‘Living in India has taught me there are other ways to God than Christianity...

It has changed me radically’
MARK TULLY, Journalist-Writer
For decades, BBC News in India was identified with Mark Tully, who is credited with turning the radio service into the most trusted news source here in the pre-TV era. And even after his exit from BBC, Tully stayed back and has been passionately profiling the changes India has been undergoing in his books. In an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24x7’s Walk The Talk, Tully talks about his very Christian upbringing, his spirituality, the need for balance between free will and faith, the dangers of turning one’s belief into motivation for extremism... and also about Morarji Desai and the ‘habit’

Hello and welcome to Walk The talk. My guest this week is a legend of our times, Sir Mark Tully. Welcome to Walk The Talk. I don’t like to think of myself as a legend. Legend are things which are over. • I could have called you the Knight of Nizamuddin East. Well, I have been very lucky in my life. I put most of it down to luck, actually. • Good timing. I mean what’s a journalist without good timing? Yeah, timing. A little bit of timing. • Timing, instinct. All those things matter. They do, but luck also matters a lot. • And intellect helps. Well, maybe I don’t know. I don’t think journalists have great intellect. • But look at the book you have produced now. That is an intellectual/spiritual/ political exercise: India’s Unending Journey. Well, it’s an exercise I am very nervous about, because it’s far more personal than any book I have ever written before. And I honestly did not know what the reaction to it would be. I actually thought somebody

would say Mark Tully is not barmy; Mark Tully has become a religious maniac. • I have heard people say Mark Tully has finally shown his Hindu side. Some people say Mark Tully has finally given evidence in writing that he is an unreconstructed socialist. Which one do you buy? You know this is an interesting thing. There’s a quote in the book from Dr Manmohan Singh where he says if you advocate the middle world, and the whole book is about advocating the middle world. It’s about not being devoted to Hindutva, but equally not being so secularist that you despise religion. And what Manmohan Singh said is that if you pursue the middle world, you are bound to get hit from the left and from the right. And actually I haven’t been hit from the left. • But usually that’s how you drive on an Indian road. I hope not to get hit when I drive on Indian roads. • So Mark, back to the book. Is this the spiritual side to you? We know that you started out by being educated to be a theologian. Yes, I did start out to be a priest in the Church of England and, I believe like you, had a pretty rough life as a journalist. It’s a rough and tough life. • Spirituality and hacks don’t always go together. It reminds me of Wellington’s line about his army: “I think gin is the spirit of their patriotism.” I am sure. I’ve done my bit... bars and things like that. Last thing I believe in is that spirituality should be any form of killjoy or anything like that. And I dislike excessive Puritanism, especially the sort of Puritanism you sometimes see in this country. I think it is deplorable in part for it actually denigrates religion, and makes you think religion is stupid. • And your teachers figured you out early on that you weren’t the right candidate. Tell us what happened? Were you going to the pub too often. No, in a church you preach from the pulpit. So the Bishop of Lincoln said to me: “I think Mark your place is more in the public house that in the pulpit.”

• You don’t think of what you missed out on. I do, sometimes. You know I drifted into journalism. • Is this nostalgia for your early years? Or is it distillation of your years in India? It’s not really nostalgia but there is an element of nostalgia in it. As I say in the book, I have a deep love for the liturgy of the Anglican Church. Just as you might have a deep love for the worship in Golden Temple, which you attended when you were young. One reason I wrote this book is that when we were young we were taught that Christianity was the only way to God. But living in India has taught me that there are other ways to God as well. It has changed me radically. • You know Mark, during our reporting years, you have seen these same gods turn against people of India, turn against some people of India, turn against the Government of India. You have seen a lot of problem in the name of religion. Yes, I have. • Now, we see the whole Bangalore business... Yes, but you know whenever we saw the trouble, firstly there almost always was politics behind it. It was politicians who were stirring it up. We know the history behind the Bhindranwale movement and who actually stirred the whole thing up. Secondly, these things are never entirely religious. They get clothed in religious clothes but there is usually economics behind it, language behind it, quite often ethnicity behind it as well. Finally, Islam. I didn’t exactly mean Islam...but we do need to think what it is which persuades these people to do these dreadful things. • Britain now seems to have a serious problem ... the epicentre of this tension. Oh yes, Britain has a serious problem. One of the reasons it has a serious problem is because of the Iraq War. But the other reason is because there are Muslims who genuinely feel there is an attempt basically by the West to dominate the world and they feel this culture and civilization has no respect for God. And often they see it as obscene the way women are portrayed and treated.

• It’s very interesting given the fact that America now is more religious than it was may be about two decades back. There are more people going to church than before. The thing, which is interestingly about America, is that a lot of the religion is fundamentalist type of Christianity. In my book I query to a great writer on religion, Karen Armstrong, who says that there is a symbiotic relationship between religious fundamentalism and what you call excessive materialism. When a society becomes excessively materialistic, then religious people run back to nanny. They go to someone who says you are secure behind here; you don’t need to think about these things; you don’t need to worry, just believe. • People need some “ism” or some religion? I don’t think that’s what you need. My whole book is saying that’s what you should not do, that you should keep on thinking, you should keep on questioning your faith or your lack of faith, and you should try and respect everyone. • So, how do you explain what is happening in Pakistan now. This whole Lal Masjid business, fights Musharraf is having with fundamentalists, the very people Pakistan Army and ISI created. Very much like Bhindranwale and the State of India. There are many similarities on why he did not take action against them before they made such a fortress out of that mosque. Exactly the same reason why Indira Gandhi did not take any action against Bhindranwale before he fortified the Golden Temple. And also of course there is Musharraf’s fear of reaction among the supporters of these people outside the Lal Masjid, and Indira Gandhi’s fear of the Sikhs’ reaction in the countryside in Punjab. • Mark, go back to your reporting years. Tell us some of your most interesting moments. Some of the most difficult moments — India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, wherever. One of the most difficult moments I had was a strange personal experience. You know we all had to go dressed up as Mujahideen, go in as a Mujahideen into Afghanistan. Once when I did this, first thing we had to do was climb a very steep mountain. I got up to three quarters of this mountain when I started to feel very, very sick and giddy and I realised that I was getting altitude sickness. And I looked below and there were all the plains of Pakistan and I thought: God I would be an absolute idiot if I had to go back and say I couldn’t even get over the first mountain. Then I heard a train of mules coming up, the bells were

ringing and fortunately my Urdu was recognizable by the Pashtun speakers and I said to one of those people to put me on one of the mules for heaven’s sake. Sure enough they did. So I rode in triumph to Afghanistan on the back of mule. • You were banned from India during Emergency? I was given just 24 hours to leave because we wouldn’t sign the censorship. And when the Emergency first started, (there was this story I tell in my book which is confirmed by Inder Gujral), Mohd Younis ordered me to be arrested and have my pants taken down and given a good smacking because they said I had said Jagjivan Ram had resigned from the Government. And Gujral, bless his heart, he went to me and found out that this was not true. I hadn’t said this and the whole thing disappeared before I... • And where there any apologies when you were brought back? No, no. No apologies. I didn’t ask for any apologies. I was happy to be back. • You’ve done well in life you got a Padmashree here, an MBE, OBE and knighthood... I got a Padmabhushan here... I see this as a balance. I think it is very important to have a balance between free will and faith. And for someone like me, if I don’t have balance, if I think it is all because I am so wonderful and so brilliant and so great and clever and everything, that I’ve had this fortune to have these honours, then I would be a very very big-headed and a very stupid person. • As a journalist, you would say, if you keep your balance long enough, then ultimately it evens out. Life is fair. I am not sure if there is any golden rule for life. But if you keep the balance, you would be much better-abled to take the dips in life as well as the ups. • I am sure it was not a sudden decision from you to stay back in India. Tell us a little about how India grew on you, how you struck roots here. Yes, it’s something, which happened to me in a very funny sort of way. You see, twice I was taken out of India by the BBC. Once by BBC themselves. They said you have done four years. That’s enough. Then they posted me back. Then came Emergency. So, after that I began to

think: “There must be some reason why, this is where I am meant to be.” Of course I was enormously happy here. I had lots of friends. I felt very much at home and settled here. • You were nearly banned in Pakistan? Oh yes, I had a lot of trouble in Pakistan. Gen Zia was always very hostile towards me. Once during the anti-Bhutto riots, Bhutto made a whole speech against the BBC and me. And he ended up saying that Pakistan was a generous nation, so they would not throw me out. But, the irony of it all is that since I left the BBC and stayed on in India, I’ve never once been able to get a visa to Pakistan. • Is that true? Have you asked them why? Absolutely, I have asked why and everybody gives reasons. It’s the good old sub-continental bureaucratic habit. Nobody says no, but nobody says yes, either. You understand that. • Mark, go back to your reporting years. Tell us about some of the most dangerous moments and some of the funny ones. One of the most dangerous moments was of course at Ayodhya when the mosque was coming down. • And they were looking for one Mark Tully? They were looking for me and they found me and surrounded me. And a huge argument started as to whether they should kill me. Some people were arguing in favour of that. Then, some people said nai nai nai, mashhoor aadmi hai. “It will be dangerous for us.” Then a compromise was reached when I was shoved into a room and put under arrest in a temple basically. • And some funny ones? There were quite a few funny ones. One of the funniest ones was, I can’t use the exact language, but I was asked to make a film about Morarji Desai. You know I was very fond of Morarji and had a big admiration for him. • But he never invited you for a drink. No. But I knew that he drank his urine. The spokesman for External Affairs Ministry said I will not make this film because I will not let you

take the “p**s” out of my Prime Minister. I told Morarji this. He said we are going to do this interview and we did that interview. • And he drank it? No, he didn’t drink it, but he discussed it absolutely openly. He asked me how he looked and I said he looked rather well. He had this wonderful translucent skin and very clean clothes. And I sort of murmured that he actually looks better than I do. He said “yes, and I am 80 something and you are 40 something”. So that was the end of the argument. What could be wrong with doing that. • You ever followed his advice after that? No, no. Perhaps should have, perhaps I should do now. • My favourite telly story is from the coup in Maldives in 1988. There was a whole bunch of foreign journalists, who had come to the little island, Male. And all the Indian journalists wanted to see was Mark Tully. Well, I wasn’t there at all. But this goes back to when I was with the BBC, the heyday of BBC. The transistor radio had spread into all the villages. Your only competition was All Indian Radio and Doordarshan. So inevitably people turned to the BBC. And that’s how I became well known. • And gained credibility. I remember, in 1971, my parents wouldn’t believe that the Indian Army was successfully moving ahead until they heard it from BBC. And in fact that’s when Mark Tully became a household name. Yeah, you are right. We did have a reputation for credibility. This was an achievement of far more people than me. This is an achievement of all the people back in London who vetted the stories, and sometimes I feel that apart from The Indian Express, there is a lack of editorial control on journalism. There was very strict editorial control over us. • But do you regret the fact that no BBC correspondent or bureau chief has become that kind of household name? Is it because they are not Mark Tully or is it because India has changed? No, it is not because they are not Mark Tully. Two reasons: One is of course they don’t stay as long as I was allowed to stay. The other is of course there has been tremendous expansion in television and in print.

• So Indians no longer have to turn to BBC for authentic news when their own channels, own newspapers are giving it to them now. And it is beginning to happen in Pakistan as well now. Yes. But you know when I was back in London, I was told that the Urdu service in Pakistan, the Urdu radio service of BBC, still has an enormous audience. • Wonderful chatting with you even if it’s not an evening in Amritsar or Kabul or one of the war zones. And we are not indulging in our own kind of spirituality from days when we were both young. Thank you so much, Shekhar.