6 th August 2021 – Prabha Khaitan Foundation organized a virtual session of Kitaab, launching Vir Sanghvi’s book ‘A Rude Life’. Introducing and welcoming the guests was Soni Jain, chairperson of Young FICCI Ladies Organization, Kolkata. Vir Sanghvi is a veteran journalist and was the editor of Hindustan Times from 1999 to 2004 before being promoted to editorial director, a post he held till 2007 after which he continued as a columnist. He has also worked with television channels, he has a parallel career as India’s leading food and travel writer. In conversation with Vir was Mr. Prem Prakash who also launched the book. Prem Prakash is the chairman of ANI, India’s premier news agency which he had helped to setup. He has interacted with every Prime Minister of India and also interviewed most of them on camera. He has also worked with many pioneering foreign broadcasters in France, Germany and USA.
Vir was born in an upper middle class family and things were going fine for him until his father died suddenly at the age of 50, when Vir was only 15. His mother fell to pieces and since he was the only child, he was left to him to figure out what he would do next. He was already in a boarding school which was already paid for and his father’s relatives were looking after enough money for him to be educated. His father always wanted him to study in a public school in England, which sounded fine in theory but in principle nobody knew where to send him. He went off to England and stayed with relatives and started looking at schools that would suit him and give him a degree of freedom. He found the school in which he really wanted to go, but was rejected. He thought that since he had nothing to lose, he should call the headmaster and talk to him directly. He spoke to him and the headmaster asked him to meet him in person and asked him about his situation and interviewed him, and he finally got admission in the school of his choice. He calls himself lucky and says that he has depended on the kindness of others and had it not been for that, he wouldn’t be able to achieve what he has.
He talks about Dilip Kumar and the accusation of him being a Pakistani spy. He remembers that he was a very small boy when his father fought a case for Dilip Kumar and helped in getting his film through, Dilip Kumar was the idol of the country at the time but suddenly he showed up at his house with a pale face and told Vir’s father that he may be arrested for being a Pakistani spy. Dilip Kumar was at the forefront of nation building and worked with Pandit Ji and even made movies on national integration for free and even raised money whenever there were floods. This accusation was ridiculous and based on very lousy evidence and even the police didn’t find anything when they raided Dilip Kumar’s house.
Talking about journalism, he says that it was a series of accidents. He says that there weren’t many things that he was good at in school but writing was one of them. It was the natural thing to do for him and he became the youngest editor of the school magazine and continued to do this even when he went off to Mill Hill school and even got awards for it.
In his book, he has written that he enjoyed hanging around the newspaper offices in the West. He was the youngest editor in India, at the age of 25. In the year 1981, he was a small time editor in a magazine called Bombay. It had a building the same size as Times which was a daily whereas Bombay was a weekly magazine. To hang around these people was a heady feeling for him as he used to look up to those people and see how they worked.
He talks about the underworld in Mumbai and says that it went through a lot of phases, most of
the gang leaders started off as gold smugglers and then later on went into construction. There
was an act called the Bombay Rent Act which made evicting the tenants effectively impossible to evict. These gang leaders started buying properties at knockdown prices from landlords who couldn’t evict the tenants and then used strong muscle to throw the tenants out, burn the buildings and then reconstruct and sell the flats at huge profits. They used to say that there was more money in construction compared to crime.
He talks about the demolition of the Babri Masjid and says that he thinks that Advani didn’t know about the demolition as he was very sad on that day and kept saying that his movement was ruined. Vir has always given him the benefit of the doubt to him and believed that he did not know. He talks about Narasimha Rao and says that he did nothing and decided not to get involved. He ignored everyone’s advice and rather than being there when it happened, he was asleep.