Ved Mehta: A man with a definite personality

By Humra Quraishi. Dated: 1/14/2021 11:41:45 PM


With the passing away of writer Ved Mehta, I can only say that we have lost not just a great writer but also a man with a definite personality. I had met him twice and interviewed him once around the autumn of 2009, when he had flown down to New Delhi with his wife, Linn Cary—a descendant of the 19th century American writer James Fenimore Cooper.
He came across as not just straight forward but also blatantly stark in his views. And though a meningitis attack had left him visually impaired at the age of 4, yet he looked so very confident, full of life. Remarkably, he didn’t let this setback of impaired vision,come in way of his writing. Author of over 30 books along with several long and short stories; not to overlook the fact that for over three decades, 1961–1994, he was a staff writer at The New Yorker. Above all, he lived life to the fullest. Along with exceptionalinputs and outputs to his professional life, there were those ample steady splashes to his rather unconventional and colourful lifestyle, till of course, the time he’d decided “to settle down”. Marrying in 1983, at the age of 49, along the strain of Aristotle’s philosophy that for a marriage to be happy and going, a man must marry a much younger woman.
During the interview with me, he detailed, “I married late when I was 49 years old .And Linn is almost twenty years younger to me. Actually Linn is a friend’s niece and I had first met her when she was 11 years old.And years later I had met her again at a party .This timeI was drunk and kissed her. The very next morning I wrote an apology note to her and she told me that from her side too, there were feelings involved it is then we decided to marry and we married in 1983 and today she is my one and only wife and we have two daughters.”
He had stressed on the fact that knowledge of our historical past is very significant. To quote him, “I feel our history is very important for today’s generation. People who live without history are no better than animals …history is important as it adds a dimension to life, just as children and wife add that extra dimension to a man’s life.”
Though based in America, he was extremely critical of America’s intrusion in Afghanistan and beyond. To quote him on this, “America should get out of Afghanistan. And Iraq was a total disaster, totally a fantasy of a kind, along the lines of the US did in Vietnam and Korea. I’m for non -violence and all for the policy of tolerance. And I do also believe in Aristotle’s philosophy vis -a -vis democracy : you can only have democracy if a majority of people belong to the middle class.”
VedMehta was also extremely apprehensive of theRight- Wing coming to power in India. He was worried that divisions and communal rifts between communities would be brought in, by the Right -Wing rulers and their policies, and that in itself would spell disasters for the masses of this country.
Today, 13 January, is Lohri. The day celebrated across the Northern belt of Punjab and Haryana to mark the lessening of the winter cold and the very start to Spring. But unlike the previous years, this yearthere is nil rejoicing, as apprehensions surmount for the farmers and all those associated for their demands and call to roll back the three controversial Farm Bills. There is tension in the air, as the farmers feel betrayed. Mind you, by their own government.
Perhaps, these lines of Sarojini Naidu would be somewhat adequate to relay the sheerpain and sorrow spreading around, not just in the Punjab and much beyond. Let me hasten to add that Naidu wrote these lines in the context of the Jallainwala Bagh tragedy but today the situation doesn’t stand much changed. Farmers are perishing and dying, rather forced to kill themselves, in one way or the other …
These lines of Sarojini Naidu tucked in the pages of - Jallianwala Bagh- Literary Responses in Prose & Poetry ( Introduced and Edited by - Rakhshanda Jalil. Published by Thornbird - An Imprint of Niyogi Books)
“How shall our love console thee, or assuage/
Thy hapless woe; how shall our grief requite/
The hearts that scourge thee and the hands that smite/
Thy beauty with their rods of bitter rage?/
Lo! Let our sorrows be thy battle –gage/
To wreck the terror of the tyrant’s might/
Who mocks with ribald wrath thy tragic plight,/
And stains with shame thy radiant heritage!/
O beautiful! O broken and betrayed!/
O mournful queen! O martyred Draupadi!/
Endure thou still, unconquered, undismayed! /
The sacred rivers of thy stricken blood/
Shall prove the five -fold stream of Freedom’s flood,/
To guard the watch -towers of our Liberty.”

Its about time we begin to chant on a daily basis these lines of MARTIN NIEMOLLER - the German pastor who was persecuted by the Nazis -
In Germany, they first came for the /
communists, and I did not speak up /
because I was not a communist.Then /
they came for the Jews and I did not /
speak up because I was not a Jew./
Then they came for the trade / unionists, and I did not speak up /
because I was not a trade unionist /
Then they came for the homosexuals /
and I did not speak up because I was /
not a homosexual./
Then they came for the Catholics /
and I did not speak up because I was /
Protestant. /
Then they came for me …but by /
that time there was no one left to /
speak up.”



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