Sunday, August 10, 2014



Mark Tully had been Chief of the bureau, BBC, in Delhi from 1972 to 1993. He marked his presence on Indian literary scenario with his first book Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle, telescoping the Punjab problem and Operation Blue Star- when the Indian army launched an attack on the Golden Temple. In 1987 he made the much applauded radio series From Raj to Rajiv which traced the story of India’s first forty years of independence. His best selling book No Full Stops in India was published in 1991. The next year he was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India, a rare honour for a foreigner. In 1995, a collection of short stories, ‘The Heart of India’, was published with a rural India as backdrop in all the stories. Though, he decided to write about Indian villager and hunted down for themes village after village, he did not write facts with real names owing to the risk faced by those who told these stories. And what started as journalism became fiction.

Everybody in his circle thought that Tully would return back to Britain after his retirement as his predecessors did during Raj, but he surprised them by deciding to stay in India as an Indian citizen. In his own words, ‘I’m drawn to India by its beauty, particularly its natural beauty… It would need a poet to describe what India means to me, and I am no poet. I can only say that I’m not alone among foreigners in believing there’s nowhere like India, and no people like Indians. I am perhaps more unusual for a foreigner in that I have been accepted as a part of India.’7

Mark Tully chose the eastern half of Uttar Pradesh for a number of reasons, namely, it is heart of India for him, his fascination for Varanasi and its ghats, its being the land of Rama and Tulsidas too, the most sophisticated city of lucknow known for its gentleness and beauty of its poetry, four of the Prime Ministers came from this part, and the great short-story writer Munshi Premchand belonged to this place. He is equally fascinated by the snow-covered mountains in the Himalayan range and the vast expanse of the Arabian Sea as well. The folk songs and classical music with ragaas  delight his soul… that start with such austerity and end in ecstasy.8 Tully had been a journalist in India knowing it for nearly twenty years, he agrees to Mahatma Gandhi’s view… ‘India lives in her 700,000 villages, obscure, tiny, out-of-the-way villages…’9

His treatment to plots taken up in short stories is purely objective and nowhere we find his personal views or any bias. He explores systems, cultures, practices, and post-independent mind-set of people in Indian villages without trying to compare it with western world. Rather he finds every village complete in its own sense. He exactly knows the fabric of Indian society, and the texture of political and commercial bridge which connects the villages and the cities in India. He seems to be imbued with his love for India and informed by his vast experience; Tully has woven together a series of extraordinary stories. All the stories are set in Uttar Pradesh and depict very different lives.

In ‘The Goondas of Gopinagar’, the mafia gang leader Jang Bahadur was shot at by another mafia don Gupta and after being released from the city hospital he comes to his native place, a village, his father condemns him as a coward ‘I had been telling everyone that you were a big man, but now you are like some village cur bolting with your tail between your legs because another dog has snarled at you. Look at this house. What am I going to tell the other villagers? I have been boasting about the concrete rooms you have built on this side of the courtyard but now they will come and laugh at me because the other side of the house is collapsing, the roof has fallen in and the mud walls are crumbling away…’10 This story exposes the nexus between criminals and politicians and the state of helplessness of an honest politician Ishwar Dutt who lost his son as he dared stand against the mafia don Gupta. Ishwar Dutt realizes the futility of his efforts to save the grace of our political system. He says to his friends, ‘I told you there was no point in politics. I have sacrificed my son for nothing.’11
Another story ‘The Barren Woman of Balramgaon’ tells about a barren wife who visits a holy man and subsequently conceives. Tully presents a vivid picture of the childless couple how they are humiliated by the fellow villagers. Ram Lakhan suffers sheer humiliation at the hand of Hoshiar Singh while celebrating Holi. Hoshiar Singh  sneers at Ram Lakhan, ‘Get out of here, Ram Lakhan. Holi is the season for cutting the crop- and where’s your crop? Don’t you know how to plough? Something wrong with the seed? Didn’t you irrigate the field? What’s the problem? People like you bring us bad luck. We’ll have poor crops this year if you play Holi with us. Wait until your house produces some children before trying to play those cymbals.’12 On the same evening his wife too is mocked at by two young wives. Sima poked her in the ribs and asked, ‘Have you been sitting under our mango trees? They should be flowering now, but they aren’t, and people say that if a barren woman sits in a mango grove, the trees won’t flower.’13 Situation is such for the childless couple that the wife decides to visit a sadhu with an expectation of a miracle. However she conceives before next Holi and gets her honour restored. Tully never discusses the incidents subjectively, rather depicts everything as it is. He banks on the readers’ conscience to decide whether it was a miracle or something more worldly…     
Tully is so much so acquainted with the caste system and traits associated with respective castes in India that his pen flows very naturally while writing down about the different equations, balancing the village community in India. In ‘Village Strike’, he can be rated at par with any of the Indian writer in showing the affected trait of a particular caste. Brajbhushan Rai, a bhumihar farmer, fails to negotiate with labourers for transplanting rice seedlings and this incidence provokes his mother to squawk, ‘You haven’t fixed those work-shy women, have you? It’s written all over your face that you haven’t. You are a disgrace to your father. If he’d been alive, he would have soon had them in the fields at the rate he was prepared to pay them, and that would have been no more than a seer of khesari. You are offering them real money, and they say that’s not enough. You’ve got a lathi lying by your charpoy. Why don’t you pick it up and use it? Drive them into the fields.’14 Tully is well in and closely watches the changing scenario in Indian villages where people belonging to socially and economically backward castes have started protesting the tyranny of ruling class. In his own words, ‘…I wanted to write stories about the impact on traditional village life of the changes taking place in India. In the villages and towns of where I looked for my stories I found the old ways still surviving but the modern coming in fast’.15

Brajbhushan sends the servant for the village barber.
The servant returned, not with the barber but with his son, who instead of squatting humbly in front of Brajbhushan stood before him, with a surly look on his face, and asked abruptly, ‘You sent for my father?’
  ‘Yes. He hasn’t been to see me for many days now. You can tell by the state of my beard.’
 ‘How much will you pay him for a shave?’
 ‘Pay!’ exploded the Bhumihar. ‘He and you know very well what the tradition is. Those who give the village service like   
  you naus get your annual payment in grain. You have plenty to eat and some left over to sell.’
 ‘That was so,’ said the truculent young nau, ‘but we have decided that we want to be paid in cash, and on the spot. The  
  days of so-called gifts are over.’16
Mark Tully has always been a great admirer of Munshi Premchand and, his style of writing, of course with his limitations, substantiate this truth. Though Tully took themes from the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, these themes stand alike for every corner of India. Tully feels, ‘These stories may seem a poor way to repay that affection (that he received in India). They do not paint an idyllic picture. But Indians do not expect uncritical acclaim. They do not deny reality. So I hope the stories will be accepted as what they are intended to be- a tribute to the Indian villager.’17


  1. Bond, Ruskin, ‘Scenes from a Writer’s life’ (Penguin India)
  2. Bond, Ruskin, ‘Time Stops at Shamli’ (Penguin India)
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Bond, Ruskin, ‘Scenes from a Writer’s life (Penguin India)
  6. Bond, Ruskin, ‘Delhi is not Far’ (Penguin India)
  7. Tully, Mark, ‘The Heart of India’, Introduction (Penguin India)
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.

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