At 306 pages, Lucknow Boy is neither a tome nor a novella, this collection of autobiographical fragments ( I am desisting to use the word memoir) makes a delightful read. Why? Simply, because in today’s clutter of branding, image marketing, cross-media holding and incessant explosion of images and counter-images, we may forgotten to unpeel the news behind the news. It is all about who did and not which persons did it and as a result how was it done.
Using a deceptively simple, but nuanced English, Vinod Mehta does what he does best. Wry humour, a nostalgic evocation of the multi-hued childhood and some interesting portraits of well known and lesser names of our political cauldron. The number of autobiographies, at least that of print media insiders and outsiders in India(be it in any regional language or English), are not very large. In this small sub-genre, of writing, Vinod Mehta infuses a sense of conversation to the narrative, almost like a long letter to his reader interspersed with further comments as and when needed.
There are five important not-to-be missed aspects of the book. Firstly, a clutch of portraits, ranging from Sonia Gandhi, Amitabh Bachchan, Atal Behari Vajpyee, Shobha De, Vir Sanghvi (appears briefly), Shashi Tharoor (also makes a brief appearance), Sanjay Gandhi (personal gleanings on him are delightful..unfortunately his politics was hardly dissected and the dissection from someone wrote a book on Sanjay Gandhi would have been so welcome), Behram Contractor, L.M. Thapar and more. Secondly, a compelling chapter called Sweeper’s Wisdom, which tries to answer certain questions that we raise to ourselves as pen pushers-one would tend to agree with Mr Mehta about journalists should keep their ego locked and disagree with him whether a journalist should be rebel or not (but that is a different call). Thirdly: the Pioneer story-of setting up and Vinod Mehta’s exit; Fourth-the evocation of Lucknow and Fifth: different examples of media confrontation especially the whole issue of what an owner expects from an editor (not much of the vice-versa has been explored).
Lucknow Boy is a compelling read. I wish, the book got into more political nuances and explored the socio-political rumblings. For example, the book hardly talks about, the challenges media would be facing (or not wanting to face) in looking at Maoism, our constant apathy towards tribals and this entire consumeristic glut which is being promoted by media houses as that is the only lifeline for advertising campaigns. I would have wanted to know what Vinod Mehta feels about all this even though he has complete freedom to structure his autobiographical fragments-the way he wants; as a commentator of times-he has to go beyond the dissection of city centric manipulations. I, do not , mean, to force yourself to be a village lover or a issue-based activist, but having no opinion about all this (and all that) despite being in an industry called news is a little escapist.
I would still think Lucknow Boy would delight both the sacred and the profane, the serious and the racy read groups… this intricate tightrope walk between a general interest area and specifics of one’s life, has been largely achieved by the narrative.
Mr Mehta quotes George Orwell: “An autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful.” This book with all it’s grace is uncannily Orwellian in it’s depiction a media dystopia that we see but pretend that we don’t.
And that is the reason to buy this book.