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A date with destiny

Mark Tully’s journey 

from journalism  

to short stories


IR William Mark Tully — ar-

guably more Indian than most 

Indians — had “a very British 


The acclaimed broadcaster and 

writer, now in his 80s, once wanted 

to become a priest and even pur-

sued a degree in theology. 

“But the turn of events” was 

such that he found his way back to 

India. Journalism wasn’t his choice, 

he says, but destiny willed other-


India, which he was not initially 

allowed to identify with, is now 


Tully was born in India in 1935, 

one of six children; his father was 

a successful businessman who 

worked in what was then Calcutta.

“My mother’s side had lived in 

India for long; in fact, they were 

living here even before the first 

war of independence in 1857. My 

great great grandfather was an opi-

um agent in eastern UP, my great 

grandfather was a trader and my 

grandfather dealt in the jute busi-


“My father had never been to In-

dia and knew no one on this side, 

but my mother was born in what 

is now Bangladesh. I was born in 

Calcutta. We had a very British 

life,” Tully recalled in an interview 

with IANS.

“We were not allowed to identi-

fy with India at all; we were sort of 

discouraged from becoming a part 

of this culture. Our European nan-

ny stopped us from learning Hindi 

or other languages and insisted 

that we spoke only in English.”

It was customary for British chil-

dren to be sent home for education 

during those days, but while Tully 

was growing up, the Second World 

War was wreaking havoc in the 

Western world. 

Mark was sent to Darjeeling for 

his preliminary education.

“Those were wonderful days. 

I loved the place and it was very 

close to nature. I wasn’t under 

much of adult supervision and 

I had a very liberal headmaster. 

We went around the bazaars and 

roamed freely,” he recalled.

And then his father got a job 

in Manchester and off went Tully 

along with him, spending his child-

hood in boarding schools in Brit-


India was left far behind, out of 

sight and out of mind. There was 

no question of returning.

“I went to Cambridge then and 

because I wanted to become a 

priest, I pursued a degree in theol-

ogy and history. I really wanted to 

become a priest but that did not 

work out. The Archbishop thought 

I was not priest material and I re-

spected the Church enough, as 

I still do, to not let it down,” he 


For the next four years, Tully 

worked for an NGO and then, in 

1964, he joined the BBC, not as a 

journalist but as “personnel man-

ager of middle seniority”.

The very next year, in 1965, all 

of a sudden, came an opportunity 

to work as a junior administrative 

assistant in New Delhi.

He returned to the country of his 

birth, of which he had fond memo-


“It was destiny. I was meant to 

return to India and it happened.” 

In the following months, he re-

called, he was promoted to news 

correspondent, reporting for the 

BBC World Service on India, Paki-

stan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and 


“BBC was the most trusted 

source of news at that time. Many 

people did not trust the govern-

ment-owned broadcasters and I 

travelled the length and breadth 

of the country. I loved it and found 

out, to my surprise, that journalism 

too was my destiny,” he said.

During the Emergency of 1975, 

Tully — along with 40 foreign cor-

respondents, including those of 

The Guardian and The Washing-

ton Post — was thrown out of the 

country and found his way back to 


When the Emergency ended, he 

was back as the Chief of Bureau.

He has lived in India ever since 

and has written some fascinating 

books like No Full Stops In India 

and India In Slow Motion.

His latest — “Upcountry Tales: 

Once Upon A Time In The Heart 

Of India” (Speaking Tiger/Rs 

599/ 285 Pages) — is a su-

premely engaging collection 

of short stories, marked by 

warmth, wit and a keen and 

compassionate eye for the 

everyday human theatre in 

rural north India. 

Tully uses his vast ex-

perience and draws in-

teresting characters and 

stories — each more 

charming than the next.

The Indian govern-

ment honoured him in 

1992 with the Padma 

Shri and in 2005 with 

the Padma Bhushan, 

the fourth and third 

highest civilian 


He was knight-

ed by Prince 

Charles at Buck-

ingham Palace 

in 2002 for ser-

vices to broad-


— Indo-Asian 

News Service

“BBC was 

the most 


source of 

news at 

that time. 

Many people 

did not trust the 




and I travelled 

the length and 

breadth of the 

country. I loved it 

and found out, to 

my surprise, that 

journalism too 

was my destiny.”

— Broadcaster and writer Mark