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Book Review | A Rude Life is a tell-all account of a man who has seen it, been there

Vir Sanghvi’s memoir would have been richer had he been more candid about events and people who touched life

August 01, 2021 / 10:07 AM IST

Title: A Rude Life
Author: Vir Sanghvi
Publisher: Penguin

400 pages, Rs 699

Vir Sanghvi straddles the worlds of politics and high life with equal élan. He also has the rare gift of being able to effortlessly move between media platforms: print, television and, now, digital — and also across genres: current affairs to food and travel.

Many would pick up ‘A Rude Life’ expecting it to be a tell-all account of a man who has seen it, been there. Sanghvi does not disappoint. Names drop like ninepins as anecdotes turn the pages. However, the evolution of Sanghvi as the man makes more fascinating reading.

Vir Sanghvi covers his early years and family history in a rapid flashback. His father was a remarkable man. Academically brilliant, he went on to become a full-time worker of the communist party. He married Vir’s mother after his first wife left him for a fellow comrade while he was in prison. Soon after that he was expelled from the party for some ideological deviation.

Sanghvi’s mother played a major role in rehabilitating his dad as a scribe (with Russi Karanjia’s Blitz). He went on to become a barrister. Among his associates were Krishna Menon, and Dilip Kumar. Later, he struck a friendship with the Shah of Iran, who helped him set up a public relations business in London, England.

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Though his mother outlived his father by over 46 years, it was his father who had influenced Sanghvi the most. Sanghvi recounts a touching moment, when days before his father’s death, his father said, “you are my link to the future” (the way Vir Sanghvi feels about his son Raaj now).

By his own admission, Sanghvi got into journalism “by accident” being “in the right place at the right time”. He went to Oxford, but the “years seem to pass in a blur”. Oxford, he writes, taught him “to think”, but it also shaped his sensibilities as he picked up his love for good food and fine wines while in college.

He was barely 20 when he started contributing to the ‘People’ section of the just-launched India Today, thanks to the mother of his close friend, Mohini Bhullar, who was in-charge of its operations in Mumbai. It was also at her intervention that Sanghvi got the job of editor, when the group launched ‘Bombay’, India’s first city magazine on the lines of ‘New York’.

The time he spent with the India Today Group and his subsequent stint at RV Pandit’s ‘Imprint’ opened the doors for Sanghvi into the arena of showbiz, politics and business. In Bollywood, he came to know the likes of Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Shyam Benegal and Zeenat Aman. He also pulled off a freak scoop interview with George Harrison travelling incognito in India, when Harrison talked to him about his ex-wife Pattie Boyd leaving him for Eric Clapton.

In politics, he built a rapport with Bal Thackeray and thanks to Rajni Patel (his father’s friend), Sanghvi developed relations with the younger lot of Maharashtra politicians such as Sharad Pawar. He earned Nusli Wadia’s wrath by featuring Dhirubhai Ambani on the cover of ‘Imprint’ — for which Wadia thought he had been paid off.

Sanghvi took up the editorship of ‘Sunday’ somewhat reluctantly, turning down an offer from Samir Jain. Though Sanghvi does not say it in as many words, ‘Sunday’ was the turning point of his life, both professional and personal. It was at ‘Sunday’ he met his wife Seema Goswami, who, changed him for good, “making an honest man out of him”. Among all the editors and proprietors he worked for, he appears to have a soft spot for Aveek Sarkar. He talks of him like a maverick but indulgent elder sibling.

Predictably, Sanghvi’s book contains large chunks of back stage stories of politics. Much of it has already been published in excerpts published by several media outlets and does not bear repetition here. He is understandably soft on Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi (and harsh on Sanjay Gandhi), but that does not take away any value from the memoirs. He devotes a full chapter to the Niira Radia tapes, in which he turned out to be collateral damage.

While ‘A Rude Life’ is rich in narrative, it falls short on analysis. From a vantage point, Vir Sanghvi could have provided a deeper insight of how Indian polity and society have transformed over the last four decades. It lacks the depth of a BG Verghese (one of his illustrious predecessors at Hindustan Times) or even Kuldeep Nayar’s memoirs. So, it would leave those who like to look beyond the grapevine a trifle disappointed.

Sanghvi’s memoir would have been richer had he been more candid about events and people who touched life. The title of Sanghvi’s book is ‘A Rude Life’, and his mother, if around, would have said — as she did to his principal at Mayo — “all Sanghvis are arrogant.. Vir is a little better now”.

Sandip Ghose is a current affairs commentator. Twitter: @SandipGhose. Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.
Sandip Ghose
first published: Aug 1, 2021 10:07 am

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