Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Narayanan Murthy & Wife - Labor of Love that paid off.

This is an account of one of the world's outstanding couples who beat the odds, braved the uncharted courses in their lives to emerge, each a success in his/her own capacity and as a husband and wife team to take on the world and helped place the Indian sub-continent on the map as an Information Technology hub.  Let their story be a source of inspiration in your life and your career.



      Narayanan Murthy saying about his dear wife...



My wife is a happy person with the ability to see the positive in a situation.


Her cheerful disposition helps her make friends easily.  She is one of the finest managers I have seen, meticulous about completing every task on time with qualitv and within budget.


Sudha was the only female student in her Engineering class at Hubli, a conservative town in North Karnataka.  She was a first ranker in all ten semesters in her Engineering degree, winning gold medals in every examination.  Besides being a fine engineer, she is a great writer too.


She has sacrificed so much for me and the children giving up her job as manager in Bombay in 1981 to move to Pune.  Without that sacrifice, I am not sure if I would have been able to found Infosys along with my six colleagues.


Her positive way of looking at things, being happy in every situation and her ability to relate to the poor are the things that I admire most in her.  When you meet an interesting person like her it is very easy to fall in love.  That is what happened to me.


Sudha has always been there for Infosys in the time of success, failure or a crisis.  Currently, she is one of the trustees of the Infosys Foundation putting in at least six hours a day of work and often several days of outstation travel to poor areas of India.


Unlike Sudha who has been a great partner and supporter to me, I have been unable to assist her in any way in her activities.  Her achievements are purely her own.  Being the better of the two of us, she probably will not even need any support.  She is a wonderful partner, always willing

to encourage and support me.  Her children think she is a great friend and an understanding mother.  She is a fun woman to be with.


When I returned from France in the mid-'70s, convinced that the only way you can remove poverty is by creating more and more wealth legally and ethically, I discussed with her how I wanted to conduct an experiment in creating wealth.  By nature she is the more sacrificing of the two.  Thus, my desire to conduct this experiment and her active encouragement were why I let her sacrifice so much for me.


She is a great influence on me in being a better manager and a better human being.  She is modern yet retains the Indian values.  She combines the best of right and left lobes.  She has shown how you can relate to the rich and the poor.  She is an invaluable partner to me.


--Narayan Murty





                        Mrs.Murthy saying about Mr.Murthy...




The first step which one makes in the world as a child, is the one on which depends the rest of our days...  My steps were piloted by my family on values like truth, simplicity, love and respect for all.  I was born in 1950 in a middle class family.  My father Sri R H Kulkarni was a doctor

in a government hospital, my mother Vimala Kulkarni was a housewife.  I am the second child in a family of three daughters and one son.  I spent a great part of my early years with my maternal grandparents.


My grandfather, Sri H R Kadim Diwan, was a true Gandhian who opted out of law school because his teacher said that sometimes, he might have to manipulate the truth to win lawsuits.  He was 63 years older than me but we were best friends.  He was a scholar who inculcated in me a

love for books, history, mathematics and India.  Without realising it, he also instilled a free and adventurous spirit within me.


I taught my 62-year- old grandmother to read and write...  My grandmother, though illiterate was an ardent fan of Triveni, a renowned writer in Kannada.  Every Wednesday grandma used to finish her household chores and would be waiting for me to read her Triveni's serial called 'Kashi Yatre'.  One Wednesday I was unable to keep our afternoon reading-appointment.  Grandma felt helpless and frustrated.  There was the magazine, she touched the words but couldn't read them.  I asked her, Awwa, do you want to read and write?  She replied, I am 62.  Will I be able to read now?  I was 12 when I became my grandmother's teacher.  A year later, grandma began reading 'Kashi Yatre' on her own.  IT IS VERY TRUE THAT THE INK OF THE SCHOLAR IS MORE SACRED THAN THE BLOOD OF THE MARTYR.* It can change people's lives.


A young man married a girl with leucoderma after reading my novel "Mahaswete"...  I love writing.  For me, writing is like breathing.  I have been writing from a young age and I have written 10 books so far novels, technical and educational books.  A boy who had broken off his engagement with his fiancee after learning she had leucoderma decided to marry her after reading my novel "Mahaswete" which was about a girl with leucoderma.  To realise that my novel had made a difference in somebody's life was the ultimate reward I could get as a writer.


My parents never bought us jewellery or expensive clothes but we had an extensive library at home...  My family was academically oriented and education was a priority in the Kulkarni household.  My father had never bought a fridge (which he ultimately did much later in life) but

he would buy us books.  I never had any silk saris or jewellery but what I had were books and more books.


My older sister Sunanda is a distinguished doctor.  My other sister Jayshree Deshpande is an IIT graduate from Chennai and is married to Gururaj Deshpande whose name appeared in the Forbes list.  My brother Srinivas Kulkarni is a world renowned astrophysicist.


There was no toilet for girls in my college because girls never went to engineering colleges...  I was the first girl to study engineering which was considered a male domain in Hubli.  Friends and neighbours tried to discourage my parents saying nobody would marry an engineering graduate.

Since getting me married was not on top of the list at that time, but education was.  My parents relented.


I joined BE Electricals in 1968 at the BVB College of Engineering in Hubli.  In the beginning it was awkward.  The college had no ladies room or toilet for girls because there were no girls in college.  I had to wait, uncomfortably till I got home.  After a year-and-a-half the authorities built a ladies toilet in the college premises.  There were 250 boys in the class and I used to be ragged mercilessly.  I wanted a degree in engineering and no amount of teasing was going to stop me

from reaching my goal.  I never missed one day of class in five years of my degree.  Because I knew if I was absent even for a day there would be no one to share that day's notes with me.


After a year-and-a-half the boys came around.  They realised I was no floozy and we went on to become great friends.  I stood first in the University.  Now, my father was keen that I do M.Tech.  So, I went to Bangalore to study MTech at the Tata Institute of Engineering.


Telco, Pune didn't want women engineering students to apply for the job...I had decided to study abroad for a PhD degree or study at MIT when fate intervened.  One day, during my last semester of MTech in Bangalore, I came across a notice in college which read:  Telco Pune wants young, bright, hard working engineers.  There will be a campus interview.... Lady students need not apply.  The last line jolted me.  Why this discrimination?  I bought a post card which I addressed to JRD Tata and wrote:


Benevolent Tatas who have done so much philanthropic work...  innovative Tatas who started the first iron and steel industry, textile industries....  I am surprised and ashamed at your attitude toward women students.  If you can do this, then anybody can do it.  A week later I received

a letter asking me to attend an interview at Telco at their expense.  I decided to attend the interview if not for anything else then at least for the free ride and to buy Pune saris for friends and relatives.


At Telco I realized that I was the only candidate called for the interview.  I also heard someone whispering, "That's the girl who wrote to the big boss."  I thought I will not get the job.  When you have no expectations you have no fear.  So, I boldly told the panel not to waste time if they were not serious about the interview and saw it as a form of vindication.  The creditable panel interviewed me for 2 1/2 hours asking purely technical questions which I answered.  At the end one of the panel members, Satyapalli Sarvamurthy, who later became my boss, explained why they did not want ladies at Telco.


People here have to work in shifts, he said, And that might pose a problem for a lady on the shop floor full of men.  Secondly, you will have to drive a jeep.  Lastly, we spend considerable time and energy training people.  This is wasted when a girl trainee gets married as she quits and goes to live with her husband.


I assured them that I was willing to work in shifts and that I will never play my gender card.  If my grandmother could learn to read and write at 62, I could learn to drive a jeep at 23.  And yes, I will go to live with my husband when I get married.  I asked the panel how many of them were

married and how many of them have gone to live with their wives.  None.  When they have followed a 1000- year-old male-favouring tradition why should they expect anything different from me?  Yes, I will leave to live with my husband when I get married but unlike a boy who might leave them if he gets an additional 100 rupees at a rival company, I will not quit Telco even if I am offered huge sums of money.  I assured them my loyalty.


The panel was flabbergasted and said they will let me know the results of the interview in a week's time.  This was a sure sign of getting dumped.  And I had no burning desire to work at Telco.  When there is no desire there is no fear.  I boldly took the panel to task.  I demanded an immediate reply since they had technically spent 10 man hours interviewing me.  If they couldn't decide on the same day what made them think they could arrive at a conclusion after seven days?  To my surprise I was offered a job at Telco, Pune with a salary of Rs 1500 per month which was to be later increased to Rs 5000 per month.  They were not willing to provide me with hostel facilities during my two-year training period on the shop floor.



I became morally obligated to take up the job at Telco though I wanted to study further at MIT...  I wasn't too keen on the job because I had already decided to go to MIT.  But it was my father who made me realise my responsibilities chiding me for writing to JRD on a postcard. You should have done it with some etiquette, he said.  He told me that I couldn't and shouldn't back down now.


Your action might make it difficult for other girls to get a job at Telco in the future.  They might hold you as a yardstick and you will be setting a bad example.  You are morally responsible to take up that job, he bellowed.


I joined Telco Pune in 1974.  This incident taught me the importance of having insight in life and never to act on impulse.  The men on the Telco shop floor were hostile...  In 1974, I became the first woman to work on the shop floor of Telco, a male bastion till then.  To say the environment was hostile is an understatement.  The men were rude and refused to take orders from me, a woman.


They even prevented me from doing my work since it was always done by their manager, a man.  The attitude hurt me but did not affect me.  My goal was nothing but to excel at my work.  So I was duty bound to overcome all obstacles.  I wasn't going to let a few trouser clad homo-sapiens dissuade me.  I believe in saving energy for the big fights and refrained from asserting myself.  Initially, I would do my work with no interaction with the men.  Then I learnt their language as half the battle is won when you can speak the adversary's language.


They began letting me step into their space.  My stint at the shop floor has been a boon because today I have a greater cross reference of mechanical industry than Murty.  I worked in Jamshedpur and in Bihar too.


MY LIFE.  I CAN NEVER GIVE YOU THE RICHES THAT MONEY CAN BUY.  WILL YOU MARRY ME?  ..  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, and 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 buildan 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 assistant 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.

My 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.





400 EACH.


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 TO START INFOSYS.  HE HAD A VISION AND ZERO CAPITAL...  initially I was very 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 baby sat 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.  Isnt 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 art...  The Infosys Foundation was born in 1997 with the sole objective of uplifting the less-privileged sections of society.  IN THE PAST THREE YEARS WE HAVE BUILT HOSPITALS, ORPHANAGES, REHABILITATION CENTRES, SCHOOL BUILDINGS, SCIENCE CENTRES AND MORE THAN 3500 LIBRARIES.  Our work is mainly 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 TWICE IF I HAVE TO SPEND RS 10 ON AN AUTO WHEN I CAN WALK UP TO MY HOUSE.  I 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.


I DON'T HAVE A MAID AT HOME BECAUSE I DON'T SEE THE NEED FOR ONE.  When children see 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 GUILTY ABOUT HAVING MONEY FOR WE HAVE WORKED HARD FOR IT.  BUT I DON'T FEEL COMFORTABLE FLAUNTING IT ...IT IS A CONSCIOUS DECISION ON OUR PART TO LIVE A SIMPLE, SO- CALLED MIDDLE CLASS LIFE.  WE LIVE IN THE SAME TWO- BEDROOM, SPARSELY FURNISHED HOUSE BEFORE INFOSYS BECAME A SUCCESS.


Our only extravagance is buying books and CDs.  MY HOUSE HAS NO LOCKERS FOR I HAVE NO JEWELS.  I WEAR A STONE EARRING WHICH I BOUGHT IN BOMBAY FOR RS 100.  I don't even wear my mangalsutra until I attend some family functions or I am with my mother-in-law.  I am not fond of jewelry 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 COMFORTABLE WITH OUR LIFESTYLE AND WE DON'T SEE THE NEED TO CHANGE IT NOW 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.








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.



SOURCE : SAVVY August 2000


Friday, February 24, 2006

Kungfu Stories II

The Kitchen Helper's Knives


There was a very arrogant trainer in a kungfu school.  He had a bad temper and used to verbally abuse his students and treat them very roughly.  The grand-master knew about his arrogance and his rough tactics, but he kept quiet because he was such a good fighter and he trained his students well.  Weaker students who could not tolerate the abuse went away after a while.  That was good, because that's what a kungfu school was for.  Train people to be strong and fight back and not be bullied.  Too bad for those wimps.  Let them go back to be farmers and fishermen.  The tough ones who learn to fight back and be strong can then be the champions of the school when they go out and meet contestants from other schools.  Our opponents will fear us.  Those who hear about how tough our training is will want to join our kungfu school.  So the grand-master thought, and began to count the future achievements of his school.


But then the arrogant one became more and more arrogant and abusive.  Students were beaten mercilessly if they made slight mistakes.  Some were denied food and drinks for the whole day.  Those who couldn’t take it anymore ran away and never came back.  Soon the number of students became lesser and lesser.   Then one day he killed a student during free sparring training.  He could have restrained himself and spared the student's life, but he didn't.  Then the grand-master realized that he'd gone too far.  But it was too late.  The trainer had tasted the strange and sinister feeling of power of taking a life with his own hands.  It was now difficult to stop him.  The grand-master became afraid.


There was a kitchen helper working in the kitchen preparing food for the kungfu students.  He worked all morning just chopping meat on a block with a pair of knives.  He was once young and eager to learn kungfu too, but since he was very poor, he had to work instead.  So he got a job in the kitchen of this kungfu school.  It so happened that his workplace was a table near a window over-looking the training ground.  So everyday while he worked, he watched the students practice their skills. 


He had another chopping block which he hanged against the wall at the end of the table.  Each time he finished chopping some meat he would throw his knives at the block and they'd stick in it.  He did that all the time everyday until he did not even have to look.  He'd just toss the knives at the block with a quick flick of his hands.  He realized in time that the knives seemed to be stuck deeper and deeper into the block, but he didn't think too much about it.  "The block must be getting softer as it aged or maybe I sharpened the knife points too much", he said to himself.


He just kept chopping his meat each day and watched.  Year after year after year, he worked in that kitchen.  One day, while the grand-master was away, he saw the trainer beating a student almost half to death.  The other students were so afraid; they kept silent and didn't do anything.  The kitchen helper ran out and told him to stop.


The trainer turned on him and said, "Who are you to stop me?  You are only a kitchen helper!"


"But you are killing him!  He's only a student!" said the kitchen helper.


"So, you want to stop me?  Are you challenging me?" asked the Trainer.


Without thinking, the kitchen helper said, "Yes.  Someone has to stop you.  Otherwise you will go on killing more people."


"Ha ha ha ha!" the Trainer laughed sarcastically.  "You, a kitchen helper challenge me?  With what?  With your chopping knife?"


"Yes" said the kitchen helper.


"Alright then.  I'll wait right here for you with my sword.  Got and get your weapon."


The kitchen helper ran into his kitchen and came out with his chopping knives, one in each hand. 

"Get ready to die, you kitchen helper!  I'm not a piece of dead meat for you to chop.  You'll have to put me on your block first!"  The Trainer kept taunting the kitchen helper with such sneering remarks and laughter which sounded like those of someone near to madness. 


The kitchen helper followed tradition.  He bowed at the Trainer like they always did before each training or sparring session.  As soon he finished his bow, he threw both knives at the Trainer, faster than the eye could see. 


The Trainer's sword was still in his hand, but he wondered why the kitchen helper wasn't holding his knives anymore.  And his sword suddenly grew heavy, too heavy for him to lift up.  His chest felt heavy too.  There were some objects stuck to his chest, which were never there before.  Something's wrong here, he thought.  The kitchen helper is still standing there, but he seemed to be tilting.  No, I'm the one tilting.  I'm falling, but why me?  I'm the best fighter here.  My students, my grand-master, my kungfu school... I'm going to be grand-master soon... But this kitchen helper, what does he know?  What can he do to me?  He's even lost his knives....


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Kung Fu Stories 1


The front yard of our farmhouse sometimes became a gathering place of sorts in the evenings.  Friends and neighbors would just drop in without notice.  Over a teapot with steaming cups of tea, issues were discussed and stories and legends were recounted.  Different people with different backgrounds had different stories to tell.  Some of my favorites were of kung-fu legends and the heroes were mostly about ordinary folks who beat the odds against oppressors; or of outcasts who managed to gain acceptance by society after they had proven their worth. 


A Kungfu master decided to set up a school in a village.  This Sifu was rather picky on what kind of students he wanted to teach.  Hence, when an uneducated farm laborer called Han wanted to join the class, the Sifu refused to accept him.  He said he was too old and he had no education.  Actually he thought he looked stupid and seemed too poor to be able to pay his fees, but he did not say it.  He didn't want to offend him.  So, it was with Han, who was tough and strong, who worked at carrying manure to the rice fields day in day out, could only sit and watch each evening when other youngsters were trained in their moves, punches, kicks, strikes, blocks and sometimes they would spar with one another.  They were also trained in sword or stick fighting skills.  Each day, Han went about his menial work in the fields and come evening he would just sit at the village square and watched them train.


In the middle of the rice fields stood a line of trees.  It was here that Han would stop for a short rest at every trip he made to the manure dump across the fields.  Whenever he stopped here, he would swing his stick around like what he saw the kungfu students did and poked at one of the tree trunks pretending he was fighting with an opponent.  He did this several times each day without fail, on each and every trip, picking on the trees at random.  Where a tree lost its bark, Han would stop poking at it, and picked on another tree.  Days, weeks and months went by.  The trees did not die off.  Instead they grew stouter around the trunks where Han stabbed at them with his stick.  And his thrusts became quicker and stronger, and the impact would shake the whole tree.


At the village square, students came and trained and some stayed on but others left after they'd lost interest.  But Han stayed and watched and went about his work during the day and vented his frustrations on those trees, but he was never angry at the Sifu for not accepting him as a student.  As Han watched intently, he imagined going through each and every move with them.  He saw and he knew what each and every step of the drill was for and how it was used.  Every now and then the Sifu would look at Han and wondered what the stupid fool was thinking.  Finally, he decided he was tired of seeing Han’s face and planned to get rid of him.  But Han would not be moved.  He just sat and watched. 


The Sifu finally gave in and said he would accept him on one condition.  He must fight with one of his students.  If he won, he would be accepted as a student.  If he lost he had to 'get lost'.  He would not be allowed to show his face at the training grounds.  The Sifu asked him to pick anyone of his students.  He even allowed Han to choose his own weapon.  He thought to himself, "How can this stupid idiot learn anything by just watching?"  But then Han asked to fight with the best student.  Everyone laughed.  The Sifu was amused but decided to go along with it.  He thought again, "No harm to me, if he wants to get a thrashing."


Han went off and came back with his stick, the 'weapon' that went with him into ten thousand imaginary battles.  The two exponents then bowed at each other.  Han looked steadily at his opponent.  He already knew very well how the guy would fight.  All the months of watching had taught him about each and every student, and all his "training", stabbing at the trees had prepared him for this moment.  He had learned only one simple thing, to strike.  And he'd honed it to one swift, powerful and accurate stroke.  While his opponent learnt everything but yet to be master of anything, Han was master of that single stroke.  Speed, power and accuracy, Han thought, that was all he needed.


The Sifu had been careful not to teach his students everything he knew.  He believed in self-preservation.  All the time they had been trained only in their movements and they coordinated well in their choreographed sparring.  But Han knew better.  He only needed one stroke and he had only one chance. 


As soon as his opponent moved, Han shoved his stick at him with such speed that even the Sifu did not realized what happened.  His opponent gasped, staggered and then collapsed with a look of surprise on his face. 


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cultivating a Thick Skin


They say relationships can take years to build but can be destroyed in a moment of anger.  And from where comes anger?  Emotions.  If you're thin skinned, you get hurt easily.  To protect yourself, you can go into one of these modes: 

Self-pity - you withdraw into your shell, switch off hand phone and cry yourself to sleep. 

Anger - you blow up yourself or somebody else to spend that energy.  Depending on where you are, anger can be more destructive in that it usually involves others, including dumb animals when you kick them (with apologies to some animals).  But some people can retaliate in rather unpredictable ways.  Less cultured ones can douse your fire with some ice-cold water, the more seasoned ones do it with some deftly handled words which can actually save your skin.  The self-pitying ones just fade out of your life unless you grow up suddenly and gain them back with chocolates and roses.  These get costlier every year though.


When asked about how to handle negative emotions such as fear, anger and hate, a wise sage once illustrated with a story:

An old man said to his grandson, "Boy, I have two tigers caged within me. One is love and compassion. The other is fear and anger."

The young boy asked, "Which one will win, grandfather?"

The old man replied, "The one I feed."


So it is.  When you dwell on fear and anger all the time, you are actually feeding that tiger.  It will just keep growing.  You may then have a problem trying to control it, especially if it wants to eat you or your other tiger.  On the other hand, if you keep feeding love and compassion, you'll become a saint.  Whether you get ordained or not is a different matter.  But everybody loves a saint, mostly because they can come in for free services or handouts.  And you're not protected.  You may find it hard to survive this way either.  But it is better than just feeding the other tiger because those who get free handouts need to protect you for their own selfish ends. 


In other words, you need to keep a balance.  That balance will help to keep you alive in this world.  Fear helps you to keep track of where you go, what you do, who you deal with.  Sort of like an alarm that starts beeping whenever there's danger.  Anger stands behind you ready to stand out and defend you by flashing his weapon at those who try to take advantage of you.  The only drawback is you have to keep an eye on both of them.  Otherwise they run out of control - meaning, you get false alarms, or you flash your weapon at the wrong guys and screw up relationships.  Love and compassion helps to keep you and those around you warm and comfortable.  This is much easier once you learn how to do it.  The more you can give the better, because you get more back.  Nice trade, actually.  Wish it's all like that all the time.


Also in other words, to survive to a ripe old age and remain healthy, you have to grow up and cultivate a thick skin.  But just don't forget my other favorite quote:  "No matter how tall your grandfather was, you have to do your own growing up".


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

How to even the odds of survival on the Malaysian Highway


Seriously, I thought more often about how to survive on the Malaysian highway than anywhere else.  One of those places on the highway on which you need to be is the emergency lane in case your car breaks down.  Think about all those motorbikes coming up along that lane and sometimes the dare-devil road-racers who use the emergency lane to overtake. 


One of the best ways to prevent having your car break down on the highway is preventive maintenance.  Consider checking your car every now and then for the odd sounds or for any leaks from radiator, engine, battery or brake fluids etc.  Of course one of the few unpredictable things is a punctured tire.  I was advised that if you have to stop and repair your car or change tires, try to place your car on the grass verge as far as possible out of the lane itself.  Just make sure you don't go too near slopes and find your car slipping into a ditch. 


On the other hand, if you have to change tires, you may need a stable surface to jack up your car as it may be just as bad if the ground is not hard enough to support your jack.  In this case, stay on the tarmac but put up your emergency lights and as many markers as you can to prevent motorbikes or mad drivers from running into you or your car.  If you don't have any markers, get someone to wave a cloth or a shirt like a flag to warn off all approaching vehicles while you quickly finish your job and get on your way. 


But first of all you must know what to do if your car suddenly refuses to function while you're on the fast-lane.  Most important is not to stop your vehicle right there.  It can be fatal.  You have to reduce your speed gradually, put up the turn signal, and move into the slow lane and then to the emergency lane.  I was told of a guy who called his friend on his cell phone immediately after his car stalled on the fast lane.  His friend only managed to hear him describe his position, then he heard a loud bang, and the phone went dead.


If the worst happens and your car really won't budge from the fast lane, just put up all available emergency markers and get away to safety.  The worst place to stay is near your car.  It's not going to protect you or your passengers.  Think of the highway as a war zone.  You'll notice how dangerous it is when you've stopped your car by the side and look at the traffic zipping by.


In case you have to be a hero because you're the first to come upon a scene of an accident, your first priority should be to make sure other approaching vehicles are warned adequately before you think about rescuing victims from the wreckage.  This is even more important if the accident happened at night.  Safety for yourself and other on-coming drivers must come first. 


* * * * *

Meanwhile, here are some tips from News Canada:


The number of large commercial vehicles — such as tractor trailers — on our roads has increased dramatically during the past few years. One of the best things you can do to stay safe on the highway is to learn as much as you can about how these vehicles operate. Here are some tips from Transport Canada on how to share the road safely with commercial vehicles:

• While drivers of commercial vehicles enjoy a better forward view and have larger side mirrors than most passenger-vehicle drivers, they also have more and larger blind spots. Avoid lingering in the blind spots of commercial vehicles; if you can't see the driver in their side mirror, then the driver probably can't see you.

• Trucks and buses need more time and distance than cars do to maneuver and stop. When driving in front of a large commercial vehicle, signal your intentions well in advance so that the driver behind has enough time to react properly.

• Truck wheels create a lot of spray in rain, slush and snow. Turn on your windshield wipers before passing commercial vehicles — you need to see clearly at all times.

• Weather conditions and even the time of day can also affect visibility — assuming that other drivers on the road can see you can be dangerous. Signal well in advance, avoid braking abruptly and leave lots of room for passing.

• Commercial vehicles need a lot of space, so watch their turn signals and give them room when they maneuver. Never squeeze between a turning truck and the side of the road; large commercial vehicles must sometimes swing wide to make turns, and your car might be crushed as the truck turns....


Talking about trucks and smaller vehicles, I once witnessed (together with my whole family) how a Proton hatchback diced with a container truck and lost the game.  We were heading north to Gurun and I noticed this container weaving aggressively left and right trying to get ahead of a long line of vehicles.  I held back and stayed far behind this menacing chap.  Then I noticed the hatchback in front of him moving rather sluggishly.  Maybe the driver hadn't noticed the container behind him as he stayed right in front of the container while traffic started to disperse ahead as they picked up speed after clearing the narrow section of the road.  Gradually, he too started to speed up but was rather slow at it. 


Meanwhile the container started to tail-gate him from behind and tried to pass several times but without success.  Then it happened.  The container probably swiped his rear corner.  The hatchback went into a zigzag course and then did a tailspin, shot across the road and reversed into a rubber estate narrowly missing some trees and came to a stop among some bushes.  End of story.  Don't truck with the trucks.  Give them a wide berth.


There must be lots more tips of staying healthy and alive on the roads and highways, but at the moment these are the few I can think of.  If you have any of your own or glean them from somewhere, don't keep them to yourselves.  They may help others stay alive in the war zone out there.  So, stay alert, drive defensively, and keep your cool and keep your speed within control.


And above all drive sober ... or don't drive at all.