Life is what happens to you when you’re waiting for your Ved Mehta interview

Harsh Desai recounts his experience at the Jaipur Literature Fest, where he tries to score an interview with Ved Mehta. Along the way, he met noted celebrities like Jhumpa Lahiri, Suhel Seth and Urvashi Butalia

I thought I was done with the Jaipur Literary Fest; in earlier editions of the fest, I sat with Martin Amis and discussed father-son relationships over lunch and a glass of wine. Then, I discussed with New Yorker Editor, David Remnick, who correctly predicted that Mitt Romney had no chance of winning the 2012 US elections. I also talked to Richard Ford about Anne Beattie and to Jay McNerney about drugs. I cracked jokes with Ben Okri. The literary fest had become large and unwieldy; after all is there really a better way to know a writer than his books?

I had been to Jaipur a couple of months ago on my way to the Pushkar Camel Fair. I thought may be I should just give the Jaipur Literary Fest a miss this time. If Philip Roth or Haruki Murakami comes, I will give it a shot. When I met William Dalrymple at the Times Literary Fest in Bombay he told me that the highlights were Jonathan Franzen and Jhumpa Lahiri. However, I was not captivated by either of them even though both are, undoubtedly, top flight writers. When my friend, Alan Horowitz, put up a post on Facebook, I realised that Ved Mehta and Cheryl Strayed were coming. This prompted me to pack my bags and book tickets right away.

From the airport in Bombay, I called up Sanjoy Roy who organises the event and requested if he could fix an interview with Ved Mehta. On the first day of the Jaipur Literary Fest I went to the press gallery and asked when I could interview Ved Mehta. I was told it would be for 2’o clock in the afternoon. I wandered away, as Amartya Sen commenced his keynote address, and droned on to check out who were all there at the fest and the happenings.

As I moved away from the front lawns and walked towards the durbar hall, I saw Chiki Sarkar, publisher of Penguin India, standing outside the Penguin stall. I went upto her and introduced myself. She didn’t recognise. Then, I told her that we had met at Khushwant Singh’s house a couple of years ago. Still, she didn’t recognise me. Then, I told her that I met her sister last month at Vim Bissel’s party in New Delhi while she was hanging out with Vikram Seth. Again, no reaction. Then, I told her that I am Ashok Desai’s son. So, I asked her if I could have an invitation to the Penguin party that night. Of course, she cooed and instructed one of the girls to give the invitation. I thanked her profusely.

Then, I attended the Ved Mehta session which was called Face-to-Face with Ved Mehta: A Conversation with Samanth Subramanian. After the session, I went up to wait at the press gallery for Ved Mehta, but was told, at around 2:30pm, that Ved Mehta was tired and would not be doing any interviews.  

At 8pm promptly, I was at the Rambagh Palace. The Penguin party was held inside a tent on the sumptuous Palace lawns. After a while Ved Mehta arrives, with his wife Lynn by his arms. I quickly made my way to where Ved was standing and waited for an opportunity to speak to him. I went upto Ved Mehta and told him that I had come all the way from Bombay to interview him. He asked me if I came by plane. I said yes. I told him that I wanted to ask hardball questions; however, he was reluctant and didn’t want to do the interview. At this point of time, I realised that if I pressed further, then I may have to make amends to get myself into Ved’s good books again. I told him that I had heard a wonderful story about his Nantucket bicycle trip and how he did it. I also told him about an article he had written about philosophers and how hard he had worked for the article.
He told me that he always worked hard on articles on contemporary philosophy.

Then I talked about the Maine house and enquired how much the house cost. He told me that I would not be able to afford it. I told him that he didn’t know my networth. He looked little embarrassed by my comment. However, I told him that it wasn’t for me but for some common friends. He wandered away.

Then, I caught up with his daughter Sage and son-in law and told them that I really wanted to ask Ved how his articles were so visual. His son–in-law told me that it is the any journalist or writer does: by asking questions, by research, and all that sort of thing.

When I caught up with Ved, again, I asked whether he had read a book of poems I had sent him through a common friend, Dorry. However, he told me that he never received the book. Then, I asked when I could interview him. He told me to call the next day to fix a time.

After a while, I wandered around and spotted Suhel Seth. I found him agitated about something and enquired. He told me of the horrific news of Sunanda Pushkar’s death. I was quite shocked by the news.

Then, I approached Penguin worldwide boss and discussed the future of the printed book. He reckoned that ultimately 50% of the books would be printed and remaining would be digital. However, he did not know what the situation in India would be like. But, he said penguin was doing fine and would not be affected.

The next morning, Saturday, I called up Ved Mehta. However, I was told that he would not be speaking to anyone today. The highlight of the day was Jhumpa Lahiri, who was both articulate and beautiful. She was living in Italy writing a nonfiction book. Tarun Tejpal, who was always a fixture at the Literature Fest was nowhere to be seen.

On Sunday I went to the press centre and was told that I could sign up for an interview with Ved Mehta. When I signed up I was told I was 9th in the list. I got a bit agitated, wandered off to the lunch arena, picked up a glass of red wine and introspected. Urvashi Butalia happened to pass by. I invited her to have wine with me. We talked about the difficulties of running a small press in India and the difficulties of selling books.

Then, when I get myself lunch (piping hot pasta) and tried to find a place, I couldn’t. A man seated close by told me in a quiet voice to sit alongside him. He was none other than Ben Anderson, the famous documentary maker. He told me that he was going to Columbia the next day to investigate tungsten mining; he had just come back from Afghanistan. I asked him why he put himself in danger. Was it adrenaline rush? He replied that important stories had to be done. He regaled me with daring stories, especially of the one of woolly sheep of Kandahar and how Kalashnikov rifles were tucked on the undersides.

Finally, I was told that Ved Mehta would not be doing the interview.



Veeresh Malik

3 years ago

This is one of the best articles I have read in MoneyLife. Very early in life I had learnt that the art of granting interviews has now been totally converted into the Art of Carbonated water, in India, if you close your eyes, you will not be able to make out anything.

All the best. I think you could have made up an imaginary interview and called it "dream sequence". Your readers who are your constituency would have enjoyed it.

And Maine is so cold that it is not even funny.

Nomura's Economic Surprise Index for India

Nomura's Economic Surprise Index suggests that negative economic data surprises are more likely in the coming weeks, says Nomura

Nomura's economic surprise index for India (NESII) is a tactical tool and captures the direction and momentum of economic data surprises in India. Historically, it has shown a strong correlation with India’s financial markets. The NESII correctly indicated negative market returns ahead in May 2013 and positive returns in end-August 2013, points out Nomura.


The recent trends of the index are shown in the chart below:

NESII is a weekly index and comprises equally-weighted surprises in economic data (IP, WPI, GDP and PMI) released during a week. A reading above zero indicates a positive economic data surprise and one below zero indicates a negative data surprise.


From September 2013 the NESII had been rising, reflecting continued upside surprises in PMI (Purchase Manager’s Index) data, and more recently, the sharp fall in WPI (wholesale price index) inflation in December. The NESII is currently close to the +1 standard deviation band, reports Nomura.


Nomura analysts say that the NESII is mean reverting, which indicates an increasing probability that it will start to retrace back towards zero in the coming months. A falling NESII would indicate that economic data are likely to surprise negatively, possibly because consensus expectations are now too optimistic.


Sensex, Nifty may dip again: Friday closing report

If the Nifty goes below 6060, it may test 6000 or lower. A short-term rally may be possible only on a close above 6,125 on Monday

Yesterday we had suggested that the indices may stage a small rally till 6,150 but it may be met with selling. Today, Nifty remained under pressure and could only go up to 6098. It appears that the downmove is not yet over even though the index managed closing with marginal gains.


The Sensex opened at 20,545 while the Nifty opened at 6,083. The Sensex moved in the range of 20,448 and 20,572 and closed 20,514 (up 16 points or 0.08%) while the Nifty moved between 6,067 and 6,098 and closed 6,090 (up 16 points or 0.26%). The NSE recorded a volume of 59.15 crore shares.


India's consumer inflation should ease in the next two months, and will fall to 8% by the end of the year, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan was quoted as saying in an interview with TV news channel on Thursday.


The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) yesterday laid out a road map to deal with a surge in bad loans in the banking system. The framework outlines a corrective action plan that will offer incentives for early identification of stressed assets by banks, timely revamp of accounts considered to be unviable and prompt steps for recovery or sale of assets in the case of loans at the risk of turning bad.


The fiscal deficit touched Rs 5.16 trillion during April-December, or 95.2% of the full year target, compared with 78.8% a year ago, government data showed on Friday.


Net tax receipts were at Rs 5.18 trillion in the first nine months of the current fiscal year to March 2014, while total expenditure was Rs 11.64 trillion.


Finance Minister P Chidambaram is widely expected to slash investment spending to meet the budgeted target of 4.8% of gross domestic product, highest among BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.


RBI governor Raghuram Rajan warned of a breakdown in global policy coordination a day after the Federal Reserve further cut stimulus, weakening emerging-market currencies from the rupee to the Turkish lira.


US indices closed in the positive on Thursday. The US economy expanded rapidly in the final quarter of 2013, the Commerce Department said on Thursday as consumers shrugged off a government shutdown, with the data fueling hopes of even faster growth ahead. The gross domestic product grew at 3.2% annual pace.


The number of people who sought US unemployment benefits near the end of January rose to the highest level in six weeks, but it's unclear whether the increase is the residue of holiday-season distortions or reflects a deterioration in the labor market. The less-volatile, four-week average rose by a fraction.


Among the Asian indices which were trading today, Nikkei 225 (down 0.62%) and NZSE 50 (up 0.51%).


Japanese industrial production rose 1.1% on month in December, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Friday, on a demand rush ahead of an April sales tax increase.


Japanese consumer prices rose at their sharpest rate in over five years in December, the government said Friday. The core consumer price index, which excludes volatile fresh-food costs, climbed 1.3% from a year earlier in December, faster than a 1.2% gain in the previous month, according to data released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. It was the biggest rise since a 1.9% increase in October 2008.


Employment data released Friday also suggested a strongly recovering economy. The jobless rate fell to 3.7% of the work force, down from 4% in November and the lowest rate since December 2007.


European indices were trading in the red and US Futures were also trading sharply lower.


Consumer prices rose an annual 0.7 percent after a 0.8 percent gain in December, the European Union’s statistics office in Luxembourg said today. The euro-area unemployment rate held at 12 percent in December, a separate Eurostat report showed today. That’s down from a high of 12.1 percent in September.


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