The world knows Narayana Murthy as the co-founder of Infosys — but as you read extracts of his letter to his daughter, from Sudha Menon’s new book you’ll see a different side… a caring father, an indulgent grandfather, and someone who weighs in on the importance of mothers. The courtesy of this goes to Extracted from Letters from Legacy, by Sudha Menon, with permission from Penguin Random House India.
A regular April evening in Mumbai, in 1980, suddenly became special for me—I received the much-awaited news of your birth.
In those days we could not afford a telephone at home, and my then colleague, Arvind Kher, came all the way from our office in Nariman Point to our house in Bandra to tell me that your mother had delivered you, back in Hubli, her hometown.
‘So, how does it feel to be a father?’ asked Arvind. I replied that, for the first time in my life, I felt the compelling need to become a better person.
For now there was someone in whose eyes I could do no wrong. Someone, for whom I’d always be a hero. Someone, whose life would be shaped by my actions. I told him I felt a sense of awesome responsibility. I suppose, Arvind could see that becoming a father had completely overwhelmed me.
Akshata, becoming a father transformed me in ways that I could never have thought possible. I could never go back to being the person I used to be before. Your arrival in my life brought unimaginable joy and a larger responsibility. I was no more just a husband, a son, or a promising employee of a fast-growing company. I was a father, who had to measure up to the expectations his daughter would have of him at every stage of her life.
Your birth raised the benchmark of my life, in every aspect.
My interactions at the workplace became more thoughtful and measured; the quality of my transactions with the outside world more considerate, dignified, and mature.
I felt a need to deal with every human being more sensitively and courteously. After all, some day you would grow up and understand the world around you, and I didn’t want you ever to think that I had done anything even remotely wrong.
My mind often goes back to the initial days after your birth. Your mother and I were young then and struggling to find our feet in our careers. Two months after your birth in Hubli, we brought you to Mumbai, but discovered, quickly enough, that it was a difficult task to nurture a child and manage careers side by side. So, we decided that you would spend the initial years of your life with your grandparents in Hubli. Naturally, it was a hard decision to make, one which took me quite a bit of time to come to terms with.
Every weekend, I would take the plane to Belgaum and then hire a car to Hubli. It was very expensive, but I couldn’t do without seeing you.
What never ceased to amaze me was how you created your own little happy world at Hubli, surrounded by your grandparents and a set of adoring aunts and relatives, oblivious of our absence from your life.
I still remember the joy I felt when I walked through the door of your grandparents’ house on weekends to pick you up and hold you close. As soon as you saw me, you would switch your allegiance, and we would become one inseparable unit.
Neither your grandparents nor tachi (her aunt Sunanda) were allowed into our inner circle as long as I was in there! Everyone used to be amazed by this and we would all have a good laugh. Of course, I would secretly swell with pride at your loyalty. Most of all, I felt so grateful to you for your belief in me that continues even today.
I am often asked about the qualities that I have imparted to my children. I tell them that it is your mother who shouldered this great responsibility and I am ever so grateful to her for bringing you up to be the fine individuals you are.
She communicated values more by action than by talking about them. She taught Rohan and you the importance of simplicity and austerity. There was this one instance, in Bangalore, when you were selected for a school drama for which you were required to wear a special dress. It was in the mid-eighties, Infosys had just begun its operations, and we did not have any money to spend on non-basic goods.
Your mother explained to you that we would not be able to buy the dress and that you would have to drop out of the performance. Much later, you told me that you had not been able to understand or appreciate that incident. We realize it must have been a bit drastic for a child to forgo an important event in school, but, we know you learnt something important from that—the importance of austerity.
Life has changed for us since then and there is enough money. But, you know, our lifestyle continues to be simple. I remember discussing with your mother the issue of sending you kids to school by car once we were a little comfortable with money, but your mother insisted that Rohan and you go to school with your classmates in the regular autorickshaw.
You made great friends with the ‘rickshaw uncle’ and had fun with the other kids in the auto. The simplest things in life are often the happiest and they are for free.
You would often ask me why there was no television at our home when the rest of your friends discussed stuff they watched on TV. Your mother decided early on that there would be no TV in our home so that there would be time for things like studying, reading, discussions, and meeting
friends. She insisted that it was important to create an environment conducive to learning at home. Therefore, every night we dedicated the time between 8 pm and 10 pm to pursuits that brought the family together in a productive environment. While Rohan and you did your schoolwork, your mother and I read books on History, Literature, Physics, Mathematics, and Engineering, or did any office work.
It is quite a well-known fact that when a daughter gets married, a father has mixed feelings about it. He hates the fact that there is somebody else in his daughter’s life with whom she shares her affections—a smart, confident, younger man who gets the attention that was earlier his alone. I, too, was a little sad and jealous when you told us you had found your life partner. But when I met Rishi and found him to be all that you had described him to be—brilliant, handsome, and, most importantly, honest—I understood why you let your heart be stolen. It was then that I reconciled to sharing your affections with him.
A few months ago, you made me a proud grandparent. If holding you in my arms for the first time gave me indescribable joy, seeing Krishnaa, your lovely daughter, for the first time at your home in Santa Monica, was a different experience altogether. I wondered, whether from now on, I would have to behave like a wise, grand old man! But, then I realized the bonus to growing older and becoming a grandparent. I would have the joy of pampering a child silly!
Besides, you know what they say about grandparents and grandchildren having a common enemy—the parent! I am convinced Krishnaa and I will eventually exchange notes and crib about you and be completely on the same page when it comes to criticizing you!
Jokes apart, Akshata, having Krishnaa will bring home to you the magnitude of the job at hand. In some ways, you already know it. Remember that day when you wrote to me saying how, for the first time in your life, you knew that I was not completely crazy for calling you up almost every day when you were studying abroad, checking on your well-being, checking up on whether you were eating well and resting, and making sure you were comfortable in every possible way? I was amused when you told me you were doing the same with your infant daughter, checking on
her every few minutes, worrying if she was fed well, and sleeping enough, even though you know that she sleeps most of the day and night! That is what being a parent means, my dear.
As you begin the next phase of your life Akshata, I would like you to look back at the time you and Rohan were growing up. Your mother, when she realized that her job as an engineer with a corporation kept her away from you both for long hours, quit the job and decided to become
a college professor instead. She wanted to be at home when you both returned from school.
Do you remember coming home and regaling your mother with stories about your day at school, having a hot snack, and later in the evening going over your homework with
her? I know career aspirations receive much attention in this competitive world. However, what was important in your mother’s time will remain the same even today, despite the much-changed world in which you live.
Having a child is an eternal responsibility, Akshata, and having to simultaneously deliver a hundred percent at work is like walking a tightrope. You are lucky to be in a position where you can take a break from your career for a short period and focus on your baby. Hundreds and thousands of women around this country do not have this option. At Infosys, I have talked to young mothers who leave their little children at home and have to perform consistently well at the workplace. I am reminded of how you are balancing your act and that makes me understanding and considerate to
them. The world admires a woman who brings a sense of balance to all the three responsibilities—being a loving wife, a caring mother and a competent career woman. I have no doubt at all that you will strike a healthy balance in these responsibilities like you have in everything else.
Tell Krishnaa lots of stories and instill good values in her through them. Tell her, like I told you, stories of the accomplishments, courage, compassion, sacrifice and adventure, of your aunts, uncles and grandparents. Through them she will know her ancestors intimately and be inspired by their lives. It is also how she will develop love and respect for your elders and make a bond with the past and the present.
There is a joke in our family that the only person I am scared of, who can rein me in, is my daughter. Throughout my career—at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, while working in Paris at Patni Computer Systems and finally at Infosys, I really did not have a boss.
In the first three places, since I worked hard to deliver whatever I agreed on time, within budget, and with the requisite quality, my bosses left me alone. Since I founded Infosys, I had no boss! So, the only boss I have known is you! Who else can order me around about my eating habits, my sleep patterns, my incessant traveling, and my refusal to go for regular medical check-ups? Rohan is my buddy, but you are the one who instills discipline in my life.
Take care, my child!