What Makes India Home For Dilliwalah Mark Tully? 

Ex-BBC India Chief Mark Tully turns 84 today. Watch him get candid on religion, food, and his romance with India.

4 min read

Cameraperson: Mukul Bhandari
Video Editor:
Prashant Chauhan
Indira Basu

(This story was first published on 24 October 2019. It has been republished from The Quint’s archives a year later in light of Tully’s birthday.)

Musibat yeh hai, pareshani yeh hai
ki jab main kisi se sawaal poonchtha hoon
Hindi mein, woh hamesha jawab dete hai angrezi mein.

Aur mein toh bahut gussa hota hun
ki aap mujhse kyon Hindi mein nahin bolte hain.
Aur mera khayal hai ki ek kaaran yeh hai
ki woh dikhana chahta hai ki woh angrezi bol sakta hai.

Ex-BBC India Chief Mark Tully is more ‘desi’ than many of us. And he’s a hardcore Delhiite. Delhi has been his home for over 30 years, where he continues to live in his Nizamuddin West house with his partner Gillian Wright and their two dogs, Langri and Soni.

The Quint caught up with the veteran journalist and writer days before his 84th birthday. Here are excerpts from Indira Basu’s interview with Tully:


‘When I Speak in Hindi, They Respond in English’

If not Delhi, where would you have settled?

Perhaps Calcutta, because that’s where I was born. I’m a great believer in following your life. Makes a lot of sense to me, for my life to go full circle and come back to Calcutta. The only other place I would really love to live in is somewhere in the countryside. But again, there are a lot of problems associated with that. And many people when they retire, go and live in the countryside and then they become very lonely. And I didn’t want to become lonely.

Did you find it difficult to learn Hindi?

The biggest difficulty in learning Hindi is that everyone speaks to you in English. Whenever I start to speak to someone in Hindi they will reply to me in English (sic). That is the biggest difficulty. You’re not surrounded by Hindi nearly enough.

Favourite Indian word/phrase?

Well, I’m very, very fond of the word ‘bundobust’. It seems to be an onomatopoeic word. And I remember, even as a child, my father would tell people ‘bundobust karo’. So, that is rather a strange one. And then there are so many wonderful phrases in Hindi. One I like very much is ‘hulchul machao’ (spread chaos) or that sort of thing. That’s the first one which comes to my mind, perhaps because I’ve only learnt it quite recently.


‘I Liked Boman Irani in Three Idiots’

Favourite Indian food?

My favourite Indian food, I think, may be sarson ka saag and makki ki roti.

Favourite Indian film?

Yes, I like Hindi movies very much. I’m very fond of certain actors. I’m fond of Amrish Puri and very very fond of Boman Irani. Naseeruddin Shah, in particular, as well. And I’ve seen some wonderful films. I liked Boman Irani in ‘Three Idiots’. It was a wonderful movie. Naseeruddin Shah in so many films — I can’t count the number of films I’ve seen of him. He’s a wonderful actor as well.

An Indian language apart from Hindi you’d like to learn?

Well, I would love, of course, to make my Hindi absolutely perfect and then I think, yes, I would very much like to learn Bengali as well.


‘I Found Pandit Ravi Shankar to be a Delightful Person’

Indian musicians on your playlist?

Well, I think… I made four radio programmes about four different Indian musicians once. And that was great fun. I made a programme about Pt Ravi Shankar, who was wonderful. I found him to be a delightful person. I thought he might be rather arrogant but he wasn’t one bit like that. Umm… I’m very fond… I love the flute. So, I’m very fond of Hari Prasad Chaurasia. I love Girija Devi… I’ve heard her sing. I’ve heard so many different Indian classical musicians.

‘I’m Still a Church-Going Christian’

You studied to be a priest. Is religion still important to you?

Yes, of course. I’ve visited temples, been to services, been to aartis often in temples, I’ve been to masjids as well, but I am a Christian by upbringing. And I am still a church-going Christian. But I do believe – from India I’ve learnt this – that there are many ways to God. (But) as I say, I was born to be a Christian, so I stick to the Christian way.

‘I’m Not Very Good at Meditating’

Any Indian spiritual practices you’ve taken up?

Yes, I have been to Indian gurus; I’ve written about it. I do yoga; I’m not very good at meditating but I do meditation as well.


‘Most Important Indians In My Life Are Family Of My First Cook’

Who are the everyday Indians who are important to you?

Well, the most important Indians who have played a role in my life really are one family — the family of a man who was my first cook, Gareeb Das. His family has worked for me all the while I’ve been in India... almost all the time. And they have been wonderful to me. Looked after me and Gilly (Tully’s partner) wonderfully well, and played a huge role. And my four children all love them. Whenever they (children) come to India, they have to come and see Babli (Gareeb’s daughter) who is my cook, and Kaka, who is her son, and our driver, but who does much more than driving.

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Topics:  Yoga   BBC   Meditation 

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