In the introduction to Here, There and Everywhere, which is a collection of 22 short stories woven from the event-filled life of the computer scientist, philanthropist and author Sudha Murty, she expresses her special bond with her brother and renowned astrophysicist, Shrinivas Kulkarni. Murty begins on a note of warmth and regard and admits that the book is a part of her, which she has gathered tastefully and presented to Shrinivas, who now lives in another country.
The book is her 200th title across genres and languages and features some of her best-loved stories, in addition to two fresh ones. One of these stories explores the true meaning of philanthropy. Murty, in her rather organic and conversational writing style, puts before the readers how the idea of giving back to the society is looked at by different people. While in conversation with old friends and some kith at a wedding, many views on philanthropy become the talking point. “A woman, to be able to think of philanthropy, must be financially strong and have fewer responsibilities at home….,” says a voice, while another offers, “It is all about repaying the unpaid debts of the earlier lifetime.”
“Someone else declares how there is no requirement of talent to engage in charity; it is only a way to pass time.” In her unassuming, yet self-assured way, Murty offers a rebuttal: “There is a well-known urologist in Bangalore named Dr Shridhar. He lived and worked abroad before making a decision to come back to the country. He could have easily worked for a private hospital in a foreign land and earned much more money. Instead, this doctor has been staying in a rented home for the last 31 years and daily, between 4 pm and 6 pm, he sees each patient for free.” This and some more instances narrates Murty to the group of listeners, reiterating how philanthropy is all about compassion, the attitude and readiness to give, and most importantly, has very little to do with how much moolah one owns.
Murty’s writing, as she admits, ‘is not for the English elite’, as she can barely spin words like some other best-selling authors. Nonetheless, her simplicity, not only in her thoughts and ways but also with the use of words and expression of ideas are her ultimate winning strokes. Here, There and Everywhere is a wonderful repository of multiple short stories, each of which is barely a five-ten minute read. But simple is not simplistic, and high-flown writing is not always profound. Murty’s books are the greatest testimonies to the philosophy of beauty and meaning in the simplest of life experiences.
When, in a first, Murty approached the devadasis of Karnataka to offer help and talk to them about AIDS awareness, they turned hostile and threw chappals and tomatoes at her. In the story titled Three Thousand Stitches, she shares her journey of working with the devadasis — how it started, the resistance she had to battle, the stumbling blocks and the final victory. The story later tells us how her efforts have been rewarded and how 3,000 devadasis, who have been rehabilitated by the Infosys Foundation designed and stitched a bedspread for Murty (or that is, as they lovingly call her).
Reading, just like relishing an Alphonso mango, needs to be a palatable and gratifying experience. If it requires effort, and compulsion, the joy is lost. In the story The Red Rice Granary, she narrates, how at some affluent corporate, she once delivered a seemingly heart-warming speech about donating to the victims of natural calamities. Following that, in a week’s time, she received hundreds of bags at her office, donated with a view to be sent to the rightful beneficiaries. But she was appalled on opening the donated non-utilities, full of piles of junk, such as cheap, transparent sarees, unwashed clothes, unusable bed sheets, broken cassettes, and torn undergarments, and so on.
Taking this disheartening instance as a premise, she takes the readers down her memory lane, back to her childhood, where she remembers the red rice granary at the back of her home. “There were two granaries, one in the front, which stored better-quality rice, which was white. The rice of inferior quality, which was a little thick and red, was stored in the granary, at the back…when people used to come to our house asking for alms, my grandfather used to give them the rice from the front granary, but we always ate the red rice from the back granary,” shares Murty, leaving us with an eye-opening lesson on the etiquette of always giving the best to others, even if it calls for compromises for us. That is the most real and heartfelt form of donating.
Here, There and Everywhere is like having good-quality, comfort food in the favourite dining spot of yours. The stories are relatable, easy-on-the-vocab, yet powerful in the impact. Admittedly, if there were no face and name to these narrations, there was a chance these wouldn’t be acknowledged as much, only for the lack of an identity of the storyteller. But when Murty tells the tales, there is a big amount of validation and worthiness that the messages come with; it definitely works for her, and more so, for the readers.
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