Right on Mark
Nonika Singh

Sir Mark Tully Exaggeration isn't his cup of tea. Frank and fearless, Sir Mark Tully always says things as these are, without sugar or spice. So Indians might go ga ga over this Indophile and his love for India, the former Bureau Chief of BBC, Delhi, clarifies, "Firstly I don't like the word Indophile and secondly love is too strong an emotion and I wouldn't use it to define my relationship with India."

To those who feel he should solemnise his association with India, running into decades, with an Indian name, his repartee once again is: "Where you are born (his birthplace is Tollygunge, British India, now Kolkata, India) is your karma. However, let's not forget I did study in England and served in the British army. It would be foolish to think that I am not British."

Instead, he chooses simple words, "I am happy being in India and am at home here," to describe his tryst with the Indian soil. Indeed, there is much that he likes here. Just as we wonder aloud "isn't India more than spirituality?" He shoots back, "But spirituality is a very significant aspect of India." It's here, he feels, India scores over the West as the latter lays too much emphasis on rationality and science. No, he has nothing against scientific principles but only believes, "rationality has limits." He is mighty impressed that India doesn't have any rigid demarcations and is a very open culture, the one that encourages debate. He endorses Amratya Sen's thesis of an "argumentative Indian". As for the arguing Indians seen on television, well he thinks the Indian media is missing out a big opportunity to influence people. He says, "In its short-term pursuits, it's becoming unduly aggressive."

Sure he is often invited to many of these provocative heated debates. So how does he cope? He laughs and quips, "Frankly, I find myself shouting too." Reasonable debate, he believes, is what India needs. It also would do well if it gave due importance to ethics without which he holds no organisation can function nor create loyalty. He rues, "The world is being ruined in the name of this new notion of profit-centric efficiency."

This is exactly why he quit BBC many years ago. He reveals, "The man at the helm John Birt, the then Director-General wanted to make it the best- managed corporation not the best-broadcasting organisation." Today, as he is once again associated with BBC and is making BBC Radio 4 programme, "something understood," he is enjoying every bit of delving into the realm of intuition. He loves the world of Railways, "a childhood fascination," and dubs air travel as the drabbest and uniform way of travel. Indian Railways, he asserts, needs an overhaul. No he isn't a fan of Lalu Prasad Yadav who did try to turn it around during his stint as Railways Minister, but does admit, "He did manage to cut at the edges." But the real transformation he hopes will happen if the Railways were to become an independent corporation.

Like many others who have observed India from close, he too thinks its state of governance leaves a lot to be desired. The new winds of change and of materialism sweeping the Indianscape too has him perturbed and he hopes India will find the middle path. Either way the man who is all set to write yet another book on India (a compilation of short stories) and considers his acceptance in India a great privilege. A citizen of two countries, honoured in both (knighted in UK and conferred with Padma Bhushan in India), he will continue to use his no-nonsense British sensibility to describe India with the warmth that he feels for it.

Journalists, he is of the view, do not automatically make good writers, "nor are the best authors in the world journalists." But this journalist-writer whose incisive eye never fails to record and observe the unseen and never shies from calling a spade a spade is avidly and fondly read in both UK and India. Like his book, India's Unending Journey, his quest of India is never ending too. Right now, itís taking him back to rural hinterland, eastern UP the Purvanchal region that he is so fascinated by. Clearly, as far as India goes there are no full stops for Sir Mark Tully.