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Editor unplugged

When I saw the television scroll “Vinod Mehta dead,” a part of me, sort of disappeared. No I have never met him, nor conversed with him. But I came to like him a great deal, because I thought he was everything that an editor was not.

I haven’t seen him write a tome, definitely not for his magazine. He wrote one pagers and that too of a diary variety. I wondered what kind of editor he was: journalist or administrator. And then he wrote with the kind of clarity, precision, poise and fun, not commonly given to these fussy dud editors.  I got a huge proof of his acumen to write salacious witty stuff on a big-ticket basis when

I read his “Editor Unplugged.” OMG did I enjoy it? You bet.

He scandalised everyone, he included.

Actually when he wrote Lucknow Boy and I must concede that I didn’t read it, I thought, “What rubbish. A journalist, penning an autobiography?” But post Unplugged, I was looking forward to the concluding part of his trilogy that will never come. But someday I am sure I will read Lucknow Boy.

An immigrant from Pakistan, who grew up in Lucknow, Mehta picked a Bachelor of Arts degree, finishing with marks in the 40s that gave him a third class. Then worked as a factory worker in Britain before returning to India to edit a lifestyle magazine. The rest as they are prone to say, is history.

He was fiercely independent. Little wonder, he never got along with his owners. And smaller wonder still, that he either got thrown out or walked out from every publication that he worked in, until God snatched him away. ‘73’ was just too early to go. And that’s not a cliché.  It was remarkable that the magazine that he edited for long, Outlook, carried myriad letters from the reader abusing the magazine or its editor. It tickled me no end that the man published large quantities of it, keeping the bouquets few and far between.

He carried controversy on his shoulders. Boy who can forget the cover story on match fixing, on Afzal Guru, or the one of Radia Tapes that had the whole of India up in arm? On a television channel he defended Tarun Tejpal.  He was that type. Fearless.

I remember the way the magazine was marketed when it launched some 20 years ago. It promised an annual subscription for a song and threw a few gifts by the side. An editor friend of mine said, he was seduced by it and wondered whether his magazine owner would also do something similar to sell copies. I am sure Vinod Mehta would not have loved the agro, but then those days, editing was a different department and marketing was a different department. Alas these days, the two have merged.

In his own inimitable style, he had a swagger. You could see that on television shows where his tall body crouched in lazy laid back style. A self-proclaimed Congress chamcha, his twitter handle was interestingly named @DrunkVinodMehta.

Outlook magazine must be complimented for coming out with 15 pages of stuff on Mehta, penned by different writers. The compliments are touching. Way to go, Mehta. Pun unintended.

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