in the mind" where will you find another Vinod Mehta? Arguably, nowhere.
There were others too. But they are all dead. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was a great editor and edited the Kesari. JP deSousa was a great editor, and a pioneer in technical journalism. Desmond Doig was a good editor and edited Junior Statesman and then Youth Times. Doig was a Sri Lankan. Indian journalism will never be the same again having lost these veterans.

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