US client once made Narayana Murthy sleep on box in storeroom: Book

Indian-American author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has come out with a biography covering the early years of Sudha Murty's and Narayana Murthy's lives that is replete with many such nuggets about the iconic couple.
Last Updated : 07 January 2024, 08:24 IST

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New Delhi: When Narayana Murthy once visited the US for client work during the initial days of Infosys, a temperamental American businessman made him sleep on a large box in a windowless storeroom surrounded by cartons though his own home had four bedrooms.

Indian-American author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has come out with a biography covering the early years of Sudha Murty's and Narayana Murthy's lives that is replete with many such nuggets about the iconic couple.

Published by Juggernaut Books, "An Uncommon Love: The Early Life of Sudha and Narayana Murthy" is the story of the Murthys' early years - from their courtship to Infosys' founding years and from their marriage to parenthood.

Donn Liles, who headed the New York-based company Data Basics Corporation, was a temperamental client and was especially unpleasant to Murthy at times.

"He would often delay payments when he could, and Murthy would then be the target of his ire because he would hold his ground, refusing to budge on timely payment for services. Or Donn would not provide timely authorization for Murthy and his Infosys colleagues to book hotels when they had to visit him in Manhattan.

"Once when Murthy visited the US for client work, Donn made him sleep on a large box in the storeroom, surrounded by cartons, though his home had four bedrooms. Additionally, Murthy had to manage Donn's many last-minute demands for resources," the book says.

He put up with Donn's behaviour for the sake of his fledgling company, but the box incident truly shocked Murthy.

"My mother used to say that a guest was like God, and the way you treated your guests revealed what kind of person you really were," he told wife Sudha.

"When my father invited someone over without advance notice, she often served the guest her own food and went to sleep without dinner. And here was Donn enjoying a good night's sleep in his luxurious bed after making me spend the night on a big box in a windowless storeroom," he said, leaving Sudha furious.

The book also mentions how Murthy was averse to his wife joining Infosys in spite of being a fine engineer who knew she could contribute far more solidly to the company than helping with only the odds and ends that her husband assigned to her.

When she proposed the idea to him one evening at the dinner table, Murthy bluntly refused: "I'm sorry. You can't work at Infosys."

His reasoning was: "The two of us cannot be in the same company."

He did not want Infosys to have the same horror stories of family-owned businesses and perceived as dynastic or nepotistic.

Murthy told his wife that she is extremely well qualified and no one has her kind of determination but if she joins "Infosys will become a husband-and-wife firm rather than a professional company".

Divakaruni writes that while Sudha and Murthy had many things in common because of their shared Kannada background and their love for reading, their very different childhoods shaped them in unique ways.

Murthy was a staunch socialist who had been influenced as a teenager by his father's ideas as well as Jawaharlal Nehru's open admiration of the USSR.

He once told Sudha: "Russian is the language of the future. That's why I've been studying Russian and collecting Russian books for the last two years."

Sudha shook her head determinedly. "I'm positive that English is going to remain the language of the world. That's why I make it a point to read as many English books as I can, even though I went to a Kannada-medium school and enjoy reading Kannada more."

"Murthy stubbornly held on to his Russian books even after he changed his life philosophy to compassionate capitalism. After their marriage, it would take Sudha many years of cajoling before he would allow her to dispose of them," the book says.

Divakaruni says capturing in words the lives of two extraordinary people from ordinary backgrounds, who have changed the face of entrepreneurship and of philanthropy was challenging.

"At its heart, this is a love story, an uncommon one. It chronicles not only Sudha and Murthy's love for each other, but also their love for their values and for their country - and their determination to use the former to transform the latter. It shows us that human love - no matter what the romantic movies profess - is fraught with failures as well as successes, sadness as well as joy," she says.

Published 07 January 2024, 08:24 IST

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