I first encountered Vinod when he asked me to write for his Sunday Observer, and I wrote some pieces for it. I was in Delhi at the time, writing regular political commentary for The Indian Express and The Sunday Standard and it could not have escaped his notice that I was unpopular with the increasingly authoritatian political establishment. Years later, in September 2004, Woodstock School in Mussoorie asked him to introduce me at the function where they gave me their distinguished alumna award. Later, in Outlook, Vinod recalled what he had said on the occasion. “I said that novelists and intellectuals are suckers for being seduced by power. I gave the example of Norman Mailer.... This niece of Jawaharlal Nehru remains uncorrupted by power. Deliberately and without regret, she decided to stay out of its embrace and opted to concentrate on her writing.” At the time, I told Vinod I could have wept when he paid me this compliment. He declared it was simply a fact and a matter of his own observation.
Vinod was not just a keen observer of his times, but a perceptive one. He was also remarkably relaxed as a journalist and had his say with ease and humour. No “temperament”, no sense of self-importance. It was always fun to watch him on TV, where his views and values came across with no concessions to the powers that be. We kept in touch with each other’s work. His autobiography Lucknow Boy was a treat for its no-nonsense directness. When his book on Sanjay Gandhi came out, I rang him to correct one of his impressions and he was interested in what I had to tell him. He rang me to say he was “riveted” by an extract he was reading from my new book The Political Imagination. The last time I met him was at its launch in July 2014 along with Ritu Menon’s biography of me. “I have yet to meet a more tranquil and optimistic person than Nayantara Sahgal,” he wrote afterwards in Outlook. “There is an endearing simplicity about her work and her belief that India, after some detours, will return to being the country that Nehru envisioned—tolerant, open and civilised.”
There are absences that time does not fill. His is one of them. His profession sorely needs men like him. And I grieve for the loss of a friend.
A biography of author Nayantara Sahgal, Out of Line, is recently out.