Many would be happy to see their names just once in the Padma awards list. But for Sudha Murty, it’s the second time — the 71-year old educator, author and philanthropist was awarded the Padma Shri 17 years ago — in 2006.
There are many hats the retired chairperson of Infosys Foundation, now a Padma Bhushan, wears — her contribution to literature in Kannada and English being one of them. One of the most popular children’s book writers — she’s written over 20 — some of them have been adapted as television series and movies, and she’s also acted in a couple of them.
Though known more for her books meant for children, the recipient of the RK Narayan Award in literature has authored many books for grown-ups as well, with many of them becoming best-sellers. A gutsy woman, one of her best-known books include Three Thousand Stitches — a story of how she helped 3,000 devadasis get out of that system and become independent and live a life of dignity and honour. Her best gift so far: a quilt stitched by all 3,000 of them to show their appreciation.
After doing an MTech in computer science and engineering, Murty first joined Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company, now Tata Motors, as a development engineer. She was the first female engineer to be hired at India’s largest auto manufacturer, but how she landed the job is an interesting story. She had written to the company’s chairman, complaining of the “men only” gender bias. Upon receiving the letter, she was called for a special interview and was hired promptly.
Murty has written about her engineering college days in a book called How to beat the Boys, where she writes about how all other students were boys and the ensuing difficulties and prejudices she faced because of that. Murty not only went on to get the first rank in the first semester but also helped the boys in their assignments in the future at the university. “Knowledge is not anybody’s domain; it is not a boy’s domain or a girl’s domain. It is the domain of the people who study with honesty,” she would often say.
After marrying Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy, she joined the company’s foundation which among other things has done extensive work on setting up orphanages, supported the movement to provide all Karnataka government schools with computer and library facilities, and founded the Murty Classical Library of India at Harvard University.
Murty is also building a hospital with the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune and a zoo in Gulbarga. Infosys Foundation had started with `32 lakh in its kitty — by the time she left, it grew to over `400 core.
She had a key role in the birth of Infosys — having given her husband the initial `10,000 from her savings to chase his dream way back in 1981. Though she has left Infosys Foundation, Murty hasn’t left philanthropy — she is now heading Murty Foundation.
If there is one group she admires, it is the Tata group. In an interview, she said: “Their work has influenced me. The areas they have worked in are immense. We have collaborated with them in the past and look at them with awe. It is said that Jamsetji Tata divided his wealth between his sons Ratanji and Dorabji, and IISc. He considered it as a third child. That shows the real love for the country. It was my aspiration for Infosys Foundation to be like the Tatas.”