Infosys Narayana Murthy’s wife Sudha Murthy’s Experience
Posted May 23, 2008on:
THERE are two photographs that hang on my office wall.
Everyday when I enter my office I look at them before starting my day.
They are pictures of two old people.
One is of a gentleman in a blue suit and the other is a black and white
image of a man with dreamy eyes and a white beard.
People have often asked me if the people in the photographs are related
Some have even asked me, “Is this black and white photo that of a
Sufi saint or a religious Guru?”
I smile and reply “No, nor are they related to me. These people made
An impact on my life. I am grateful to them.”
“Who are they?”
“The man in the blue suit is Bharat Ratna JRD Tata and the black and
white photo is of Jamsetji Tata.”
“But why do you have them in your office?”” You can call it gratitude.”
Then, invariably, I have to tell the person the following story.
It was a long time ago. I was young and bright, bold and idealistic.
I was in the final year of my Master’s course in Computer Science at
The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore, then known as the Tata
Institute. Life was full of fun and joy. I did not know what helplessness
or injustice meant.
It was probably the April of 1974. Bangalore was getting warm and
gulmohars were blooming at the IISc campus. I was the only girl in my
postgraduate department and was staying at the ladies’ hostel.
Other girls were pursuing research in different departments of Science. I
was looking forward to going abroad to complete a doctorate in computer
science. I had been offered scholarships from Universities in the US. I
had not thought of taking up a job in India.
One day, while on the way to my hostel from our lecture-hall complex, I
saw an advertisement on the notice board.
It was a standard job-requirement notice from the famous automobile
company Telco (now Tata Motors). It stated that the company required
young, bright engineers, hardworkingand with an excellent academic background, etc.
At the bottom was a small line: “Lady candidates need not apply.”
I read it and was very upset. For the first time in my life I was up
against gender discrimination.
Though I was not keen on taking up the job, I saw it as a challenge. I
had done extremely well in academics, better than most of my male peers.
Little did I know then that in real life academic excellence is not
enough to be successful.
After reading the notice I went fuming to my room. I decided to inform
the topmost person in Telco’s management about the injustice the
company was perpetrating. I got a postcard and started to write, but
there was a problem: I did not know who headed Telco. I thought it must be
one of the Tatas.
I knew JRD Tata was the head of the Tata Group; I had seen his pictures in
newspapers (actually, Sumant Moolgaokar was the company’s chairman then).
I took the card, addressed it to JRD and started writing. To this day I
remember clearly what I wrote. “The great Tatas have always been
pioneers. They are the people who started the basic infrastructure
industries in India, such as iron and steel, chemicals, textiles and
locomotives.They have cared for higher education in India, such as
iron and steel, chemicals, textiles and locomotives. They have cared for
higher education in India since 1900 and they were responsible for the
establishment of the Indian Institute of Science. Fortunately, I study
there. But I am surprised how a company such as Telco is discriminating
on the basis of gender.”
I posted the letter and forgot about it. Less than 10 days later, I
received a telegram stating that I had to appear for an interview
at Telco’s Pune facility at the company’s expense. I was taken aback by
the telegram. My hostel mated told me I should use the opportunity to go
to Pune free of cost and buy them the famous Pune saris forcheap!
I collected Rs 30 each from everyone who wanted a sari. When I look back,
I feel like laughing at the reasons for my going, but back then they
seemed good enough to make the trip.
It was my first visit to Pune and I immediately fell in love with the
city. To this day it remains dear to me. I feel as much at home in Pune
as I do in Hubli, my hometown. The place changed my life in so many ways.
As directed, I went to Telco’s Pimpri office for the interview.
There were six people on the panel and I realised then that this was serious business.
“This is the girl who wrote to JRD,” I heard somebody whisper as soon as
I entered the room. By then I knew for sure that I would not get the
job.The realisation abolished all fear from my mind, so I was rather cool
while the interview was being conducted.
Even before the interview started, I reckoned the panel was biased, so
I told them, rather impolitely, “I hope this is only a technical
interview.” They were taken aback by my rudeness, and even today I am
ashamed about my attitude.
The panel asked me technical questions and I answered all of them. Then
an elderly gentleman with an affectionate voice told me, “Do you know why
we said lady candidates need not apply? The reason is that we have never
employed any ladies on the shop floor. This is not a co-ed college;this
is a factory. When it comes to academics, you are a first ranker throughout.
We appreciate that, but people like you should work in research lboratories.”
I was a young girl from small-town Hubli. My world had been a limited
place. I did not know the ways of large corporate houses
and their difficulties, so I answered, “But you must start somewhere,
otherwise no woman will ever be able to work in your factories.”
Finally, after a long interview, I was told I had been successful. So
this was what the future had in store for me. Never had I thought I would
take up a job in Pune. I met a shy young man from Karnataka there, we
became good friends and we got married.
It was only after joining Telco that I realised who JRD was: the
uncrowned king of Indian industry. Now I was scared, but I did not get to
meethim till I was transferred to Bombay. One day I had to show some
reports to Mr Moolgaokar, our chairman, who we all knew as SM. I was in
his office on the first floor of Bombay House (the Tata headquarters)
when, suddenly JRD walked in. That was the first time I saw “appro JRD”.
Appro means “our” in Gujarati. This was the affectionate term by which
people at BombayHouse called him.
I was feeling very nervous, remembering my postcard episode.
SM introduced me nicely, “Jeh (that’s what his close associates called
him), this young woman is an engineer and that too a postgraduate. She is
the first woman to work on the Telco shop floor.” JRD looked at me.
I was praying he would not ask me any questions about my interview (or
the postcard that preceded it). Thankfully, he didn’t. Instead, he
remarked. “It is nice that girls are getting into engineering in our
country. By the way, what is your name?”
“When I joined Telco I was Sudha Kulkarni, Sir,” I replied. “Now I am
Sudha Murthy.” He smiled and kindly smile and started a discussion
with SM. As for me, I almost ran out of the room.
After that I used to see JRD on and off. He was the Tata Group chairman
and I was merely an engineer. There was nothing that we had in common.
Iwas in awe of him.
One day I was waiting for Murthy, my husband, to pick me up after
office hours. To my surprise I saw JRD standing next to me. I did not
know how to react. Yet again I started worrying about that postcard.
Looking back,I realise JRD had forgotten about it. It must have been a
small incidentfor him, but not so for me.
“Young lady, why are you here?” he asked. “Office time is over.”
I said, “Sir, I’m waiting for my husband to come and pick me up.”
JRD said, “It is getting dark and there’s no one in the corridor. I’ll
wait with you till your husband comes.”
I was quite used to waiting for Murthy, but having JRD waiting
Alongside made me extremely uncomfortable.
I was nervous. Out of the corner of my eye I looked at him. He wore a
simple white pant and shirt. He was old, yet his face was glowing.
There wasn’t any air of superiority about him. I was thinking, “Look at
He is a chairman, a well-respected man in our country and he is waiting
for the sake of an ordinary employee.”
Then I saw Murthy and I rushed out. JRD called and said, “Young lady,
tell your husband never to make his wife wait again.”
In 1982 I had to resign from my job at Telco.
I was reluctant to go,but I really did not have a choice. I was coming
down the steps of Bombay House after wrapping up my final settlement when
I saw JRD coming up. He was absorbed in thought. I wanted to say goodbye to him, so I stopped. Hesaw me and paused.
Gently, he said, “So what are you doing, Mrs Kulkarni?” (That was the
way he always addressed me.)
“Sir, I am leaving Telco.”
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Pune, Sir. My husband is starting a company called Infosys and I’m
shifting to Pune.”
“Oh! And what will you do when you are successful.”
“Sir, I don’t know whether we will be successful.”
“Never start with diffidence,” he advised me. “Always start with
confidence. When you are successful you must give back to society.
Society gives us so much; we must reciprocate. I wish you all the best.”
Then JRD continued walking up the stairs. I stood there for what seemed
like a millennium. That was the last time I saw him alive.
Many years later I met Ratan Tata in the same Bombay House, occupying
the chair JRD once did.
I told him of my many sweet memories of working with Telco.
Later, he wrote to me, “It was nice hearing about Jeh from you.
The sad part is that he’s not alive to see you today.”
I consider JRD a great man because, despite being an extremely busy
person, he valued one postcard written by a young girl seeking justice.
He must have received thousands of letters everyday.
He could have thrown mine away, but he didn’t do that.
He respected the intentions of thatunknown girl, who had neither influence
nor money, and gave her an opportunity in
his company. He did not merely give her a job; he changed her life and
Close to 50 per cent of the students in today’s engineering collegesare
girls. And there are women on the shop floor in many industry segments.
I see these changes and I think of JRD. If at all time stops and asks
me what I want from life, I would say I wish JRD were alive today to see
how the company we started has grown. He would have enjoyed it wholeheartedly.