'The India Story' retold

Writer and former Chief of Bureau, BBC, Delhi, Mark Tully reexamines his favourite subject in his latest book, Non-Stop India. Naxalism, caste, vote banks and tiger conservation are some of the issues tackled in the book, which will be launched today, as part of the ongoing Literature Live! festival

A closer look at the cover of Mark Tully's latest book reveal the silhouettes of Ram, a farmer, and what one presumes to be a Maoist. The veteran journalist, who was knighted in 1985 and awarded the Padma Shree in 1992, is keen, however, to caution readers against taking the title of the Indian edition at face value.

Mark Tully uses the Rajdhani Express as a metaphor for 'The India Story'
in his collection of 10 stories titled Non-Stop India, which have been
woven around conversations that the author hopes are reflective of the
views of Indians. Pic/ Nimesh Dave

Tully want us to know that 'Non-Stop' is a reference to the Rajdhani Express, which -- he writes in the preface -- was "first introduced as non-stop but now their schedules include many stops". The Rajdhani is therefore a metaphor for 'The India Story' in which Tully addresses issues that lie in the way of the country's journey to becoming an economic superpower. Tully, who lives in Delhi, and is in Mumbai to attend the Literature Live! Festival, talks about his concerns about the country he has a "great affection for".

In the book, you write about the most important priority for India being the need to "overcome its addiction to juggar" or temporary solutions. Do you think that the seeking of temporary solutions is rooted in the idea of us being a fatalistic people?
Indian philosophy has the ability to accept uncertainty, which is a positive ability -- the ability to cope with chaos, as opposed to the Western model, which seeks certainty and is not good at coping with uncertainty. If this Indian capacity is taken too far, then nobody decides on anything. People are too keen to assign fatalism to India, I don't believe that fatalism is necessarily part of the Indian make-up.

What do you believe should be the primary agenda of the Indian government and its people?
The primary agenda should be better governance, and I think to achieve this, India needs to be protected from the excessive use of its position by politicians, who interfere in matters, which should be left to the civil services, the police or other agencies. Political interference with the police does not help combat terrorism. The government misuses the investigative agencies - the CBI is a virtual tool in the government's hands, politicians interfere in the transference or promotions of all the agencies, the government interferes in economic decisions, which should be left to professional bodies to decide. For example, projects that are first assessed by railway professionals are frequently affected by decisions made by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs.

Did you have a type of reader in mind, while writing the book?
I was thinking of a very general reader. I did want [the book] to reflect the views of Indians I met or at least my views justified by the stories I told (laughs). I did not want the book to be a hard economic or political science or social book. It's basically a series of stories addressing what I believe is a crucial problem in India.

Where do you locate yourself in 'The India Story'?
I consider myself as someone who wouldn't want to cast off my British identity - my education, birth and the rest of it are tied up with that. At the same time, I have a great affection for India and I am proud of my association with this country. It's a bit of a muddle, really.

Mark Tully's Non-Stop India will be launched today.
At: Experimental theatre, NCPA, NCPA Marg, Nariman Point (as part of the Literature Live! festival)
From: 12.15 pm to 1.30 pm.
Entry: Free (seating on a first-come, first-served basis) Non-Stop India by Mark Tully; Penguin; Rs 499.

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