How I Taught My Grandmother to Read and other Stories, p.10Sudha Murty
‘When I was young, I was very sensitive about what people said about girls. If they said “Girls cannot do that”, immediately I used to feel I should do it just to prove them wrong. I wanted to show to the world that girls can do everything. Today, I laugh at this logic. Men can do certain things well and women other things. Men and women are complementary to each other. One need not prove one’s strength.
‘That time, I was working in a computer software firm as a systems analyst. It was way back when computer hardware was not advanced. Today you have a tiny floppy of three and half inches. At my time, a huge fifteen kg heavy Tandon Disc Drive was used.
‘Casually my boss made a comment one day, “This disc is very heavy, only men can carry it.”
‘That remark upset me a lot. I told him, “I will carry it and show you.”
‘The disc was a bit like a gramophone but very heavy and large. It contained vital information about the company like its finances, employee details, etc. I took the disc and walked to the boss’s room. It was really very heavy but I did not show it on my face. I believed strongly that showing emotions on your face is a sign of weakness. Today I feel one should be as transparent as possible.
‘Seeing me walk in with the disc, my boss was surprised. “How did you manage to bring this?” he asked.
‘Without thinking, in my happiness at having proved him wrong, I lifted my hand and let go the disc.
‘In a fraction of a second it fell and broke into pieces. The noise could be heard throughout the office. Everyone turned to look at me. It was the biggest mistake anyone had ever committed in the history of the company. It was an unforgivable error. The company’s entire vital data was wiped out in a minute.
‘I stood there dumbstruck. Because of my foolish behaviour the whole company was going to suffer. An employee should always work for the betterment of the company. But what had I done? I was so numb I could not even cry. I went back to my desk and sat quietly. After thinking for a while I knew what I should do. I took a blank sheet of paper and wrote my resignation on it. That was the only way I felt I could atone for my mistake. I went to my boss’s chamber and gave him the letter. Then I stood there, my head bowed in shame.
‘He read the letter carefully. Then he tore it up. He said, “Everybody commits mistakes. I took a backup of the information on the disc before you lifted it. The data is still intact in the storeroom. You don’t have to worry. Repentance itself is a punishment and you have repented enough. You should not be so sensitive. Sensitive people suffer a lot in life. Go and do your work.”
‘I did not have any words to say to him.’
Now I looked at Nalini and told her, ‘It was also my mistake. I should have made a copy of such an important program. Please do not worry. I will rewrite the program. I still have some notes at home.
‘That incident taught me that when you become a leader you should be kind and forgiving to your subordinates. It is not fear that binds you to your boss. Affection, openness and the appreciation of your qualities builds a long-lasting relationship. We spend most of our time at our work places. This time should be spent in happiness, not in blaming each other.’
My students broke into applause.
In my class, about forty per cent of the students are girls and sixty per cent boys. When I studied engineering thirty-five years back, I was the only girl in the course. I could only see boys and more boys everywhere. Today that trend has changed. People often ask me how I managed. But when I look back I feel it was not very difficult. Having a girl in the class was unusual for the boys, and initially I was the target for a lot of teasing. But over a period of time, they became my best friends.
One day, in the class I was teaching, the students got into an argument. This happens often and I always allow them to speak. Normally this happens in the last class of the semester. I call it a free day, and there are no studies that day.
An argument had broken out between the girls and the boys about who was better. This is a very juicy topic and there is absolutely no end to the arguments. Suddenly the class was divided into two groups and the debate became emotionally charged. I sat back and enjoyed their arguments.
The girls said, ‘It is ultimately the woman who makes the man. She is more powerful, has great endurance for pain and is a better manager than a man. All successful men have been backed by supportive women. Without her help, man cannot achieve anything.’
The boys laughed at this, ‘The woman will always be behind, never in the front. How many women have got the Nobel Prize? A woman’s brain weighs less than a man’s.’
I had to interfere here to say that there is absolutely no co-relation between the weight of the brain and its functions. The boys looked quite upset at my comment.
‘Men start wars.’
‘Wars happen because of women. Look at what happened because of Helen of Troy, Draupadi or Sita.’
The foolish arguments continued for a long time. Neither of the two groups was ready to accept the reality. Now I realized, I had to step in.
I said, ‘I will tell you a story. Listen to it and decide who is great.’
Immediately there was pindrop silence.
A long time ago there were two kings. One ruled over Kashi, and the other over Kosala. They did not like each other. Once, both kings were travelling and they met. They were on their chariots. The road was small and only one chariot could pass at one time. Unfortunately, both chariots reached that spot at the same time. They stood facing each other. Which chariot would pass first? The kings refused to talk to each other, so their charioteers started talking.
The Kashi charioteer said, ‘My king has ten thousand soldiers.’
The Kosala charioteer replied, ‘My king also has ten thousand soldiers.’
‘My king has two hundred elephants.’
‘So does my king.’
‘My king owns ten lakh acres of fertile land.’
‘So does mine.’
The arguments carried on. It was very surprising that both kings had the same things.
Then the Kosala charioteer said, ‘My king punishes bad people, dislikes lazy people and uses his money for the betterment of the kingdom.’
The Kashi charioteer replied, ‘My king helps bad people become better human beings, makes a lazy person work hard and uses his money for the betterment of poor people.’
When the king of Kosala heard this, he told his charioteer, ‘He is a better human being than me, I must become his friend. Give way to their chariot first.’
When the king of Kashi heard this, he got down and embraced the king of Kosala. Thus their enmity ended and they became friends.
I looked at my students and said, ‘Today I will tell you a secret. I usually tell this at the end of the course in the last class. In real life, men and women are not opponents, they are the two wheels of a chariot. There is nothing good about one and bad about another. Both should possess good qualities.
‘A person gets known by the qualities he or she possesses, not by the gender. That is decided by God.
‘I am teaching you computer science today, but you will learn more in real life. Technology changes every day and good books are always there in the market. What I am teaching is also how to be a good human being. These values have not been prescribed in any syllabus nor will they appear in any examination. But these are the essential qualities you need, to do well in life. When you become older you should remember that there was a teacher who taught you the values of life along with your first knowledge of computer science. You must then teach your children these same values with as much love and affection.’
The class ended that day with my students gathered around me and all of us trying to hold back our tears.
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First published in Puffin by Penguin Books India 2004
This illustrated edition published 2015
Text copyright © Sudha Murty 2004
Illustrations copyright © Priya Kuriyan 2015
Cover illustration by Priya Kuriyan
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This digital edition published in 2015.
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Sudha Murty, How I Taught My Grandmother to Read and other Stories
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