India’s Unending Journey by Mark Tully

18 Apr

It’s a good thing I was taught never to judge a book by its cover (or its title for that matter, although I have been guilty of title lust on occasion) because the majority of Mark Tully‘s books look like they were squeezed out at some dreary factory that usually publishes “improving literature”. Don’t look at me like you don’t know what I’m talking about – you probably had a tome or two of that description shoved down your throat by some well meaning parent or friend, too.

However, India’s Unending Journey is much different from those unlamented efforts of blahness, not only in looks but also in content.

For one thing, Mark Tully is that rare Indophile who knows how to write about India with an outsider’s perspective on insider issues. That probably sounds pretty “Well, yeah – duh!” when I put it like that, but think back to all or any books you’ve read on India and you’ll notice how hard an act it is to pull off.

His last book No Full Stops in India , which didn’t win him many friends, is a great example of what I mean. One of the episodes in that book centered around the wedding of his manservant’s daughter and Tully, as an honored invitee, attended the ceremony with his partner Gillian Wright. Watching the entire biradiri gather around and chip in for the wedding, he concluded that caste, while inherently discriminatory, can be something that brings people together as well.

You can imagine how well that went over. Maybe Indians, at least those who might have felt this banding together or sense of community that he talks about, could appreciate what he was saying – in the West, the reaction was a lot more distressing with one British reporter, he writes, just boiling it all down to “So you support slavery?”

So the next time someone asked him to address a touchy topic, namely religion, he wasn’t all that enthusiastic. But they were all rather nice to him when he started talking and eventually he decided there was a book to be made out of it, after all. India’s Unending Journey: Finding Balance in a Time of Change is the result.

Unending journeys being rather hard to record from start to finish, Tully begins where he joined the trip: in the temple town of Puri as the English son of an Englishman living in India. Kept away from the natives and sent to England as a small boy, Tully returns to India as a grown man almost by accident. Once there, he chooses to stay. It is neither a rejection of England nor a homecoming – and it’s not because he can recite Humpty Dumpty and Little Miss Muffet in Hindustani even though I suspect its a vanished art. It’s simply one of those things.

And that’s how I’d describe Journey – it’s not a book that’s easily classifiable or explained. I know! I know! I hate it when people do this in reviews too but I really can’t help it this time. If you pinned me down and tickled my feet, I’d say this is a memoir that explores the role of religion not only in the author’s life but in the multiple worlds he inhabits, particularly India and Britain. All of this unfortunately sounds rather meh, which is the last impression I wish to give. Here’s how Tully puts it:

This book is about living with the uncertainty of certainty, about accepting the limits to what we can know, and being willing to question our beliefs… [W]e need to be much more open to questioning our economics, our business practices, the way we educate our children, how we live as members of communities and citizens of nations states, and how we live our individual lives. But the book started from my belief that the Hindu tradition of acknowledging there can be many ways to God could help Christians to question those of their beliefs which have led them to deny the validity of other faiths, and all too often the validity of other Christian traditions than their own.

Let me just say that if you’re someone who enjoys reading a blog (ahem, like this one for instance) then this is the style of book that would appeal to you. Available in India and in the UK.



Posted by on April 18, 2008 in Books, Entertainment, Review


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8 responses to “India’s Unending Journey by Mark Tully

  1. dipali

    April 19, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    I’ve just started this one. I’ve liked his perspectives in his earlier

  2. Rada

    April 19, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    If you pinned me down and tickled my feet…

    That’s a nice turn of phrase!


  3. vishal12

    April 20, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Thanks for arousing my interest. I am just ordering this book on Amazon (it is available in US too).

  4. BVN

    April 21, 2008 at 10:35 am

    hey caste bringing people together 🙂

    yeah…without caste what would we hindus be left with?

  5. sidekick

    April 21, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    thanks! i liked “no full stops”, so i’ll add this to my reading list.

  6. Amrita

    April 22, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Dipali, Vishal and Sidekick – do let me know what you think about it. I wish people discussed books more 🙂

    Rada – 🙂

    BVN – hey, it makes sense when he writes it! 🙂 You should try No Full Stops – it’s an interesting counter point if nothing else.

  7. sulu Rao

    August 31, 2008 at 9:41 am

    By avoiding to talk about caste, if I can get rid of it, I would gladly do it all the time! I dislike the reactions of the west to our caste system which is only the lifeless stinking system of a bygone era which is haunting us even today. But the other social stratification that exists elsewhere in the world in other names is no less deplorable. The illness takes a longtime to take root, ages to cure.

  8. Amrita

    August 31, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    SR – on that last I agree. I don’t mind outsiders talking about caste in India as the evil it is, because to my way of thinking the more shame we can heap on the people who discriminate based on caste, the better it is because shame is a huge motivator in healing things, but what gets my goat is when people try to tie in caste to concepts that they find easier to grasp through their own connections to it and then critique it in that sense. Caste is not like racism, it is not like slavery, it is not like sexuality and it is not like gender – it is separate and has its own issues and complexities to be explored and deplored.

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