India’s Unending Journey by Mark Tully

I go to the Public Library at Ernakulam with a list of books that I want to read. But, I can almost never find the ones that I am looking for. Instead I just pick up something with a nice cover and end up reading it. I don’t know what will happen to my reading habit once the classes are over. I might become more discriminating and eventually just stop reading altogether.

I have recently been reading a lot of books which have tried to elucidate the necessity and advantages of maintaining a scientific outlook on life. So, I decided that maybe I would read a book that has a different message.

Mark Tully was  a BBC correspondent in India who had a great fascination with Indian culture and ideas, which he says might have been due to his close ties with India since he was very young. From the beginning the book emphasises the importance of believing in a higher power and of religion in our lives. He describes various religious festivals in India, the myths and ideas behind them and the messages that they try to spread. He also tries to drive home the point that all religions speak of the same God or whatever that he calls  a “Higher Power” and that the teachings of the various religions are true in their own peculiar way.

He criticizes the arrogance of scientists and has even named a few including Dawkins.  He says that they discount the value of intuition and “other” ways of knowing things and says that there are certain things that science doesn’t understand. He also admits that he has been unable to obtain even a rudimentary grasp of the field and that he feels as if he is on shaky ground when he argues with people with intellectual leanings.

He also describes his childhood days and the role of the school that he studied at(Marlborough) on himself. He feels that the rationalism and the competitive attitude espoused by the school is not entirely correct. He also describes his attempts at priesthood and the reasons for giving it up.

Mark Tully has also tried to spell out his position regarding economics. He warns people against dogmatic belief in any particular economic model and emphasises the importance of trying to find the middle path.

The underlying message of the whole book is that people need to find balance in everything. That everyone should be open minded. We should value our religious traditions and by way of example he sites the examples of the religious festivals in India and the devotion of the pilgrims, which he thinks makes them happy. He also says that the replacement of religion by materialism as God has resulted in moral bankruptcy in western countries. He feels that secularists are responsible for provoking believers into religious fanaticism and that the state should try to give due to credence to the religious beliefs of people.

There where a lot of other things mentioned in the book. But, I don’t think they added to the ideas that a person might absorb from reading the book.

My take on it:

When reading the book one has this strong feeling that the author is trying to take credit for his failings. He also pushes a very strange kind of reasoning where he admits that he knows nothing about the opposition, but tries to keep harping on how happy the Masses at church made him. He also appears to labour hard to balance his belief in Christianity and his  belief in the validity of other religions, most of which seem to push contradicting ideas.

His treatment of tantric wisdom can impress only the most unread and suggestible of people. While he says that people should not fall for dogmatic beliefs as far as economic theory is concerned and should instead look at what works and what does not, he seems to be glibly oblivious as to how that can sit well with religion which is nothing more than dogma and unreasoning belief.

While he blames religious riots on the poor understanding of religions, he never provides any convincing explanation as to why people should not believe their religious texts literally. He also does not give a convincing explanation of how he balances his religious convictions with that of others. The position that he proposes is a highly metastable one and he never seems to realize that religion in itself can never provide an internal check on itself as it is based on belief which by definition is trust in something that cannot be verified.

His admiration of the vulgar and obscene displays of mass idiocy that some of the festivals in India are, is somewhat sickening despite the vague and “intuitive” explanations he provides. He never seems to grasp that ordinary people with their limited resources and time that they can devote to self-delusion and “doublespeak (1984 by George Orwell)” might be easily lured into superstition and admiration of fake and shallow phenomena. He does not understand or admire the real mysteries and suggests that people do what he has done, which is be amazed by their own ignorance.

He also does not think along common lines about how religion has stymied and sometimes just completely overshadowed debate and action on the real issues, and worse, does not even provide any reasons for his observations.

Reading the book will convince anyone about the difficulties of believing blindly and being human at the same time.

Someone also needs to explain the difference between culture and religion. India has a very different culture and this has influenced what some call it’s religions. This has kind of confused Mark Tully.


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