For somebody coming from Lucknow, the title of Vinod Mehta's new book itself is quite appealing. 'Lucknow Boy - A Memoir' by the veteran journalist is an honest account of his rather adventurous life.
The book traces Mehta's journey from a school going boy in the city to an editor of repute in Bombay and Delhi. His lack of experience in the trade makes his story all the more more fascinating. It also throws light on the way journalism works in India or elsewhere.
The author's father was transferred to Lucknow five years after his birth in Rawalpindi. Here he attended the reputed La Martiniere College. The city had a big impression on him. It was also here that Mehta made a few life long friends.
His account of Lucknow of the 50s and 60s is lively, more so for the person he was and the people he befriended. From 'a small time raja', C.P.N. Singh, to the 'quintessential aam admi of the 50s', Safdar, his acquaintances are a good reflection of the interesting times he spent in Lucknow. He also credits the city for teaching him 'to look at the individual rather than his religion or caste or the tongue he spoke'. You can't help admiring his secular credentials.
On an old friend's insistence Mehta went to England in the early 70s. This was also the time when his life long affair (not to mention his other flings) with news and books started as he survived on odd jobs. It would serve him well during the years in Bombay and Delhi, when he slowly and surely establishes himself as an editor of some repute.
Mehta's editorial ventures, be it Debonair, The Pioneer or Outlook, offer an interesting perspective on media functioning. All is not rosy, but if one is better prepared then he'll survive seems to be the advice of the book. He shares quite a few incidents about the nexus between the politicians, businessmen, and journalists.
Journalism, Mehta acknowledges, is a high pressure job that involves both glamour and risk. The risks increase as you climb up the ladder, so much that sometimes 'the professional environment you function in is so vitiated and underhand that you are tempted to throw in the towel'.
It's the ego which journalists needs to check, advices Mehta. The basic premise is to create awareness about relevant issues. Journalists have to remember that all they have is 'the best seats in the match'. They don't run the country in any way.
Mehta's candid observations on certain subjects and people did not go down rather well with me. I particularly find the reference to Firaq Gorakhpuri's homosexuality quite disgusting. The talk about Atal Bihari Vajpayee's 'strange domestic life' was also uncalled for. There's also an air of pompousness about the work he did. But you forgive him for this as he pokes fun at himself with equal measure.
Lucknow Boy may not be a literary masterpiece, but certainly as one written with brutal honesty. I'm sure Mehta won't have many friends left after this one. Overall the book offers an interesting commentary on the way news travels through the pages and the players involved.