Since the post is all about me, here is a picture of mine purposefully holding a pencil in my mouth
Being asked to comment on or quoted about something, anything, is one of the unquantifiable rewards of my profession. It creates a sense of consequentiality in one’s mind that almost invariably turns out to be transient. But it is uplifting while it lasts.
I have recently discovered that Vinod Mehta, arguably one of India’s best editors, found it worthwhile to quote from a piece I had written about a newspaper he once helmed. The piece was written more than two decades ago and I had forgotten about it altogether. Mehta had then just taken over as the editor of the Indian Post, a daily struggling to make its mark in a media landscape dominated by The Times of India and The Indian Express newspapers.
In his recently released memoir ‘Lucknow Boy’, Mehta writes about many things, including his struggles at the Indian Post as it went about ruffling many feathers in the late 1980s. He had to resign from the newspaper in the midst of political pressures. It is in the context of his news philosophy that Mehta quotes what I wrote for the New York-based weekly India Abroad.
Please disregard the joyful self-absorption of one journalist quoting another journalist about how good a job he was doing as editor and then the second journalist quoting the first journalist to claim some measure of professional standing.
That was more than two decades ago. The other day Subir Ghosh, a friend and fellow journalist from India, reached out requesting a comment or two for a piece he was writing on the rise of Chetan Bhagat, supposed to be India’s highest selling novelist.
Although I am tempted to feign modesty, I think Subir was remarkably perceptive in asking me for a comment because I do offer a cogent perspective on just about anything as long as it does not require serious scholarship.
Read Subir’s piece here. The following are my comments. The ‘He’ in the comment refers to Bhagat.
“Mayank Chhaya, US-based author of Dalai Lama: Man Monk Mystic (Random House,2007), wants to delve deeper. He explains, “He has all the trimmings of a phenomenon, including a media profile far beyond his core substance. In a sense, he could well be a character from one of his own books, someone who has succeeded beyond his wildest expectations by catering to the urban and semi-urban readership that is not particularly discriminating in its literary tastes.”…..
This “phenomenon” we are talking about gradually becomes a Bollywoodisation (pardon the term, please) of Indian fiction in English. Chhaya contextualises it for us, “His success is reminiscent of Hindi filmmakers of the late 1970s, particularly Manmohan Desai who had a grasp of the inner workings of the average urban mind. Bhagat has achieved the rare distinction of reaching a level where the commercial success of his books feeds on itself quite like Desai’s movies did. His books, it appears from afar, market themselves.””
In the glorious tradition of a balanced approach to such writing Subir also quotes another friend and journalist right below me by saying this, “Veteran journalist Kajal Basu disagrees, scathingly so.”
P.S.: I am constructing a huge echo chamber with mirrors placed strategically for journalists to gather and shoot the breeze. That way we can all hear and see ourselves.