Most children who have grown up in India would remember Sudha Murthy for her story How I Taught My Grandmother To Read, in school textbooks. But apart from the prolific writer (in English and Kannada) that she is, Sudha Murthy has donned many other roles as well.
Born in 1950 in Shiggaon, north Karnataka, she was a gold medallist in the class of 1972 for Masters in Computer Science, at IISc, Bangalore. It was while pursuing her masters that she saw gender-based stereotypes creeping in. A notice for engineer graduates to apply for a job at Tata Motors was put up in the campus. Young Sudha was not keen on taking up a job, and had gotten several offers from universities in the US to continue with a doctorate degree. But one line at the bottom of the job-notice that read ‘Lady Candidates need not apply’ made her change her decision and tackle the misconception head-on.
Deciding to take matters in her own hands, she wrote a postcard, addressing the injustice to JRD Tata. This struck a chord. After a few days and an interview in Pune, she joined as Development Engineer in Pune and became the first female engineer at the company. There, she met Narayana Murthy, married him and later joined him in building an IT company, which became India’s most famous software firm- Infosys.
Following this, she headed the Department of Computer Science at Bangalore University for some time. Later she resigned and chose to be a consulting professor.
In the meantime, she became one of the first trustees of Infosys Foundation, the company’s non-profit arm which was established in 1996. It has established 50,000 libraries and awarded more than 10,000 students scholarships to date.
Sudha Murty has also established 'The Murthy Classical Library of India' at Harvard University which publishes Indian literature. She is also working for providing all Karnataka government schools with computer and library facilities. She went on to receive "Best Teacher Award" in 1995 from Rotary Club at Bangalore.
She has once said that when 3000 rehabilitated sex workers, who were living a normal life thanks to her, arranged a ceremony to express their gratitude, she felt a ‘tremendous amount of peace’ and realised why she was born. Today, Sudha Murty is known for the many initiatives at Infosys Foundation and for her work as a philanthropist, teacher, and writer. Her social work spans across sectors of healthcare, education, empowerment of women, public hygiene, art and culture, and poverty alleviation.
Sudha Murthy is a recipient of Padma Shri award, the Attimabbe Award from the Government of Karnataka for excellence in Kannada literature, the Lifetime Achievement Award from Crossword Books, and R.K. Narayan Award for Literature.
With a flair for words, Sudha Murthy’s Wise and Otherwise: A Salute to Life, a collection of short stories enlightens readers on issues such as acid attack, taking the reader through the lives of survivors, and many other social phenomena that continues to shape contemporary India.
Other riveting reads include The Upside Down King, where she weaves a story around two most popular avatars of lord Krishna, Rama and Krishna, and looking at minor stories behind the traditions of various Indian festivals like Diwali and Dussehra.
One would wonder how a person can single-handedly achieve so much, and to that Sudha says, “Whatever your set of problems or difficulties or solutions, you have to accommodate all of them in 24 hours. So where can I squeeze my time? What takes priority? That’s how I work.”
Epitomising independent woman, Sudha Murthy has chased her dreams and makes many others realise theirs.
Listen to her speak at the MAKERS India Conference in Bangalore and join her in furthering change in the women's movement in India.