Archive for February, 2011

No Full Stops in India

Posted in Books, India, Travel with tags , , on February 15, 2011 by salaamreaders

What do you make of an Englishman who has stayed most of his adult life in contemporary India? As a professional journalist with BBC, Mark Tully is in an unique position to meet a diverse set of people-from the politicians to the ‘aam junta’. His book-No Full Stops in India- is based on his impressions of people and places during his many journeys around the country.

He tells their stories as a sympathetic outsider who has been long enough in the country not to perpetuate any western myths about them. They are easy to read and relate to, as his style is simple and unencumbered without any literary flourishes or pretences. Some of them are about ordinary folks living ordinary lives like that of Ram Chander, his servant. Mark’s visit to his village to attend his daughter’s wedding became an event in their lives. Roop Kunwar’s life was equally non-descript until she became a sati. The narrative, about what her family and her community feel about the unfortunate happening and what the feminists make of the same, explains the disconnect between the ordinary folk and the western educated lot in the country.Some stories like that of Operation Black Thunder are about momentous events which come but once in a nation’s life but change it forever. The Kumbh Mela and the Rewriting of the Ramayan tell us of the simple beliefs of countless people for whom religion is a way of life despite much tall talk of secularism in the country. The Typhoon in Ahmedabad is about ordinary people coping with communal riots and yet believing that only a few of the ‘other side’ were driven to murder at the behest of the politicians. There are other equally engrossing stories.

Mark has a theory about India. He believes that it “is a land dominated by foreign thinking.” Its ‘ruling elite’ have adopted western social, economic, scientific and political concepts in a bid to emulate their erstwhile colonial masters. They are looking for solutions to her problems without adapting western knowledge to her genius. The stories about the common man, however, prove that they are still rooted in their traditions and beliefs. Indian life is complex. It is not cut and dried according to any one formula.That is why he says that there are no full stops in India.

Though this book was first published in 1991, subsequent events have only underlined the accuracy of his diagnosis. We have, since then, embarked on a quest for a future based on the “trickle -down effect” of western economic philosophy which has widened the gulf between the richest and the poorest. It is, however, a moot issue whether we will be first overtaken by the wrath of the “have-nots” before the benefits trickle down to the last of them.

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