Kannada Calling, Mr. Narayan Murthy

Any Kannada books?
Infosys Chairperson N R Narayana Murthy can afford the luxury of emotions, among other luxuries. The Karnataka government wanted him to inaugurate the Vishwa Kannada Sammelan. Kannada writer Baragur Ramachandrappa was not happy with this. Murthy finds it “absurd to label him anti-Kannada”. These were the words in the report, but not by Mr. Ramachandrappa. He had written to the chief minister:

“I can understand them inviting him to inaugurate the World Investors’ Meet. His contribution to the field of business is immense. But what has he contributed to Kannada and its culture. The establishment needs to understand that they are organising a Vishwa Kannada Sammelana and not a Vishwa Karnataka Sammelana. The subtle distinction is that the former has a cultural context to it. How does Narayana Murthy fit into this scenario? He is not a cultural face.”

Culture in this context is specific to the arts and not to social mores. So, there is indeed a distinction. But the government wants a global face. Why must regional literary and artistic activities be held hostage to how the international community perceives them? Apparently, Mr. Murthy had advised the authorities to choose a litterateur, but they said it was not relegated to Kannada. In that case they ought to change the title of the event. Money power seems to be doing all the talking and also getting legitimised as the cultural fa├žade. It would not hurt Murthy to be seen as such since roots have such currency, especially among global Indians. No wonder he said:

“Kannada is the language of my emotions.”

Emotions are private. They are not displayed at seminars and most certainly not as an identity card.

As happens often, it becomes a tussle between the local language and English. Baragur pointed out:

“He always quotes Chinese model, where English is being encouraged but says nothing about the fact that major IT companies there have developed software in the Chinese to ensure that their mother tongue is part of the next generation too.”

This is a moot point and not a lesson we are ready to learn. The Chinese have managed a fine balancing act and most of their enterprises can in fact said to be culture-driven, in that there is little compromise on that front. In India, at least in urban areas, we discourage regional languages; it is considered too vernacular.

This is not to dismiss English. I am writing in it. This is to give a holistic approach. But Mr Murthy’s take is different:

He said he would have 200-250 peons, drivers, etc asking him every year to get their kids admitted to English-medium schools. They asked him to take up the issue with the government so that the children of the poor can also become engineers and doctors. Murthy told the government: “Why don’t we have information on TV and press about the advantages of English and Kannada medium by qualified people. Let people then decide.”

How will people decide? Will there be elections on this issue? Or a committee will be formed? How can one lay down the advantages of a language when it is an evolving entity that is used to express several things at different times?

It is no surprise that peons and drivers would want their children to study in English-medium schools. They should not be denied it. But, as he himself stated, he studied initially in a Kannada school and went on to be what he is. Therefore, language is not an impediment. One is not so concerned about the poor getting into English-medium schools as much as the rich not being tutored at all in Kannada or any other regional language. Murthy is skirting this issue by firing from the shoulders of the poor.

This brings us to his role in Kannada culture. He may be the face of Karnataka and Bengalaru (Bangalore) more particularly. He probably does sponsor cultural activities. However, it is time the government stopped patronising people for the wrong reasons – whether they be entrepreneurs or even cultural upstarts who curry favour with the establishment. And if they want to showcase not just Kannada, then they can get whoever they wish to inaugurate the sammelan. Narayan Murthy may then not even need to waste his emotions.

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More on the 'worth' of CEOs as calculated by students here


  1. Farzana,
    As an aside on Mr. Murthy.
    About two years or so back when crisis hit Satyam and the stakeholders were looking for buyers Mr. Murthy self righteously declared (almost in similar verbiage) that Infosys would never ever deal with entities as "tainted" as Satyam. It all sounded sounded very embarrassingly rude (actually very rude and opportunistic - given that Satyam and Infosys were competing for same projects with mixed results and that Satyam had established its credentials where Infosys failed). The Satyam employees - in a vastly dignified manner - accepted PayCuts , Job Cuts and related harsh measures.
    I don't intend to bring out comparisons - but TCS publicly stated that it won't take advantage of Satyam's situation by "eating" into Satyam's customers. Nothing for Tatas and nothing against Infosys , but then Mr Murthy (whom - by the way - I never felt was a maverick and respected much given the "Infosys Model") lost respect.
    The current Kannada thing is just another in the series. Hope Mr. Murthy realises what he is saying.

  2. Mahesh:

    Mr. Murthy does not need to realise what he is saying, which is what our 'global' model ensures.

    In fact, Baragur had even stated that "Infosys is allegedly in the dock for tax evasion to the tune of Rs 450 crore”. Obviously, I did not use this in the post because it was not germane to the discussion.

    Anyhow, if you feel upto looking up how our CEOs are pampered, I've added the link to the post - alas I have to post my own stuff since few do so :)


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