'A good novel should have a strong story'

Perspective

For veteran journalist Mark Tully public awareness in literature in India has expanded tremendously and this shift reflects in the vibrant literary scene the country has been experiencing. “There never was such awareness about Indian authors and literature. It is wonderful to see greater sense of awareness among people,” says Tully.

The 79-year-old has covered India for three decades for the BBC and has written several books like Raj to Rajiv: 40 Years of Indian Independence co-authored with Zareer Masani, The Heart of India and India's Unending Journey, among a few others.

While his bend towards writing is nothing new, his new role as the chair of the jury for the DSC Prize for South Indian Literature 2016 has been a refreshing journey into the world of writings. He had to read extensively for the longlist which was announced recently and he admits he was “delighted to see eclectic voices narrating tales of the present social milieu.

“It was a very difficult choice to select for the longlist. But the best thing was there was uniformity of choices. So the selection became easier,” Tully tells Metrolife.

This year, Aatish Taseer’s The Way Things Were, Akhil Sharma’s Family Life, Amit Chaudhuri’s Odysseus Abroad, Anuradha Roy’s Sleeping on Jupiter which also made it to Man Booker’s longlist, K.R. Meera’s Hang Woman, among others have made it to the list.

As expected, the longlist also features translations as Tully mentions “some of the best voices from South Asia reach to us through translations. So, it is important to have more of them.”

When it comes to stories, Tully’s personal favourites aren’t stories about “middle-class” India, but tales of transformation and challenges of mofussil towns. He feels, as a literary judge, one should isolate personal biases and focus on narrative for final selection. “Personal likes and dislikes can’t be totally kept out. But one should look at aspects like what makes a great book.”

“A good novel should have a strong story and should keep readers engaged. My benchmark for a good novel is Amitav Ghosh’s trilogy,” he says.

Tully has seen the way green Delhi has paved way to obnoxious malls and skyscrapers and he admits “traffic and pollution” have drastically changed parameters of living in the capital. “I think the monolithic, gigantic cities are inhuman place to live in.”

As prominent writers are retuning their Sahitya Akademi award as a mark of protest against growing intolerance in the country and delayed acknowledgement of this callous outpouring by the literary body, Tully feels “it is a personal decision of writers and he doesn’t see any reason why people are interfering in that decision.” 

“India has always been an example of religious tolerance and plurality but this growing rise of fundamentalism in India and Bangladesh, where people of different religions live side by side, is not only worrying but terrifying,” he concludes.

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