How I Taught My Grandmother to Read and other Stories, p.7Sudha Murty
He said to himself, without anger or jealousy, ‘All students from the IITs study well and do big things in life. But it is not the institution, ultimately it is you and you alone who can change your life by hard work.’
Probably he was not aware that he was following the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita: ‘Your best friend is yourself and your worst enemy is yourself.’
Later he worked very hard, and focused on one thing, never bothering about his personal life or comforts. He shared his wealth with others. He never used the help of any caste, community or political connections to go up in life.
A son of a schoolteacher showed other Indians it was possible to earn wealth legally and ethically. He built a team of people who were equally good.
He became a pioneer of India’s software industry and started the Information Technology wave. Today he has become an icon of simplicity, uncompromising quality and fairness, apart from being a philanthropist. He really believes in the motto, ‘Powered by intellect and driven by values’.
He is none other than Infosys founder and present chairman, Nagavara Ramarao Narayana Murthy.
The Rainy Day
When I was young, before a girl got married, her mother would give her some words of advice. They were usually like: ‘You must adjust to your new house and in-laws, try to learn how they eat and cook their food, go out of your way to be friendly and helpful to everybody,’ etc.
My mother, Vimala Kulkarni, told me similar words when I got married. But along with this, she said something which helped me immensely in later life. She said, ‘In life, we never know when a rainy day will come and you might fall short of money. In order to be prepared for such a situation, you should always save some money from your salary, and if you are not earning, then from your husband’s salary. If your salary is one thousand rupees take fifty or hundred rupees and keep it separately. This money should not be used for buying ornaments or silk saris. When you are young, you want to spend money and buy many things but remember, when you are in difficulty only few things will come to your help. Your courage, your ability to adjust to new situations and the money which you have saved. Nobody will come and help you.’
When I heard her advice, I laughed. I felt it was impossible that such a ‘rainy day’ would ever come in my life. I was young and thought every day was a sunny day. But I always listened to my mother, so I started saving slowly. The money was kept in a safe place in my kitchen cupboard and I never counted it.
After my marriage, for a while life was smooth in Bombay. We had a daughter and were happy like any other middle-class family. We used to stay in a flat in Bandra. I used to work for TELCO at Fort and Murthy for PCS at Nariman Point.
One day, my husband returned from office looking very worried. By nature he is not talkative and is reluctant to share his emotions, but that day he was different. I was making some chapattis in the kitchen.
‘Why are you looking so worried?’ I asked him.
He replied, ‘Software is going to be the biggest new business in the years to come. We have no dearth of intelligent people in our country. Writing software requires a logical mind and hard work, which we can find plenty of in India. I feel I should harness this talent. I want to start a software company.’
I was shocked. I had never imagined we would ever think of starting our own company. Both, in my family and Murthy’s, there was not a single person who was an entrepreneur. I had thought Murthy would work in PCS and I would work in TELCO forever and we would lead a quiet and contented life. My immediate reaction was ‘No’.
Murthy started explaining his plans and vision for the business to me. ‘You are fond of history. You must appreciate my reasoning. You know we Indians missed the Industrial Revolution. That time we were ruled by foreigners. Now the world is on the threshold of an intellectual revolution. We must make full use of this. We have to bring this revolution to our country. If we miss this we shall never get a chance to do well in life. I want to take this step not for money alone. This is one desire that I have had for a while now. Let me do it now. It is now or never.’
My mind went back to my childhood days. One of our relatives had started something on his ‘own’. He ended up incurring heavy losses. Finally he had to sell his family property. So for me, starting our own business was synonymous with loss. I was afraid the same thing would happen to us. We did not even have any property to sell in order to cover our loss. Apart from that, we had a daughter now. I was confused.
Probably Murthy read my mind. He said, ‘This is a new kind of industry. It is driven by intellect and does not require large capital. I need your wholehearted support.’
There was sincerity and honesty in his voice. I have always respected and appreciated his honesty.
As I sat there wondering what was right, I smelt the chapattis burning in the kitchen. The smell reminded me that we would have to have our dinner without chapattis that day.
Still I sat and measured the odds and consequences of the problem. Murthy had a large family and they were dependent on him. He had unmarried sisters. In such a situation, if he started a new company, our financial stability would be severely affected. I was worried, but I also had a lot of faith in him. I felt that unless I supported him wholeheartedly, he would feel uncomfortable starting a new venture like this. In business there is always profit and loss. If we went into a loss, we would lose our precious savings of many years. Yet, when I thought about it, in my heart, I was also sure that we would survive somehow.
I asked him, ‘Are you alone in this?’
Murthy rarely smiles. This time he smiled and replied, ‘No, six of my young colleagues are joining me. This is our one chance to earn money legally and ethically. I have a dream that India should be a leader in this industry which will bring pride and revenue to our country. You have to help me. Can you give me some money? If you don’t help me now, my dream will remain unfulfilled.’
I knew that if I did not give him the money he would not be able to start his company. At that moment I remembered my mother’s words. ‘Save some money and use it only in extremely essential situations.’ This was one of those situations. Finally, I came to a decision. I went inside the kitchen and opened my rainy day saving box. I took out the money I had deposited in it every month and counted. There were ten thousand rupees. I took it, offered up a brief prayer to God and gave it to Murthy.
‘All the best Murthy, that’s all I can give you. With happiness I will bear all the responsibilities of this new enterprise. By the way, what are you going to name this company?’
‘Infosys, and thank you for your support and the seed money. Be ready for the most bumpy ride in your life for the next few years.’
When I look back now, I realize that our lives changed completely because I had listened to my mother’s valuable lesson.
I often tell this story to my children and students. One never knows when a rainy day will come. And when it does, my mother’s words will always stay true.
Doing What You Like Is Freedom
One day, I was travelling by train from Bangalore to Belgaum. It is an overnight train and the only rail link between Bangalore and north Karnataka. I was travelling by second class as that’s where one can meet lots of people who are eager to talk. I have noticed, the more expensive the ticket, the lesser the co-travellers speak.
As I settled down in my seat, I glanced at the opposite berth. There was a small family of husband, wife and son. The son was about eighteen or nineteen years old and probably going to college. The family was obviously quite well-off. I sat and watched them. The parents were giving numerous instructions to their son.
‘It is very cold, why don’t you wear a sweater?’
‘Are you hungry? Shall I serve food?’
‘We have got three berths, lower, middle and upper, which one would you want to take?’
‘Have you brought your bathroom slippers? If you are going to the bathroom please use them…’ and so on.
Then the father asked the mother, ‘Did you bring some old cloth? I want to clean these seats. They look dirty.’
The mother answered, ‘How many times have I told you to make reservations early. But you never listen to me. If you had booked the tickets earlier, we could have gone by first class or second AC. People like us travel in those compartments and they are maintained better, not like this second class where every Tom, Dick and Harry travels.’
The father bowed his head and answered, ‘Nowadays there’s so much rush for tickets for the higher classes. I did not realize that. Normally we travel by air so I underestimated the situation. Unfortunately, this Belgaum does not have an air connection.’
By now, since I knew they were also travelling up to Belgaum and we were going to be together till eight o’clock the next morning, I struck up a conversation with them.
‘Are you going to Belgaum for the first time?’
They looked at me with some surprise, but the woman was eager to talk.
‘Yes, we have never gone there before. My son has got admission in the Belgaum Medical College. We have heard it is a good college. Do you know anything about it?’
‘Yes, it is a good college.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Because I belong to that area.’
After this they were eager to talk to me as they wanted to know more about the town.
The man introduced himself. ‘I am Rao. I am a CA in Bangalore. This is my wife Ragini. She is an MA in Home Science. That’s my son Puneet, who is going to be a medical student.’ He gave me his card.
By now the train had started moving. Even before it left Bangalore city, they had opened their dinner box. It was a huge tiffin carrier and many items were placed in it. The mother laid table mats on the berth and placed steel plates. It was as if she was serving dinner at home. There were two subjis, two kinds of dal, roti, rice and a dessert. It was an eight-course meal! I watched them in amazement. The son sat down quietly for his meal but before he could touch his plate his mother said, ‘Take the Dettol soap, wear your bathroom slippers, carry this towel, wash your hands and come for dinner.’
When he left, his father explained to me, ‘Puneet is our only son. We have brought him up very well. We wanted him to study medicine in some college in Bangalore but unfortunately he got admission in Belgaum. We have never sent him alone anywhere. This is the first time we are leaving him. We were thinking, if the hostel does not suit him, my wife will shift to Belgaum and we will rent a small house there for the next five years. I will stay in Bangalore and meet them once a week. For children’s sake parents have to make sacrifices.’ His voice broke and I could see tears in the lady’s eyes.
I could understand their pain at their only son leaving home. It is always a difficult time for parents, but it is also inevitable. How long can you keep birds in cages when their wings are strong and they are ready to fly? We can give our children only two things in life which are essential. Strong roots and powerful wings. Then they may fly anywhere and live independently. Of all the luxuries in life, the greatest luxury is getting freedom of the right kind.
Now the mother joined in. They were clearly very upset and worried. They wanted to share their grief with somebody, even though I was unknown to them.
‘Our son is very dear to us. I was a lecturer in a college, but I left my job after his birth. Many of my colleagues have become Principals in other colleges but I was determined to bring up my son very well.’
The husband said, ‘I had a good practice in Tumkur district and I own plenty of land there but I decided to shift to Bangalore for Puneet’s studies. I visit my farm once in a while. I bought an apartment next to his school. I don’t go anywhere without my family.’
‘I take his lunch to school every day. Then I talk to his teacher regarding his performance. I have also enrolled him in different evening classes. He learns chess as it is good for the brain, karate to protect himself and cricket which is a well-respected game.’
I could not control my laughter. I felt pity for the child. I asked, ‘What about music, general knowledge and debating?’
‘Oh, we don’t require all these. When he was born, we decided he should become a doctor.’
‘What is his choice?’
‘Our choice is his choice. He is only a child. What does he know about the outside world?’
By that time the ‘child’ came back and they started eating their dinner. After finishing, the parents decided he should sleep on the lower berth. Immediately, a bed was made by the father. He spread a snow-white bedsheet, an air pillow and the boy was made to lie down and was covered with a Kashmiri shawl.
‘I hope you don’t mind, we want to switch off the lights. My son cannot sleep with the lights on.’
The gentleman switched off the light without even waiting for my reply. I was left sitting alone without dinner and not feeling in the least sleepy.
I was wondering what Puneet’s mother would do when he got married. They seemed to have forgotten that he was an independent person who could take his own decisions with some love and guidance. Instead, they were bombarding him with their own ideas and opinions. Too much of affection can become a golden noose around the neck. Puneet will never be a confident person.
It was only ten in the night. I never sleep that early. Even in the partial darkness, I spotted an old friend walking down the passage. We were delighted to meet each other so unexpectedly.
‘Come on, why are you sitting in the dark?’ she asked. ‘Are you planning to steal somebody’s purse? How can you sleep at ten o’clock? Come to my compartment. It is the next one. Let us talk for some time. It is very hard to catch you in Bangalore.’ She started laughing loudly at her own joke.
A quiet conversation in north Karnataka would mean a high-pitched talk in sophisticated society.
‘I have reservation only for this compartment.’
‘Don’t worry, we will tell the ticket collector. In my compartment, one berth is vacant.’ My loyalty switched immediately and I followed her.
There was loud laughter and joking going on in the other compartment. Some other friends of mine were also there. We sat and remembered our college days and made fun of each other.
In the midst of us middle-aged people, there was a young boy sitting. He, too, was very jolly with enormous energy. When all of us opened our tiffin boxes, the boy offered everyone bananas from his bag. Though he did not know any of us, he looked confident and happy.
I asked him, ‘What is your name? Where are you going?’
‘My name is Sharad. I am going to Belgaum.’
‘Why are you going there?’
‘I have got a seat in the medical college there and I am going to join my class.’
‘Are you going for the first time? Do you have anybody with you?’
‘Yes, I am going for the first time and I am alone.’
I forgot my tiffin box. Suddenly I thought of Puneet who was of the same age as this boy.
‘Where are your parents?’
‘My father is a postman and my mother is a schoolteacher. I come from a village near Kolar.’
‘How many siblings do you have?’
‘I am the only child.’
‘Did you never get lonely?’
‘No. Since both my parents were working, I knew all the neighbours. After school I would visit one house every day. All those children I used to visit became like my brothers and sisters.’
I wanted to know what all subjects he studied in school.
‘My father being a postman, I learnt cycling at a very young age. In the evenings, I did some extracurricular activities. My father always told me “In life, extremes are bad”. It is better if one takes the middle path so one should know a little bit of music, sports, social activities. This helped me a lot. Now I can travel anywhere witho
‘How did you do in your exam?’
‘I think I did fairly well. I got a seat in Belgaum Medical College, didn’t I.’
‘Is it not very expensive?’
‘It is expensive. My parents have sacrificed a lot and I have taken a bank loan. I am confident I will repay the loan once I start working.’
‘Tell me, for a young person, what do you think is the most important thing?’
‘It is freedom. Freedom to choose your own life; freedom to pursue your own interest; freedom to enjoy your own likes, provided they are not harmful to you and the society. I feel I was very fortunate to grow up with so much of freedom, like a tree in the forest.’
Somehow, I felt I had seen a stunted bonsai plant in the previous compartment.
In India, particularly in villages, even a few decades back, women without children were looked down upon. Such women were not invited for naming ceremonies, and were taunted as barren women. Nobody understood the hurt and trauma they underwent.
When I was a child, I had a teacher called Gowramma. She was kind and warm. She was also tall, beautiful and always cheerful. She used to teach us Sanskrit. She was a great teacher and would tell lots of stories in the class. Students usually took Sanskrit as an optional language, in order to score marks like maths. They were not interested in the story. They only wanted to get good grades and were not interested in Gowramma’s old epics. As soon as the class was over, students used to run to escape from her elaborate stories. But I always loved listening to stories, so I would sit with her for hours.
Storytelling is an art which not everyone is good at. There are many ways to tell a story. You have to change your voice depending on the circumstance, and describe people you have never seen.
How I Taught My Grandmother to Read and other Stories by Sudha Murty / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes