"People say that only organisations can afford to be charitable, which is much needed during the pandemic, and individuals can't give back in the same capacity. But that's not true. Individuals can also help in their little ways, like giving your maid a salary even though she can't come to work because of the pandemic." said Sudha Murty, chairperson of the Infosys Foundation in a recent TedxGateway Webinar.
Murty, spoke about how compassion is the need of the hour in order to deal with the pandemic. She also stressed on the importance of following governmental guidelines to keep people safe from the COVID19 pandemic.
She elaborates, "I lost three of my cousins because they ignored COVID symptoms and guidelines set by the government. One of my cousins died because he ignored the initial symptoms like cough and fever."
The full video is available here and here are edited excerpts of the interview with Sudha Murty, chairperson of the Infosys Foundation:
What are the few aspects of the pandemic that you want to highlight
Number one is mental illness. It has really increased and people are struggling with lockdown, struggling with no job, economic loss plus sitting at home-lot of friction within the family. Normally, I get a lot of calls saying that women are getting harassed at home, children are not listening; there is no school or colleges, they are addicted to computers or games. So these problems are a lot more at home than in normal life.
We try and connect people to psychiatrists and distributed psychology oriented subjects information to people. In rural areas, people do not know that they have a psychiatric problem, we try and help them. And to connect them we have to give computers, as this is not possible without computers. So we have distributed a lot of computers in rural areas and many more things we have done.
The second thing is that I've noticed that there is no business for a large part of people--like artists, priests, vegetable vendors, flower vendors, auto-rickshaw drivers. They are suffering because there is no business or no performance. So people who used to perform daily routine and get some money, daily wage workers are suffering because of that.
That is an economic loss and that is resulting in a lot more domestic violence than expected. Like, in Infosys Foundation, we felt that these are the problems, probably particularly during the lockdown time, we decided to give the dry ration. We distributed so much dry ration, more than a hundred thousand kits we did that so that people who are stranded can use this, and at least spend a month's time with that and by that time we can see.
People say that organisations can afford to do more, but not individuals. No. Individually also you can do a lot more. You can give a salary to your maidservant, even though she doesn't come to work.
I know a good story about COVID in Gujarat. There were people who are suffering from COVID and were in isolation, and they needed food since they were in isolation. The housing society they lived in decided that make 5 chapatis per day per family. There are 20 families so there are 100 chapatis. There was another set of 10 families, they make dal and there are two volunteers and they take it and distribute it to where people are in isolation.
The third one I saw the attitude of the people. When the government says that there are certain guidelines that people should follow to tackle the pandemic, people do not follow. They say it does not matter. Anyway we are young. You may be young but you may be the carrier of the disease. So, I want to touch upon all these issues today, and also tell whatever we can do the best in the given situation.
Even in hospitals, people should understand COVID doctors or COVID workers, they have limitations. I have people calling me up and telling me that only one doctor is coming twice a day. Nurses are coming only thrice a day. We should also understand that though there is a large number of people who are admitted to hospitals, there is less staff because they are also human beings. They normally work one week up and one week are in isolation, they're also dealing with a lot. Do not expect too many things, individual attention in the hospital unless you are critical. Please understand COVID workers are also tired and they also require a break. Kindly cooperate with them.
This is also the time to show kindness to others. If you do not show kindness what is the use of this human life.
The pandemic has impacted everyone, especially youngsters. People always thought, I will go to the office, I will earn this kind of money, I will buy a house, I will buy a car, and go abroad for holidays and all these plans, and life is not 2+2 is 4, 4+4 is 8--that is really not true.
There's a saying that when consumption increases, then nature suffers, and when Nature suffers then a pandemic happens. It happened 100 years back, it has happened now. Try to consume less. Try to think, in life, it is good to work hard, good to keep plans but please remember that there is an uncertainty which is unexpected. The pandemic has surprised us to great extent, so you should keep in mind that you may plan your life but it might not work out like that.
The third thing is, over the past seven months I speak from my personal experience. I lost three of my cousins because they ignored COVID symptoms and guidelines set by the government. One of my cousins died because when he got COVID, he said 'no, we should not think immediately that its COVID, it may be a general cough. He had little fever.
So I said, 'Even Though you have a little fever, why can't you go (to the doctor)?' He says, 'well, this is the season where you get fever. So what I will wait for a couple of days. So my cousin waited for a couple of days, he had little cough, it became more, then he made home medicine. Then he said okay, I will try ayurveda or I will take homoeopathy. But I said you can do all those but get admitted first, and he delayed it. And he died. It could have been avoided if only he would have gone early.
A second cousin of mine, she died because she went to a wedding. She said, 'no, how can I miss the wedding?' I said it doesn't matter if the boy and the girl are there, you can afford to neglect it because this is not the time, but she insisted that she attend the wedding. And again in the wedding, she didn't wear the mask because it doesn't match the saree.
You know, these are simple things, wearing a mask, washing your hands many times and keeping social distance. None of them she did because she said I'm young, it won't affect me. And in a wedding, how can you do these things? And she didn't have much symptoms. She said, 'Oh, I don't have much symptoms. So my load is less, I'll be alright.' And by the time,, after three or four days, the symptoms were very severe and even though she went to the hospital she couldn't make it. Please, I want to tell everyone, please do not neglect. Please follow the simple principle of keeping distance, wearing a mask, and hand sanitising.
Is there any way we that the COVID19 pandemic messaging can be communicated across better? While people have done what they did, maybe it is a failure in communication as well. Somehow not conveying the gravity of this disease and what it can do.
No, there have been a lot of TV messaging, many announcements. I have been stressing on so many points like wearing a mask, hand sanitising. But the thing is people don't take it seriously. Because people think that if they are young they can manage it. But even if people are coughing, or have symptoms like loss of taste, they don't take it seriously, unless it happens in the vicinity.
People in rural areas think that it won't happen to them and they take it lightly. People also think since they have seen some people get cured, it won't happen to them. They do not understand that after the 4th or the 5th day you will come to know whether you are on this side of the line or that side of the line.
You talked about mental illness, you talked about domestic violence. I think most of us accept now and understand that the biggest brunt of COVID19 has been faced by women
That's the situation. Like, a husband doesn't have a job. Now, she has a job, let us assume, okay, there are children at home. By getting upset, I always tell by getting upset or by just saying that, oh, there is a problem, you can't solve the problem. The first thing is if the husband doesn't have a job, I want to tell men this also, it not always women who have to take that. Husband and wife have to sit down. Look, I lost a job, you have a job.' Leaving all the ego aside, husband should say, 'I will look after children, you go for a job.' Or the husband has a job and the wife has lost a job. It requires a lot of thinking. But it is like if I get upset, I will beat the woman, if I get upset, children are beaten up.
So what I want to tell is, first you have to sit down and discuss openly. Look, this is my income, this is the time, this too shall pass. This is not the end, this is what we can do in a given four or five months, but this too shall pass, we'll do our level best. Let us reduce our expenses. So you have to maturely think and discuss. And you should be the role model. Look, I will reduce expenses, I will not do the following things, there will not be sweet everyday to eat, there will not be the following expenses.
As a woman how have you handled insults and humiliation throughout your life. And what would you advise to young ladies to speak up and stand against the wrong?
When I was 17 and a half, I joined an engineering college and people used to laugh at me. In 1968 when I joined engineering college, people would laugh at me, and point fingers at me and say that look at that girl. Because can you imagine, a girl going to the engineering college which is known as a man's domain. And I come from a small town where if a woman does graduation, it is great.
And I come from a small community in North Karnataka that is extremely traditional and you cannot think beyond your boundaries. They thought that there is something wrong with this girl. And more than that they humiliated my father. This girl is anyway mad, the father too has no commonsense. And it was quite painful.
But I said, look what am I doing? Let me ask this question to myself. Am I stealing something? Am I doing something morally wrong? No. Legally and ethically I wanted to learn engineering because I love applied science. Let 10,000 people point fingers at me. But if I am doing something wrong, then only I should be ashamed. I have not done anything wrong, I will go, I will face it. Let anybody say anything.
You're your own best friend in life. But you are also your own worse enemy. You can go on criticising yourself. So I said, look I will do as long as it is legally, ethically correct. Let anybody talk anything. I will do it. If something is wrong I will not do it.
I was the first woman to have a bob cut hairstyle in my Hubli town. Everyone said she is cut her hair, no one will marry her. Across Tungabhadra, there was Narayana Murty who married me. So whenever you do something unusual, people do humiliate you. But you should be resilient, and confident. Confidence is not bought in the market, nor with the money, neither with the degree nor with the beauty. You have to develop the courage within yourself.
There are a couple of questions on balance of life and you have addressed it in some ways. How we maintain balance in life, how do we focus on reality and stay away from the extremity of overthinking, work and anxiety? In a way this is related to the context of COVID
Because my motto or aim in life is very clear to me, my destination is very clear to me, I know what I have to do to go to my destination. I work for poor people, my ultimate aim is I have to live for poor people. And in our country, we have a lot more access to do that one.
So, I always think of people who do not have money, people who are suffering, people who are helpless, and in some way I want to help them. That keeps me active, energetic, and always happy probably in life because I feel that is the way I would like to spend my life.
How does one live so simply even though you have so much wealth?
There is a shloka in Upanishad which says, what happens when you have a lot of money. Yes, people do work hard to earn money and money is essential in life. I am not saying that money is not needed. But when you draw a line this much money is enough for me, the rest is meant for the society, that's my thought process. Because the more money you have, the more luxury you will get into more bad habits.
It is better to have simple habits, live simple way, think simple way because you are a normal human being there is nothing great about you. You are like anybody else.
Do you advise Narayan Murthy and then he says does he agree with your philosophy in life?
No, because everybody has their own philosophy. But in some areas, we agree, some areas we do not agree like any husband and wife. When it comes to the country, Narayana Murthy's objective is technology can change the country. He is a hard-dyed technocrat. And when it comes to the country, I always say, my country's poor people should have three sets of clothes, three meals a day, life-saving skills plus life living skills and good communication language. That is my aim.
So we differ there. But when it comes to reading both of us enjoy reading. We discuss which are the good books, and who is a good writer. When it comes to music we differ. He loves Western Classical and I love Bollywood. We agree on food, we want extremely simple food. We also agree on a major point, The way of living, we do not spend any money on ourselves, whatever money we always put it in philanthropy. So in many areas, we agree, some we do not agree, like most couples.