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Vinod Mehta Combined Wit And Irreverence
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Bringing with him a rare combination of wit and irreverence, "Lucknow Boy" Vinod Mehta left his indelible imprint as feisty editor of several successful publications in a career spanning over 40 years in which he also shone as a best-selling author and an influential TV commentator.
Mehta, aged 73, breathed his last at New Delhi's All India Institue of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on Sunday.
Mehta was suffering from severe lung infection and was on life support. He died of multiple organ failure, an AIIMS spokesperson said.
He wrote his best-selling autobiography 'Lucknow Boy' in 2011 and was a popular face in TV debates.
He never shied from taking on the high and mighty and giving space in his publications to the contrarian voices like that of Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy.
It was his refreshingly free of pomposity approach that lent a distinct flavour to the publications he edited beginning from Debonair, from where he started his career as an editor, to Outlook, of which he was the founder editor.
He rendered literary heft to the monthly men's magazine Debonair, better known for its titilating photographs and racy reads, by doing a series of investigative and serious stories.
His success, he recalled in his memoir Lucknow Boy, led him to "serious journalism", his first love, and he founded India's first weekly newspaper, The Sunday Observer.
From there he went on to edit The Indian Post and The Independent in what was then Bombay.
Mehta then moved to Delhi in the early 1990s, when he became editor-in-chief of The Pioneer, but his 17-year helmsmanship of Outlook magazine was his longest tenure.
The versatile writer had also written well-acclaimed biographies of film actress Meena Kumari and Congress leader and Indira Gandhi's son Sanjay Gandhi, which was relaunched recently.
Criticised by right-wing voices for his liberal values and denunciation of their at times extremist agenda, Mehta mocked himself as a "pseudo-secular" and wrote about abusive mails he would receive in Outlook, which called him "pro-Sonia, pro-Congress, pro-stray dogs, anti-BJP, anti-Hindutva etc, etc."
He may have his prejudices, he wrote, but he balanced with his professionalism.
"In other words, the basics of my trade impose a discipline which ensures that instinctive or acquired biases are tempered with the simple and clear rules of the profession... Still, I wouldn't claim I am a 100 per cent unbiased editor!," he wrote.
As someone who often made fun of "big egos" of many journalists, it was not without reason that he named his dog 'Editor'.
Without Rancour Or Fear
Editors' Guild said the media world has lost a "liberal, independent voice and the world of public discourse in India, a reflective contributor who spoke his mind without rancour or fear."
"Gentle in manner and speech, yet firm in his views, he maintained a scrupulous distance and independence from political leaders and parties and was held in great respect by all in media, politics, industry and academia," the Guild added in a statement.
Noted journalist N. Ram said he greatly admired Mehta.
"But above all was his independence and his courage in pursuing his own, personal journalism and also backing his journalists to the hilt. He was very unusual kind of an editor who was always accessible to his junior colleagues, who encouraged experimentation, who had a very liberal and progressive outlook. There was a serious inner commitment in him for the values for journalism," Ram said.
Journalist-turned-BJP leader M.J. Akbar said, "Mehta had a marvellous career as not merely a print journalist but as an innovative idea man, a concept man."
"I think it's a very unique mixture of mind's aggression and a genuine wit and very perceptive and different view of reality," Akbar remarked.
Bollywood stars also offered their condolences.
"Vinod Mehta was one of the few editors I met in my early days in Mumbai. He was generous and direct. Will miss him and his straightforwardness," Anupam Kher said.