Monday, August 6, 2018

Wise and Otherwise - Sudha Murthy

Another one of Sudha Murthy's books and she has now probably become the author I have read the most. 'Wise and Otherwise - A Salute to Life' is a collection of 51 insights into people and how they react to life situations. Most stories are related to the work she does as Chairperson of the Infosys Foundation.

There are stories about honesty -how a poor scholar returns a small sum of scholarship money that he has not used and how another person lies to her about winning the gold medal which Sudha Murthy won that year, about an old man and his son who cheat the old age home by lying that the old man is a destitute when in fact he has enough money with him, about people with material dreams, an author trying to sell his books to the Foundation by lying that he knew Sudha Murthy when he evidently did not, about students who do not remember our history, how two of her friends who were so different at twenty turned out differently at forty - the beautiful and smart one withered away and the ordinary one blossomed, how a headmaster feels that the independence day celebrartion is a waste of time, how ministers hogged the limelight in a hospital wing inauguration and an old woman recognised Sudha Murthy and gave her flowers in gratitude for helping build the new building,  an educated  friend who could make no decisions and an uneducated lady who took equal decisions with her husband, a pessimistic woman, a woman who constantly bad mouths everything and everyone, how the next generation is both good and bad, a rich man's boy who wanted an idea IT job versus a poor fisherman's son who studies and sells crabs, a headmistress in rural Orissa who lives in the school building and runs the school in dilapidated rooms, a rich woman who does not give to charity and a poor man who donated 4 lakhs for charity, a woman diagnosed with a fatal disease who decides to enjoy her life because she never did and her phlanthropic husband - and how they chose to react to the same situation, the principal's wife who went into depression because of his rigid behavior and the three young men who had benefited form the Foundation but who responded in different ways when they met her - one gives her a gift and another does not give her a discount on the dental work.

The stories that I liked were the one about the head of a small tribe who insists on giving her something in return for what she gives them and concludes with 'there is a grace in receiving also'. Wisdom of the highest order. He was clear that he would not take anything without giving something in return. The nurse who stuck to her guns about the missing mop in the Operation Theatre. An old man from Kalahandi who says that this is God's earth and we cannot buy or sell it. The story about dowry deaths. About the leper colony where an old lady had no clothes to wear. Zubeida's cancer treatment and how her father and daughter return the unused money after she died. How a couple get married after reading her novel 'Mahashweta'. The family that travels to Kutch after the earthquake for the disaster benefits and find much happiness and a new life thanks to the earthquake,  The young mother in Ahmedabad who was happy at being treated as a human and gives back a return gift.

Simple yet profound stories that she witnessed or experienced first hand. My one grouse is that the theme forces the author to differentiate between wise and otherwise. She has to paint one white and one black. Most times we are otherwise, driven by our circumstance, ignorance and do not behave in a manner that is best perhaps. But the fact that we are all evolving, we all have our own motives for why we do certain things in our insecurities or because of our limitations cannot be forgotten. The good person may not be good to all people, nor will the bad person be bad to everyone.

I can understand her point of view when she mentions somewhere that when people invite her to an event it is with an ulterior motive and at some point will seek a favour from her. She must be getting dozens of such invitations, in fact, she says the Foundation gets 10000 letters annually. Here I must confess that even I was guilty of prompting one such invite. When launching 'This Way is Easier Dad' in Bangalore last year, my editor friend Keerthi, to whom I had given the responsibility of helping me find the right guest to launch the book, decided to approach Sudha Murthy, whom she knew. Sudha Murthy was busy then,  and we finally went with the wonderful Malavika Kapoor. But if I had read this book then, I would have told Keerthi not to take the trouble of bothering her simply because she is far too busy with much better work to do.

That said, of all the books I have read of hers, this one comes across as being a mite judgmental and harsh on human behavior. I feel it's because of the black and white theme of the book. I normally find her writing gentle, humble and compassionate. But notwithstanding that small element of discomfort for me, these are wonderful stories I also deeply admire the wonderful work the Foundation does. Very readable. as always.

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