“Health and education can uplift people”

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SUDHA MURTHY shares insights into her philosophies, her personal life and how she copes in times of the pandemic, in an intimate tete-a-tete with PALLAVI DEMPO.

PD. You instantly come across as a person firmly grounded in core family values, someone who believes in simple living and high thinking. Could you share insights about your family and your upbringing?

SM. I come from a family of educators. My father was a doctor – he was a professor. I was brought up with good family values. Reading was important and there was a lot of emphasis on education and compassion. This has shaped me into what I am today.

PD. You’ve been a very prolific writer in English and Kannada with many books to your credit. Your writing exudes feeling and emotion. What do you wish to convey through your writing?

SM. I started writing during my school days but took it seriously later. My first book was published when I was 29. I’ve authored 35 books and have more than 200 titles. But once I started Infosys Foundation, I slowed my writing because then my canvas became large. I don’t wish to convey anything through my writing. I write because I like to write and not to give a moral lesson. I simply want to express my emotions.

PD. What are the topics that are very close to your heart?

SM. I used to write novels but I realised that real life is much more interesting than my imagination. So I started writing from experiences. Then in 2005 I started writing for children.

PD. You’ve led a very exemplary life, striking a fine work-life balance especially in the pursuit of your multi-dimensional activities. You’ve also been known as a great family person. What parenting tips would you offer to parents of this generation?

SM. If someone asks me what I think of myself, my answer is: I am a very ordinary person, just like anybody else. You should bring up your children with this idea. I made this clear to my children at a very young age. Just because your father or mother has money, you are not extraordinary. Money comes due to various reasons. And it comes at a cost. The idea of sharing wealth with someone, of being sensitive to someone who is poor and realising they have a right to live, the idea of equality with our own driver and cook, these are ideas you inculcate in your children. 

Most of the time, we don’t do that, we are worried about what others will think. What about our status? My cook is eating at the dining table, what will the neighbours think? These are false values; compartments we build around what people will think. Let them think. You cannot live on people’s opinion. You must live by your own values. These are the values your children will carry. 

PD. In the millennial generation we navigate a fine line between tradition and modernity. How do we balance the two?

SM. If you are proud of your tradition, then however modern you are, you will carry that tradition. Be proud of your land, your tradition, your language, your customs. It is true that every tradition and culture has its positives and negatives. But if you look at the bigger picture – what has survived time? In a place like Goa, you had the Portuguese rule for over 400 years and yet you kept your traditions alive – your temples, rituals and festivals. And there’s also the amalgamation of other cultures like your beautiful churches. If you’re proud about your heritage, then you appreciate it and pass it to the next generation. If you are not proud then you want to forget it. 

PD. Infosys Foundation has been credited with phenomenal social work in rural India, especially in rural Karnataka, by giving access to food and education.Could you tell us about the focus areas of your Foundation?

SM. Health and education are most important. A healthy child will learn better. And for good health we need to reduce malnutrition. Finally, to come up in life – to aspire, education is the only way. 

Infosys Foundation works in these areas. We’ve built 14,000 toilets, set up 60,000 libraries, and built many schools. In health, we’ve built dharmshalas for patients and their families to stay, provided medical equipment, and built hospitals. 

We’ve focused on health and education because these two areas can uplift people.

PD. As one who has known the pulse of our society, do you think women are increasingly playing a stellar role in socio-economic transformation?

SM. Yes, I think so and I’m quite happy with what I see.Compared with my days, more women are today educated and pursuing careers. Women play a very important role in transforming society. That’s why they say if one woman is educated you have opened a school.

PD. What are your views on the rural-urban divide with regard to access to quality education?

SM. Yes, there is a divide. The reason is, there are many more opportunities for people who’ve migrated to urban areas. There’s more spending capacity and so better food, better lifestyles. 

But nowadays, systems like Navodaya Vidyalaya have brought good schools to rural areas. The extremely poor in rural India have benefited. If you have good systems like these, then the divide will be reduced.

PD. Cleanliness,hygiene and health have also been your areas of interest. Could you share with us a few stories that have emerged from your initiatives?

SM. I’ve written books on that. How I Taught my Grandmother to Read, Old man and his God, The Day I Stopped Drinking Milk and 3000 Stitches. There are 25 to 30 stories each so you have more than a hundred and forty stories – which are real-life stories.

PD. In what way could the corporate sector make meaningful and lasting interventions in rural India?

SM. There is a lot to do in rural India because firstly, infrastructure like roads are poor. I don’t know how it is in Goa because it is a small state. We need to improve infrastructure and provide better facilities like good education and healthcare. If you have good healthcare and education systems then nobody would like to migrate to the city.

PD. What are your new books readers can look forward to?

SM. I’ve written a book on these pandemic times which is to be published. I’ve also written another book on Gopi – my dog. These will be published this year.

PD. History was one of the subjects you most liked. Any other subjects you were deep into?

SM. History is very important and literature. And I enjoy teaching.

PD. As a parent, how have you inculcated discipline in both your children?

SM. In earlier days things were very different. There were no mobiles, WhatsApp or even the internet. I always led by example. If I am simple, my children will be simple. If I refrain from something, then my children will follow me. Children are led by example. 

Today, the number of children in a family is less. We don’t spend much time with them. We give them YouTube or other things to keep them entertained. This is the problem.

PD. I’ve also read about your selfless service at Raghavendra Swamy temple.

SM. Actually people write I sell vegetables. I don’t do such things! Once a year there is a three-day festival when ten thousand people visit. That’s when I go to the temple for the three days and clean and cut vegetables and look after the vegetable department.

PD. Any advice you would want to give the younger generation? 

SM. Today, there are many distractions such as drugs. Addiction can destroy. I’d advise youth to stay away fromdrugs. It’s a one-way ticket and only brings sorrow. Instead concentrate on hard work, on physical exercise and helping others. It will serve you well eventually.

PD. For all your lifelong achievements you’ve been known for your simple demeanour, humility and serving humanity with a sense of purpose. What is your perspective on life?

SM. We cannot control many things in life. So, whatever you get, try to do your level best in that situation.  ■