New Delhi: Award-winning author and noted philanthropist Sudha Murty enthralled a jam-packed audience with her insights on writing for children, engaging in a conversation with fellow writer Shashi Tharoor and answering searching questions, many of them from tweens, at the Penguin Annual Lecture here on Wednesday evening.
“I write when I feel like doing it. It’s not that i write three or four hours every day. When I need to finish it, I don’t stop. Also, I don’t travel when I am writing. Normally I travel 15-20 days a month (on the work of the Infosys Foundation),” Murty said during the lecture.
So, are her 34 books in Kannada and English written in one go?
“Normally (that’s the case but in the case of books) like women in mythology, to think about that it took some six to eight months but it took 15 days to complete. I do not feel like talking to people at that time. I want to be with myself,” Murty said.
That book came about after a request from her daughter, who has two young daughters, to write a book to connect Indian children to Indian mythology. This meant that Murty, who had once read to her grandmother to connect her with the present, was now writing for her grandchildren.
“I may get an idea but i will not write until I get the entire story is ready in my mind. If it is a novel, it has to be in my mind…the complete story in my mind; till all the characters are in my mind, then only will I start writing that’s why it takes me three years to write novel. I get an idea but i keep the idea in my mind for some time….then i start writing one after the other.
“In my case, when I start writing, I get a frame in front of me… it’s like a clean frame with all the description of what I (want to) write. I just get the frame and i write. So, for me, writing my frame is my style of writing…so i can close my eyes and can describe any scene…that frame remains in my mind.
“I once wanted to try…without planning…let me write…I started and it did not work out. First three days, I wrote and it did not work out. So these days, I, would say my CPU” is in the mind, Murty explained.
Speaking about the work of the Foundation, which has a budget of Rs 400 crore and an effective staff-strength of just eight, Murty noted that “money alone does not bring satisfaction. In real life, we do not need that kind of money to bring satisfaction. Satisfaction comes from the heart. If satisfaction comes from money, all rich people should be satisfied. It’s not true. If money doesn’t have any relationship with happiness, then all poor people should be very happy. That’s also not true. What is required is a balance…how much money you require and this was taught to me by a blind man,” Murthy said.
That happened during a journey in Tamil Nadu when her car caught stuck in heavy rain because of a puncture. Her driver suggested she take shelter in a nearby temple while he got the tyre changed.
There was an old couple in the temple, and the priest, who was blind, performed the aarti. She offered a Rs 100 note which the priest refused, saying the offering was much too high. She then asked him for his bank account number so she could send him Rs 20,000. The priest flatly refused, saying that he did not have a bank account, the residents of the village would stop supporting him, besides which, the money could well be siphoned off as he was illiterate.
“You have to draw your line somewhere…enough is enough in life. And at that time I realised what is enough for me,” Murty explained.
Then came a flurry of questions, one being on why rich Indians, with some honourable exceptions, were reluctant to give and very few were part of the club.
“Look at Indian history. Where did we have the money? We were always ruled….we have enough money now…my company has donated more money than anyone else…the next generation is much more of the giving kind…because their basic needs are met,” Murty countered.
“The economic scenario has changed, so there’s a lot more money coming in. So it will take time. These things take time. The mindset has to change. But I have found the next generation is a lot more large-hearted. I am sure that in the next 50 years, a lot more people in our country will do a lot more than has been done in the last 20 years.”
There was also the question of where the money was going, Murty said, adding there was never a dearth of funds whenever her Foundation took up a project.
That led Tharoor to comment that even waiters in Infosys companies “are millionaires because you’ve (Narayan Murty) have given them shares. That’s also philanthropy. It’s spreading the word which is remarkable of the capitalist leaders of our time in our country”.
“The one’s who have very little always gave….the shame is that those who had very much never gave…the attitude (of building temples and the like) is changing,” he added for good measure.
Then came the questions from children.
Does your job bring happiness?
“Do I look happy or sad? My job gives me immense happiness and immense satisfaction. I am very happy in my job.”
What is your advice for young readers like us?
“Please read, please read, please read and if possible write a diary every day. By writing, your handwriting will improve because later when you start using a computer, you will never write. A book is a great companion in life. Please continue to read.”
How should I start writing?
“First start reading for many years, then you will come to know how to write.”
How do you get information for your mythological books?
“I’ve studied mythological books earlier in my age but later, I read different mythology books in different languages – Ramayana in Bengal is different from the Ramayana in the south. So i have done a lot of reading…and I go to a teacher who confirms all these things so it takes time.”
And, there was a kicker from a Delhi University lecturer: How do you get it right?
“Balance at home…you should get support at home. Look after your children for 14 years, after that, they are independent. If you want your children to read, you should read. If you want your children not to see TV then you also should not see TV. You can’t say I use my WhatsApp and the child should read. You are the role model. When you go home, then you should spend whatever time you have with your children and sacrifice many of your comforts,” Murty summed up.