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Meeting Mark

Sir Mark Tully introduces SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTYto the essence of his latest book, “India’s Unending Journey”

Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Balancing cultures Sir Mark Tully in New Delhi

The thought of meeting Mark Tully can give you a sense of nervous joy. While the nervy bit can stem from the risk of meeting a man of acclaim with a possible dose of airs, the joy could be in having a one-on-one with a reservoir of many experiences.

Donning a brick-red kurta pyjama, flashing a friendly smile, when Sir Mark extends his hand for a warm greeting in New Delhi’s Shangri-La hotel, our appointed place to talk about his just-released book, “India’s Unending Journey”, all that nervousness of an ordinary reporter meeting a hugely famous former ‘BBC man’ transforms into utter joy.

Having flipped through a bit of his book, published by Random House, two things strike you first. His humility, which comes through his warm smile, and his attraction towards India – more for the differences than any similarity between the two cultures.

Tully sahib, as he is popularly known, hardly takes any prodding to admit with a trace of gratitude, “I am what I am because of India”.

He confesses that he can never be an Indian. “My Karma is British.” Pointing at his kurta, he says, “I wear it not because I want to be an Indian but because I am comfortable in it.” He sincerely feels that “a lover of India” is a “silly phrase”.

In context of his attraction towards the differences that India offers him compared to his upbringing, Tully talks about his one-track childhood. “Though I was born in India (Kolkata), I was taught how not to become an Indian.”

There was no vent through which to get close to the native culture. He even mentions in his book how once he was slapped by his English nanny for learning from the driver to count in Hindi.

His education at Marlborough College, a top-ranked traditional British public school, push him further into a tunnel through which he could look at things only one way.

“Marlborough only taught me how to become competitive.” That there can be two answers to a question was never focused on.

His British Raj childhood and further studies in Theology at Cambridge University preached with certainty that Christianity was the only way to God. On realising that “Christianity can be one way of reaching God and not the only way”, he retracted from his decision to become a priest, also because he was not so sure about living a life of abstinence. He though calls himself “a devout Christian”.

A job opportunity with the BBC (he started off at the Personnel Department) soon sent him back to India.

A man used to asking questions, he didn’t take too long to get attracted to India, through Hinduism.

Interestingly, often in his book and during his conversation, you find his attraction towards India overlapping with Hinduism.

Mass with non-Christians

He talks of attending his first Christmas mass in a Delhi church where he was stunned to find non-Christians taking part in the ritual. Soon, he picked up Radhakrishnan’s “The Hindu View of Life”.

“It struck me that a sense of uncertainty about ways of reaching God is what makes Hinduism different. Because of its ability to adapt, so many faiths could thrive here,” says the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s programme on theology, “Something Understood”.

All these and more thoughts find their way in “India’s Unending Journey” where he incorporates people and places that are religious and those that signify economic growth, the balance that exists between the two and how.

Though having experienced Maha Kumbh once, he feels Hinduism is still deep-rooted in India despite the onslaught of Western influences on the society, Tully puts the onus finally on the people.

“Hinduism can survive modern times if only the people learn to bend with the wind. This has a mention in the last chapter of my book. People will have to find a balance between the new and the old. I have mentioned about Ireland. It is not too difficult to find people in that country crying over what they have lost,” he says.

But then, the trick lies in finding which way the wind is blowing.

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