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Right on, Sir Mark

The book reading was proof that Tully is still in the flush of his long romance with India

Photo: Satish. H

HALF A century since independence, a middle-aged India may still be a beguiling image with its charming paradoxes and searing contradictions. At a book reading organised by Akshara and ITC Kakatiya Sheraton and Towers, Sir Mark Tully and Gillian Wright brought the gathering face to face with the stark realities that challenge India to recall and uphold its potentialities - from humanism and tolerance to secularism and non-violence. With their deeply deferential manner, their incisive knowledge of India and felicity of expression, Tully and Wright discussed the gravest of issues with admirable ease, stressing upon caution and hope at the same time.

The evening began with Narendra Luther, retired civil servant, introducing the authors with his landmark witticism. "Mark Tully, if he believes in rebirth, was an Indian in his past birth and condemned to be one in the next as well," he quipped. The polite laughter that rippled across Hyder Mahal set the tone for the passages the authors chose to read from the book.

The book, India In Slow Motion, is a worthy attempt at locating the still point at the heart of India's tornado, a neutral space where there is some hope of resolving cultural and religious differences, feeding and educating the poor and stamping out corruption. Familiar with the country, the people and the language, Tully and Wright take up some of the most controversial social and political issues of India's last decade, producing a thoroughly professional work of investigative reporting. The issues they raise often have their roots in the past and yet continue to rankle.

The authors believe that bad governance is the root of all of India's problems. The way babudom functioned in India was decried. Reading from the introduction, Gillian said, "The convoy hurtled past scattering the pilgrims in a cloud of dust. They couldn't see whether the superintendent of police, the representative of the Raj which succeeded the British even bothered to glance at their discomfiture shielded as he was from those he ruled by firmly closed, heavily tinted windows." Tully, speaking for many, said, "Governance is a soluble problem. If India could get rid of the neta babu raj, there would be no full stops for her."

Next it was Tully's turn to regale in the book's account of people who are going all out to help the situation and who are "even taking things into their own hands."

Alternating between themselves, Tully and Wright read on the dangers of two Indias caused by liberalisation, their warm memories of Chaudhuri Devi Lal and Sant Bux Singh and an eventful journey with the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh.

The book's opening chapter, `The reinvention of Rama' made for interesting listening in our troubled times. Tully who said that provoking religious strife was wholly against India's plurality, cited the example of Ajai who was religious without being fanatic as "the key to the profound truth of India." Reading Ajai's responses from the chapter: "I adore Rama, he is my family and friend. I wouldn't even necessarily call myself a Hindu, because if Rama had been a Muslim I would have been a Muslim. I love my Rama, no one else's." Tully also blamed the media for only highlighting the views of extremists. In answer to a question that followed the book reading, Tully said that he perceived "no dangers for Indian democracy because the armed forces are neutral."

At the end of it all, the book offers many lessons to be learnt from - our peculiarly Indian form of bad governance, our disastrous bureaucrat-politician nexus and our "chalne do" attitude. But as Tully says, "India is akin to an ocean liner that pitches and rolls with every storm, but still has the inherent ability to survive."

Tully and Wright have been able to put their finger on the pulse and like Mathew Arnold come to the conclusion "Thou ailest here and here."

They should be taken seriously as the judgement is not from a passing by western couple but from one that has become ingrained in the Indian milieu.

These stories that have agitated the sub-continent, have often ruffled establishment feathers with their subaltern view of things.

Throughout, the book combines analysis of major issues with a feel for the fine texture and human realities of Indian life. The result, like the reading was a revelation.

DEEPA ALEXANDER

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