Mark Tully has written many books on India. The most famous of which is probably ‘No Full Stops in India’ on the Licence-Permit Raj years. So some of you might look askance at yet another one albeit on the twenty years succeeding the end of that dispensation. However those of you who would be tempted to approach this book from such a framework would be mistaken because both professionally and personally he is well qualified to do the same having been a B.B.C. correspondent in India for many years and having been born in Calcutta. If that were not enough his uncle was an administrator in N.E.F.A (now Arunachal Pradesh) during the days of the British Raj.
The book as such is structured akin to a documentary narrating the views of a cross-section of Indian society and has distinct chapters on caste, religion, agriculture, entrepreneurship, language and even attempts at saving the tiger. Therefore there is quite a diversity of themes but we can’t deny many of them are fairly topical themes and ones that those following national news in India would be quite familiar with. However that alone wouldn’t have made this book unique. It is rather that it provides a perspective on the country through the lives of various people, some remarkable and some ordinary. It can’t be denied that it is also quite contemporary as it ends in 2010. While it doesn’t make any firm prognostications on the direction India is heading it does provide a perspective on the state of affairs in northern and north-eastern India through the three states of U.P., Bihar and Arunachal Pradesh. Personally one would have hoped for a wider spatial spread but what is lacking in that regard is made up by intensity of focus. While Mark Tully seems himself optimistic of the general direction India is headed he does make certain pertinent observations for example such as that the Indian state is a flailing state and that there is poor coordination between the centre and states in developmental efforts. This is perhaps why India is the perpetual land of tomorrows which never seem to arrive.
I would think after reading this book that India is a sort of Yugoslavia moored in Asia with a polity somewhere akin to the Afro-Latin American model which somehow keeps wobbling along. Mark Tully himself believes the Indian system thrives on crises of which he believes there have been plenty but I would personally think that it’s also a story of luck. The question is how long that luck will hold because as in everyday life no one can hope to be lucky all the time. Nevertheless this is an interesting account in giving a perspective on India and its problems though the conclusions readers arrive at might vary.