Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mark Tully's, The Heart of India...

A couple of days back, the news of Chander Mohan, son of Haryana's seasoned politician Bhajan Lal getting himself converted to Islam, with a new name Chand Mohammed was the talk of the town. The conversion was apparently not because of Chander Mohan's strong faith but for getting married for the second time to his lady love, lawyer and former Assistant Advocate General, Anuradha Bali, who also got converted to Islam, to be reborn as Fiza.

Don't you feel that this incident had all the ingredients of a Bollywood potboiler and even beyond?

Also a couple of weeks back, while reading the newspaper, I learnt about a spine-chilling incident, in which a mother, wanting to fulfill her religious vow, dipped her three-month-old baby three times into a boiling rice pot in Jumalapur village in Bijapur district. It does sound scary, something like the ripley-believe-it-or-not kind of act.

But why am I talking all these, when incidents such as these and many more occur in abundance in India day in day out. We are sort of used to it. Few of these find coverage in the media and few do not depending on the location of the events and also on the accessibility and penetration factor for media coverage. But incidents such as these are a part and parcel of life in this colorful nation and that’s exactly what Mark Tully, has covered in his book, 'The Heart of India'. I completed reading the book which is full of color, noise and scent, akin to desi lifestyle.

Mark Tully needs no introduction, for he is well known for covering many major incidents in South Asia during his tenure as a reporter. What sets him apart from other reporters is his deep involvement in the tinges of this land, his genuine love and in-depth, innate understanding of India's psyche. 'The Heart of India' is a not a coffee book of Indian hinterland but rather it delves sensitively into the nuances and shades of everyday life in villages of the northeast states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The author writes in the preface part of the book that he chose this region of India because it has remained largely unaltered from ancient times and also for the fact that, Hindi is widely spoken in that belt and he is quite comfortable with the language. Time and tides have come and gone, but this region has not changed much.

Tully has also mentioned that most of the chronicles, are true but he has tampered those a bit here and there to add an element of imagination and fiction. The stories revolve around the social requirements of childbearing and how a barren lady conceives after a visit to a holy man, the false superbia that is attached to the Indian caste system and the toxic syrup that is drunk in regular dosages to keep the engine of administration moving both at the local bodies and the state level, corruption. The writing is soaking because, Tully doesn't swim at the surface level, rather he dives into the ground level writing with great detail about the degrees of gossip, ghar ghar ki kahani and the lack of privacy in village life. In one of the tales, he tells about the erosion of the old rural India, by the careless rush towards modernization through the lens of an old Muslim ikkab-puller who owns a dilapidated horse-carriage, a vehicle which has turned unserviceable in an age of auto-rickshaws. In another, he narrates the story of Madhu, who leaves her village to do a B.Ed degree at the famous BHU, becomes an active participant in college politics, falls in love and then life takes a never anticipated turn as her romance ends in blackmail. A tale of reality check, of a life hedged with numerous limitations. He also examines how the people have tagged many things in the name of religion, while they are in a state of disarray or confusion when it comes to differentiating between ritual and reality. Tully's unhesitating assumption of his characters illustrates life as it is, in a heartfelt manner. It's not like he wishes to show the good side and cover up the not-so-good side. The stories don't paint an idyllic picture.

The book gives the feeling of a letter written by someone while traveling in a 2nd class sleeper compartment of Indian railways, drinking chai with the sight of Indian hinterland dancing in a graceful and rhythmical way in the window frames. I also felt that, Tully has listed in a subtle way the obstacles that India has to overcome in its march towards attaining the status of economic powerhouse.

This book may not be one of the finest of Tully's creations (my perception though), but definitely it gives a vivid and true portraiture of village life. It also educates those, who grew up in cities within India and outside, and are a bit cut off from the ground realities about India's complex social, cultural and political matrix that persist even after we have undergone a dramatic change from a third world country to under developed nation to a developing economy.

Keep reading and remain connected.

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At 10:02 AM, Blogger RAJI MUTHUKRISHNAN said...

Good review.


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