Books

Book Review : A Rude Life – The Memoir By Vir Sanghvi

As the cover introduction says – for the first time ever , a look behind the scenes at the very top of Indian politics , media and entertainment by a star journalist . One had guessed it right that the 400 plus page by Vir Sanghvi would be engrossing and unputdownable if one started reading it .

And the matter of fact it really is one . Given his long career , it was expected of Sanghvi to come out with this sort of memoir when he wished to since he for decades has been of of India’s best known media figures . Millions have followed his articles and watched him talk to India’s most famous people on television . And this author has been a fan of Sanghvi’s writings since his Sunday Days .

In this truly riveting memoir Sanghvi brings to fore wonderful anecdotes and tells his tale tellingly to keep the readers hooked to the book all along. Each chapters are short , crisp and sharp. It presents four decades of India’s turbulent political life , Politicians come alive stripped off their public personas and seen up close and personal. Netas, film idols rock stars and media moguls show him the face they rarely reveal to the public. Sanghvi writes about his life and times with clear honesty and candidness . This wows the readers.

A cast of characters that ranges from Amitabh Bachchan, to Sonia Gandhi to Dhirubhai Ambani to Giani Zail Singh to PV Narasimha Rao to AB Vajpayee sparkles through the pages of this fascinating account packed with the stories behind the headlines all told with ease.

The star journalist talks candidly about his times at India Today working with Aroon Purie  and the anecdote of him flying all the way to Bangalore to do an interview with Zeenat Aman. Much to the surprise of the actress posed a query  really ? Just to Interview me ? She asked delightedly .

Recalls meeting Raj Kapoor  on the little hut on the grounds of RK Studios, It was called his cottage. He would sit on the gaddi cross legged like a Russian Buddha drank endless cups of tea and held forth.  Vir finds him in good mood. As he was witty , charming and once he dropped his guard, quite mesmerising  because he  had  been everywhere done everything and told fabulous stories.

His first interaction with Amitabh Bachchan in a set and found him at ease. And the impression he got was that  Bachchan was sophisticated and well read and the most fascinating people he had ever interviewed . He had worthy attributes too – He was disciplined, came early on the sets, no tantrums  liked simple home cooked food and did not drink, and had the best manners of anyone in the business. But when Bachchan joined politics and became an MP courtesy his friendship with then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi , he was a changed man.

Feroz Khan  surprises Vir on the way he  spoke in – an Americanized drawl  and it took him time to know what he was talking about. Quick mention of other stars Manoj Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand.  And was swayed by Shashi Kapoor’s charm  . But Vir after meeting several movie figures comes to a conclusion that  Raj Kapoor stood out among them and he termed him the last Mogul .

As far as his first meeting with politicians go Vir says It was Sharad Pawar who made the strongest impression . As he writes he was young at the time (  in his thirties ) but exuded authority.  He rarely said  very much  but you had the sense that he missed nothing.  And he was totally pragmatic. Almost every other  Maharashtra politician I had met at the time is now forgotten , But Pawar  continues to be a major figure with no need  to follow at the dictates of any party  other than his own. After several meeting he became good friends with Shiv Sena founder and Supremo Bal Thackeray and enjoyed spending times with him .

Looking back at his  Bombay Magazine heydays Vir says he saw  many people drop in to meet him . He recalls a fun anecdote when a Goan Christian secretaries  came to my office and whispered , ‘There is a man  in a dhoti asking for you at the reception . ( She pronounced it as doe- tee so i had to get her to repeat what she said) . The person happened to be Subramanian Swamy , MP from Bombay .

There there is the  tale of Congress leader Murli Deora who was close to Indira Gandhi but he was hated by her son Sanjay Gandhi . And Murli was surprised to hear about Sanjay’s death. And he asked ‘Mar gaya saala? .

Moraraji Desai  gets  a mention with a anecdote that before he was ousted from office as Prime Minister , he took along with him several confidential papers – government files and secret letters . This whole episode came to be called  as Morarji papers.

Vir Sanghvi then recalls how how nervous he was on his one- to one meeting on board  plane with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on their way to Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram. He was intimidated by the special plane , and special terminal arrangements. How he managed to ask him about his differences with then President Giani Zail Singh.  And not expecting Rajiv vented out his feelings for the President  and his role in Punjab politics . There are several others who get a mention – VP Singh, Chandrashekhar, PV Narasimha Rao etc  .

As the editor of Hindustan times , Vir recollects Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. He was well liked by the media though he rarely gave interviews . And while  he often met journalists one to- one, he remained enigmatic  and Sphinx like during these encounters, rarely divulging anything of note.  In contrast , L K Advani , who was the home minister was far better organized. He gave interviews readily, was easily accessible to journalists, had his own media favourites who guaranteed leaks from his office and could count on the ministers in the government who kept referring journalists to him.  Vajpayee never said much about Advani ( actually he never said much about anybody)  but Advani was only too willing to talk about Vajpayee . And Advani was disturbed by the clout Brijesh Mishra held at the PMO.

Finally, A Rude life  is  a candid account from a star journalist and his life from his childhood , days at Oxford, Bombay Calcutta, Delhi wherever his journalistic sojourn took him . And his fondness for food and penchant for staying at good hotels .   The fitting applause for the book comes in the cover itself , from  the best selling author Dr Shashi Tharoor. The  quote by Tharoor says all about the book ” Rich with his characteristic biting commentary and sharp wit, A Rude Life  is an invaluable glimpse into the wildly entertaining  world of Vir Sanghvi.

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