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“LUCKNOW BOY A MEMOIR” – VINOD MEHTA

Posted on: November 14, 2011

India’s number one weekly news magazine OUTLOOK and its editor-in-chief Mr. Vinod Mehta are the two legendary names that nobody can ignore. The rise and rise of OUTLOOK is the stuff of folklore in the contemporary India Shining story. The list of stories OUTLOOK has broken shocking the nation is a long one. Who doesn’t remember the match-fixing saga of the sub-continent at the turn of the century and Mohd. Azharuddin’s – the then Indian cricket captain – subsequent fall from the grace?  Its bold and chilling coverage of the Post-Godhra riots in Gujarat, and, in the recent past its unearthing of the Niira Radia tapes. OUTLOOK has always carried on its responsibilities fearlessly. Therefore, the autobiography of a man – who has been at the helm of affairs for past sixteen years at OUTLOOK – might carry within it the secrets of its unparalleled success and also the decoding of the man himself.

Well, to say “LUCKNOW BOY A MEMOIR” doesn’t disappoint at all would be a huge understatement. In fact, it entertains the readers with aplomb. The first half of the memoir deals with the author’s formative years in his home-town of Lucknow and then England following his graduation. In these chapters he details his growing up days and the coming of age dilemmas. After staying for eight years in London, he returns to India. He goes to Bombay to make it big. He gets a job as a copy-writer and then follows a big break. He lands himself an editor’s job at DEBONAIR. From a copy-writer to the editor of DEBONAIR, the journey has been relatively smooth, interesting and awe-inspiring with the occasional humorous tit-bits thrown in.

The journey gets somewhat complicated when he decides to switch the job. The initial few months at the “Sunday Observer” are successful.  He is well on his way to achieving greater heights when differences between the editor and the proprietor crop up culminating in the former’s resignation. The readers feel a lump in the throat rising as they go through these turbulent times in the author’s career. After moving out of “Sunday Observer” the author goes on to edit the “Indian Post”, the “Independent” and the “Pioneer”. Somehow the history keeps repeating itself wherever he goes. Initial success gradually begins to give away to proprietors’ discomfort with his style of journalism resulting in the eventual fall-out. In all the cases, the ultimate Greek tragedy befalls upon him. The circumstances render him so helpless that he can do nothing but quietly put in his papers and move on. Although he writes about these troubles phases with a certain melancholy, there is no hint of self-pity or name-calling for that matter. He doesn’t blame anybody or gives theories for his inability to hold on to those jobs. He accepts with enviable dignity what the life offers and moves on with his head held high.

The second half deals with the rise of OUTLOOK. Right from how he landed up the job to how the format of the magazine was designed and conceived to how the cover-story for the inaugural issue was chosen to how OUTLOOK gave tough competition to its only competitor ‘India Today’ forcing it to change into a weekly news magazine. This part of autobiography is packed with interesting anecdotes about what goes on behind the scenes when OUTLOOK decides to break any major story in its next issue. The die-hard OUTLOOK fans will find this part irresistible for the simple reason that when a story captures the imagination of the entire nation by pricking it collective conscience, we like to know the men and women behind it who have apparently put their lives into danger to bring the truth out. Like a true leader, he generously gives credit to those who deserve it for their breakthrough stories. It is a true hallmark of Mr. Vinod Mehta’s personality.

What more? There are important and invaluable pearls of wisdom contained within the three hundred and odd pages for those aspiring to become journalists. Last but not the least, his portraits of V.S.Naipaul , Salman Rushdie and Sonia Gandhi throw some interesting insights on their elusive personalities which were hitherto not well-known. The autobiography leaves its readers in no doubt that Mr. Vinod Mehta possesses some super natural power or any special talent to get where he is today. He too is a human being with his fair shares of ups and downs.

“LUCKNOW BOY A MEMOIR” is an autobiography to cherish for a long time. However, those who read author’s Delhi Diary in OUTLOOK regularly may find some parts repetitive and irksome. Barring this, Mr. Mehta has lived up to the reputation of being brutally honest. It is less like an autobiography of someone who wants to pat his own back and more like a racy thriller of whose pages readers keep turning to know what next.

LUCKNOW BOY A MEMOIR, Penguin Viking, Pages 325

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