Skip to main content

The Inimitable Mark Tully

Every word he pronounced in his clipped British accent, over the crackle of the radio, was accepted as the absolute colour of truth. In those pretelevision days, millions of Indians hung on his every word—as he engaged with wars and disasters, announcements and deaths, upheavals and turmoils— yes, it was always the dependable voice of Mark Tully.

Though he was born in Tollygunge, Kolkata and spent his first ten years in India, his ardent love affair with the country began in 1965 when he joined the BBC in their administrative department in New Delhi. And in his inimitable style, Mark Tully says, “I arrived with the Tashkent agreement.” (We like this veteran broadcast journalist for his dramatic statements.) Working out of the administrative department he first began to do pre-recorded programmes and “it was infrequent.” He explains that in those days to do a live programme was difficult. “The telephone connectivity was haphazard and it was not easy.” 

After covering much of eventful India through two decades he began his foray into the verbose world of books. He laughs when he recounts, “I was used to doing small reports and at the end of it I would sign off as Mark Tully, so when I started writing books, at the end of every 250 words I would want to sign off. My first book with its cutoffs and slashes was a total mess. Radio has always been my first love with its brevity, clarity and simplicity whereas writing books terrified me.” However much he says books terrified him, he has written over half a dozen books. And he continues to do a regular Sunday morning programme on BBC UK called “Something Understood” that deals with art, music, religion, literature and philosophy. 

 His reading takes him into philosophy, religion—his major areas of interest and as for novels it is the ones from the Victorian era—Dickens, Hardy, Kipling that still capture the attention of Mark Tully. “I read them over and over again. I think in most of the modern novels the narrative is weak. The emphasis is on the verbal pyrotechnics and it is too adjectival. I like Graham Greene and R K Narayan too. They are spare and brilliant like the radio.” (We like that too —his undying devotion and fidelity to radio.) Tully who has witnessed the transition of India from a socialist state to the liberalized state writes about those years in his book India’s Unending Journey. “Consumer goods were in such short supply that foreign diplomats’ wives preparing to leave the country found a ready market for their half-used lipsticks and their underwear.” He says, “Before the liberalisation started much of India’s entrepreneurial energy was bottled up. India lost at least ten years to a country like China.” 

Tully strongly stresses in his books how India has changed him. “I used to look for absolute answers and it was in India that I learnt the uncertainty of certainty. I also got a sense of balance.” Inspite of all that he has imbibed from India, Tully still retains his Britishness after four decades of living here. “I am British by blood, British by birth and I believe in karma. I cannot throw away that part of me,” says Sir Mark Tully. 

Memories Of Tamil Nadu
“Chennai, or Madras as it used to be known, has a sober south Indian culture which is less concerned with money making than with the old fashioned virtues of manufacturing.”
 Mark Tully has been coming to Chennai and the state to cover events, to do documentaries and to research for his books. He writes in India's Unending Journey “Chennai, or Madras as it used to be known, has a sober south Indian culture which is less concerned with money making than with the old fashioned virtues of manufacturing.” 
He says that after the hectic pace of Delhi, he finds Chennai orderly and refreshing. It is the perfect place to unwind. He recalls how he loved the time he camped at the beautiful seaside Rameswaram. “Soon after the IPKF was sent to Sri Lanka, a politician threatened to swim across the sea to Sri Lanka in protest. So an entire troop of reporters camped there waiting for him to do that. And every morning we would watch him enact a drama but he never did it and we had to come away. Our editors were not too happy with us for going there.

P.S: Those of us who gathered around the radio on that fateful day- October 31, 1984 -believed it was the voice of Tully that announced at around six in the evening: "India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi is dead." Though she had been shot dead in the morning the official Indian media was strangely silent so we had to wait all day for BBC to pronounce it. I was in boarding school and a group of us had gathered around the maid’s radio and we had listened in hushed silence. There were, perhaps, millions of Indians like me glued to the radio that day, BBC in particular. And I had always believed it was Tully so I was sorely disappointed when he said, “No it was not me. I was away on leave when she died.” He had spoiled the beginning of the piece I had planned on him and I was none too happy. I stubbornly repeated the question hoping he would give me the details of that day. He just as stubbornly shook his head. Interestingly, the New Indian Express had thought like me and they had in their edit in January 2011 (I owe the month and year to google) said the same.
First published by The Times of India in 2008, Chennai


Popular posts from this blog

Free Masons: All about them

Free masonry- the 'spiritual society' of sacred brotherhood with its origins in antiquity has always been shrouded in mystery. Their initiation rites, rituals, symbolisms, secret signs and code of conduct have further enhanced the aura of mysteriousness. Is Free Masonry a remnant of an ancient religion that worshipped the Sun or is it just an exclusive, elitist boy's club that indulges in secret charity missions?
In 1961 the Grand Lodge of India, which is an off -shoot of the Grand Lodges of Scotland, England and Ireland was constituted. The Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of India Mr.Arun Chintopanth was recently here in Kochi to preside over the meeting of the Regional Grand Lodge of Southern India. In an exclusive interview with the Grand Master sought to demystify the Masonic Lodge. Arun Chintopanth in full regalia. Dont miss the apron. What is Free Masonry? It is not a service organisation. It is not a religious group. It is not a mutual benefit society but it is a combi…

The Suryanelli Girl: Her Story

Suryanelli: The place of no sun. 
  Roofs weighed down by rock bags to keep the wind from blowing them away
Off the Kerala state highway that connect the small, brash towns giddy with foreign remittances, sits an unassuming, modest home that goes by the name: Lovedale. A septuagenarian couple, a retired postmaster and a retired nurse, live here with their younger daughter and, a ghoulish past that continues to taunt every waking moment of their lives. The 33-year-old daughter smiles shyly revealing an innocence frozen in time. 17 years ago, the daughter, then a 16-year-old girl, had left home wearing a skirt and a blouse to go to school and returned sexually violated and terribly traumatized: her transformation from a carefree school girl to a bloated individual was violently shocking. The girl had been kept captive, fed sedatives and alcohol, traded for sex and raped by 42 men in a span of 40 days in the months of January and February 1996. The family’s tryst with rapists, the police, …

Book Review: An Autobiography Of A Sex Worker by Nalini Jameela

I am 51 years old. And I would like to continue to be a sex worker.” This is how the candid and defiant opening statement in Nalini Jameela’s autobiography in Malayalam, Oru Lymgika-thozhilaliyude Atmakadha, goes. It at once throws a challenge at society’s double standards — harsh on prostitutes and soft on the clients. Nalini Jameela, who is the coordinator of the Kerala Sex Workers’ Forum, reveals her sordid story with no trace of compunction.
Nalini was a 24-year-old widow when she entered the profession to feed her two children. At that time she did not think about the repercussions of her act. She writes, “I was earning Rs 4.50 at a tile factory near Trissur. My mother-in-law served me with an ultimatum to either give her five rupees a day to look after my children or leave the house. I recounted my woes to a friend, who introduced me to Rosechechi. Rosechechi promised me Rs 50 if I spent time with a man. The first thought that came to my mind was that my children would be looked…