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Pay attention to kids: Renowned author
Published on: Sunday, May 28, 2023
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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Sudha Murthy autographing a book for an avid reader of her books.
CAPTURE the simplicity of children, before it is lost to adulthood. Who said that? None other than renowned best-selling Indian author cum billionaire, Sudha Murthy, 72, wife of global software tycoon – Narayana Murthy, with whom she co-founded tech giant Infosys. 

It was by pure luck that I bumped into this acclaimed Indian writer during the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival at the huge Sharjah Expo Centre just few kilometres from Dubai. 

I happened to be standing near a small corner book stall among dozens when suddenly a sari-clad lady swooped in with a companion and started autographing book after book – nothing unusual ordinarily but a tall Indian man, apparently the stall owner, walked up and whispered: “Do you know who she is?” 

I said, “I don’t know”. 

Then he said: “Co-owner of tech giant Infosys and mother of UK Prime Minister’s wife (Akshata)”!  

In a rapid eavesdropping to add punch, the guy added: “She’s a billionaire but never flies first class, only economy class!” 

Oh, wow! I exclaimed – a typical reaction when one feels stunned by a sudden discovery of something big.

Meeting acclaimed billionaire author by chance 

That right in front of my eyes was a person of global stature no journalist could afford to miss, though at that moment I knew next to nothing about her. 

She’s a brilliant electrical, electronic engineer and computer scientist, author of more than 40 books who is universally respected for her simple lifestyle despite being enormously rich!



Sudha



So I followed Sudha like a leech to where she went – a hidden hall where she was to speak.  

Entering, it was already a hall packed with hundreds of roaring children who practically mobbed her with utter adulation – a clear testimony to the profound impacts of her books on masses of children, even as far as the Middle East, needless to say, India. 

Checking Google, one reader named Gupta remarks in Quora: “All her books are awesome!”

Another Indian student reported he could not put down her book the moment he started reading in class for three hours straight and couldn’t remember anything teachers said.

So, here she was at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival. 

The petite emcee introduced her as a “very well-known Indian author who is not affected by big wealth but still believe in the simplicity of compassion, loving, sharing, being sensitive”.

Finding joy in the simplicity of children

Shudha spoke:  

The first thing she said was she always finds joy in the simplicity of children. 

“When I look at you I feel very enthusiastic because children are positive, they have abundance of energy. 

“They are simple in nature, they are unbiased, and I write for them. So my energy comes from particularly children. I enjoy their company than adults because they are so nice, they are direct, so you need to be with them, but then more and more, they become older and older, then they realise, oh, I should control, I should not tell the truth, I should be diplomatic, I should tell a white lie, then only it’s to my advantage.”    

Asked what she thought of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival after the hour-long session, Sudha said: “It’s really great, I wished I was in last few days, It’s really good, it’s really good,” she said on May 4 after the official opening on May 3.

Establish reading habit age 6-14 

In comments that fit the core purpose of the Sharjah Chidren’s Reading Festival, Sudha said: 

“Instead of computer games, children should read books, because between six and 14, if the children pick up the habit of reading, it will remain with them in life. 

“Later, how they read is up to them. If past 14 and they don’t read, then it is difficult to pick up reading later,” she pointed out. 

In 72-year-old Sudha’s case, she said books had been her “constant companion” early in life because the “only gift” from her parents and grandparents, were books, till the day she graduated.

Tips to aspiring authors

But what is her advice to aspiring writers, the emcee asked. 

Her answer was both affirmative, peppered with a dose of surprise. 

“Number 1, you should read a lot. Number two, whatever you feel like writing you write but don’t publish! I always tell people, you write. 

“Nowadays, parents feel children should be publishing authors, don’t do that, you allow them to bloom, you help them to bloom.”

What does she mean by “you write but don’t publish”? 

In an interview with Prantha Menon, Sudha explains what she meant:    

“Writing is an expression of emotions. When I come across something interesting, I save it in my memory. I have a computer science background, so when I like it, I store it.”



Sudha Murthy meets Khoula Al Mujaini, General Co-ordinator of Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, 2023.

She begins to write only when she is convinced that her story is ready in her mind, exploring every saved thought that is wait till her thoughts had “matured”, likening it to a “beautiful flower” which starts with a bud and blooms when it is ready. 

For example, she says, a novel may take years for her because she thinks about her characters every morning but when she sits down to write, it takes just about 20 days!

But technical books are “easy meat”for Sudha because they don’t involve a lot of emotions, she says.

Life easy if people were simple 

If possession is a symbol of economic power, Sudha says she lives like a minimalist.

“I want to possess as little as possible.”

Why? 

Life is easy if people are simple. 

The greater the expectations, the greater the disappointments, she explains.

“My grandfather was a high school teacher, my mother was a school teacher, my father was a college professor and a doctor, so we always grew up with books, not with money. 

“We didn’t have extraordinary money but books were more important to us than anything else, it was a simple childhood with no complications, every small thing was a joy, a good rain was a joy, any guest coming to the house was a joy, any festival was a joy, everything was a joy because our expectations were low in life.” 

Always happy with 2-bedroom house

Still on the joy of a simple lifestyle, she insists she and husband were “always happy” with their two-bedroom house built in the early 1980s when they founded Infosys, except for an additional room to house increasing visitors.

A simple lifestyle is carried forward to writing. 

She writes in “simple, concise language” in both her native tongue Kannada and English with profound messages. 

Not surprisingly some of her “acclaimed works” won her top national awards we need not mention here. 

Writing in English at 50 

In fact, she started writing only in native tongue Kannada in 1979 when she was 29, but did not write in English until she turned 50! 

The reason was she attended Kannada medium school all the way up to Class 10, until she enrolled into an engineering college where English was the medium of instruction, which gave her a linguistic challenge.

Though she understood what was taught but writing in English? 

No, she was unable, it was one of avoidance, she complained to her mother!

“Ride the wave rather than avoid it,” she remembered her mother told her.

Read English books and newspapers.

Sudha did just that and went on to become a top student in class all the way, be it in electrical, electronic engineering, later in Computer science. 

Ad: ‘Lady candidate need not apply’ 

Attractive scholarship offers poured in from the US but Sudha said she wanted to work.

That was when she saw a line in the ad put out by Tata Motors “Lady candidate need not apply” though they clearly looking for bright engineers with excellent academic results, which she had. 

That blatant rejection of women incensed her so much that she shot a protest letter to Tata Chairman.

It worked. That was the time when Sudha met her husband N.R. M Narayan Murthy and got married in 1978. 

To cut the story short, Sudha actually became the first investor by chipping in Rs10,000 when her husband sounded his wish to start software company Infosys which has now become a global tech giant.

She would say the husband had the idea but not the money!

Here again, behind the success of every man there is a woman. 

The billions and a foundation 

There were initial problems, but in time, Infosys became a jackpot. 

So what did the Murthies do with the billions? 

If everything is a joy, that would include giving money away.

The Infosys Foundation came into being in 1996 and Sudha became Chairman, spending millions on causes they were “passionate about” – giving computer and library facilities to Government schools, amenities in rural schools, building thousands of houses in flood affected area, generally helping underprivileged across India.  

The experience changed her life she reflected.

Living in villages, working with sex workers, leprosy patients, HIV patients, which moved her with a deep belief that every child deserves three meals a day, clothes, studies up to Class 10 like herself and be trained on surviving skill jobs. 

The ‘lonely’ creative journey 

However, renowned for all the books that she has written, Sudha conceded that her husband was “never a part of her creative journey”. 

It’s a “lonely process” that she nevertheless “enjoys – me and my pen, my friend”. 

She said had she not married Narayan Murthy, “I would not have been rich, but I would still have been a writer,” she told Prantha Menon in an interview. 



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