Autograph, please! Sir Mark Tully obliges a reader who had brought a copy of one of her older Tully books for autographing; as more fans turned up for his autograph he sat down for a comfy autographing session…obliging all with a smile and some conversation


IT was a weekday, Thursday, Sept 19, 2019. I had a tough choice to make, my dears, whether to go catch up with Aam Aadmi Party’s Deputy Chief Minister for Education, Government of Delhi Manish Sisodia and get a copy of his book Shiksha’…or go listen to Sir Mark Tully. I went off to listen to Mark Tully thinking Mr Sisodia I can always catch up with, although both are Delhi-based so I don’t know how. No regrets. Mark Tully must come first for he is the free media world’s dream media fellow. If you want to be journalist, be one like Sir Mark Tully! Move out of your urban comfy zones and check out the rest of rural India because that’s where all the big-time corruption is, says the British journalist who’s made a name for himself as a more Indian than Indian journalist courtesy being BBC correspondent and broadcaster for over 30 years and more, also adopted India as his second home away from home. Actually, he was born in India, Kolkata; before his parents packed him off to be educated in Britain. He returned and what a story he has to tell. Read up all of his 20-odd books if you want to understand your own country — Mark Tully is very readable. Of course he wasn’t Padma or Padma Bhushan or Sir to begin with, these titles came later quite simply because this Englishman born in Kolkata, India, made a significant difference to reporting on the political complexities which continue to haunt India from arriving into a first world country. Of course the hall at the International Centre Goa was overflowing with seniors and juniors from the media, students and old-timers from Goa who’d faithfully been following Mark Tully’s adventures from the grim to the funny in India. And everyone was oozing charm to be with him for selfies, getting him to autograph his bookIndia in Slow Motion’ which was selling at a discount, I bought it for 400 (paperback, Penguin Books, An imprint of Penguin Random House,450).
You know he’s 84 years someone, next to me murmured, and Delhi media colleagues recall him as a hard act to follow; of course being BBC correspondent and broadcaster he was coming from a privileged place. For 20 years as BBC Bureau Chief in New Delhi he covered major events since 1965 and these included the Indo-Pakistan wars, assassination of Indira Gandhi (anti-Sikh riots which followed), Rajiv Gandhi’s life and times, Bhopal gas tragedy, demolition of Babri Masjid — much more. The books he authored and co-authored include his most best known No Full Stops in India’ (1988), alsoAmritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle’ (1985), India in Slow Motion’ (2003),India’s Unending Journey’ (2008), Non-Stop India’ (2011) and several more. So respected he was back in Britain for his insightful coverage of India (after all India was the most prized jewel in the crown of the erstwhile British Empire), that he was awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1985, becoming Sir Mark Tully in 2001.
Someone in the audience asked him to choose between India and Britian and he said that’s not fair, both countries have a place in his heart. One gets the idea that he perceives India as a slow elephant and what bogs it down is the British colonial mindset which continues to haunt administration and bureaucracy — I suppose much like the British have gone but their chamcha admirers continue to call the shots to the detriment of India’s real progress and development! The British colonial mindset had a different goal in mind, with independence surely the goals must change because it is no longer a master-servant relationship anymore! Unfortunately for me and you the colonial mindset persists in India….
If you want to see imperial corruption at work, he urged India media to leave their urban comfort zones and travel out to rural India, that’s where all the mind-boggling scams are. In a most disarming exchange with Herald’s consulting editor Sujoy Gupta and ICG’s Dr Pushkar, Sir Mark Tully more or less said India today has to find a balance between extremes…amongst other things he firmly believes that religion should stay out of politics, it is fundamentally bad governance which has led to India lagging behind and there are reasons for that, “If you want to see bad governance go to rural sector. Rajiv Gandhi carried out reforms …”
Laws are passed, money is sanctioned, but the programs of change for the better don’t reach the people for which they are meant. He said, “Changes are not taking place in India as quickly because of governance being so inadequate and also because it is pervaded by the old colonial spirit.” Out in UP villages he had urged a poor villager to demand he be given his BPL card and the reply, “Block Officer shouts bhago bhago, get out!” Such scenarios are in plenty one imagines. So the system is not delivering, summed up Mark Tully, and that’s where India comes to a full stop presumably.
He also urged media people not to the hero of their own story! It is the person or people you are writing about no matter where they are coming from who are the heroes – don’t tell your story, tell the story of the people. “A journalist should tell the story truthfully, media should be watchdog of government but it is limited by the organisations they work for.” But he is all praise for some media houses like the NDTV because “it is important to make exceptions and some stories must be told. Even in Britain some papers are on side of government, some more balanced, we also have anti-government newspapers…”
Interestingly, Sir Mark Tully confessed he didn’t choose to be a journalist, but “journalism chose me!” To start with he wanted to join the priesthood but it was not to be, a clergyman friend pointed out to him that he was too fond of his beer in a pub and perhaps the Church was the wrong place for him to be or something like that. So he became a journalist for BBC in India, quite a fascinating story and if you read up Sir Mark Tully’s CV, you’ll find he is quite an erudite theologist taking a keen interest in the religions of the world.
Nobody asked him about the Prime Minister Narendra Modi? My friend Patricia Sethi (late of Newsweek) pointedly asked Sir Mark Tully to sum up the prime minister of India, and he responded, “There’s some good, not all bad…basically he is a cult figure.” Hopefully the cult halo would wear out sooner or later for the larger good of India. There were a barrage of questions from the audience and a most depreciating soft-speaking Sir Mark Tully fielded them all, I recall a final concluding remark, “India is a land which believes in balance and balance is everything.” Even when it comes to technology, be balanced, he said, “The cellphone is just a tool, generally I see it as futile and unnecessary communication…”
This is to say it was an altogether fruitful affair listening to formidable newsman and human being extraordinary Mark Tully, now too late in my life I’m engaged in reading all his books, beginning with `India In Slow Motion’…Googling a bit I discovered he is written prolifically, there’re something like 20 books to his credit — his India books ought to offer much insight into an understanding of the modern India we live in and which is currently poised at an important crossroad…that is, of course, if you’re asking me. Is the India of our dreams being replaced by an India of our nightmares?
On that note, it’s avjo, poiteverem, selamat datang, au revoir, arrivedecci and vachun yeta here for now.

— Mme Butterfly

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