A couple of weeks back I attended the first anniversary of a voluntary service organization in my company. They had invited a few people whom they had helped to talk at the function. I just can’t describe the impact it had on me. For the past one year several such groups have mushroomed in my organization and I had been following all their activities. But the three hours that I spent listening to their stories bought a huge paradigm shift in my perception of the work these groups were doing.
It reminded me of ‘Wise and otherWise’ which I read a few years back. Sudha Murthy is the wife of Narayan Murthy the founder of Infosys. She runs the Infosys foundation, which focuses on taking health care and primary education to the disadvantaged and underprivileged sections of the society. She is also an avid traveler and a writer. In this book she recounts some interesting experiences from her life. She is not an extremely talented writer, but her writing is just like her – Simple, intelligent and straight from the heart. This book was my first experience of the power of real life stories to move you deeply even if they don’t come clothed in beautiful words.
Her first story, is my favorite. It is about a boy called Hanumanthappa, a coolie’s son who secured 8th rank in his 10th standard. She decided to sponsor his education. The half yearly fees was Rs1,800 including food and accommodation. She gave him the first check and 6 months later she sent him his second check. Hanumanthappa wrote back to her and in the envelope she found some money. He said that his collage was on strike for two months so he did have to pay for his accommodation for those two months and hence he was returning the Rs300 which he had not used for those 2 months.
MrsMurthy says “I was amazed by his honesty. He knew fully well that I was not going to ask him an account for his monthly expenditure, yet he made it a point to return the money. Experience has taught me that honesty is not a mark of any particular class or related to education or wealth. It springs naturally from the heart”
She visited a tribal village that was still following a barter system. She wanted to educate them about money and its implication to their economy. The Tribal chief told her “This is god’s land. Nobody owns this land. No river is created by us. No mountain is made by us. The wind does not listen to us nor the rain seek our permission. These are gifts of god. How can we sell or buy land, I don’t understand. When nothing is yours how can you make such transactions”. Sudha says, “Here was a man who knew nothing of the currency movements, yet he was aware of a deeper, more eternal truth. He knew that nobody owned the land, the mountain and the wind”
On other occasion, she took some school uniforms and umbrellas for another tribal school. When she tried to give it to the person in charge of the school he offered her a bottle of special tribal drink in return. She felt delicate accepting a gift from such a poor man. You know what that man said,”Our ancestors have lived in this forest for generations and have taught us our ways. If you give us something, we accept but only when we can give something to you too.” Sudha Murthy says, “I was humbled. In my experience with giving, some people express gratitude some even complain. Here is Sahayadri hill was an old man, a tribal with no schooling, practicing a highly principled philosophy of life – give when you take; do not take without giving”. When she accepted the gift, the old man told her, “There is grace in accepting too”.
Not all stories are feel-good. There was this man who bought in his own father to the foundation claiming he was a destitute. Finally when that man died he willed his money to his son and not the charity which took care of him in his last days.
The book is beautiful. I read it again last week and it felt as good as the first time.