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Three thousand stitches, p.11
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       Three Thousand Stitches, p.11

           Sudha Murty
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  ‘The group murmured in agreement.

  ‘So Uncle called Draupadi on her cell phone and said, “My dear child, please excuse us. We will not be able to eat at your home today. I promise we will come another time.”

  ‘Draupadi smiled. As always, her brother had come to her rescue! “You are always welcome here, Uncle, but please let me know in advance next time,” she said and hung up.’

  I was stumped. The stories had been transformed, and how! After that reinvention, I didn’t have the guts to share the story of Draupadi’s disrobing in the royal court!


  A Day in Infosys Foundation

  Shoba is one of my school friends. In a small town like Hubli, it is common for close friends to become as comfortable with each other as siblings. As life usually turns out, we walked down different paths and Shoba settled down in Hubli, while I moved to Bengaluru. Her children, like many others in Karnataka, became software engineers and moved to Bengaluru. So Shoba frequented the city to visit her children and often called on me whenever possible.

  One day, she phoned my office. Since I was in a meeting, I passed on a message to her that I would call her back later. When I reached out to her in the evening, she asked, ‘Why did you take so long to return my call?’

  ‘Shoba, I got time to return my personal calls just a short while ago.’

  ‘I know that you are very busy,’ she said, sounding a little concerned. ‘But it’s so difficult to reach you when I want to—sometimes you are at work or travelling or out for an appointment even during the hours when I think you might be at home. I only wanted to invite you for my grandson’s first birthday. It is on Monday and you must come at whatever time is convenient for you.’

  ‘Oh Shoba! It is almost impossible for me to visit you on a working day, especially Monday.’

  ‘Can’t you spare one hour for a close friend?’ asked Shoba, the way only old friends can do. ‘I know that you are the chairperson of a foundation and you must be having visitors all the time asking you for grants, but you can always reschedule or refuse to meet them. They will come again, I’m sure!’

  ‘It isn’t that simple,’ I replied. ‘With the two hours that takes from Jayanagar to your home and back, half my day will be gone. A day at the foundation is filled with many activities, some of which aren’t easy to explain. For someone who doesn’t work there, it may appear to be the apparent simple task of giving money or grants. If you really want to know what I do, then come and shadow me for a day. Maybe then you will get a glimpse into the complicated nature of social work.’

  Enthusiastically, Shoba agreed and a few weeks later, on a Monday, she joined me for a day at the office.

  I was happy that she had come. I told her, ‘You will only observe and not comment or participate as I go about my day! Is that okay?’

  She smiled and nodded.

  Meanwhile, I gave my assistant, Asha, a list of people with whom I needed to speak to that morning. Soon, the phone rang. Asha sprang into action and answered the call.

  A voice spoke, ‘We are from Hubli and know Mrs Sudha Murty very well. I’d like to speak with her.’

  ‘What is your name, madam?’

  ‘Usha. Usha Patil.’

  Asha turned to me, ‘Usha Patil is on the line. May I connect her to you?’

  Usha is a common name in Hubli and so is the last name Patil. I knew at least ten Usha Patils from Hubli—a neighbour, a classmate, a cousin, a cousin’s wife, a writer, an acquaintance, a temple priest’s daughter and a few more and I wondered who this person was.

  Asha seemed to be at a loss, just like me.

  I took the phone from Asha. ‘Sudha Murty here,’ I said.

  ‘I am Usha Patil from Kundgol, a village near Hubli. My son needs a job . . .’

  ‘Do I know you?’

  ‘No, but you are from Hubli. That’s why I am sure that you will help someone from there.’

  ‘Usha ji, why did you say that you know me?’

  ‘I do know you through newspapers and television,’ she justified. ‘But I didn’t say that you knew me. Keeping that aside, my son is keen on getting employed soon.’

  I was firm. ‘I am not responsible for recruiting people at Infosys. Please email the human resources department for this as they have their own procedure.’

  ‘But if you put in a word, they won’t refuse your request,’ she persisted.

  ‘I’m sorry, Usha ji, but this is a matter of hiring professionals and employees are hired only after interviews and tests. I run the foundation and don’t interfere with the process of another department.’

  Usha wasn’t convinced. She sounded reluctant. ‘Then will you give me the details of an appropriate contact?’

  ‘You can send the resume via email,’ I replied.

  ‘Please hold on for a moment while I find a pen and take down the email address.’

  I didn’t have time to wait and gave the phone back to Asha, ‘Give her the recruitment email address and from now on, when someone says that they know me well, please also ask if I know them.’

  I went and sat down to check my emails.

  Leena, my secretary, said, ‘Madam, there are 410 emails for you today.’

  The number was not unusual. ‘Let’s separate it based on its category and then start from the bottom.’

  Once that was done, we began. The first was an email describing me as if I were some kind of a goddess. ‘Leena, just read the last line,’ I said.

  ‘The request is for a grant to build a temple,’ Leena explained.

  The foundation does not help with any religious constructions or restorations unless it is of archaeological importance, as declared by the state or central government. ‘Please send our regrets,’ I said.

  By the time Leena and I moved to the next email, most of the cell phones began chiming in the office indicating that we had received several messages. They were all in response to one that said, ‘Infosys Foundation is giving scholarships to all those who apply. Contact the foundation immediately.’

  The phones also began ringing.

  The news was absolutely untrue. Several years ago, the foundation had offered limited scholarships, but the programme had been terminated based on the exit policy at the end of the specified term. Despite this, we were aware that some people were floating this information on the instant messaging application WhatsApp. As a result, students and parents often inundated us with emails, letters and phone calls.

  I asked Asha to reply to each query in the same mode that it was received. I knew it would keep Asha busy for a few hours.

  Once that was done, Leena and I opened the second email. A university wanted to confer an honorary doctorate on me.

  Leena was thrilled but I wasn’t. Soon enough, we read the relevant line, ‘Once you receive the doctorate, you will become an alumnus, and we are sure that you will help the university in any way that you can.’

  I scratch your back and you scratch mine. ‘Please decline the doctorate politely,’ I told Leena.

  The next request was an invitation to be the chief guest for a college’s annual day in Mumbai. While I usually can’t go to most of the events that come my way, I make an effort to attend at least a few. Leena told me that the event was only for two hours but the travel time to Mumbai and back would take one and a half days. I considered declining it, but then thought of the students, who I always hold dear.

  ‘If I am going to Mumbai that day for work, I will attend it,’ I said.

  She checked my diary. ‘You are going to be in Mumbai for meetings in the afternoon on that date and there are a few available hours in the morning. Luckily, the venue is close to the airport and you can go there after you land. We can reschedule the flight and you can leave early in the morning from Bengaluru.’

  ‘Tell the college management that I will be there slightly early at 9.30 a.m. and must depart by 11 a.m.’

  The shrill ringing of the phone on my desk interrupted our conversation a
nd Asha immediately took the call, ‘Hello?’

  A few seconds later, she handed me the phone, ‘Kasab is on the line.’

  I was frightened. At the time, Kasab was a Pakistani militant convicted for the Taj hotel bombing on 26/11 in Mumbai. As far as I knew, he had been executed. But sometimes nothing is as it seems. ‘Was he really calling me? And why?’

  I told Asha to give me a minute to gather my thoughts and to inform Kasab that I would speak with him.

  She spoke to him briefly and turned to me. ‘Kasab is very angry. He’s saying that he’s a patriotic citizen and is asking me why I am addressing him in this manner.’

  I was confused. ‘What did you say to him, Asha?’

  ‘I called the number from the list you gave me earlier in the morning and told him to hold while I transferred the call to your phone.’

  ‘I never gave you Kasab’s number nor did I ask you to call someone by that name. Kasab is dead and gone. Do you even know who he was?’

  ‘I don’t know,’ she replied casually, least bothered about the affairs of the state.

  ‘Give me the phone.’

  I could hear a man fuming on the other end.

  ‘Hello?’ I said.

  ‘My grandfather was a freedom fighter and I have served the country as an ex-MLA. I am proud of my heritage. How dare you call me Kasab?’

  I sighed. Asha had called Kasabe and mispronounced his name to sound like that of the notorious terrorist. It was an absolute dishonour and an insult to a true patriot.

  ‘I am extremely sorry for the confusion, sir.’ I apologized. ‘This is Sudha Murty. I told my staff to call you so that I could inform you that I won’t be able to come for the wedding as I have to travel on the same day. But I will visit your home on my way to the airport.’

  Hearing my voice, Kasabe calmed down. After I disconnected the call, I turned to my assistant, ‘Why did you call him Kasab?’

  ‘Madam, there were three phones ringing at the same time. I thought I called him Kasabe, maybe he misheard it. Why will I call him a different name on purpose?’

  Meanwhile, the office manager, Krishnamurthy, approached me and said, ‘Madam, the payment vouchers are ready.’

  Our office is cashless and so are its transactions. This policy turned out to be a boon during the demonetization of currency in 2016 as we were relatively unaffected.

  Prashant, the CSR manager, interrupted us, ‘Did you promise a matching grant to our employees’ non-profit arm during your recent visit to Chandigarh?’

  ‘Yes, I did,’ I replied. ‘It is a good way to involve them in some of our CSR efforts and will inspire them to pool in money for some of the activities. I have encouraged this in other development centres too, such as Hyderabad, Pune, Mangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai and Bhubaneswar.’

  Prashant’s forehead creased with obvious worry. ‘We are overshooting the allocated funds for this year. It doesn’t match with our plan for the year. Please review our latest budget.’

  I understood his concern. Prashant monitored the finances and kept a close eye on the budget.

  ‘We will manage it. It is better to have deserving projects in the pipeline than to worry about the budget. We can request for more money if needed. There are projects that may get delayed or aren’t ready yet, so there is no need to worry.’

  Since I was once a professor, I often talk like a teacher to everyone in my office. Most of the time, Prashant and Shrutee, the program director, end up being the target of my wisdom-sharing talks because they are responsible for the annual balance sheets and reaching our CSR goals.

  Despite my regular interventions, they were often apprehensive when our commitments exceeded the finances in hand.

  The next phone call was from the management of the Bannerghatta National Park for a grant update.

  During the past summer, we had learnt that the animals there suffered from an acute shortage of drinking water. The authorities had constructed a tub for the tigers to sit in but the water had to be changed every few days to avoid infection and disease. Tigers were difficult to treat when they were unwell and hence, the caretakers were always wary about the water. So I called one of our contractors and instructed him to dig borewells in accessible areas and also construct an overhead water tank. Many tried to dissuade us due to the lack of water in the area but we went ahead anyway. We had to try for the sake of the animals.

  The call was to inform us that there was plenty of water in the borewells. The animals would finally get enough good quality water and remain free from diseases as much as possible. I thanked God for this great gesture.

  I glanced at Leena. She was still busy sorting the emails into various categories such as travel, pending, appointments, regrets and new initiatives.

  Everyone was immersed in their work. At times, I feel like I do not have much to do as most of it is appropriately handled. Only a few new proposals, exceptions or escalations usually come my way.

  It was time for Shrutee’s appointment with a visitor. She went upstairs to the conference room for the meeting while I began scanning the snail mail kept for me even as the phones kept ringing.

  After a few minutes, one of our contractors called for an urgent update. ‘Madam,’ he said, ‘some workers went on holiday a week ago and haven’t returned yet. If we have to work with the existing workers alone, the project will be delayed by one month.’

  ‘You can’t do this!’ I protested. ‘I have already invited the chief minister for the inauguration and everything has been planned. You must finish it somehow.’

  ‘Madam, please, then tell me what to do.’

  I didn’t know what he could do, but kept insisting that he should complete the work faster. After a long discussion, he agreed to hasten his work and delay by only fifteen days. It would be right on time for the inauguration. Experience has taught me that delays happen in most construction works, no matter how good a person is in project management, and hence I allowed some leeway.

  Just then, Shrutee requested me to join her for the meeting. ‘I have communicated our decision regarding the proposal,’ she said. ‘But the team wants to meet you. There are three of them. I think it’s better to meet them or else they will definitely visit again.’

  At Infosys Foundation, we have our own strategies and policies. For instance, we don’t approve grants for political parties and no consideration is given to caste, creed or religion during proposal reviews. There is an exit policy, an internal and external audit and a third-party assessment for every project, and we are inclined towards releasing money in instalments.

  The project wasn’t a good fit for us and hence Shrutee had chosen to decline it.

  Here at the foundation, we believe that if we are refusing a proposal, then we must communicate it as soon as possible. Adinishtura is better than antyanishtura, which means that an initial disappointment is better than a disagreement at the end.

  ‘Okay, I will come,’ I said and accompanied her upstairs.

  Most people insist on meeting me. A few think that if they put pressure on me directly, I might give in, but they don’t know the truth—Shrutee and I are always on the same page.

  But I decided to meet the visitors to help Shrutee. Just as I expected, they elaborated on the merits of their proposal for the next thirty minutes. In the end, I said, ‘Providing grants is not akin to approving whatever we feel like. Please understand that there are certain systems and processes in place here. Shrutee has communicated the right decision and unfortunately, we will not be able to be a part of this.’

  They were upset, but nothing further could be done at this point.

  There are times when the company directors forward us letters and requests that come to them. We evaluate them objectively and reject or approve them. I thank the management for never pressuring us or influencing the process.

  It was time for lunch. Since my house was nearby, I said to Shoba, ‘Let’s go eat and come back soon.’

  At home, a s
ecurity guard informed me that my daughter, Akshata, had called.

  When I called her back, she threw a flurry of questions at me. ‘Where were you yesterday? Are you unwell? Or has something happened there that you aren’t telling me? I have been so worried.’

  I was surprised by her tone. ‘I am right here in Bengaluru. I was attending meetings all day. Why are you worried?’

  ‘When I spoke to the security staff yesterday in the morning, they said that you were in the toilet. When I phoned in the afternoon, they again said that you were in the toilet. It was the same story in the evening and later at night, they said that you were sleeping. This morning, they said that you had left for office. I sent you an email but didn’t hear back. Why were you in the restroom all day?’

  She sounded anxious.

  Calmly, I said, ‘Breathe, Akshata! Do some pranayama every day. I had gone for a site visit to check the status of our recently inaugurated toilets. This was followed by other meetings and a panel discussion on how to construct them. I told the security staff that I was going for the toilet project work and maybe he misunderstood it and only remembered the word toilet. Don’t be so afraid! As for your email, I haven’t seen it yet as it has been a busy day!’

  I could hear an immediate sigh of relief.

  After hanging up, I went to the main gate and asked the security guard there, ‘Didn’t I inform all of you that I would be back late because of the toilet project?’

  ‘I wasn’t on duty, madam. Yesterday’s guard has an ear infection and has taken the day off.’

  Well, that explained the guard’s inability to hear the day before. But I sure spent a lot of time in the toilet! I smiled to myself and went back inside.

  During lunch, my cook and I began making the grocery list. He wanted to know the number of people coming home for dinner and the menu for the night. My mind, however, was still in office matters and it was difficult to make the sudden switch to the domestic conversation. I said, ‘Let’s talk about it later in the evening. Till then, just make what you can with whatever is available.’

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