A Man Too Clever by Half
Experts have taken from the Book ‘Wise and Otherwise – A Salute to Life!” by Sudha Murty.
A few years ago, when the Infosys Foundation was still in its infancy, people were not aware of the kind of work we were trying to do. Our organization worked at the grass-roots level, mainly with village schoolmasters whom we approached voluntarily. Although Infosys, the company, had already made a name for itself in the field of business, the Foundation was housed in two small rooms on the third floor of Infosys Towers; and it still is, even today. Our obscurity was heightened by the fact that there wasn’t a single plaque announcing our presence. The security men would confront our staff frequently. Any decent establishment connected to Infosys should have a large signboard with brass lettering, if not a stately banner, they would say.
Right from its inception, the Foundation focused on redressing the grievances of village people, especially children, so that we could help them envision a bright and prosperous future comparable to that of their urban counterparts. It is well known that in our country the rural-urban divide runs deep. The life of village children is devoid of the activities that are taken for granted by our city children. The simple pleasures of modern life—watching a cartoon show on television, listening to a popular Hindi film song, or even reading a book at leisure—are rare luxuries in villages. A lack of basic facilities forces village boys and girls to while away their time uselessly. Having observed this aspect of village life at close quarters, I decided that one of the primary goals of the Foundation should be to launch a project titled ‘A library for each village’.
I feel libraries play an important role in the lives of children, the citizens of tomorrow. As I was raised in a middle-class family in a small town, I was well
aware of the importance of books and knowledge in the life of a student. In my childhood, I had limited access to books and it was then that I had envisioned starting free libraries offering unlimited access to the world of books. As soon as I had been named trustee of the Foundation, I knew I had to take the first step towards fulfilling my desire to build libraries for village children.
Reading has many advantages. It is not only a useful hobby, but also helps us imbibe better qualities. Keeping this in mind, the trustees planned to establish libraries that contained books in the regional language and not the textbooks that the children were using in school. Simple, illustrated, interesting books that could be read without anybody’s help were thus selected for these libraries. In this manner, the Foundation would sow the seeds of a love for reading in the villages of Karnataka.
With sufficient nurturing and caring, the project has grown from a tiny sapling into a huge, wide-reaching banyan tree. More than 4,000 such libraries have been established all over the state. The books have succeeded in putting a smile on the faces of village children who discovered a new world opening up before them.
One hot afternoon, when I was sitting in my room trying to come up with some innovative ideas for the Foundation’s projects, I noticed the silhouette of a man standing outside the glass door of my office. He was barely visible among the cartons of books and the jungle of colourful wrapping paper strewn all over the floor. I carried on with my work, which required concentration. It was one of those days when my eagerness to complete the work on hand had made me give up all thoughts of a quick lunch or a midday siesta. Suddenly, I was startled by a loud knock on the door. The stranger walked in, without even a nominal ‘May I come in?’
‘Is this the Foundation office?’ he asked abruptly. ‘Yes,’ I answered.
‘Are you one of the staff members of the Foundation?’
I nodded. He looked puzzled. Perhaps he had expected to see a fancy office with a fancy receptionist. And here was I, wearing the sort of simple cotton sari that did nothing to disclose my identity. When the man arrived, I had been engrossed in dispatching some last-minute packages while also writing an introductory proposal for a new project. A dishevelled person in a tiny cabin amid a maze of paper and piles of books was clearly not his idea of the Infosys
Foundation he had come to visit. Without wasting time on introductions, he opened his bag and pulled out two Kannada books that looked like pamphlets.
‘These are very good books for children,’ he announced. ‘I have put in several years and the best of my efforts to publish them. There is a great demand for these books all over Karnataka. You can buy these books for your library project.’
I just listened. Naturally, I wanted to see the books for myself to judge their
quality, price and, most importantly, content. Would they prove useful and interesting to children in village schools?
My silence seemed to irritate him. He said, ‘I know Sudha Murty and Narayana Murthy very well. Mrs Murty, who is the trustee of the Foundation, asked me to come here. Otherwise I don’t do this kind of a salesman’s job. It is because of the rapport we share that I have come so far to help her.’
I was amused. ‘Have you known Mrs Murty for many years?’ I asked.
Without any hesitation, he answered, ‘I’ve known Sudha for a long time. She is my childhood friend.’
This was getting more and more curious—a man I was seeing for the first time claiming to be my childhood friend!
Rather naughtily, I asked, ‘But Sudha is from Dharwad and you seem to be from Bangalore. How is it that she is your childhood friend?’
Now he looked quite surprised. ‘Do you address your boss by her first name?
It is not good etiquette. So what if she is from Dharwad? She used to come to Bangalore quite often to her aunt’s house, which is next to ours even now.’
Lord Almighty, I thought. My kith and kin had never crossed the Tungabhadra River, which divides the old Mysore state from northern Karnataka. So, I was indeed surprised to know about this ‘aunt’ who was his neighbour.
He went on, ‘Sudha has always treated me like her elder brother. She doesn’t have any brothers, you see. When Murthy wanted to start Infosys, she came to me for advice. Recently she told me she wanted to buy 100 copies of each of my books. She knows my calibre. She told me to give these books here and collect the money. I have to go to the Kannada Sahitya meeting where they are honouring me, so please hurry up.’
I didn’t know whether to get upset and shout at him or just carry on with the ruse. I decided to play along with his deception. ‘What kind of a person is Mrs
Murty?’ I asked, perhaps impishly.
He seemed pleased at the opportunity to say more about his friendship. ‘Oh!
She is a gentle lady, though very quiet by nature,’ he said. ‘During her MA, nobody even knew about Sudha in the class. It was I who told her not to waste her time at home and do some social work. I also introduced her to Murthy and mediated their marriage.’
‘Was it an arranged marriage?’
‘Of course. I even got their horoscopes matched. That’s why the couple is very fond of me even now and hold me in high regard. After all, it’s because of me that she is here today!’
This was too much. He was not even being clever, just careless. Mine was a love marriage. Neither of us was bothered about horoscopes. Moreover, I have always been an extrovert and was much noticed because I happened to be the only girl in class throughout my college days. I am an M.Tech and not an MA. Social service was a cherished idea of Murthy’s and mine since the days of our friendship.
I could no longer stand this man’s lying. I realized it was time to call his bluff. If I didn’t disclose my identity now, who knew what he would be claiming next. ‘Mister,’ I said very sternly, ‘there has to be an end to these lies of yours. I am
Sudha Murty, wife of Narayana Murthy. This is the first time that I am meeting you. How dare you talk about Murthy and me in this way? This is outrageous! Even if your books were good in terms of content and language, I would never buy them. Books are meant to reflect the thoughts and personality of the author. By now I know what kind of a person you are. Even if you are willing to offer your books free, I shall not accept them. Remember, only an honest human being can be a good writer.’
He was shocked of course. But before he could think of a suitable response, I had walked out of the office, disgusted, frustrated and amazed at the world we live in.