Sudha Murthy as an individual
Have I lost my identity as a woman, in Murthy’s shadow? No, I might be Mrs Narayana Murthy. I might be Akshata and Rohan’s mother. I might be the trustee of Infosys Foundation. But I am still Sudha. Like all women, I play different roles. 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.
I might have given up my career for my husband’s sake, but that does not make me a doormat… Isn’t 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 believe that when a woman gives up her right to choose for herself, that is when she crosses over from being an individual to a doormat.
Murthy’s dreams encompassed not only himself, but a generation of people. It was about creating 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 Murthy’s career and mine, I opted for what I thought was the right choice. We had a home and two little children. Somebody had to take care of it all. Somebody had to stay behind 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, Murthy would have given me his unstinted support. The roles would have been reversed. We are not bound by the archaic rules of marriage. 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 career. Murthy respects that. I travel the world without him, because he hates travelling. We trust each other implicitly. We have another understanding too. While he earns the money, I spend it mostly through charity. 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 3,500 libraries. Our work is mainly in the rural areas amongst women and children. I am one of the trustees of the Foundation, and our activities span six states. I travel to around 800 villages constantly. Every year, we donate around Rs 5-6 crores. We run Infosys Foundation the way Murthy runs Infosys – in a professional and scientific way. Philanthropy is a profession and an art. It can be used or misused. Every year, we receive more than 10,000 applications for donations. Every day, I receive more than 120 calls. Amongst these, there are those who genuinely need help and there are hoodwinkers too.
Over the years, I have learnt to differentiate the wheat from the chaff, though I still give all the cases a patient hearing. Sometimes, I feel I have lost the ability to trust people. I have become shrewder to avoid being conned. I think that is the price that I have to pay for the position I am in now. The greatest difficulty in having money is to teach your children its value… 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 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 Murthy wash his own plate after eating and clean the two toilets in the house every day, they realise that no work is demeaning, irrespective of how rich you are. This doesn’t mean we expect our children to live an austere life. My children buy what they want, go where they want, but they have to follow certain rules. They have to show me bills 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 we discourage him from going to a five star hotel. Or we accompany him. My children haven’t given me any heartbreak. My daughter is studying abroad, my son in Bangalore. They don t use their father’s name in vain. They only say that his name is Murthy and that he works for Infosys. They don’t want to be recognized 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 we lived in 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 pair of stone earrings which I bought in Bombay for Rs.100. I don, t even wear my `mangalsutra` unless I need to attend some family functions or when I am with my mother-in-law. Five years ago, I went to Kashi, where tradition demands that you give something up. I gave up shopping. Since then, I haven’t bought myself a sari or gone shopping. I don’t carry a purse and neither does Murthy, most of the time. 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. Murthy and I are very comfortable with our lifestyle and we don’t see the need to change it now that we have money.
Murthy and I are two opposites that complement each other. Murthy is sensitive and romantic in his own way. He always gifts me books addressed ‘From Me to You’. Or ’To the person I most admire’, etc. We both love books. I am an extrovert and he is an introvert. I love watching movies and listening to classical music. Murthy 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’; I am a Hrithik Roshan fan. It has been more than 20 years since Murthy 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, Murthy went for the movie with his secretary Pandu. I love traveling, whereas Murthy loves spending time at home. Friends come and go with the share prices. Even in my dreams, I did not expect Infosys to grow the way it has. After Infosys went public in 1993, we became what people would call rich, moneyed people. Suddenly, you see and hear about so much money: People talk about you. It was all new to me.