Brutally frank about his own follies
Vinod Mehta was much more than one of India's greatest journalists. He was one of the most candid and transparent individuals I have ever known, a person who could bare his innermost secrets to the world at large, who could write about a daughter he had but never met, who could confess how his error of editorial judgement cost him his job in the now-defunct Independent newspaper, and how he was humiliated by the late industrialist Lalit Mohan Thapar who owned the Pioneer. There are few of us -- including this correspondent -- who can be as brutally frank about his own follies and foibles as Vinod was. Yes, despite our difference in age, I only addressed him by his first name.
His childlike simplicity and his candour belied his guts of steel. He could, and did, stand up against the might of the richest industrialist, the most powerful politician and the highly influential bureaucrat to uphold journalistic ethics and media freedom, like few before him. His own accounts of his relations with Ratan Tata, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Brajesh Mishra (to name only three individuals) bear testimony to a journalist who cared more about his readers than anyone else, not even his employers. Every time he was sacked and insulted, he emerged all the more stronger and gutsier. He stood by his subordinates before the outside world, even when he knew they were wrong. There are few on this planet who was loved so much by even those who disagreed vehemently with his views. The word "liberal" is much used and abused but he fitted the description better than most others.
I consider it my honour and privilege that I worked under him for a little over five years in the first half of the 1990s. I owe more than a case of the best Single Malt Whiskey money can buy for all that I learnt from him -- about what to do and what not. For many years after we ceased being colleagues, he would rib me and joke with me whenever our paths would cross. And he was always frank to a fault -- like the time he told me why he could not carry a story against the Ambanis because he had already just antagonised them and did not want to do so again in quick succession in deference to the wishes of the owners of the weekly he edited.
The last few occasions we bumped into each other, he seemed a littleless steady on his feet. But his sharp wit was intact. In late-November, I was suitably flattered when I received a phone call from him inviting me for the launch of the second part of his memoirs, "Editor Unplugged", on 12 December. Little did I realise then that the launch would not take place and that it would be the last time I would speak to him.