21 January, 2021

Outlook Diary

From one man who had a ringside view of everything: especially the ringmaster, Vinod Mehta, who blended brilliant helmsmanship with an aversion to court appearances and computers.

Vinod Mehta with Outlook team on the magazine’s 10th anniversary
Outlook Diary
The Master Builders

And Outlook celebrates its silver jubilee! Two individuals played a stellar role in building the name and fame Outlook enjoys today: Vinod Mehta and Deepak Shourie—maybe the latter is not given enough credit for his role. They together created a wonderful newsmagazine, when everyone thought space for such a publication did not exist. Mr Mehta’s launch team was one of its kind. The editorial team he put together in 1995 was remarkable. Quality, mix and versatility of the launch team were the secret of Outlook’s success. Most of them went on to become editors or more. The team was just capable of anything.

Deepak Shourie could create a buzz in the market. He devised innovative subscription schemes even before the magazine hit the stands. He offered subscription offers with the ‘dummy’ issues. The Diners Club member database was a starting point for him. Mr Shourie had the product, and he converted it into a commercial success.

With its very first issue, Outlook grabbed attention and publicity when members of the Shiv Sena burnt copies and broke the Mumbai office’s windows. Mr Mehta always remarked that Shiv Sena gave him free publicity.

We take this opportunity to express our gratitude to the late Vinod Mehta, Deepak Shourie and all the members of that brilliant launch team.

Entries From Our Diary

Editors have distinct styles, but our founding editor Vinod Mehta’s style of functioning was vastly different from others. He always reported to work at around 10.30 am. His routine was regimented (a rare feature among journalists). He spoke little in the office. Meetings—mostly brief ones—were conducted at scheduled hours.

Letters to the Editor were collected daily and kept with Mr Mehta in his drawer. He was very particular about those. The last page ‘Diary’, an Outlook institution, was his other fiefdom. Diary contributors, in those years, consisted of a select group of people. In the early days, Frank Simoes wrote two pieces a month; at the end of the month we sent him a cheque for Rs 6,000. He wrote back, asking Mr Mehta to commission him to write a cover-to-cover edition once a year so that he could remain gainfully unemployed for the rest of the year!

Some of the other regular contributors to the Diary page included Rahul Singh, Anil Dharker, Bhaichand Patel, Bill Aitken, Amita Malik, Ajit Bhattacharjea etc.

A Pen-and-Ink Man

The editors who succeeded Mr Mehta had many similarities, but the major difference between them and Mr Mehta was the latter’s allergy to computers. In 1995, Windows had arrived, and Outlook had installed MS Word in the office computers, but for those who could not adapt to MS Word we had ‘Xywrite’. A desktop with an old terminal was installed in Mr Mehta’s cabin, along with the mouse on a mousepad. He made his distaste clear at once, asking us to “take it away”. After a lot of R&D, an ingenious method was developed to circumvent the use of the “mouse and mouse pad”. We hid the confounding thing behind the big terminal. Mr Mehta’s expectations from these newfangled things were, however, exacting: he once told the office computer guy that no computers or printers should fail on production days. When they occasionally did, they invoked a sudden volley of foul temper.

In view of this disdain towards computers, it is remarkable that, in later years, Mr Mehta was not only using a laptop, but was Googling away too. And he had started tweeting too!

Cross-Court Play

Litigations were natural, constant companions of the publications Mr Mehta edited; at least that was the case for the last two. However, it was impossible to get him to attend a court hearing. The three most arduous tasks that an editorial manager faced on account of Mr Mehta’s ingrained biases/quirks were: one, to make him agree to take a phone call; two, meet an unexpected visitor; three, make him to agree to attend a court hearing.

We had to devise our own ways to even broach the subject with him. Phone calls were turned down with a mere, dismissive shake of the head, while court attendance requests were put off with loud shout: “I am not attending, that’s it!”

Departed and Remembered

Twenty-five years on, who would dedicated Outlook readers of old be missing the most: Editor or the editor-in-chief? Both were much familiar, and much beloved, personalities they got to know well. By the way, for those who have no clue about Editor—Mr Mehta’s canine companion who made numerous appearances in his inimitable ‘Delhi Diary’—let me share the sad news. He had gone to his glory soon after his master’s death.

Sasidharan Kollery is general manager, Outlook and, as part of its launch team, was editorial manager for many years

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