A conversation between Mark Tully, journalist and broadcaster who was the BBC’s Delhi correspondent for twenty years and Tony Joseph, author of the best-selling book, ‘Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From’.
Tony started the session by telling us that the nature of Mark’s writings is fictional and not reportage even though he has a deep sense of Indian culture. This set the tone for what was in store for us.
He went on to ask Mark about why he found India worthy of his stories and how he relates to all our current issues. Mark revealed to us that his Grandfather was actually born in Aurangabad and was an opium agent! This he says was his first introduction to India. It made him want to write about India, but not urban India. He chose as his subject the lives of those who live in rural India and the appalling nature of the governance and politics that affect their lives. He made no bones in expressing his opinion, being a foreigner speaking about Indian culture in an audience predominantly Indian.
Tony then quizzed him about some excerpts from his book where he spoke about life, balance, and compromise. Mark declared that he did in fact believe that life is all about balance. He remarked that we need balance between secularism and religion, if we wanted to grow as a nation. He asked what sort of a nation do we want. A Hindu one, then what kind of a Hindu one? A secular one he said, was not possible as secularism has not found a space for religion and India is a deeply religious country. He also argued that secularism is what has kept religious pluralism alive, a concept very much part of Indian culture. His opinions were balanced, presenting both cases with equal enthusiasm.
The discussion then moved towards Indian traditions as Tony asked him about his thoughts on how Indians were ignoring their own tradition to become more western. Mark answered it with a personal story of how when he once visited a communion at a Church in India, he was shocked to see a Sardarji also taking communion. He thought about how the reverse was something he had not seen in the western world, and this is what he said we needed to hold onto, what he terms as experiential religion. He said that he felt from his understanding that in India we experience God and religion and not just learn about it, and that’s what our true tradition is.
Tony then opened the floor for questions and the first one was- “Sir, your opinion on the Ayodhya Verdict?”. Mark was quick to answer, “No triumphalism please”. He said we needed to find a balance in this historic decision today and enjoy our points of commonality with everyone. That thought tied the whole session beautifully together.