TULLY - THE
VOICE FROM INDIA
"I lived as a child in India…it was Fate that
brought me back."
almost thirty years, Mark Tully was the BBC's
man in South Asia. Based in Delhi - he travelled
all over the sub-continent to report on the kind of
defining events that shape a nation's history. For those
of us who were living as expatriates in foreign lands
in the days before cable TV and the CNN brought the
world into our homes, BBC radio's South Asian programme
was often the only source of unbiased information on
what was happening in our own country. Indira Gandhi's
assassination was one such tragic event - followed
by the greater tragedy of carnage when hundreds of innocent
Sikhs were killed brutally - and it was Mark Tully who
reported this to the world through the nights and the
days of those troubled times.
Today, he lives in Delhi as a loved and integral part
of this city. He has seen it through its most formative
and eventful years, coming to India as he did, in 1965,
just a year after Jawarharlal Nehru's death.
He was a familiar figure in the corridors of power and
was close to many of India's leaders including Rajiv
Gandhi and Morarji Desai. These days, although the
BBC has other reporters in South Asia - it is to Mark
Tully they turn for specific insights that emerge out
of his deep and genuine involvement with this part of
In all your years of reportage what were the highs
- when you felt amply rewarded for what you were doing
- and what were the lows?
There have been so many stories that I have covered…these
stories are not my stories. They are the stories
of the people to whom events are happening. After all,
I'm not assassinated, Indira Gandhi is assassinated,
I'm not suffering from floods in Bangladesh, the people
of Bangladesh are suffering. I have an abhorrence of
journalists and journalism which is all about the I,
the reporter - and not telling the story of the people.
If I am asked to talk about the highs and lows: I was
tremendously saddened by the assassination of Rajiv
Gandhi because I knew him well and I very much hoped
that he would have another chance to see if he could
do better this time and because he said to me - he had
the humility to say to me - "I know that I made mistakes
last time but…I'm going to be different this time".
I think it would have been very much in the fitness
of things if he had been allowed the chance.
A moment of horror was the Bhopal gas disaster…and
to know that this was a man-made disaster. A moment
of disgust was the hanging of Bhutto and the
realization that this was a completely rigged trial.
I was saddened by Morarji Desai's death. I knew Morarji
and I was fond of him. I felt very sad at the collapse
of the Janata experiment because we all hoped something
quite new was happening in India…and it didn't. That
was a disappointment. It was a sadness to be at Ayodhya…because
it defamed India. It made me sad because it seemed to
me to be contrary to what was best in the Indian tradition,
and I was appalled, and I said as much to Mr. Advani
afterwards, by the obscene, anti-Muslim slogans that
were shouted by them.
You've been in Delhi since 1965. For several years
you were, arguably, an uninvolved observer - as the
BBC commentator for South Asia. And then you suddenly
got involved. Why and when did this happen.
That's a difficult question. I don't think I was ever
wholly uninvolved. I had lived as a child in Calcutta
and I remember when I first came back to India in 1965
- I was staying at Claridges Hotel then - I walked out
onto the balcony of my room and I smelled the winter
flowers and the aroma of the food being cooked by the
malis… all that sort of thing. As you probably know
smell is the most evocative of all the senses and suddenly,
my childhood ran through my head. Like an electric train,
it just shot through it. It was from that moment onwards
that I thought - since I do believe in fate - that it
was fate that had brought me back. So - I was never
When you left the BBC in 1994, you chose to stay
on in India - happily for us. What led to this decision?
Well…I had no desire to go…I wasn't pining to go back
to England. But more strongly, I felt that if
you have spent some thirty odd years of your life in
a country and then just because you have left the BBC
you leave that country, it doesn't say very much about
the years you spent. So for that reason I decided not
to go - and here I am still.
You know India well. What has struck you most forcefully
about this country?
I would first of all say that India is the sort of country
that one learns something new about every day
and there are huge gaps in my knowledge; however, I
think that I can also say that I'm a British person
who has been deeply influenced by this country and I
have found some of the influences deeply powerful in
my own life. I have a number of friends here…I have
received a lot of love from many people in this country
- and perhaps the reason is that they have realized
that I genuinely care…although there may be a lot of
things that need to be addressed…there are also a number
of things that are right about this country.
What involves you these days?
I'm writing a book, which is a sort of follow on of
my earlier book "No Full Stops in India". I'm
also doing what I suppose you can call writing-journalism
- and quite a lot of radio programmes. For
instance, I did three programmes on The Impact of
Eastern Thought on the West for the BBC in London.
I also do a weekly programme that is pre-recorded as
well as a certain amount of public speaking in universities,
literary festivals, that sort of thing, in England.
I suppose I stay busy.
- SHANTA BHALLA