January 11, 2020
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Mark His Silences

He undermines his credibility by unfairly characterising his opponents' views. He also ignores much that is positive that has happened.

Mark His Silences
India's Unending Journey: Finding Balance In A Time Of Change
By Mark Tully
Random House Pages: 278; Rs: 450
Mark Tully's attractiveness is that he openly and honestly wrestles with the great issues of truth and life. He is not scared to take a stand. These qualities have helped make him an iconic figure in both India and the UK. In India, he built up a huge following for the accuracy and informativeness of his BBC news coverage. Since leaving the BBC, he has also built up a large following in the UK where he presents a regular religious programme on radio, lectures and writes. For British audiences, he has come to symbolise a fascination with India: Britain's imperial legacy, India's spiritual traditions and Gandhi's utopian village life.

This book-- with its unnecessarily long title--is in part a personal account of Tully's intellectual journey. He takes us from his youth as a repressed schoolboy taught in school that sex was a sin and Jesus the only incarnation of God, to his discovery of the complexities and wisdoms of India. Much of his life has been about reconciling these opposites. He includes in this journey his battle with the BBC over corporate policy where his courageous stand led to his early resignation.

But the book also provides a response to those of Tully's followers who seek his views on how to attain the good life and how to reform society. His canvas here stretches across religion, sexual behaviour, economic policy, the media, and management philosophy. His hates are familiar blots on the landscape: dogmatic certitude in religion, consumerism, globalisation simply imitative of the West. His message is that we all have a lot to learn from India's tradition of religious pluralism and from Gandhi's philosophy of simple living, high thinking.

But in covering so much ground, Tully has set himself too ambitious a task. He undermines his credibility by unfairly characterising his opponents' views. It is crude to say "the prevalent modern economics teaches us that it is attachment to things, the desire to possess and consumerism that power the engine of growth".

He also ignores much that is positive that has happened. Both India and the UK share a legacy of being stifled too long by the weight of traditions: the power of class and caste, institutional conservatism, an inward-looking culture, and protectionism. In both countries, there has been a shrugging off of these constraints, a readiness to grab opportunities at all levels, and much more mobile and dynamic societies.

This has been accompanied in both by an astounding growth in self-confidence and creativity. Who could have imagined 20 years ago that India's resurgence could have been coined in the phrase 'Indians everywhere'? But it is true, and felt across the world: in the cinema, the arts, business, technology, the novel.

And the sad and dilapidated London I remember from the early '80s is today perhaps the most vibrant city in Europe: a creative capital in the arts, fashion, architecture, food, literature and chosen to host the Olympic Games. These are realities as much as the undesirable aspects of consumerism Tully condemns.

(The author is a former Financial Times correspondent in India.)

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