UPCOUNTRY Tales: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE HEART OF INDIA by Mark Tully
Stories, long or short possess the power to make us think and travel back in time, to another place, another era. Stories about our past, the lives of our people, who lived and experienced situations before us strengthen the roots of our system in which we live today. Stories are powerful.
Mark Tully, in his recent rendition of short stories. UPCOUNTRY Tales – Once upon a time in the heart of India, presents his thoughts on the experiences that he encountered while reporting for the BBC in India during the 80’s. A time, when as a country, India was on a cusp of change.
This book opens with Tully recounting his meetings with prominent personalities that made India in the 80’s, Mrs Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai and others. What comes forward are the subtle nuances of their personalities which otherwise were not highlighted in the media. These behind the scenes interviews which Tully describes in the introduction, show his deep understanding of the reportage that he undertook during his time in India.
The book has seven short fictional stories, some inspired by real life characters, all inspired by actual situations, political, economic and cultural which occurred in India, during the 80’s decade. The characters that Tully describes are based in the heart of the country, more precisely, villages of eastern Uttar Pradesh. Budh Ram is a farm hand with a unique ambition, Tirathpal is a farmer who is considering mechanization and Prem Lal, a sub-inspector, determined to overrule the CID and investigate a murder, and many more of these not-so-prominent, common folks of the land who tell a tale of determination, passion and resistance.
What I realised as I read, tale through tale, is that, though the scenarios were based decades ago, the challenges that have been portrayed are recent and still prevalent in our systems: long running legal battles, the red tape and corruption in government offices, the venal police force and murder investigations that are hushed up and covered for reasons only the ‘higher ups’ know. So, I questioned the so called progress that we as a democracy have achieved or claim to achieve and I wondered if we have moved on or regressed to a time depicted in the tales.
All in all, I would say, this book and Tully sahib’s writing is a wonderful narrative, which takes one back in time and is a definitely worth a read.
P.S. If you loved Malgudi Days, you may like this one. 😊