Sir Mark Tully is a much-admired writer and broadcaster who has lived in India for over 30 years. He is also the Chairman of the newly-appointed International Advisory Council and recently attended their first meeting in Auroville.
AUROVILLE TODAY: When you write or broadcast about India, what is your perspective? What is the lens through which you look?
Tully: It's interesting that you mention lenses, because I was thrilled listening to Dr. Gangadean at the Youth Conference when he described how we all look through different lenses, but the crucial thing is to understand other people's lenses as well as our own. I think that is one of the fundamental things I've learned in India . I'll explain this in terms of my background. Although I was born in India , I was educated in an English public school, and it was a totally rational education. You learned that there was only one way to do things, and your job in life was always to find that one way. The only bit of my education I enjoyed was going to chapel: later I studied at a theological college for two terms after graduating from Cambridge .
So, partly because of this tramline-like education and because of the way that Christianity was traditionally taught, I grew up believing that Christianity was the only way to God. But when I came to India , it became obvious that many of the Hindus and Muslims I met were genuinely seeking after God, and it occurred to me they were seeking after God rather than saying they had found God or knew God. Therefore it became clear to me that Christianity could not be the only way to God. However, as someone who loved and still loves Christianity I didn't want to lose it, so I had to find a way of remaining a Christian without denying there are other ways to God. And then, thinking about it further, I realized that I could learn from the other ways to God as well. This is what India brought me, what has become a part of me, and it's been profoundly important.
I'd like to add one thing which may be a little contrary to the thinking in Auroville. I believe that most of us need to stand in tradition. I've had a pretty wild life as a foreign correspondent, and I think in the end if I hadn't always had this deep love of Anglicanism I would have become a cynical old bore, propping up bars. I do find sometimes that when people talk of spirituality they seem to be denying the validity of religion, but to me the two go hand-in-hand. Actually, I think one of the things we need to do is to re-spiritualize religion, because one of the weakest points in my theological education was that it was all dumped on me from outside: you learned the catechism, the creed etc. but you were not really taught anything about spirituality. Christianity, even now, is still far too predicated on the moral content and not enough on the spiritual content.
You seem to feel that India has been saddled with an alien mindset as a hangover from colonialism.
I do believe that, I believe there is a colonial inferiority complex which has allowed elements of the colonial era to be perpetuated. Look at the Indian bureaucracy, for example, or the position of the English language as the lingua franca of this country. I know the huge advantages that accrue, but we must also see that it affects the development of Indian languages, which are hugely rich, and it denies the language of the elite to millions of Indians.
On a larger level, I fear now that India is being threatened by a new form of imperialism which is cultural imperialism, and when I wrote No Full Stops in India my aim was to say that there are Indian ways of doing things, that India has a wonderfully rich culture of its own, so don't let it all be swept away. I'm not saying India should go back to a golden age, but do we want a true India or an imitation America ? In other words, I think the whole money-culture, consumeristic thing which is coming up is fundamentally un-Indian because in Indian culture the emphasis is upon having enough but not more. There can be no consumerism without greed, and greed is one of the greatest enemies of spirituality because it takes you down a completely different path.
So I believe you should be able to get the best out of modern culture but at the same time stand firmly rooted in your culture.
Are you hopeful that India will be strong enough to resist this cultural colonialism?
I'm not at all despairing, although I do sometimes despair when I see all these ghastly shopping malls coming up in Delhi , the dreadful advertisements on television and, in my own profession, how the journalist's role has been suborned by commercial considerations. One of the things about Indian culture is its adaptive nature because it doesn't see things through final lenses, because it regards life as a search and as a business of finding balance. One takes great comfort from the longevity of Indian culture, although one wonders if it has ever been subjected to such a mighty onslaught.
The most important thing now is that the propagators of this new culture should change, in other words, the change has to come from the West. And there are signs that more and more people there are beginning to realize that you cannot go on in this barren manner, and that externally almost all the threats that the West is facing are the result of their own policies. I believe profoundly that there is a huge lesson for the West to learn when it comes to terrorism, and that is that the West, without condoning acts of terrorism, has to understand what made those men drive those planes into the World Trade Center . We have to understand that, to a large extent, it was driven by a fear of Western culture which is seen by some as godless and obscene. So if the West is really going to deal with this terrorist problem, it has to look at itself.
You've never been to Auroville before. Why?
It had not really impinged on my consciousness. When I was asked to come on this Council what struck me was that most of the things that have happened to me have been chance, fate. So when out of the blue I was invited I felt it was fate again, and I'm sure that I will learn a huge amount from this experience. There was also a feeling that it's extremely ungracious to refuse such an honour, because this is much more important than a lot of things I am asked to do.
The last three days in Auroville have made me very excited by what I've found here. One of the things which have impressed me tremendously is the number of people who have lived here for a very long time. Then again, the subjects that are talked about here are so much more interesting than in other places, there is the whole ambition of this place, and it is all about what I believe should happen. The very fact that you're seeking not to have money here I think is wonderful, and the fact that you talk about ‘divine anarchy' is such a wonderful counter-blast to all that I fought against in the BBC, which was the over-managerial control of the corporation.
It seems to me what you're trying to do here is something very brave; you're trying to apply ideals, and that's always going to be hugely challenging. I said to my colleagues on the Council that we're tremendously enthused, we really want to play a role, but to continue with that enthusiasm, to keep it going, is going to be our problem.
In terms of resolutions the IAC has already taken, it sounds as if you've set off at a gallop...
We all feel that in that document [see box on bottom of this page] we have set ourselves a task. We want everyone to know what that task is, and we want to be kept up to the mark. I think what we want to do is to take part in the evolution of Auroville, but we all realize that this evolution does not happen simply by what I could term the hand of God, it requires effort. We have set off at a gallop, but we have to keep going. I don't like the idea of galloping myself, I prefer slow and steady progress.
You're a stayer !
I stayed in India , and that sometimes requires considerable staying power! But I have been enormously rewarded for staying in India , it's been a wonderful life and I'm passionate about this country. At the same time, I was born and educated British and it would be absurd for me to turn round and say I have become an Indian. I don't think that, like a snake, I can just slough my skin, and I don't want to because I also owe a huge amount to Britain, I owe my whole Christian culture to it. So I see myself as British but deeply influenced by India .
You were born in India , you have lived here many years but in your books on India you often seem to feel yourself an outsider. Is this a source of discomfort?
Of course, it's not necessarily a comfortable position. But there are also advantages. If you are utterly monocultural, if you say to yourself ‘This what I believe in and nothing is going to change this' it is perhaps more comfortable, but it's less challenging. Also because of my position I see things slightly differently to both Indians and British, and that is useful sometimes; it means I can bring a different perspective. It's not a position where you're permanently comfortable, but I don't think life should be like that. No full stops!
Sir Mark Tully was the BBC's correspondent in India for 22 years.
He has made radio programmes and published a number of books about the subcontinent, including ‘No Full Stops in India ' and ‘ India in Slow Motion'. In 2001 he was knighted for his services to broadcasting and journalism.
Extracts from minutes of an unofficial meeting of the Auroville International Advisory Council (I.A.C) on February 22nd, 2005
Sir Mark Tully, Chairman,
Dr. Doudou Diene
Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne
Dr. Marc Luyckx Ghisi
We had a long discussion on our functioning as the I.A.C. We distinguished two main functions of the I.A.C.
The first is to advise the Board on the development and management of Auroville. We feel that in order to fulfil the first function according to the Act it is desirable that we should:
1) Meet at least twice a year in Auroville preferably at the same time as the meeting of the Governing Board, or in liaison with any meaningful event of Auroville.
2) The meeting should at least last for 2 days.
3) There should be during the meeting an opportunity to meet the Working Committee, the Auroville Residents Assembly, the Governing Board, and any other group which wishes to see us.
4) In order to able to advise, we would like to be informed and consulted on the draft agenda of the Governing Board.
This will enable us if necessary to suggest matters which might be discussed by the Governing Board.We would like also to receive in due course the minutes/ proceedings of the Governing Board Meetings.
We also feel that, along with the Governing Board, we should be consulted by the Government of India when any important decision has to be taken on the development and management of Auroville.
The second function of the I.A.C is to be an interface with the outside world: in order to perform this function it will be necessary not only to promote Auroville to the outside world but also to strengthen Auroville's contacts with that world.
We feel it is important that the citizens of Auroville should be informed about all our deliberations, including these minutes, by putting them on the Auroville Intranet or by any other means.
Conformity with The Mother's Vision
In all our deliberations or actions we will always bear in mind that it is our duty to promote the ideals laid down in the Charter of Auroville proclaimed by the ‘Mother' on February 28, 1968.