Born to wealthy British parents and reared by a “pukka” English nanny in Calcutta, Mark Tully had “an English childhood in the East.” Educated in England, he returned to India at thirty to work for the BBC and has not left. These essays show him to be a consummate connoisseur of the subcontinent and a true lover of its peoples and civilization.
The first essay, an appreciation of Tully’s servant and friend Ram Chander, establishes a personal voice that carries even the weaker pieces. Tully is at his best when writing straight reportage, as in “Operation Black Thunder,” on the second siege of the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1988, and “The Deorala Sati,” on a controversial instance of the outlawed practice of widow-burning in Rajasthan. In “Typhoon in Ahmedabad” he shows persuasively that sectarian violence is less a matter of religion than of politicians’ cynical manipulation of the poor. “The power brokers turn Hindus and Muslims against each other,” a Muslim lawyer tells him, “so that they will become vote banks. If you arouse communal feelings, you can call for Hindus to vote as Hindus.”
Tully argues that colonial attitudes from India’s British period remain among the Westernized elite, and that these continue to damage the nation. “The New Colonialism” is desultory and difficult to follow, but offers an intriguing look at caste among Indian Christians. “The Kumbh Mela” is useful on the politics of religion, and “The Rewriting of THE RAMAYAN,” on an extraordinarily popular television series, is delightful.
The book is dedicated to Bihari M.P. of apparently singular integrity. Tully’s grasp of Indian politics and its human factor is worth the book’s price; he also expresses great admiration for India’s poor, while carefully avoiding pity and sentimentality.