April 3, 2007 by Biju Parameswaran
Mrs. Sudha Murty is the chairperson of Infosys Foundation, the charity and social services wing of Infosys which was established in 1997. She also teaches computer science to post graduate students at an engineering college. Mrs. Murty is married to the Chief Mentor of Infosys, Mr. N.R. Narayana Murthy. They have two children, daughter Akshata and son Rohan. Sudha Murty, who dropped the ‘h’ from her surname so to carve an identity separate from her illustrious husband’s, was born in Shimoga in Karnataka in 1950. She secured first ranks for her electrical engineering degree and her MTech in Computer Science from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. She was the first woman to enter the Tata firm Telco as a development engineer. This happened as a result of her dashing off a letter to no less a luminary than J.R.D. Tata, challenging their policy of not employing women engineers. At the Foundation, she initiated an ingenious movement whereby all government schools in Karnataka can avail computer and library facilities. Last year the government of India awarded her a Padma Shri for her outstanding social work. She famously supported NRN monetarily in the days when he quit a secure job with PCS and started Infosys along with six other colleagues.
An avid lover of books, music, drama and potboiler Hindi movies, Sudha Murty likes to read about archaeology, anthropology, computer science, logic and mathematics. She has written twenty books in English and Kannada in addition to many columns. These include nine novels, four technical books, three travelogues, three works of non-fiction and one collection of short stories. Her books have been translated to all major Indian languages. Women and women’s issues form a central part of her novels. Prominent among her books are,
Wise and Otherwise: A Salute to Life
How I Taught My Grandmother to Read and Other Stories
The Old Man and His God: Discovering the Spirit of India
The Magic Drum and Other Favorite Stories
Dollar Bahu (Dollar Bride) which tells the tale of NRI marriages was adapted as a Hindi serial for Zee TV and had a successful run. In the writer’s own words, ‘It is the story of a mother-in-law who thinks the Indian daughter-in-law is not as good as her counterpart in the USA — the Dollar Bahu who lives in the golden land. The mother-in-law craves to be with her son in America and later when she herself spends a year there, she realizes that the problems most Indian-Americans face in the USA are similar to those back home and that the grass is not always greener on the other side.’ The novel is essentially about middle-class Indians’ aspirations to get rich on money from USA, often through a son.
Mahashweta is a touching story about a young girl’s battle with leukoderma, the unjust stigma imposed on her by society and how she braves it. It reveals, on the side, the skin-deep nature of relationships which comes out in crises.
Wise and Otherwise: A Salute to Life is a delightful collection of fifty anecdotal essays on her life through which Mrs Murty shares with us her experiences as a teacher and social worker. Often times, simple and nondescript people have influenced her and given her invaluable insights into life and it is their cause that she champions in this book. Chapter titles include ‘Powerful politicians and unsung donors’, ‘O teacher I salute thee’, ‘Unwed mothers’, etc.
How I Taught My Grandmother to Read and Other Stories was written specifically for children, but it is equally enjoyable for adults as well, due to its profound message. The stories teach us lessons in simplicity, patriotism and the importance of love and friendship. This book also provided the inspiration of a 40 minute film called Meri Pahli Chaatra last year.
The Old Man and His God: Discovering the Spirit of India is about people’s generosity and also selfishness in times of natural calamities like the tsunami. It is also about the constant struggle that women have to undertake to be heard and the story of young professionals trying to find their feet as they climb up the corporate ladder. As she goes about her philanthropic work with the villagers, slum-dwellers and the common people, Mrs. Murty listens to them and records whatever she encounters. The book consists of the accounts of those struggles and the tremendous saga of survival. The curious title story is set in a village in Tamil Nadu. The protagonists are an old man, his wife, and their god, living their lives in a simple temple. The lesson is about achieving peace and contentment even when one does not have anything.
The Magic Drum and Other Favorite Stories is an assortment of stories that the writer heard as a child from her grandparents and later from her friends around the world. These are timeless folktales which she has loved and also recounted to many from the younger generation at various times. This collection reaches it out to many more of her readers. The tales include those of kings, misers, wise men, foolish boys, a princess who thinks she was a bird, a coconut that cost a thousand rupees, and a shepherd with a bag of words and many more.
As readers we sincerely look forward to many more illuminating outputs from this great educationalist and entrepreneur of our times. More power to Mrs. Murty’s pen!