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Aasim Khan

LUCKNOW BOY: A MEMOIR
By Vinod mehta
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2012, pp. 325, Rs. 499.00

VOLUME XXXVI NUMBER 6 June 2012

Poet and essayist W.H. Auden once remarked that every autobiography is concerned with two characters, ‘a Don Quixote, the Ego, and a Sancho Panza, the Self’. Vinod Mehta’s literary self-portrait Lucknow Boy fits the description quite well. Only that in this memoir the two characters never appear together, at least not on the same page. First we are introduced to the Self, the boy from Lucknow who spends his days loafing or ganjing around Lucknow’s busy galis and bazaars, and before long he finds himself on a flight to London with nothing more than a ‘BA Pass Third Class’ degree in hand. And then this boy, the Self, disappears from the stage, and we meet the Ego, the editor, who is at home in the company of the nation’s power elite, a goodhumoured chronicler of the life and times of the metropolitan 400 of the financial and political capitals of India. In that sense, there are two books in Lucknow Boy, it is one part memoir, an account of the wonder years of Mehta’s life in Lucknow and London and one part political diary which covers Mehta’s experiences in Bombay and Delhi as a professional mediawallah. Perhaps inspired by American writer Ernest Hemingway’s romantic memoir of his years in Paris, Mehta has quite literally laid out his life’s story in the form of a (moveable) feast. And ideally it should be consumed with a bottle of crisp Chenin Blanc in hand, one that matches the author’s cut and dry wit. Mehta begins his story by serving delicious canapés and amuse-bouchés from his days in Lucknow and London in the 60s, giving us a taste of innocence of an era gone. In these initial chapters of Lucknow Boy Mehta also indulges his readers with revelatory personal tales including the home-grown receipe of his ‘psuedosecularism’ and other such admirable eccentricities. And if one may stretch the metaphor, this fiesta is sure to leave quite a few, including Mehta’s multiple girlfriends, feeling like they have been eggdevilled! But this exuberance of his salad days may not suit everyone’s palette, after all magazine editors are not public figures, at least not in the way politicians, social activists, public intellectuals and film stars are. And hence, their private lives might not be of the slightest interest to many, may be with the exception ...


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