A Woman of Empathy and Courage

Jul/13/2022 / by Swarnendu Biswas
Sudha Murthy
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Sudha Murthy is one of the icons of women power of post-modern India. A multifaceted person, she is a businesswoman, a prolific writer in Kannada and English, a globally revered philanthropist, and an educator.

She is an engineer by training. Born on 19th August 1950 in Shiggaon, Karnataka, to RH Kulkarni and his wife Vimala Kulkarni, the age of Sudha Murthy is 71 years.

Academic Excellence

The childhood of Sudha Murthy had been enriched by an academic environment in her family which induced in her a passion to excel since her childhood days. Her father was a surgeon, and a professor in a local university, and her mother was a school teacher.  Sudha Murthy and her three siblings were raised by her parents and maternal grandparents. The brother of Sudha Murthy, Srinivas Kulkarni is a renowned astronomer who was awarded with Dan David Prize in 2017.

Sudha Murthy earned her B.Eng. in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the B.V.B. College of Engineering & Technology (presently known as KLE Technological University), which she followed with an M.Eng. in Computer Science from the globally renowned Indian Institute of Science, in 1974. An excellent student, she was topper in both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree.

Defeating Gender Bias

Here it is surprising to note that Sudha Murthy was the only girl student in the BVB. College of Engineering & Technology during her student years at the institution. The principal of the college admitted Sudha Murthy on three highly unjustified conditions which were to always wearing saree in college, not to visit the canteen and not to talk to boys in the college. Yes, such a prejudiced gender insensitive view was not from an academician of medieval India but from the India of late 60s.

While exploring about Sudha Murthy one can come to know that Sudha Murthy is the first female engineer to be hired by TATA Engineering and Locomotive Company (TELCO), which is the largest auto manufacturer in India. She joined the conglomerate as Development Engineer. Her engineering career began with a struggle in those highly male-biased days of India.

That was in 1974. While in Indian Institute of Science, Sudha Murthy earned a scholarship to study in the US. She was preparing to go there when she came across a TELCO job vacancy advertisement where it was mentioned that only men could apply for the position. Yes, that was 27 years after India got its independence.

That discrimination made her furious and she wrote a letter to JRD Tata, the then Chairman of TELCO, pointing him the gross injustice in the recruitment policy and urging him to rectify it. As a result of her letter, TELCO did change their policy and opened their engineering posts for female engineers to apply.

In response to that, she was also granted a special interview and subsequently hired at TELCO as a Development Engineer. This incident should get prominence in any good biography of Sudha Murthy as it amply proves her strength of conviction and her strong sense of justice.

Funding Infosys

Initially, her job location with TELCO was in Pune, but subsequently she also worked in Jamshedpur and Mumbai.  Sudha Murthy and NR Narayana Murthy married while she was working in Pune, as an engineer with TELCO. The power couple has a son and a daughter.

She followed her tenure with TELCO as a Senior Systems Analyst with Walchand Group of Industries in Pune.

 Sudha Murthy played a crucial role in the formation of the globally renowned IT company, Infosys, a company which her husband and one of the seven Co-founders of the company, Narayana Murthy led to its pinnacle of success. She provided the initial capital investment of Rs. 10,000 for Infosys.

Besides supporting her husband’s vision of the Bengaluru-based Infosys when IT was a fairly unknown word in India, Sudha Murthy achieved her own fame as a writer and philanthropist.15 years after the formation of Infosys, Sudha established Infosys Foundation with a capital of Rs.32 lakh from Infosys.

Her Welfare Endeavors

Infosys Foundation is a non-profit organization based in Bengaluru, the capital of the Karnataka state of India. It was established by Infosys to support the underprivileged sections of the society. Sudha Murthy is the Chairperson of Infosys Foundation.

According to the website of Infosys Foundation, established in 1996, the foundation is engaged in supporting programs in the areas of education, rural development, healthcare, arts and culture, and destitute care. The foundation is driven by the mission to work in remote regions of India and is solely funded by Infosys.

Among many noteworthy works of Infosys Foundation over the years, its sponsoring and conducting aid work in Tamil Nadu and the Andaman Islands to tackle the devastating effects of tsunami deserves special mention.

The foundation also plays crucial role in midday meal program in association with Akshay Patra, a program which now covers 10 states of India. Over the years, Infosys Foundation has built 2300 houses in flood-affected areas of the country.

Infosys Foundation also has a branch in USA. Infosys Foundation, USA supports several science, technology, engineering, mathematics and community building initiatives.

Sudha Murthy is also a member of the public health care initiatives of the Gates Foundation and has the credit of founding several orphanages and of participating in rural development efforts.

Sudha Murthy has played her role in building 7000 libraries, new schools and more than 16,000 washrooms in India. The great philanthropist also supported the movement to provide computer and library facilities to all government schools of Karnataka. Murty Classical Library of India at Harvard University was also established by her, which her son Rohan Murty is the founder.

Through her tireless philanthropy, Sudha Murthy has shown deep empathy for the underprivileged of India. Last year she told moneycontrol.com that “Unless the children of our country get two sets of clothes, three meals a day, and good drinking water and toilet facilities, learn up to class 12 with good communication and vocational skills, our country will not progress.”

Writing Her Success Story

She has been a prolific and celebrated writer too. As an author Sudha Murthy reflects considerable diversity. Her writings include novels, short stories, travelogues, technical books, and memoirs. Her books have been translated in several Indian languages.

Some of famous books of Sudha Murthy are The Mother I Never Knew, How I Taught My Grandmother to Read and Other Stories, Three Thousand Stitches, The Man from the Egg, Dollar Bahu, Wise and Otherwise among others.

Dollar Bahu was originally written by her in Kannada and later translated into English as Dollar Bahu. The popularity of the book induced it to be adapted into a television series, which was aired on Zee TV in 2001. The story beautifully expresses the inherent craze for the affluent life in the US of an aspirational Indian mother-in-law and also how economics govern the family structure and values. This book is however not the story of one family but effectively mirrors the trend among many aspirational Indian middle-class families too.

Her another book titled Three Thousand Stiches is very inspirational. It comprises 11 short stories, drawn from the personal life experiences of Sudha Murthy and from her experiences as the Chairperson of Infosys Foundation. Sudha Murthy has infused a message in each of these stories. The main story of the book on which the title of the book is named is centered around the live of the temple sex workers or devadasis, and depicts the author’s determination to make them self-sustainable and removing the dishonor that was attached to them.

The story revolves around rescue and rehabilitation of 3,000 devdasis in Karnataka and the problems that Sudha Murthy encountered while doing so; including having chappals and tomatoes thrown at her. Eventually the Herculean efforts of Sudha Murthy resulted in making Karnataka free of the bad custom of temple prostitutes or devdasis.

Another of the story in the book, which talks about her gynecologist father’s first delivery (A Life Unwritten) is also quite moving. Another story explores her experiences of being the only girl studying engineering in a boy’s college which didn’t have even a women’s toilet (How to Beat The Boys).

Another of the popular book written by Sudha Murthy is titled Wise and Otherwise. It is a compelling non-fiction read where one can find interesting and evocative description of diverse shades of human nature, some of which can startle and make us poignant at the same time. The true stories cover the amazing diversity in human nature from incredible generosity to meanest acts and thus mirror the life itself in its beauty and ugliness.

Sudha Murthy won several awards during her illustrious journey as a philanthropist and an author, which includes Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award of India. Sudha Murthy was also the recipient of Daana Chintamani Attimabbe Award by Karnataka Government in 2010 for excellence in Kannada literature. It is a prestigious literary award dedicated for woman writers in Karnataka. She also won R.K. Narayan’s Award of Literature, and IIT Kanpur awarded her Honorary degree of Doctor of Science.

For those readers who are interested in knowing the net worth of Sudha Murthy net worth of her is approximate Rs.7.75 billion.

FAQs

Who is Sudha Murthy married to?

She is married to NR Narayana Murthy, who is one of the pioneers to spearhead the IT revolution in India. He is the Co-founder of Infosys, and served the company as Chairman, CEO, President, and Chief Mentor and also as Chairman Emeritus. He can be easily regarded as one of the greatest business magnates of post-modern India.

Why is Sudha Murthy famous?

She earned great fame as an author and a philanthropist.

What was Sudha’s profession?

She began her career as an engineer before she became a businesswoman, author and a philanthropist.