‘Padma Shri Sudha Murty is a magical storyteller, making complex stories easily relatable. She speaks to Vinayak Surya Swami about what inspires her’
Her name precedes her. The first female engineer for the country’s foremost manufacturing assemblage, the Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company (TELCO), the author of numerous books, a Padma Shri awardee and Infosys Foundation chairperson. But Sudha Murty is humble and exudes a warmth that envelops you even before the customary introductions are made.
Murty has written numerous books, in both English and her mother tongue Kannada, on diverse topics, yet one aspect has been constant – all her books have been written with simplicity, which makes the message conveyed, more profound. Take for example, her latest, Daughter from a Wishing Tree: Unusual Tales about Women in Mythology, which is a part of a five-book series that tells stories of powerful and unique women characters from Indian mythology.
“Most people are only aware of Sita and Draupadi from our mythologies. But there are so many other interesting women characters in our past; women who have led armies and changed the destinies of their kingdoms. I wanted to speak about them. In the same way, we know of Goddess Parvati as one of the most powerful Hindu deities and also as a mother. My book tries to explain why she craved for a daughter and that why, even though she was a goddess, she felt incomplete without a female child,” says Murty. This passion for gender equality underlines her own life story too. When asked about being the proverbial woman behind the successful man, her husband Narayana Murthy, who founded the IT giant Infosys, she is quick to amend: “I am the woman standing by my man (husband) and not behind him. I think the proverb should be re-phrased as beside every successful man, there is an understanding woman!” This deep-seated wish to achieve justice and equality for all has motivated her to work for lesser-priviledged children and women across Karnataka.
But what was it that first struck Murty to move in a direction so different from her qualifications as an engineer? With a chuckle she explains the reason behind her love for all things literary. “I have always enjoyed writing for children. Having said that, I have to think a lot more when I am writing for them as compared to when I write for adults. When I became a grandmother, though, I started enjoying writing for children even more – storytelling started coming to me quite naturally.”
Her last five books have been woven around mythology… “as a child I listened to several stories from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and others. They shaped me and my character. I really wanted these stories – episodes from my childhood, which were a little unusual, and therefore, unheard of – to come out as books. All the stories that I have recently written and compiled into books are unique. It all started with the idea that I could actually recite them to my daughter, and which would then be preserved.”
How does she adjust her other professional responsibilities, heading one of the largest welfare associations in the country, opening close to 50,000 libraries for children, and yet be a prolific author? “I enjoy putting my thoughts to paper. So it’s not work for me. The story depends on the circumstance. For example, when I write about my experiences with the Infosys Foundation, I have to tell people how difficult it is to successfully manage a foundation. I have to describe the numerous kind of people involved and narrate with anecdotes from real life. With children, it’s almost as if you have to educate them regarding the harsh realities of life and yet impart the knowledge in the form of a simple story.”
But surely, with so much she must have encountered the infamous writer’s block! “No, not really. I only begin my writing process when I have a well-defined outline in my mind. I was never someone who would take to writing with a half-baked idea. I formulate everything and then begin. But, whenever I finish a book, for some time after that, I don’t like to write. Because when I am writing I give it everything and feel tired once I finish.”