Bonhomie amid differing stances

Bonhomie amid differing stances

If Infosys icon N R Narayana Murthy (NRN) is perceived as a man biased against basic sciences and a man who only promotes Information Technology (IT), that perception could just be erroneous. But, it has to be admitted that there is a mild anger in NRN that science institutions in Bengaluru, particularly IISc, can do much more than they are presently doing, in collaborating with the IT sector.

When this correspondent asked NRN about his stand on sciences and IT after his lecture at the Commonwealth Science Conference here on Tuesday, the Infosys czar said, “Be very sure that basic sciences only can solve most of the problems we talk about. They can address many more issues than what other domains can.”

Prof C N R Rao has been a strident critic of the IT sector, dubbing employed engineers as “IT coolies”. NRN himself has been upset that IISc has not opened up as much as it needs to, to the IT industry. The Infy icon said: “I would like it, if IISc could come more to us to address problems that are relevant. They never do, while universities like Stanford, MIT, Harvard and Cornell approach us for various issues. What is the problem? But I have to say things changed a bit after Prof Balaram took over as Director of IISc. In the last three years, it has been a bit better.”

But even as one speaks of this difference of opinion, Prof Rao hugged NRN several times at the science meet and said: “I am very happy Murthy has made it here from his busy schedule. I have known him from the IIT-Kanpur days. He is a world leader now, having built a billion dollar company.”

And NRN returned the compliment: “I have know Prof CNR for 47 years now since the time I was an unknown student. I had to build Infosys at a time when someone coming in Mercedes Benz was seen as the leader of a failed company and when someone coming in an Ambassador car was seen as a CEO.”

NRN said very fundamental issues are in the grasp of basic sciences alone. “If you ask me whether the Ganga has to be cleaned, it has to be no doubt. And if you ask me who can do this best, it is the basic sciences.”

When this correspondent asked him whether he felt IT has not been given enough attention by the basic sciences sector, NRN said: “There is no competition and conflict between the two. It’s about being clear about who will perform what role and how they can help each other.”

On what he thought IISc needed to do, NRN said: “I can only say we can’t be solving problems for faraway corners of the world, we have to work out solutions to our problems here and now.” On whether he thought IT needed to be given more pride of place, NRN said: “I am not worried about IT. Computer engineering is being taken care of by the computer sciences department.”

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