together we can change ourself

together we can change ourself

Sudha and Narayan Murthy

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Learning From the West – N R Narayana Murthy
We are living in the past. No other society gloats so much about the past as we do, with as little current accomplishment.
Download pdf file: N.R. Narayana Murthy

Ladies and gentlemen:

It is a pleasure to be here at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management. Lal Bahadur Shastri was a man of strong values and he epitomized simple living. He was a freedom fighter and innovative administrator who contributed to nation building in full measure. It is indeed a matter of pride for me to be chosen for the Lal Bahadur Shastri Award for Public Administration and Management Sciences. I thank the jury for this honor.

When I got the invitation to speak here, I decided to speak on an important topic on which I have pondered for years – the role of Western values in contemporary Indian society. Coming from a company that is built on strong values, the topic is close to my heart. Moreover, an organization is representative of society, and some of the lessons that I have learnt are applicable in the national context. In fact, values drive progress and define quality of life in society.

The word community joins two Latin words com (“together” or “with”) and unus (“one”). A community, then, is both one and many. It is a unified multitude and not a mere group of people. As it is said in the Vedas: Man can live individually, but can survive only collectively. Hence, the challenge is to form a progressive community by balancing the interests of the individual and that of the society. To meet this, we need to develop a value system where people accept modest sacrifices for the common good.

What is a value system? It is the protocol for behavior that enhances the trust, confidence and commitment of members of the community. It goes beyond the domain of legality – it is about decent and desirable behavior. Further, it includes putting the community interests ahead of your own. Thus, our collective survival and progress is predicated on sound values.

There are two pillars of the cultural value system – loyalty to family and loyalty to community. One should not be in isolation to the other, because, successful societies are those which combine both harmoniously. It is in this context that I will discuss the role of Western values in contemporary Indian society.

Some of you here might say that most of what I am going to discuss are actually Indian values in old ages, and not Western values. I live in the present, not in the bygone era. Therefore, I have seen these values practiced primarily in the West and not in India . Hence, the title of the topic.

I am happy as long as we practice these values – whether we call it Western or old Indian values. As an Indian, I am proud to be part of a culture, which has deep-rooted family values. We have tremendous loyalty to the family. For instance, parents make enormous sacrifices for their children. They support them until they can stand on their own feet. On the other side, children consider it their duty to take care of aged parents.

We believe: Mathru devo bhava – mother is God, and pithru devo bhava – father is God. Further, brothers and sisters sacrifice for each other. In fact, the eldest brother or sister is respected by all the other siblings. As for marriage, it is held to be a sacred union – husband and wife are bonded, most often, for life. In joint families, the entire family works towards the welfare of the family. There is so much love and affection in our family life.

This is the essence of Indian values and one of our key strengths. Our families act as a critical support mechanism for us. In fact, the credit to the success of Infosys goes, as much to the founders as to their families, for supporting them through the tough times. Unfortunately, our attitude towards family life is not reflected in our attitude towards community behavior. From littering the streets to corruption to breaking of contractual obligations, we are apathetic to the common good. In the West – the US , Canada , Europe, Australia , New Zealand – individuals understand that they have to be responsible towards their community.

The primary difference between the West and us is that, there, people have a much better societal orientation. They care more for the society than we do. Further, they generally sacrifice more for the society than us. Quality of life is enhanced because of this. This is where we need to learn from the West.
I will talk about some of the lessons that we, Indians, can learn from the West.
In the West, there is respect for the public good. For instance, parks free of litter, clean streets, public toilets free of graffiti – all these are instances of care for the public good. On the contrary, in India , we keep our houses clean and water our gardens everyday – but, when we go to a park, we do not think twice before littering the place.

Corruption, as we see in India , is another example of putting the interest of oneself, and at best that of one’s family, above that of the society. Society is relatively corruption free in the West. For instance, it is very difficult to bribe a police officer into avoiding a speeding ticket.

This is because of the individual’s responsible behavior towards the community as a whole On the contrary, in India , corruption, tax evasion, cheating and bribery have eaten into our vitals. For instance, contractors bribe officials, and construct low-quality roads and bridges. The result is that society loses in the form of substandard defence equipment and infrastructure, and low-quality recruitment, just to name a few impediments. Unfortunately, this behavior is condoned by almost everyone.

Apathy in solving community matters has held us back from making progress, which is otherwise within our reach. We see serious problems around us but do not try to solve them. We behave as if the problems do not exist or is somebody else’s. On the other hand, in the West, people solve societal problems proactively. There are several examples of our apathetic attitude. For instance, all of us are aware of the problem of drought in India .

More than 40 years ago, Dr. K. L. Rao – an irrigation expert, suggested creation of a water grid connecting all the rivers in North and South India , to solve this problem. Unfortunately, nothing has been done about this. The story of power shortage in Bangalore is another instance. In 1983, it was decided to build a thermal power plant to meet Bangalore ‘s power requirements. Unfortunately, we have still not started it. Further, the Milan subway in Bombay is in a deplorable state for the last 40 years, and no action has been taken.

To quote another example, considering the constant travel required in the software industry; five years ago, I had suggested a 240-page passport. This would eliminate frequent visits to the passport office. In fact, we are ready to pay for it. However, I am yet to hear from the Ministry of External Affairs on this.

We, Indians, would do well to remember Thomas Hunter’s words: Idleness travels very slowly, and poverty soon overtakes it. What could be the reason for all this? We were ruled by foreigners for over thousand years. Thus, we have always believed that public issues belonged to some foreign ruler and that we have no role in solving them.

Moreover, we have lost the will to proactively solve our own problems. Thus, we have got used to just executing someone else’s orders. Borrowing Aristotle’s words: We are what we repeatedly do. Thus, having done this over the years, the decision-makers in our society are not trained for solving problems. Our decision-makers look to somebody else to take decisions. Unfortunately, there is nobody to look up to, and this is the tragedy.

Our intellectual arrogance has also not helped our society. I have traveled extensively, and in my experience, have not come across another society where people are as contemptuous of better societies as we are, with as little progress as we have achieved. Remember that arrogance breeds hypocrisy. No other society gloats so much about the past as we do, with as little current accomplishment.

Friends, this is not a new phenomenon, but at least a thousand years old. For instance, Al Barouni, the famous Arabic logician and traveler of the 10th century, who spent about 30 years in India from 997 AD to around 1027 AD, referred to this trait of Indians. According to him, during his visit, most Indian pundits considered it below their dignity even to hold arguments with him. In fact, on a few occasions when a pundit was willing to listen to hm, and found his arguments to be very sound, he invariably asked Barouni: which Indian pundit taught these smart things!

The most important attribute of a progressive society is respect for others who have accomplished more than they themselves have, and learn from them. Contrary to this, our leaders make us believe that other societies do not know anything! At the same time, everyday, in the newspapers, you will find numerous claims from our leaders that ours is the greatest nation. These people would do well to remember Thomas Carlyle’s words: The greatest of faults is to be conscious of none.

If we have to progress, we have to change this attitude, listen to people who have performed better than us, learn from them and perform better than them. Infosys is a good example of such an attitude. We continue to rationalize our failures. No other society has mastered this part as well as we have. Obviously, this is an excuse to justify our incompetence, corruption, and apathy. This attitude has to change. As Sir Josiah Stamp has said: It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.

Another interesting attribute, which we Indians can learn from the West, is their accountability. Irrespective of your position, in the West, you are held accountable for what you do. However, in India , the more ‘important’ you are, the less answerable you are. For instance, a senior politician once declared that he ‘forgot’ to file his tax returns for 10 consecutive years – and he got away with it. To quote another instance, there are over 100 loss making public sector units (central) in India . Nevertheless, I have not seen action taken for bad performance against top managers in these organizations.

Dignity of labor is an integral part of the Western value system. In the West, each person is proud about his or her labor that raises honest sweat. On the other hand, in India , we tend to overlook the significance of those who are not in professional jobs. We have a mind set that reveres only supposedly intellectual work.

For instance, I have seen many engineers, fresh from college, who only want to do cutting-edge work and not work that is of relevance to business and the country. However, be it an organization or society, there are different people performing different roles. For success, all these people are required to discharge their duties. This includes everyone from the CEO to the person who serves tea – every role is important. Hence, we need a mind set that reveres everyone who puts in honest work.

Indians become intimate even without being friendly. They ask favors of strangers without any hesitation. For instance, the other day, while I was traveling from Bangalore to Mantralaya, I met a fellow traveler on the train. Hardly 5 minutes into the conversation, he requested me to speak to his MD about removing him from the bottom 10% list in his company, earmarked for disciplinary action. I was reminded of what Rudyard Kipling once said: A westerner can be friendly without being intimate while an easterner tends to be intimate without being friendly.

Yet another lesson to be learnt from the West, is about their professionalism in dealings. The common good being more important than personal equations, people do not let personal relations interfere with their professional dealings. For instance, they don’t hesitate to chastise a colleague, even if he is a personal friend, for incompetent work.

In India , I have seen that we tend to view even work interactions from a personal perspective. Further, we are the most ‘thin-skinned’ society in the world – we see insults where none is meant. This may be because we were not free for most of the last thousand years. Further, we seem to extend this lack of professionalism to our sense of punctuality. We do not seem to respect the other person’s time.

The Indian Standard Time somehow seems to be always running late. Moreover, deadlines are typically not met. How many public projects are completed on time? The disheartening aspect is that we have accepted this as the norm rather than the exception. In the West, they show professionalism by embracing meritocracy. Meritocracy by definition means that we cannot let personal prejudices affect our evaluation of an individual’s performance. As we increasingly start to benchmark ourselves with global standards, we have to embrace meritocracy.

In the West, right from a very young age, parents teach their children to be independent in thinking. Thus, they grow up to be strong, confident individuals. In India , we still suffer from feudal thinking. I have seen people, who are otherwise bright, refusing to show independence and preferring to be told what to do by their boss. We need to overcome this attitude if we have to succeed globally.

The Western value system teaches respect to contractual obligation. In the West, contractual obligations are seldom dishonored. This is important – enforceability of legal rights and contracts is the most important factor in the enhancement of credibility of our people and nation.
In India , we consider our marriage vows as sacred. We are willing to sacrifice in order to respect our marriage vows. However, we do not extend this to the public domain. For instance, India had an unfavorable contract with Enron. Instead of punishing the people responsible for negotiating this, we reneged on the contract – this was much before we came to know about the illegal activities at Enron.

To quote another instance, I had given recommendations to several students for the national scholarship for higher studies in US universities. Most of them did not return to India even though contractually they were obliged to spend five years after their degree in India .

In fact, according to a professor at a reputed US university, the maximum default rate for student loans is among Indians – all of these students pass out in flying colors and land lucrative jobs, yet they refuse to pay back their loans. Thus, their action has made it difficult for the students after them, from India , to obtain loans. We have to change this attitude.

Further, we Indians do not display intellectual honesty. For example, our political leaders use mobile phones to tell journalists on the other side that they do not believe in technology! If we want our youngsters to progress, such hypocrisy must be stopped. We are all aware of our rights as citizens. Nevertheless, we often fail to acknowledge the duty that accompanies every right. To borrow Dwight Eisenhower’s words: People that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both. Our duty is towards the community as a whole, as much as it is towards our families.

We have to remember that fundamental social problems grow out of a lack of commitment to the common good. To quote Henry Beecher: Culture is that which helps us to work for the betterment of all. Hence, friends, I do believe that we can make our society even better by assimilating these Western values into our own culture – we will be stronger for it.

Most of our behavior comes from greed, lack of self-confidence, lack of confidence in the nation, and lack of respect for the society. To borrow Gandhi’s words: There is enough in this world for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed. Let us work towards a society where we would do unto others what we would have others do unto us. Let us all be responsible citizens who make our country a great place to live. In the words of Churchill: Responsibility is the price of greatness. We have to extend our family values beyond the boundaries of our home.

Finally, let us work towards maximum welfare of the maximum people – Samasta janaanaam sukhino bhavantu. Thus, let us – people of this generation, conduct ourselves as great citizens rather than just good people so that we can serve as good examples for our younger generation. –

Speaker : N R Narayana Murthy


Extract of Mr. Narayana Murthy’s Speech during Mentor Session:


I know people who work 12 hours a day, six days a week, or more. Some people do so because of a work emergency where the long hours are only temporary. Other people I know have put in these hours for years. I don’t know if they are working all these hours, but I do know they are in the office this long. Others put in long office hours because they are addicted to the workplace. Whatever the reason for putting in overtime, working long hours over the long term is harmful to the person and to the organization.

There are things managers can do to change this for everyone’s benefit. Being in the office long hours, over long periods of time, makes way for potential errors. My colleagues who are in the office long hours frequently make mistakes caused by fatigue. Correcting these mistakes requires their time as well as the time and energy of others. I have seen people work Tuesday through Friday to correct mistakes made after 5 PM on Monday.

Another problem is that people who are in the office long hours are not pleasant company. They often complain about other people (who aren’t working as hard); they are irritable, or cranky, or even angry. Other people avoid them. Such behavior poses problems, where work goes much better when people work together instead of avoiding one another. As Managers, there are things we can do to help people leave the office.

First and foremost is to set the example and go home ourselves. I work with a manager who chides people for working long hours. His words quickly lose their meaning when he sends these chiding group e-mails with a time-stamp of 2 AM, Sunday. Second is to encourage people to put some balance in their lives.

For instance, here is a guideline I find helpful:

1) Wake up, eat a good breakfast, and go to work.

2) Work hard and smart for eight or nine hours.

3) Go home.

4) Read the books/comics, watch a funny movie, dig in the dirt, play with your kids, etc.

5) Eat well and sleep well.

This is called recreating. Doing steps 1, 3, 4, and 5 enable step 2. Working regular hours and recreating daily are simple concepts. They are hard for some of us because that requires ‘personal change’. They are possible since we all have the power to choose to do them.

In considering the issue of overtime, I am reminded of my oldest son. When he was a toddler, if people were visiting the apartment, he would not fall asleep no matter how long the visit, and no matter what time of day it was. He would fight off sleep until the visitors left. It was as if he was afraid that he would miss something. Once our visitors’ left, he would go to sleep. By this time, however, he was over tired and would scream through half the night with nightmares. He, my wife, and I, all paid the price for his fear of missing out.

Perhaps some people put in such long hours because they don’t want to miss anything when they leave the office. The trouble with this is that events will never stop happening. That is life !! Things happen 24 hours a day.
Allowing for little rest is not ultimately practical. So, take a nap.

Things will happen while you’re asleep, but you will have the energy to catch up when you wake.

Sudha Murthy, wife of Infosys Chairman Narayanamurthy, talking about her
life and the story of how Infosys was born:

It was in Pune that I met Narayan Murty through my friend Prasanna who is
now the Wipro chief, who was also training in Telco. Most of the books that
Prasanna lent me had Murty’s name on them, which meant that I had a
preconceived image of the man. Contrary to expectation, Murty was shy,
bespectacled and an introvert. When he invited us for dinner, I was a bit
taken aback as I thought the young man was making a very fast move. I
refused since I was the only girl in the group. But Murty was relentless and
we all decided to meet for dinner the next day at 7.30 p.m. at Green Fields
hotel on the Main Road, Pune. The next day I went there at 7 o clock since I
had to go to the tailor near the hotel. And what do I see? Mr. Murty waiting
in front of the hotel and it was only seven. Till today, Murty maintains
that I had mentioned (consciously!) that I would be going to the tailor at 7
so that I could meet him…And I maintain that I did not say any such thing
consciously or unconsciously because I did not think of Murty as anything
other than a friend at that stage. We have agreed to disagree on this
matter. Soon, we became friends. Our conversations were filled with Murty’s
experiences abroad and the books that he has read. My friends insisted that
Murty was trying to impress me because he was interested in me. I kept
denying it till one fine day, after dinner Murty said “ I want to tell you
something”. I knew this was it. It was coming. He said, I am 5’4" tall. I
come from a lower middle class family. I can never become rich in my life
and I can never give you any riches. You are beautiful, bright, intelligent
and you can get anyone you want. But will you marry me? I asked Murty to
give me some time for an answer. My father didn’t want me to marry a wannabe
politician,(a communist at that) who didn’t have a steady job and wanted to
build an orphanage… When I went to Hubli I told my parents about Murty and
his proposal. My mother was positive since Murty was also from Karnataka,
seemed intelligent and comes from a good family. But my father asked: What’s
his job, his salary, his qualifications etc? Murty was working as a research
and was earning less than me.He was willing to go dutch with me on
our outings. My parents agreed to meet Murty in Pune on a particular day at
10 a. m sharp. Murty did not turn up. How can I trust a man to take care of
my daughter if he cannot keep an appointment,asked my father.At 12 noon
Murty turned up in a bright red shirt! He had gone on work to Bombay, was
stuck in a traffic jam on the ghats, so he hired a taxi (though it was very
expensive for him) to meet his would-be father-in-law. Father was
unimpressed. My father asked him what he wanted to become in life. Murty
said he wanted to become a politician in the communist party and wanted to
open an orphanage. My father gave his verdict. NO. I don’t want my daughter
to marry somebody who wants to become a communist and then open an orphanage
when he himself didn’t have money to support his family. Ironically, today,
I have opened many orphanages something which Murty wanted to do 25 years
ago. By this time I realized I had developed a liking towards Murty which
could only be termed as love. I wanted to marry Murty because he is an
honest man. He proposed to me highlighting the negatives in his life. I
promised my father that I will not marry Murty without his blessings though
at the same time, I cannot marry anybody else. My father said he would agree
if Murty promised to take up a steady job. But Murty refused saying he will
not do things in life because somebody wanted him to
. So, I was caught
between the two most important people in my life. The stalemate continued
for three years during which our courtship took us to every restaurant and
cinema hall in Pune. In those days, Murty was always broke. Moreover, he
didn’t earn much to manage. Ironically today, he manages Infosys
Technologies Ltd,
one of the world’s most reputed companies. He always owed
me money. We used to go for dinner and he would say, I don’t have money with
me, you pay my share, I will return it to you later. For three years I
maintained a book on Murty’s debt to me. No, he never returned the money and
I finally tore it up after my wedding. The amount was a little over Rs 4000.
During this interim period Murty quit his job as research assistant and
started his own software business. Now, I had to pay his salary too! Towards
the late 70s computers were entering India in a big way
. During the fag end
of 1977 Murty decided to take up a job as General Manager at Patni Computers
in Bombay. But before he joined the company he wanted to marry me since he
was to go on training to the US after joining. My father gave in as he was
happy Murty had a decent job, now. WE WERE MARRIED IN MURTY’S HOUSE IN
I went to the US with Murty after
marriage. Murty encouraged me to see America on my own because I loved
travelling. I toured America for three months on backpack and had
interesting experiences which will remain fresh in my mind forever. Like the
time when I was taken into custody by the New York police because they
thought I was an Italian trafficking drugs in Harlem. Or the time when I
spent the night at the bottom of the Grand Canyon with an old couple. Murty
panicked because he couldn’t get a response from my hotel room even at
midnight. He thought I was either killed or kidnapped. IN 1981 MURTY WANTED
apprehensive about Murty getting into business. We did not have any business
background. Moreover we were living a comfortable life in Bombay with a
regular pay check and I didn’t want to rock the boat. But Murty was
passionate about creating good quality software. I decided to support him.
Typical of Murty, he just had a dream and no money. So I gave him Rs 10,000
which I had saved for a rainy day, without his knowledge and told him, This
is all I have. Take it. I give you three years sabbatical leave. I will take
care of the financial needs of our house. You go and chase your dreams
without any worry. But you have only three years! Murty and his six
colleagues started Infosys in 1981,with enormous interest and hard work. In
1982 I left Telco and moved to Pune with Murty.We bought a small house on
loan which also became the Infosys office. I was a
clerk-cum-cook-cum-programmer. I also took up a job as Senior Systems
Analyst with Walchand group of Industries to support the house. In 1983
Infosys got their first client, MICO, in Bangalore. Murty moved to Bangalore
and stayed with his mother while I went to Hubli to deliver my second child,
Rohan. Ten days after my son was born, Murty left for the US on project
work. I saw him only after a year as I was unable to join Murty in the US
because my son had infantile eczema, an allergy to vaccinations. So for more
than a year I did not step outside our home for fear of my son contracting
an infection. It was only after Rohan got all his vaccinations that I came
to Bangalore where we rented a small house in Jayanagar and rented another
house as Infosys headquarters. My father presented Murty a scooter to
commute. I once again became a cook, programmer, clerk, secretary, office
assistant et al.Nandan Nilekani(MD of Infosys) and his wife Rohini stayed
with us. While Rohini babysat my son, I wrote programmes for Infosys. There
was no car, no phone,just two kids and a bunch of us working hard, juggling
our lives and having fun while Infosys was taking shape. It was not only me
but the wives of other partners too who gave their unstinted support. We all
knew that our men were trying to build something good
. It was like a big
joint family,taking care and looking out for one another. I still remember
Sudha Gopalakrishna looking after my daughter Akshata with all care and love
while Kumari Shibulal cooked for all of us. Murty made it very clear that it
would either be me or him working at Infosys. Never the two of us
together… I was involved with Infosys initially. Nandan Nilekani suggested
I should be on the Board but Murty said he did not want a husband and wife
team at Infosys. I was shocked since I had the relevant experience and
technical qualifications. He said, Sudha if you want to work with Infosys, I
will withdraw, happily. I was pained to know that I will not be involved in
the company my husband was building and that I would have to give up a job
that I am qualified to do and love doing. It took me a couple of days to
grasp the reason behind Murty’s request. I realised that to make Infosys a
success one had to give one’s 100 percent.One had to be focussed on it alone
with no other distractions. If the two of us had to give 100 percent to
Infosys then what would happen to our home and our children? One of us had
to take care of our home while the other took care of Infosys. I opted to be
a homemaker, after all Infosys was Murty’s dream.It was a big sacrifice but
it was one that had to be made. Even today, Murty says,Sudha, I stepped on
your career to make mine. You are responsible for my success. I might have
given up my career for my husband’s sake. But that does not make me a
doormat… Many think that I have been made the sacrificial lamb at Narayan
Murty’s altar of success. A few women journalists have even accused me of
setting a wrong example by giving up my dreams to make my husbands a
reality. Is’nt freedom about living your life the way you want it? What is
right for one person might be wrong for another. It is up to the individual
to make a choice that is effective in her life.I feel that when a woman
gives up her right to choose for herself is when she crosses over from being
an individual to a doormat. Murty’s dreams encompassed not only himself but
a generation of people.It was about founding something worthy, exemplary and
honorable. It was about creation and distribution of wealth. His dreams were
grander than my career plans, in all aspects. So, when I had to choose
between Murty’s career and mine, I opted for what I thought was a right
choice. We had a home and two little children. Measles, mumps, fractures,
PTA meetings, wants and needs of growing children do not care much for
grandiose dreams. They just needed to be attended to. Somebody had to take
care of it all.Somebody had to stay back to create a home base that would be
fertile for healthy growth, happiness, and more dreams to dream.I became
that somebody willingly.I can confidently say that if I had had a dream like
Infosys, Murty would have given me his unstinted support.The roles would
have been reversed. We are not bound by the archaic rules of marriage.I cook
for him but I don’t wait up to serve dinner like a traditional wife.So, he
has no hassles about heating up the food and having his dinner.He does not
intrude into my time especially when I am writing my novels.He does not
interfere in my work at the Infosys Foundation and I don’t interfere with
the running of Infosys. I teach Computer Science to MBA and MCA students at
Christ college for a few hours every week and I earn around Rs 50,000 a
year.I value this financial independence greatly though there is no need for
me to pursue a teaching career.
Murty respects that.I travel all over the
world without Murty because he hates] travelling.We trust each other
implicitly. We have another understanding too. While he earns the money, I
spend it, mostly through the charity. Philanthropy is a profession and an
The Infosys Foundation was born in 1997 with the sole objective of
uplifting the less-privileged sections of society. IN THE PAST THREE YEARS
in the rural areas amongst women and children.I am one of the trustees and
our activities span six states including Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra,
Orissa, Chandigarh and Maharashtra.I travel to around 800 villages
constantly. Infosys Foundation has a minimal staff of three trustees and
three office members. We all work very hard to achieve our goals and that is
the reason why Infosys Foundation has a distinct identity. Every year we
donate around Rs 5-6 crore (Rs 50 – 60 million). We run Infosys Foundation
the way Murty runs Infosys in a professional and scientific way.
Philanthropy is a profession and an art. It can be used or misused. We
slowly want to increase the donations and we dream of a time when Infosys
Foundation could donate large amounts of money. Every year we receive more
than 10,000 applications for donations. Everyday I receive more than 120
calls. Amongst these,there are those who genuinely need help and there are
hood winkers too. I receive letters asking me to donate Rs five lakh to
someone because five lakh is, like peanuts to Infosys. Some people write to
us asking for free Infosys shares.Over the years I have learnt to
differentiate the wheat from the chaff, though I still give a patient
hearing to all the cases. Sometimes I feel I have lost the ability to trust
people. I have become shrewder to avoid being conned. It saddens me to
realise that even as a person is talking to me I try to analyse them: Has he
come here for any donation? Why is he praising my work or enquiring about my
health, does he want some money from me? Eight out of ten times I am right.
They do want my money. But I feel bad for the other two whom I suspected. I
think that is the price that I have to pay for the position that I am in
now. The greatest difficulty in having money is teaching your children the
value of it and trying to keep them on a straight line…. Bringing up
children in a moneyed atmosphere is a difficult task. EVEN TODAY I THINK
cannot expect my children to do the same. They have seen money from the time
they were born. But we can lead by example. When they see Murty wash his own
plate after eating and clean the two toilets in the house everyday they
realise that no work is demeaning irrespective of how rich you are.
both parents working hard, living a simple life, most of the time they tend
to follow. This doesn’t mean we expect our children to live an austere life.
My children buy what they want and go where they want but they have to
follow certain rules. They will have to show me a bill for whatever they
buy.My daughter can buy five new outfits but she has to give away five old
ones. My son can go out with his friends for lunch or dinner but if he wants
to go to a five star hotel, we discourage it. Or we accompany him.So far my
children haven’t given me any heartbreak. They are good children. My eldest
daughter is studying abroad, whereas my son is studying in Bangalore. They
don’t use their father’s name in vain. If asked, they only say that his name
is Murty and that he works for Infosys.They don’t want to be recognised and
appreciated because of their father or me but for themselves. I DON’T FEEL
Our only
extravagance is buying books and CDs.MY HOUSE HAS NO LOCKERS FOR I HAVE NO
even wear my mangalsutra until I attend some family functions or I am with
my mother-in-law. I am not fond of jewellery or saris. Five years ago, I
went to Kashi where tradition demands that you give up something and I gave
up shopping. Since then I haven’t bought myself a sari or gone shopping. It
is my friends who gift me with saris. Murty bought me a sari a long time
ago. It was not to my taste and I told him to refrain from buying saris for
me in the future.I am no good at selecting men’s clothes either. It is my
daughter who does the shopping for us. I still have the same sofa at home
which my daughter wants to change. However, we have indulged ourselves with
each one having their own music system and computer. I don’t carry a purse
and neither does Murty most of the time. I do tell him to keep some small
change with him but he doesn’t. I borrow money from my secretary or my
driver if I need cash. They know my habit so they always carry extra cash
with them. But I settle the accounts every evening. MURTY AND I ARE VERY
THAT WE HAVE MONEY. Murty and I are two opposites that complement each
other… Murty is sensitive and romantic in his own way. He always gifts me
books addressed to From Me to You. Or to the person I most admire etc. We
both love books. We are both complete opposites. I am an extrovert and he is
an introvert. I love watching movies and listening to classical music. Murty
loves listening to English classical music.I go out for movies with my
students and secretary every other week. I am still young at heart. I really
enjoyed watching "Kaho Na Pyaar Hai" and I am a Hrithik Roshan fan. It has
been more than 20 years since Murty and I went for a movie. My daughter once
gave us a surprise by booking tickets for "Titanic". Since I had a prior
engagement that day, Murty went for the movie with his secretary Pandu. I
love travelling whereas Murty loves spending time at home. Friends come and
go with the share prices… Even in my dreams, I did not expect Infosys to
grow like the way it has. I don’t think even Murty envisioned this
phenomenal success, at least not in 1981. After Infosys went public in 1993,
we became what people would call as rich, moneyed people. I was shocked to
see what was happening to Infosys and to us. Suddenly you see and hear about
so much money. Your name and photo is splashed in the papers. People talk
about you. It was all new to me. SUDDENLY I HAVE PEOPLE WALKING UP TO ME
CLAIM TO KNOW MURTY AND ME SO WELL. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have true
friends. I do have genuine friends, a handful, who have been with me for a
very long time. My equation with these people has not changed and vice
versa. I am also very close to Narayan Murty’s family, especially my
sister-in-law Kamala Murty, a school teacher, who is more of a dear friend
to me. I have discovered that these are the few relationships and
friendships that don’t fluctuate depending on the price of Infosys shares.
Have I lost my identity as a woman, in Murty’s shadow?… No. I might be Mrs
Narayan Murty. I might be Akshata and Rohan’s mother. I might be the trustee
of Infosys Foundation. But I am still Sudha.. I play different roles like
all women. That doesn’t mean we don’t have our own identity. Women have that
extra quality of adaptability and learn to fit into different shoes. But we
are our own selves still.
And we have to exact our freedom by making the
right choices in our lives, dictated by us and not by the world.

Appro JRD

Sudha Murty* was livid when a job advertisement posted by a Tata company at the institution where she was completing her post graduation stated that ‘lady candidates need not apply’. She dashed off a postcard to JRD, protesting against the discrimination. It was the beginning of an association that would change her life in more ways than one

There are two photographs that hang on my office wall. Every day when I enter my office I look at them before starting my day. They are pictures of two old people. One is of a gentleman in a blue suit and other is a black-and-white image of a man with dreamy eyes and a white beard.

People have asked me if the people in the photographs are related to me. Some have even asked me, “Is this black-and-white photo that of a Sufi saint or a religious guru?” I smile and reply “No, nor are they related to me. These people made an impact on my life. I am grateful to them.” “Who are they?” “The man in the blue suit is Bharat Ratna JRD Tata and the black-and-white photo is of Jamsetji Tata.” “But why do you have them in your office?” “You can call it gratitude.”

Then, invariably, I have to tell the person the following story.

It was a long time ago. I was young and bright, bold and idealistic. I was in the final year of my master’s course in computer science at the Indian Institute of Science [IISc] in Bangalore, then known as the Tata Institute. Life was full of fun and joy. I did not know what helplessness or injustice meant.

It was probably the April of 1974. Bangalore was getting warm and red gulmohars were blooming at the IISc campus. I was the only girl in my postgraduate department and was staying at the ladies’ hostel. Other girls were pursuing research in different departments of science. I was looking forward to going abroad to complete a doctorate in computer science. I had been offered scholarships from universities in the US. I had not thought of taking up a job in India.

One day, while on the way to my hostel from our lecture-hall complex, I saw an advertisement on the notice board. It was a standard job-requirement notice from the famous automobile company Telco [now Tata Motors]. It stated that the company required young, bright engineers, hardworking and with an excellent academic background, etc.

At the bottom was a small line: “Lady candidates need not apply.” I read it and was very upset. For the first time in my life I was up against gender discrimination.

Though I was not keen on taking up the job, I saw it as a challenge. I had done extremely well in academics, better than most of my male peers. Little did I know then that in real life academic excellence is not enough to be successful.

After reading the notice I went fuming to my room. I decided to inform the topmost person in Telco’s management about the injustice the company was perpetrating. I got a postcard and started to write, but there was a problem: I did not know who headed Telco. I thought it must be one of the Tatas. I knew JRD Tata was the head of the Tata Group; I had seen his pictures in newspapers (actually, Sumant Moolgaokar was the company’s chairman then).

I took the card, addressed it to JRD and started writing. To this day I remember clearly what I wrote. “The great Tatas have always been pioneers. They are the people who started the basic infrastructure industries in India, such as iron and steel, chemicals, textiles and locomotives. They have cared for higher education in India since 1900 and they were responsible for the establishment of the Indian Institute of Science. Fortunately, I study there. But I am surprised how a company such as Telco is discriminating on the basis of gender.”

I posted the letter and forgot about it. Less than 10 days later, I received a telegram stating that I had to appear for an interview at Telco’s Pune facility at the company’s expense. I was taken aback by the telegram. My hostel mates told me I should use the opportunity to go to Pune free of cost and buy them the famous Pune saris for cheap! I collected Rs 30 each from everyone who wanted a sari. When I look back, I feel like laughing at the reasons for my going, but back then they seemed good enough to make the trip.

It was my first visit to Pune and I immediately fell in love with the city. To this day it remains dear to me. I feel as much at home in Pune as I do in Hubli, my hometown. The place changed my life in so many ways.

As directed, I went to Telco’s Pimpri office for the interview. There were six people on the panel and I realised then that this was serious business. “This is the girl who wrote to JRD,” I heard somebody whisper as soon as I entered the room. By then I knew for sure that I would not get the job. That realisation abolished all fear from my mind, so I was rather cool while the interview was being conducted.

Even before the interview started, I reckoned the panel was biased, so I told them, rather impolitely, “I hope this is only a technical interview.” They were taken aback by my rudeness, and even today I am ashamed about my attitude.

The panel asked me technical questions and I answered all of them. Then an elderly gentleman with an affectionate voice told me, “Do you know why we said lady candidates need not apply? The reason is that we have never employed any ladies on the shop floor. This is not a co-ed college; this is a factory. When it comes to academics, you are a first ranker throughout. We appreciate that, but people like you should work in research laboratories.”

I was a young girl from small-town Hubli. My world had been a limited place. I did not know the ways of large corporate houses and their difficulties, so I answered, “But you must start somewhere, otherwise no woman will ever be able to work in your factories.”

Finally, after a long interview, I was told I had been successful. So this was what the future had in store for me. Never had I thought I would take up a job in Pune. I met a shy young man from Karnataka there, we became good friends and we got married.

It was only after joining Telco that I realised who JRD was: the uncrowned king of Indian industry. Now I was scared, but I did not get to meet him till I was transferred to Bombay. One day I had to show some reports to Mr Moolgaokar, our chairman, who we all knew as SM. I was in his office on the first floor of Bombay House [the Tata headquarters] when, suddenly, JRD walked in. That was the first time I saw ‘appro JRD’. Appro means ‘our’ in Gujarati. That was the affectionate term by which people at Bombay House called him.

I was feeling very nervous, remembering my postcard episode. SM introduced me nicely, “Jeh (that’s what his close associates called him), this young woman is an engineer and that too a postgraduate. She is the first woman to work on the Telco shop floor.” JRD looked at me. I was praying he would not ask me any questions about my interview (or the postcard that preceded it). Thankfully, he didn’t. Instead, he remarked. “It is nice that girls are getting into engineering in our country. By the way, what is your name?” “When I joined Telco I was Sudha Kulkarni, Sir,” I replied. “Now I am Sudha Murty.” He smiled that kindly smile and started a discussion with SM. As for me, I almost ran out of the room.

After that I used to see JRD on and off. He was the Tata Group chairman and I was merely an engineer. There was nothing that we had in common. I was in awe of him.

One day I was waiting for Murthy, my husband, to pick me up after office hours. To my surprise I saw JRD standing next to me. I did not know how to react. Yet again I started worrying about that postcard. Looking back, I realise JRD had forgotten about it. It must have been a small incident for him, but not so for me.

“Young lady, why are you here?” he asked. “Office time is over.” I said, “Sir, I’m waiting for my husband to come and pick me up.” JRD said, “It is getting dark and there’s no one in the corridor. I’ll wait with you till your husband comes.” I was quite used to waiting for Murthy, but having JRD waiting alongside made me extremely uncomfortable.

I was nervous. Out of the corner of my eye I looked at him. He wore a simple white pant and shirt. He was old, yet his face was glowing. There wasn’t any air of superiority about him. I was thinking, “Look at this person. He is a chairman, a well-respected man in our country and he is waiting for the sake of an ordinary employee.”

Then I saw Murthy and I rushed out. JRD called and said, “Young lady, tell your husband never to make his wife wait again.”

In 1982 I had to resign from my job at Telco. I was reluctant to go, but I really did not have a choice. I was coming down the steps of Bombay House after wrapping up my final settlement when I saw JRD coming up. He was absorbed in thought. I wanted to say goodbye to him, so I stopped. He saw me and paused.

Gently, he said, “So what are you doing, Mrs Kulkarni? (That was the way he always addressed me.) “Sir, I am leaving Telco.” “Where are you going?” he asked. “Pune, sir. My husband is starting a company called Infosys and I’m shifting to Pune.” “Oh! And what you will do when you are successful?” “Sir, I don’t know whether we will be successful.” “Never start with diffidence,” he advised me. “Always start with confidence. When you are successful you must give back to society. Society gives us so much; we must reciprocate. I wish you all the best.”

Then JRD continued walking up the stairs. I stood there for what seemed like a millennium. That was the last time I saw him alive.

Many years later I met Ratan Tata in the same Bombay House office, occupying the chair JRD once did. I told him of my many sweet memories of working with Telco. Later, he wrote to me, “It was nice hearing about Jeh from you. The sad part is that he’s not alive to see you today.”

I consider JRD a great man because, despite being an extremely busy person, he valued one postcard written by a young girl seeking justice. He must have received thousands of letters every day. He could have thrown mine away, but he didn’t do that. He respected the intentions of that unknown girl, who had neither influence nor money, and gave her an opportunity in his company. He did not merely give her a job; he changed her life and mindset forever.

Close to 50 per cent of the students in today’s engineering colleges are girls. And there are women on the shop floor in many industry segments. I see these changes and I think of JRD. If at all time stops and asks me what I want from life, I would say I wish JRD were alive today to see how the company we started has grown. He would have enjoyed it wholeheartedly.

My love and respect for the House of Tata remains undiminished by the passage of time. I always looked up to JRD. I saw him as a role model for his simplicity, his generosity, his kindness and the care he took of his employees. Those blue eyes always reminded me of the sky; they had the same vastness and munificence.

* Sudha Murty is the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. She is involved in a number of social development initiatives and is also a widely published writer.

Written by Bhushan Kulkarni

January 6, 2007 at 11:55 am

Posted in Sudha Murthy

Tagged with , , ,

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