Sir Mark Tully & Ian Jack: 'We rode on a steam train up to the Khyber Pass. It was hot and dirty, and I loved it'

The editor and the historian met in Delhi in the 1970s at a rally for Indira Gandhi

Nick Duerden
Sunday 03 January 2016 01:42 GMT
Sir Mark, left, says: ‘Ian achieved everything in his life through hard work, which is admirable.’
Sir Mark, left, says: ‘Ian achieved everything in his life through hard work, which is admirable.’ (Anna Huix)

Ian Jack, 70

India correspondent for 'The Sunday Times' during the 1970s and 1980s, Jack (right in picture) was a co-founder of 'The Independent on Sunday' in 1989 and edited the newspaper from 1991 to 1995. He then edited the quarterly literary magazine 'Granta' until 2007. Married, with two children, he lives in London and writes a weekly column for 'The Guardian'

Back in the 1970s, at the time of Indira Gandhi's Emergency, I managed to get a visa for India when every other foreign correspondent had been required to leave. I was writing about a seemingly harmless, non-political subject: the railways. But then Mrs Gandhi called an election, so suddenly I was transformed into a news correspondent.

I kept hearing about Mark from various taxi drivers in Delhi. Did I know him, they always asked. I had no idea who he was. I eventually met him at a rally for Mrs Gandhi in Uttar Pradesh. He had been born in India, so it was delightful to have a colleague who was so knowledgeable about the country. He was a very generous host, and was as interested in the railways as I was.

I stayed for more than a year before returning home, but by 1983 I was back in India, trying to write a book. Mark, who was in London then, let me stay in his house in Delhi, so there I was, alone, except for his servants. He had a lot of servants: a washer, a cook, a driver who couldn't drive. The book I was trying to write is almost too painful to speak about. It was going to be about the Indian railways, and then about the Victorian age in India, but I'm afraid I'm a rather bad book writer. I couldn't do it, and had to return the publisher's advance.

I enjoyed myself while I was there, though. All Mark asked of me was to walk his dog every night, a Labrador. He was very obedient, and would trot by my side, until one night he bounded away and didn't come back. I didn't understand much about dogs on heat, but I can tell you I nearly had a nervous breakdown over it. I thought I'd lost him. I finally found him, exhausted, in the middle of a traffic a couple of hours later.

One of our most memorable times together was in 1977. We were taking a steam railway all the way up to the Khyber Pass. Thanks to Mark and his connections, we got to ride on the footplate, which was terribly exciting for me. It was hot and dirty, and I loved it.

We've never fallen out, but I have seen him fall out with other people, much to my amusement. He had a very dubious landlord in Delhi one time. In Delhi, there was a custom of black money and white money, illegal and legal, and this landlord was after more black money. Mark had a tremendous row with him on the telephone, and called him a gadha, a donkey, which is a terrible insult in India.

We are not similar politically, I don't think. Mark is probably much more Conservative than me. He is also a Christian, which I am not. Although now that I'm 70, my thoughts do turn to how useful, both socially and aesthetically, churches can be. But the problem is one of belief, really. And I don't.

Sir Mark Tully, 80

A former bureau chief for the BBC in New Delhi, Tully is a historian and author, and the chief jurist for this year's DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. He lives with his partner, the writer Gillian Wright, in Delhi

I've always rather envied Ian and his working-class upbringing. I was born in India, the British Raj, and attended a British public school; all very silver spoon. If you were a bit lazy, as I was, you rather felt everything was already made for you; you didn't have to struggle. Ian achieved everything in his life through hard work, which is admirable.

I first met him at a rally for Indira Gandhi. They were interesting times in India, watching Gandhi, this former Empress of India, getting more and more frantic as she lost power. We hit it off, I think, because we both loved railways and steam, and we both liked to sit down and have a chat over a bottle of beer in the evening. People would always drop by the house in those days. We'd all drink quite a lot, and then go to bed slightly tottering.

While I was back in London in the early 1980s, Ian was living in my place in Delhi. He got on very well with my servants, especially my driver who couldn't drive – he was actually BBC staff: he kept our cuttings in order, and was a very companionable chap.

The warmth of our friendship never really altered when we got back to London, but moving around the city was always extraordinarily difficult, simply because London is so spread out. It's even harder for me now that I'm in old age, because I have to walk with a stick. So I'm afraid we don't see each other as much as we used to, which is sad.

Back in 1993, I was asked to give the Radio Academy lecture at the BBC. This was at the beginning of the John Birt era; a lot of people at the BBC were opposed to the reforms that Birt was bringing in, so I decided to use the speech as a criticism of those changes. I asked Ian, who was the editor of The Independent on Sunday at the time, to have a look at the speech for me. The next day, it was the lead story in the paper! That set the cat among the pigeons. It became a huge story and caused a lot of ructions. A year later I was off staff and on contract, and shortly after that I resigned.

I'm a judge on the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature this year, which Ian judged a few years back. Sometimes I wonder why I took it all on! So much to read, and my favourite didn't even make the longlist. Still, I've read some wonderful books, but my favourite kind of writing is pure journalism; Ian is what I would call a high-class writer.

Sir Mark Tully will announce the winner of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature on 16 January (

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