After a perfunctory account of his editorships and the dog, most obits of Vinod Mehta (VM) speak of his television avatar.
“That’s disproportionate,” the purists are murmuring.
This piece asserts that VM had smelt the coffee. He knew it was too late to try and be an anchorman himself – so how about playing second fiddle and rule the rent-a-sound byte industry.
Here he was a bit like Gavaskar (unlike an equally great Vishvanath) prolonging his relevance via the commentary box, a far cry from the hero of my youth, one who hit a straight six - sans helmet - to the scariest bowler on the planet.
Not many in the happening generation care for the fact that VM was a greater journalist and wordsmith than he was an acolyte of the nation’s anchorman.
To the growing minority who still enjoy reading more than watching - I nearly left The TOI to be in his launch team at Outlook – this was disappointing. They surely wonder why VM allowed himself to be brought in the next minute after Arnab’s famous Rahul Gandhi interview only to sing praises of the Holy Host and assure himself of the next invite.
Alas, this is the nature of the beast – a manifestation of the times we live in. Even a second-fiddle appearance on TV gets celebrated editors more bang than what once made a full-fledged cover.
VM even sipped for his supper! (It’s a charge he never quite denied.)
Let me explain my own focus on the man’s TV avatar. The realization is thanks to an early morning adventure I undertook on VM’s name and goodwill. I was still at graduation college, happy to spend half a day if I could earn Rs 200 at the end of 6 hours selling advance subscriptions for a new paper in town. The job entailed trying to convince newspaper subscribers in Gulmohar Park of New Delhi to dump The HT (and, sometimes The TOI) and try The Pioneer!
My punch line, the sales personnel tutored me, was that the new paper would be edited by Vinod Mehta!
So, I rang one bell, one after the other assured of “VM” in my arsenal. Only 2 out of some 50 households in this part of the capital had some notion of who VM was. Both had a snide remark on how he would quit his editorship at the slightest disagreement with the owner!
Nervous about losing my Rs 200, I promised that he won’t this time around!
But insight on how editors are a little over-rated came almost immediately. “Yeh, Mehta wali baat to theek hai, assure me that your paper will have every uthala (bereavement ceremony) in my community,” said this senior citizen, before shutting an iron gate on me.
That was an ask even VM couldn’t have delivered.
I left without a sale in my bag, clearer why most people pick media products for uthala pictures, not my celebrity editor!
VM knew why TV is the bandwagon he must latch on to. So, in the last decade until he passed away at 73, he invested a lot into TV. If that meant being nice to guest coordinators or queuing up with six others pleading, “Arnob, Arnob,” he did it. The delightful splashes from Debonaire to Outlook were as if in a past life.
The writer is a former editor who is now group head of communications at RIL. Views are personal.