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MARK TULLY - THE VOICE FROM INDIA

"I lived as a child in India…it was Fate that brought me back."

Mark TullyFor 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 the world.

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 uninvolved.

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



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