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Speech of Sudha Murthy

Speech of Sudha Murthy

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Published by: api-3840587 on Oct 18, 2008
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When God asked Raja Rathideva what he wanted, the king said, "Give me strong hands and a
compassionate heart."
"It's a mistake to invite me to speak," she lisps and smiles, her eyes sparkling with equal parts
intelligence and impishness. "I'm a teacher and I speak till the bell."
An hour-and-a-quarter later, she is still speaking and the audience at the Madras School of Social
Work isn't ready to leave.
It took the MSSW two years to get her to come. She was busy travelling to find out where the
Infosys Foundation money should go. Finally, Sudha Murthy (Infosys Foundation Trustee and
wife of Infosys Technologies Chairman N R Narayana Murthy) is here to answer the question,
"What is social work?" The occasion is the 14th Mary Clubwala Jadav Memorial lecture.

Her speech is a string of anecdotes, mostly personal, pasted together with quotes from the
scriptures. It is a Toulmin analysis of claims, reasons and evidence. It is a Rogerian argument that
seeks to find agreement between people who disagree. In the end it succeeds in its objective;
convince the audience.

"Doing social work is not easy," she warns waving hermehndi-patterned hand. And goes on to
break stereotypical notions of this work with the precision of a well-schooled computer architect.
She knows a social worker is traditionally pictured as someone wearing khadi,jhola and
dishevelled hair.

"I have been accused of using a computer and plane travel for my work. But these are tools that make me efficient. I have to make a judgment in five minutes. Of a human being, of a cause." In comparison business advisory decisions are easy to make. Which is why social workers need to be professional, practical and stay clear of emotional judgments.

She recalls a difficult decision-making situation when she had funds for just one more signature.
She had to choose between a young mother and a kid. Both needed nuclear medicine for cancer
treatment. She weighed all arguments and decided in favour of the mother. "I didn't want her
children orphaned," she explains, and in a stage whisper adds, "For the child, I wrote a personal

She stresses the need to be in the field -- facing malaria, cholera and doing with just one simple
meal a day. She talks of the trauma of seeing India's poverty. "Poverty takes away the right to
argue. It takes away options and opportunities. Nobody wishes to be born into a poor family."

She quotes Thatthareya Upanishad to entreat her listeners to set aside a portion of the income
for their educational institution, another for the poor. All this of course, after looking after one's
own family. "But draw a line at what you need. Take your partner's consent. See that you do not
make the receiver your dependent. Give as naturally as you eat, sleep or breathe. You don't have
to be an entrepreneur to give."

She doesn't deny money helps in social work. "It helps to build good infrastructure. But what truly helps is the passion for the work." No, no, compassion doesn't mean tears and talk, she is quick to add. It is not holding meetings and getting your name in the papers.

Orissa is a recurring theme in the lecture. She grins when asked, "Are Infosysians sensitised to
social work?" Retorts, "Murthy will not allow me to pull them out. But in Orissa, I requested them
to devote two hours per week, which later changed to one day a month. There would be no
promotion, no increment and no ESOPs for this. But everyone turned up to help build SNEHAM
at Bhubaneswar."

Has she ever goofed up? "Yes," she admits. "We award 700 scholarships a year and have helped
70,000 people. In the early years I got conned quite a few times." She tells of a father who used
her cheque to raise funds for the son's cancer treatment and let him die anyway.

Now she has a database with complete details and does a systematic follow-up. She is
philosophical about people who choose to forget the Foundation's crucial help. "Gratitude is the
highest form of culture. But some are not good at it," she shrugs.

The Foundation has made her a different person, she claims. People are her books. She narrates
a touching encounter in support. On a visit to a temple in a remote village in Tamil Nadu, she
noticed the priest and his wife were blind, in their eighties and obviously poor. She at once offered
to deposit an amount, the interest from which they could use. She said the capital could go to the
temple when it was no longer needed.

She was in for a lesson in charity. "I don't have your name, but you are foolish," was the
response. "I have served this Nanjundeeswara all my life. He has always provided me with two
meals a day. The village gives us clothes during festivals. We don't attend concerts. Why do we
need all this money?"

For medical expenses, she persisted. The man must have smiled when he said, "Someone might
hit me and take your gift away. I am happy within myself. I need nothing else."
"I hurt a sensitive soul," rues Sudha.

IITs and IIMs (Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management) don't teach values like contentment, she points out. They don't get the students to think with compassion, to learn to understand others. She once asked Bill Gates who could make the greatest difference in life. "A compassionate social worker," said the IT guru. "Never lose them."

There is no one way to do social work, she declares. A woman sends her 20 grand (Rs 20,000) a
month and wants the receipt sent to her mother's house. She was not sure her husband would

Teach your maid's daughter to read and write, she suggests, or bear her school expenses. Find what you can do on Sundays to improve your neighbourhood. Sometimes just good advice would do.

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