Sudha Murthy may look like the granny-next-door but unlike most grans, she knows how to enthrall a crowd. For the uninitiated, Mrs Murthy is a noted Indian author, Chairperson of Infosys Foundation and the wife of Narayan Murthy. I had the opportunity to witness her at her enthusiastic best, when she was the chief guest for the Economist Crossword Book Awards, at Tata Theatre, NCPA, Mumbai on Thursday evening.
Watching Sudha infuse life into a packed Tata Theatre, I realised that there are two types of speakers. The first type is very well spoken and can write impressive speeches. But all they can do is recite the speech and only a small percentage of the audience will probably remember what they said. The second variety has the audience wrapped around their finger in a matter of seconds. Even if what they are saying is not of national importance, you will hang on to their every word and pass on what you understood to people you meet for one full week.
Mrs Murthy falls in the second category of speakers.
Simply dressed in a beige sari, the pallu wrapped firmly around her shoulders, Mrs Murthy flashed a 100 watt smile as soon as she took to the microphone. Like a pro and a true sport she admitted that being a chief guest was easier than being a judge, as all she had to do was attend the function and distribute prizes, unlike the judges who had to read through 350 odd books in all. An author herself, Mrs Murthy went on to give a glimpse into what kindled her love for books. “When I was a kid, my father would always tell me to treats books like humans – don’t step on them, keep them in a comfortable environment, cover them, care for them…”
An unassuming air about herself, blended with self-assurance and the right amounts of humility and wit, Mrs Murthy, winner of the Padma Shri and RK Narayana’s award for literature, said that being a writer was very important to her because it gave her an individual identity. “Being Narayan Murthy’s wife, I may get a few extra shares in Infosys, but being a writer is independent of whose wife, mother, daughter or sister I am and that is sacred to me,” she said as the audience reacted with a thunderous applause. The cheer said that they couldn’t agree more with what she just said.
A combination of simple words, clear speech, ability to laugh at oneself, a pinch of self-assured goofiness and wit is probably makes for a good speaker and Sudha Murthy demonstrated that to a packed Tata Theatre at the awards. Other eminent personalities, with better diction and vocabulary addressed the audience at the awards, but it is only Mrs Murthy’s words that I still remember!