Sir Mark Tully left his parents befuddled when he decided to make India his home and his muse forty years back. Just out with his latest book, Non-stop India, the author speaks his mind on issues that matter in an exclusive interview to HT.
Q. You wrote No Full Stops in India in 1988, after almost 20 years, India still remains your muse. What major changes do you see in India in the past two decades?
India has come a long way from the days I first came here as reporter for BBC. The middle class has expanded, Indians have become more aspirational, they are much better informed about their rights, and theyre even more disillusioned about politics than before. There's a tremendous realization that education is the key to better life. Urban expansion has increased, cities like Delhi continue to grow, which is something Im worried about. Also, I feel western commercialization has become very obvious now. You see it in the malls, and the way girls dress up these days. Almost all of them wear jeans. Now nobody, says you should be running around the place in saris or men in dhotis. I believe that everything should be kept in balance. In the end, you want an asli Bharat or a nakli America?
Q. According to some reviewers, Non-stop India is too optimistic in nature, especially the chapter on Tatas. Did you deliberately look at the positive things in a largely cynical atmosphere?
The Book isnt entirely optimistic by any means. Through the Tata chapter I wanted to show the huge potential of India and how in a country riddled with governance problems, they managed to triumph. On the other hand, the Maoist chapter tells a failure story, where were deeply critical of the police force and the governance.
Q. You have seen India change tremendously on both economic and political fronts. What do you think is needed to make it a global force?
"India isn't a failing but a flailing state. It has every sector to make a progressive country; they are just hampered by corruption - which is really a symbol of bad governance. I think there's reason to be optimistic, Indians just need to shout and eventually government will fall in line.
Q. The Anna Hazare movement tried to do something similar, what did you think of it? Most of the intellectuals were deeply critical of it.
Anna has performed a valuable function as he has brought corruption to the centre stage, but the Anna Hazare movement lacks roots. The danger of concentrating only on corruption is that you ignore the underlying cause of corruption, which is bad governance and that is one thing which needs to be improved. The elite don't much like the dehati people. They have consistently mocked politicians who have come from rural places, take Mayawati and Lalu. The elite dont understand well enough what appeal these people have to the deprived classes.
Q. In Non-stop India, you point out the problem of English being a language killer and its adverse affects on other Indian Languages. What problems does it cause for India?
"English is a valuable tool, it is good that many Indians can speak English in terms of economics, but equally the mother tongue gives you a sense of identity. Part of the trouble with English is that it was the language of the elite, everyone wanted to show that they spoke it. People were annoyed if you spoke to them in Hindi, because they thought you were indicating that they couldn't speak English. The mindset that English is a superior language needs to change."