Chennai: During the one hour that he was one stage, Vinod Mehta sounded exactly the same way he writes or comments on TV.
He had no affectation or extra courtesy. And he spoke in a language that was very similar to the way he writes, whether it is in his Outlook magazine or the recently published memoir Lucknow Boy. Particularly when he repeated some details from the book, his language sounded almost the same.
Perhaps that is why Vinod Mehta’s writing is always an easy and delectable read. He doesn’t try to impress people and almost always has a sincerity of purpose.
That probably was one of the highlights of his reading and conversation session on the occasion of the launch of Lucknow Boy in Chennai on Friday. As he has done in the book in the chapter “Sweeper’s Wisdom,” he quoted George Orwell on sincerity of writing: “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms.”
The man in conversation with him was former editor-in-chief of The Hindu, N Ram. He brought Mehta’s attention to the same chapter, since it contained illuminating insights on the practice and craft of journalism. Mehta, continued: “even today, I read any interesting piece of journalism twice — first to enjoy it and second, to see the craft.” He said he likes the craft of writing, the way it is structured, the way it is shaped and tries to learn from it.
The conversation also touched on some personal details such as him fathering a child when he was twenty or so and how he educated himself from being completely ignorant about things around him. He said nobody, other than his wife, knew about the father bit until he wrote about it in his book. He said he spoke to his wife and she encouraged him to write about it. On his ignorance when he was young, he recounted an episode when he felt completely exposed in front his upperclass British girlfriend’s father in England. The girl’s father asked him about his views on the “Colombo Plan” and he made a fool of himself.
In fact, these are also some of the interesting anecdotes in “Lucknow Man”.
Whether it was intentional or not, most of his reflections during the conversation also find a place in the book: on the journalist-politician nexus, corruption, proprietor-editor relationship, legal cases, improving skills etc. He was clear that journalists and politicians cannot be friends because their jobs hugely differed. Politicians are involved in evading and spinning, while a journalist’s jobs is to find the truth. He also recalled how his “friend” Kapil Sibal sent him a legal notice for an article in his magazine. On a question if journalists should be cynics or sceptics, he said being a cynic forecloses the answer, while a sceptic seeks to find answers.
To pointed questions by Ram and some from the audience, he said plurality of the media is essential for the survival of democracy: let there be hundreds of channels and newspapers and let them fight with each other. If 80 per cent of the channels are owned by a single monopoly, it is as good as a single voice.
Any suggested reading? Goerge Orwell’s essay, A Hanging.
The launch was jointly organised by the Madras Book Club and Penguin.