on 6 December 2007
I bought this book by mistake. I don't mean that I didn't intend to buy it; but that it turned out to be a very different book than the one I thought I was buying.
When I read the back cover I thought I new what the book was going to be about. Then when I read the inside of the dust jacket I realised I had been wrong and that the book was going to be about something completely different. Then I read the book.
This book is about balance. In it Mark Tully explores and discusses a number of issues that are of importance to us in the West as well as in his adopted country. In a rambling, loosely structured but well-written and easy to read way Mark Tully discusses religion, economics and politics.
He describes his Christian upbringing and India's pluralism. He discusses market capitalism and centrally managed economies. And he discusses the impacts that politics have had on these.
In a rambling (in a good way), loosely structured but well written and easy to read book; Mark Tully explores: Christianity, pluralism, the decline of the church in Ireland, fundamentalist secularism, faith in progress, sex, love, market economies, globalisation, Hinduism, Islam, business culture, nationalisation, humility and arrogance.
Although, or perhaps because this book covers so many subjects; it does not and cannot explore them in any depth but it is a fascinating introduction to them and has made me want to discuss and explore further.
As I said (or rather as the author said) this book is about balance; about finding a balance between views and beliefs. The fact that it does so - or starts to do so for this reader - is a testament to a very deeply felt belief in balance.
It might be a bit much - and hubristic - to suggest that Mark Tully - who is close to my father's age - and I swapped countries, but I wish all immigrants would go native in the way he has done, while maintaining a great deal of objectivity and sensitivity towards the complex and evolving landscape of India, where he has spent over 3 decades.
Born in India, Mark Tully was brought up with an English nanny so he would 'not go native', but how his parents might react to the Mark Tully, who makes his home in India and by all counts, speaks Hindi well, now is anybody's guess.
Before I say anything about the book, I must confess my partiality to Mark Tully: I grew up with his spoken word as a child listening to the BBC and in my adult years, I have read much of his written word. His style is lucid, his argument clear and his language highly accessible. That applies to his books I have reviewed earlier and to this one.
This book, his latest, focuses on the pluralistic tradition in Indian and Hindu philosophy by weaving an autobiographical story encompassing his days as a boy at Marlborough, then at Cambridge and Lincoln, and his experiences in India. He nods to Amartya Sen's book on the argumentative and discursive tradition in India, but adds a layer of his own experience in faith. Ah, faith, that word! It is almost taboo to discuss God and faith in a scientism and commercialism focused time such as ours. But Tully does discuss it and is not afraid to discuss how his life was shaped by his experiences in absolutist traditions of Marlborough, his doubts during his theological training, his constant questioning and his observation of the possibility that no one absolute truth exists (in religion as in life), and his experience of India.
The narrative goes back and forth in time but sometimes those flash-backs are the best method for presenting a story (in Indian mythology, the term is 'dant katha', an explanatory story which digresses from the main plot but enriches it by imbuing it with meaning and context). He starts with how the book was 'born' definitively in Puri where he had had many a vacation in his childhood, recalls his absolutist studentship at Marlborough, touches on Delhi and what makes it tick, travels to Raipur and how a singularity-themed Hindutva tradition betrays the pluralism and all-embracing evolution of Hindu philosophy. He describes how Cambridge's tradition of teaching to think changed him tremendously, esp coming as it did after Marlborough and the Armed Forces. He touches upon ancient and modernist interpretations of sexuality in religion both in Christian and Hindu societies. All through, the prose is refreshing in that it is not politically correct but it is not deliberately offensive either - a tough balance for even for inclusive liberals with a social conscience and political awareness.
Mark Tully is one of the rare persons who are decorated with the highest of civilian honours both in the UK and in India. And well-deservedly too. I do not know of many other writers capable of quoting both St Ignatius's prayer and the Bhagwadgita in his prose; nor do I know of many others who understand the nuanced evolution of every religion in secular India (for more on Indian interpretation, I recommend Ed Luce's 'In spite of the Gods') in ways that make them uniquely Indian in good ways and bad; he quotes RC Zaehner with as much ease as he does Dr S Radhakrishnan, one of India's Presidents, who had earlier headed up a department in religious studies at Oxford; none of his arguments misses being framed in the context of a modern India which is searching for an identity that satisfies all its facets.
If, by the time I am nearing 70, I could write an equally sensitive and nuanced book on Great Britain, I might make the claim of having swapped places with him. For now, I recommend strongly this book to those who wish to comprehend India and its paradoxes, as a valuable contribution. Now on my next trip, I really must try and meet him...
I highly recommend the book, and would strongly suggest you do not miss his reading list at the back for some excellent books he has referred.
Some flags for: in some places, he uses liberally some terms in the book without an explanation e.g. in the first chapter, Sahib and Memsahib (sort of a spoken term to address an English person and his wife for whom 'Madam Sahib' becomes Memsahib), Kartik Purnima (full moon in the month of Kartik in one of the Hindu calendars). You can find the meanings of those terms easily using Google so please do not get disappointed.
on 19 September 2007
Most Indians and Indophiles are familiar with Mark Tully, who worked for long out of Delhi as BBC's correspondent. In the process, he fell in love with the country, and ended up settling down in India permanently.
This book is a kind of personal journey for him. The narrative is rather tentative, and covers a lot of ground. He weaves back and forth between UK and India, and offers quite a few valuable insights about religion, politics and culture of the two countries. UK is not treated independently, but more as a kind of foil to India. The book's 11 chapters are placed in various towns that he visited, which also serve as a kind of cultural emblem for what he is going to talk about in a particular chapter.
He also shares a lot of personal details, his trials, tribulations, anecdotes and triumphs. Being a journalist with a highly respected Channel, he had access to almost everyone in India. It goes without saying that his narrative is very sympathetic to Indian culture and the 'Indian way of dong things'. However, it is also reasonably balanced, so that it does not become a gushing, sentimental kind of nonsense about how great everything about India is.
Some of his comments are quite perceptive - for instance, about how India always tries to find a balance between extremes, a middle (middling?) way of doing things. He believes this is one of India's keys to longevity as a civilization.
Well, he is certainly right that this search for a balance, of avoiding the extremes, is almost an unwritten, unbreakable law in India. My late father often used to say 'ati sarvatha varjayet' - excess is to be avoided always / everywhere. And this philosophy gradually worked its way into my conscience, so that now the extreme option is always automatically renounced in favor of the moderate one.
In fact, in India, the term 'extremist' is often used as a political pejorative and is more popular than fundamentalist or terrorist, though it includes both these categories as well. Similarly, 'atyachar' which literally means 'extreme behaviour' is used to signify inhuman behaviour.
This is a book you can soak into. However, it will not make a conscious, discernible impact on you. The book is too wispy for that, too much like a mild fragrance, one of those extremely expensive perfumes, which only leave behind a tantalizing suggestion. I read it only last month, and already I have forgotten what were the key points that Tully made. Perhaps he didn't make any at all. May be he made many. He doesn't try to convince you or sell you his viewpoint - he merely shares his views. And that does really mean that he has become more Indian than many of us (see for example, Amartya Sen's The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity).
The hardcover edition issued by Rider (Random House group) has been printed and bound in India. The book is fairly easy to carry, and easier to read, because of good paper and printing. Of course, Tully's light, conversational style adds to the ease of reading.
All in all, an enjoyable, readable book - much more perceptive and interesting than his previous India in Slow Motion (India in Slow Motion), which was more task-oriented.
on 17 July 2013
I have read Mark Tully's work before and found him to be a fine writer, justly held as a man at the top of his profession. I bought this book with a view of finding out more about the Indian Sub-continent, but to my dismay it turned out to be the sad apology for the need for religion in modern times with a thinly veiled swipe at things secular and atheist. As soon as he used Hitler as an example of how atheism can be dismissed as a viable moral guide I knew the book had lost me. It is the usual cleche that once Hitler is used to justify a point of view, sophism and casuistry is rank in the reasoning. The fact that Hitler was a Catholic and a believer in spiritual destiny was omitted. By the halfway point the constant repetition of fatuous reasoning had depressed me as each view was so easily debunked and shrivels in the face of Darwin's writing, 'Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science...'
There is merit between the disconnected religious ramblings and thebook is worth reading - it is just not really about India's journey, but more of the use of pluralism which succeeds in that great country to shore up the shaky dogma of the need to believe in gods. Sorry Mark, but you'll know what I mean.
on 30 November 2015
Tully is a peculiarly English religious apologist who is unable to put across anything of the power and mystique of India. His writing is pompous, stale and flat. It's a mystery how he's managed to collar the market. Ubiquitous influence of the BBC?
on 4 April 2014
The highly personal feel to 'India's Unending Journey' and the discursive nature of the text makes it a particularly engaging read. One can't help but participate actively with Tulley in seeking to identify solutions to what are complex but deeply relevant problems/issues. The issues identified by Tulley for discussion in this book are remarkably relevant today given the nature of economic systems around the world and the continued danger that terrorism and militancy pose to the integrity of civil society. This book provides a useful first insight into the startling and yet reassuring heterogeneity that characterizes much of Indian society and in that respect invites the reader to explore the riches of India's great civilization for him or herself.
on 28 January 2013
I enjoyed reading this book and all the 5 star reviews apply to me, i will be reading it again and taking notes of other books Mark Tully uses as reference, and looking them up. as so many reviewers have said he has dipped into many subjects, he has listed many books you can read, which I shall be looking out for
on 7 November 2014
One of Mark Tulley's most fascinating books and I love them all!
on 26 July 2009
An honest confession on Mark Tully's part of his eternal love for India and his reasons for doing so.
on 22 December 2014
this was much appreciated