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The old man and his god, p.3
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       The Old Man and His God, p.3

           Sudha Murty
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  Murthy was touched by this predicament. He said, ‘It is an unfair system. Whether it is a communist or a capitalist country, issues like the choice of partner for marriage, or job, and the freedom of expression should not be curtailed . . .’

  All this time, a boy was sitting next to the girl. He had tried talking to her but she had not been interested. Murthy and the girl were conversing in French, and the boy had not been able to understand much of what they were talking. After listening to them for a while, the boy disappeared and came back with two burly, fierce-looking gentlemen. Without uttering a word, one of them caught Murthy by his shirt collar and dragged him on to the platform. The other person took the girl away.

  Murthy was locked up in a small, dingy room with hardly any ventilation. There was no furniture or heating and only a crude toilet in one corner. He sat down on the floor in a daze. What had happened? Why was he locked up like a criminal? What had happened to the girl? Gradually he figured it was the discussion on rights and duties of citizens in a communist country that had upset the boy and the cops.

  ‘What will they do to me now? If something happens to me, will my family ever come to know?’ he thought desperately. The very thought of his family in Mysore made him go weak with worry. His father was retired and recently struck by paralysis. He had to help his family in getting his three younger sisters married.

  Hours passed by. He was not aware whether it was day or night. His wristwatch had been taken away along with his passport and other possessions. He had not eaten anything in over ninety hours. He could hear several trains come and go. After what seemed like an eternity, the door opened and Murthy was dragged on to the platform, put on a train along with a guard and told that his passport would be returned only after he reached Istanbul.

  ‘What was my offence?’ Murthy asked the policeman, holding the door of the compartment.

  The stone-faced sergeant said, ‘Why did you talk against the State? Who was the girl?’

  ‘She was just a traveller like me . . .’

  ‘Then why did she discuss her personal matters with you?’ another sergeant immediately raised his voice, not even allowing Murthy to finish his sentence.

  ‘What is wrong in that?’ Murthy protested.

  ‘It is against the rules of our country to discuss such issues’, the sergeant replied firmly.

  Murthy was curious about the girl’s fate, ‘What happened to her?’

  ‘It is none of your business. We have checked your passport. It is only because you are from India, which is a friendly country, that we are releasing you. Don’t try to do anything smart on the way. Just leave our country without any further mischief,’ said the first sergeant, forcing him to get in and slamming the door.

  The train started moving.

  Murthy was tired. He had not eaten or slept in four days. He managed to sit down at a window seat. He was again on a train but things had changed dramatically. Murthy had enjoyed discussing and arguing passionately about the ideals of Karl Marx, Lenin, Mao and Ho Chi Minh sitting at the beautiful roadside cafés of Paris. They were theoretical discussions done on a full stomach. But now, hungry and overwrought after his brush with a communist state, Murthy had to rethink all his ideals. So this was what it was like to live behind the Iron Curtain! The system dealt with ruthless efficiency even a single voice raised against it. It denied basic freedom to its citizens and treated travellers from friendly countries thus. He shuddered to think what might have happened to him if he were from a capitalist country. Watching the countryside go by, Murthy realized the value of freedom. He also realized that the only way to get rid of poverty was not by raising slogans or issuing diktats, but by creating more and more jobs. He vowed then and there to himself that he would generate wealth not only for himself but for many others, legally and ethically. He would see that India was known through the world not for her poverty but for the skills of her young people—that would be his contribution towards removing India’s problems.

  Armed with this new resolve, after returning to India he experimented with various jobs at different companies. He started his own small company Softronics for a while and went on to head the software division at Patni Computer Systems. But his greatest desire was to build an export-focussed company, with his values.

  Finally, in 1981 he started Infosys.

  The communist Murthy, over a period of time, changed to what he refers to now as a socialist capitalist.

  The rest is history.


  An Officegoer’s Dilemma

  In the numerous software companies setting up office in Bangalore, the issue of corporate social responsibility is being increasingly taken seriously. I was once invited to speak on this to the employees of one such company. Like most other offices this one too resembled a five star hotel, with its marble and granite floors, chandeliers, paintings on the walls, the housekeepers sweeping and mopping incessantly and an extremely polite front office.

  I usually follow my talks with a question-answer session. I consider that the litmus test of how well my talk has been received. I have a theory that if people do not ask questions after the lecture, then it must have been either so good that no one has anything more to say, or so bad that no one has understood a single word and hence is quiet!

  This time, when the questions were being asked, I thought I saw Shanti among the audience. When she saw me looking at her she waved. As always, I was happy to see her. I have known Shanti ever since she was a student in my college. She is one of those people who seem to have boundless energy, always ready to talk and exchange views. She was also very conscious of her social responsibilities, and I know had contributed a portion of her salary to charity from the time she started working.

  When the talk came to an end and everyone started dispersing, I waited for Shanti to come up to me. ‘Hello Shanti, how are you?’ I was expecting her usual chirpy answer. Instead, I was greeted with a low, sad reply. I was taken aback. ‘Shanti, what is the matter? Did you fight with your husband? Don’t worry. If husband and wife do not fight then they cannot be called a couple. It is part of the deal. Come on cheer up.’ I joked to ease her tension.

  In the same low tone Shanti said, ‘No Madam, that is not the reason.’

  ‘Then is your project deadline approaching and you have not completed it? Shanti, I have always told you that in the software industry the deadline needs to be kept in mind and therefore project management is very essential. I still vaguely remember that you had got highest marks in that. Are you not practising what you learnt in college?’

  ‘That is not the problem. I have completed my project a little bit ahead of time.’

  ‘Then what is worrying you?’

  But Shanti did not want to talk there, instead she took me to her cabin. As we walked I noticed many other employees wishing her. By the time we reached her cabin I felt proud that my student was now the boss. The cabin was very well furnished and Shanti closed the blinds before settling down to talk. We each had a cup of coffee and slowly she started confiding in me.

  ‘Madam, I am very unhappy in this job. To an outsider it might appear that I have the perfect job. I get an excellent salary, my timings are flexible and the office is very close to my house. I do not have to put up with the stress of rush-hour traffic. I am leading a very good team where each person is committed to the work. But my problem is my boss. She is terrible. She has nothing but harsh words for me. I have not heard a single positive remark from her in the three years I have spent here. If I do a good job, she says someone else could have done it in half the time, and heaven help me if something ever goes wrong and things get delayed. She refuses to understand that sometimes things happen which are beyond my control.

  ‘Suppose I am travelling to Bombay, she will deliberately schedule a meeting at ten-thirty in the morning, even though she knows my flight is supposed to land only at ten. With the traffic it is impossible for me to reach the office in half an hour. By the time I reach she
would have finished all the important discussions. I work so hard, sometimes staying back the entire night to complete my work before the deadline, but still she says, “you could have been better.” Madam it is impossible to satisfy her.’

  ‘Calm down Shanti. Maybe your boss is the kind of person who is never satisfied with anything, that is her nature and you cannot change that. You have to accept her the way she is. You cannot choose your boss.’

  ‘I really don’t feel like working with such a person. At times I feel like quitting. With my experience it would not be difficult to get a better job, but I like this company, my team members and the work I am doing. Why should I leave just for the sake of one person?’

  ‘Have you told your higher managers about the situation?’

  ‘I did. But she is the key person in a number of projects and they don’t want to lose her.’

  ‘Give it some time. Perhaps slowly she will understand you and the hard work you are putting in.’

  Offering her such words of comfort I left the office. When I did not hear from her again after that I assumed Shanti had solved her problem one way or the other. A couple of years passed and one day I was in Jayanagar market, in Bangalore, buying vegetables.

  Long back, Jayanagar was a paradise for all middle-class people. But now, staying here has become a very costly affair. The prices of almost everything have shot up and bargaining is strictly looked down upon. The vegetable sellers are so confident of getting their exorbitant prices that they usually refuse to budge even if one ventures to argue.

  That day, I was debating heatedly with the shopkeeper who was asking for Rs 10 for one cucumber. I was actually enjoying the skill with which the man was putting forth his arguments. Neither of us was willing to yield even a paisa to the other person.

  Suddenly I heard a voice behind me, ‘Good evening Madam. How are you?’

  It was Shanti, holding a baby by one hand and a basket of fruits and vegetables in another. She had put on a little bit of weight but I instantly saw the old sparkle back in her eyes.

  ‘Hello Shanti! When did you have the baby?’ I asked.

  ‘A year ago.’

  ‘You are looking so cheerful, I am very happy for you Shanti.’

  ‘Madam, now I am happy both at home and at work.’

  ‘That is wonderful. How is your boss? Has she changed?’

  Shanti took me aside and said, ‘She finally got transferred to another office in the city. My new boss is fantastic. Now I really look forward to going to office. If we ever have a disagreement he immediately talks to me and clears the issue. He is always motivating us by appreciating the effort we are putting in. As a result we have performed much better than expected. If we ever have to stay back late into the night, he too stays late. The teamwork and camaraderie is wonderful now. When I was pregnant he kept telling me to take it easy and work from home if I wanted to, but I insisted on going to office till the day before I delivered the baby.’

  ‘This is great news Shanti. It reminds me of the song “Man vahi, darpan vahi, na jane sab kuch naya naya . . .”

  ‘Oh Madam, you are incorrigible.’

  Both of us had a hearty laugh standing there in front of the vegetable stall. Then Shanti said, ‘Because of our new boss each person is happy working there and feels proud to be part of the team.’

  ‘Yes Shanti, this is something I have learnt over the years—with good attitude you can create a heaven around you, and a good leader can bring about remarkable changes in a team.’


  The Deserving Candidate

  A few years back, I was on a selection committee. We were recruiting people for various posts, most of which had a high remuneration. As a result, there was a lot of pressure on us four committee members.

  Overnight, I found my popularity had increased many times over. Forgotten relatives dropped by at my house, friends I had lost touch with appeared out of the blue. Religious heads started telling me how important it was to help people from one’s community. Ex-students suddenly remembered when Teachers’ Day came and sent me cards. Even in the temple I started getting extra helpings of prasad. I was beginning to enjoy the newfound comforts of life!

  Unfortunately for these people all four committee members were very honest and we had decided on the day of our first meeting that we would not entertain any requests. Recruitment would be done based solely on merit.

  During one of our interview sessions one day, a young girl walked in. Her name was Nandita and she was good looking, smart and well dressed. We asked our first standard question: why do you think you are suitable for this job? The girl replied, ‘I have a great deal of confidence. I can handle the pressures of this job well.’

  She was speaking with an American accent, so I asked her where she was from. ‘I am from Bangalore,’ she replied, ‘But most of my relatives stay in the US so I go there during all my holidays.’

  ‘Where have you been in the US? We have many clients there.’

  ‘My uncle Ramakrishnan is a very famous Silicon Valley industrialist. My aunt is a correspondent for New York Times. My cousin Rohit works in the White House. So I shuttle between New York, Washington and San Francisco.’

  ‘In our work one is required to interact with different kinds of people often.’

  ‘Oh meeting people and talking to them is not a problem, I enjoy that.’

  ‘Have you any experience of that?’

  ‘Yes. I party a lot and meet lots of people.’

  ‘That is not the same as meeting people on business,’ I said and we moved on to the technical questions. She answered adequately well and we finished the interview soon after. As she was leaving, Nandita hesitated near the door. Then she turned and asked, ‘Can I ask you something?’ I always like it when girls ask questions. For too long the definition of a good girl in our society is one who does not question too much and meekly accepts everything. But I like those who dare to break out of this mould and speak their minds. So I told Nandita to go ahead.

  She said, ‘The salary you are offering for this job is quite less.’ I was taken aback. This was not the kind of question or remark I was expecting. I answered, ‘It is very good when you compare it with other companies.’

  ‘Oh it is just enough to pay the rent for an apartment and a driver and cook’s salary. I am used to these comforts you see.’

  ‘But you said you live with your parents. The company has a bus and we have an excellent canteen.’

  ‘After I start earning I want to live on my own. That is what everyone does nowadays.’ And with these words and a pitiful look at me for my ignorance, she left.

  As usual I reached home late that evening. My mother admonished me saying, ‘You should have remembered that we have to go to Sharayu’s granddaughter’s birthday. She has already called thrice. Even if it is late go and say a hello. You have to live in society and can’t remain engrossed in your work always.’

  Like an obedient child I went to Sharayu’s house. The usual kind of party was going on. Men were talking about politics and sports. Women were discussing the next party, and since there was an event manager, the children were busy. It was a hot day and trays of cool drinks were doing the rounds. Suddenly I thought I saw a girl who looked a lot like Nandita. She was wearing a sari and was serving drinks to the guests. When I tried looking at her closely she turned away and avoided my eyes.

  I was amazed. I went to Sharayu and asked who the pretty girl serving the drinks was. ‘Oh that is Nandita. She is a smart and bright girl. Her father owns a canteen in my husband’s office. Our office has sponsored her education. She has completed her engineering recently and is searching for a job. She is a quick learner and adjusts well with everybody. We have invited her to help out today. If you are ever having a party, I would strongly recommend asking her father to do the catering.’

  I was speechless.

  The interviews carried on for the whole of that week. The last candidate to walk in was a boy in his early
twenties. He was ordinarily dressed and seemed to be on the quieter side. His answers were all up to the mark and well thought out. I wanted to know more about him as it is always interesting to talk to bright young minds.

  ‘You answered the questions about computer science very well. Since when have you been interested in the area?’ Shyly, he said, ‘When I was very young.’

  ‘What age?’ I was persistent.

  ‘Probably about eight years.’

  ‘Why so early?’

  ‘My mother is a school teacher and often I was alone at home when she was away at work. The best way to pass the time was to attend some classes.’

  Somehow I knew that could not be the only reason. He was obviously very bright and his mother must have spent a lot of time channelising his talents in the right direction. I realized this boy will not boast about his background, but I wanted to know more. ‘What about your father? What does he do?’

  The boy thought for some time. Then he replied, ‘Does it matter? You need only look at my capabilities. If you find me suitable please accept me, or reject me if you don’t.’

  ‘How much salary are you expecting?’

  The boy said a figure which was higher than what we were offering.

  ‘How do you justify such a high salary for your experience?’

  ‘I will justify it by working hard and taking bottomline responsibility. I will ensure that my work is of the highest standards.’

  ‘Do you mind telling me why you want a higher salary?’

  ‘I want to donate a part of it to a trust which helps bright students continue their education if they can’t pay the fees.’

  I was touched by his answer. After this there was nothing more to ask. When the boy left we were unanimous that we wanted to take him. As we were talking, the clerk who was handing out the travel allowance to those who had come from out of town for the interview, walked in. He said, ‘Could you sign for the last candidate? He did not claim his allowance. He said he stayed with his aunt and came to town on some personal work too.’

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