Lessons from India’s ‘shirtless people’

1-book-review-june14( Philanthropist Sudha Murthy’s Wise and Otherwise: A Salute to Life and The Day I Stopped Drinking Milk is about meeting people, sharing their experiences and the lessons one draws from them, writes Supriya Batra)

Sudha Murthy’s Wise and Otherwise: A Salute to Life and The Day I Stopped Drinking Milk are collections of short stories based on her real life experiences. Murthy, chairperson of Infosys Foundation and known more as the wife of N.R. Narayana Murthy, co-founder of the leading Indian IT company, is not just an academician and a prolific writer but also a humanitarian who is involved with many charities. As the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation and otherwise, she has come across different kinds of people. Each story covers a facet of human nature and has something to tell.

Let’s start with the book Wise and Otherwise: A Salute to Life first. This particular book was first published in the year 2002 and has sold over 30,000 copies in English and has been translated into all major Indian languages. It has a total of 51 short stories and is more like an anecdote, a personal diary or a blog where she narrates her experiences. She states in the introductory note to the book that it is dedicated to the ‘shirtless people of India’ who have taught her so much about the country.2-book-review-june14

In some stories the author has tried to present different experiences of her life, in some she has depicted the intricacies of human nature and some others are just a statement on the society today. The stories are predominantly set in the IT background and derives directly from the author’s experiences with running charities and social projects through Infosys Foundation. The story that is bound to touch the readers’ hearts is the one in which a tribal chief in the Sahyadri hills explains to the author that there is humility in giving to others. And no matter howsoever poor one maybe, there is always something that one can give to others. From incredible examples of generosity to the cruelest acts, she records everything with wry humour and a directness that touches the heart.

Most of the stories are three to four pages long and are written in simple English which makes them an easyread for people of all ages and backgrounds. It is a refreshing book and recommended for those who prefer a quick read which does not leave any lasting impression on the readers’ minds. Though one does not remember most of the stories by the end of the day but the lessons learnt do evoke emotions.
3-book-review-june14The other title, The Day I stopped Drinking Milk, is yet another bestseller written by Murthy in 2012. This book unfolds extraordinary stories about ordinary people’s lives. Over the years, Sudha Murthy has written about some fascinating people whose lives make for interesting stories and have astonishing lessons to reveal. Take Vishnu, who achieves every material success but never knows happiness; or Venkat, who talks so much that he has no time to listen. In another story from the book, a young girl goes on a train journey that changes her life forever; an impoverished village woman provides bathing water to hundreds of people in a drought-stricken area; a do-gooder ghost decides to teach a disconsolate young man Sanskrit; and in the title story, a woman in a flooded village in Odisha teaches the author a lesson in life that she will never forget. The story has a long lasting effect on the reader’s mind and is quite emotive.

All her stories are inspirational and the simplicity in them is endearing. Her descriptions of the southern Karnataka towns are a delight to read. Some of the stories are eye openers and the book is successful in unfolding the myriad shades of human nature in a different yet effective manner.