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August 10, 2000
The Rediff Money Special/ Gisele Regatao
First Ladies of IT
Kalpana, Sumathi and Sudha live like most Indian women living in the nation's metropolises do. They work and also take care of the house, of their children and their husbands. They rarely go out at night and their social life is largely restricted to having friends or relatives over for dinner.
Kalpana, Sumathi and Sudha do not use too much of jewellery, they do not live in fancy homes and they don't buy everything their children ask for. Even though they can afford to do so.
Kalpana is the wife of Pradeep Kar, founder of the Microland Group, one of India's leading e-services companies. Sumathi is married to R Mohan, who used to be the managing director of Mphasis-BFL, a software solutions firm with 1,300 employees and 17 offices worldwide. Sudha's husband is N R Narayana Murthy, the chairman of Infosys Technologies Ltd., the largest software organisation in the country.
Many eyes shine with all the wealth created by companies like Infosys, Microland and Mphasis-BFL. But Mrs Kar, Mrs Mohan and Mrs Murthy's lives are very much like they were before the IT boom.
Of course, this does not mean their lives did not change at all. Suddenly, they shifted from the reality of limited wages and regular job hours to one of huge incomes and overwork. To support their husband's success, Kalpana, Sumathi and Sudha had to sacrifice their careers. Now, they have to take care of their house and children and spend much of their time alone. The wealth created by the high tech industry for them means more money to spend on social work.
Sudha Murthy, for that matter, could be chairman of Infosys herself! She has an M Tech degree in computer science and was the one who gave the first Rs 10,000 to start her husband's company. She worked for Infosys in its early years and was disappointed when her husband decided that only one of them should be in the firm. "It took me three days to accept his decision," she recalls.
But accept it she did and instead of heading Infosys, Sudha now leads the Infosys Foundation, an organisation she created in 1997 to provide health, education and social rehabilitation for the poor. She has very little contact with the high tech world today. She spends between 15 to 20 days every month travelling to rural areas in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Orissa.
When in Bangalore, Sudha is a housewife. She wakes up between 4:30 and 5:00 am to clean her house, cook and send her 17-year-old son to college before going to the Infosys Foundation office. Discounting expenses on phone bills (the couple's 20-year-old daughter lives abroad) and on trips, books and CDs -- the three passions of the Murthy couple -- she manages the house on a budget of Rs 5,000 to Rs 7,000 per month. "People ask me if I don't feel bored," she says, "but I don't. I am doing what I really like doing."
Sumathi Mohan holds an engineering degree and a masters in business administration. Her husband too is an MBA and they were both well entrenched in their careers. But when Mohan's career started growing rapidly, Sumathi decided he needed her support. For the last three years, she has been working part-time as a product group manager at Tata Infotech. For the rest of the day she takes care of their house -- the same they have been living in since they got married 12 years ago -- and which they share with their 11-year-old son and with her in-laws.
The money that comes with her husband's success doesn't woo Sumathi. "For me, money has never mattered," she says. She is more concerned with keeping what she considers a harmonious home with close ties with relatives and friends. And like Sudha Murthy, Sumathi too wants to get involved in some social work. "We feel we owe something to society," she says. "It is time to pay back for all that we have got."
Even though they may not be directors of well-known companies, the first ladies of the high tech industry have a lot of work on their hands. When Pradeep Kar invites 18 people for dinner at home, his wife Kalpana takes care of all the arrangements herself. She also manages their home, takes care of their two-year-old daughter and works both, for the Bangalore Agenda Task Force and for an organisation that treats children with cancer. "I have to juggle my time between all these duties," she smiles.
The wife of Microland's founder also believes that money has not changed the way her family lives. It is true they rent a much bigger house now and can afford four servants. Still, they spend "much less" than they used to, she says. Her relationship with her husband hasn't changed either. "We still argue over the same points as we used to before," she laughs.
Perhaps wealth doesn't seduce these women because they got rich later in life. The same is, however, not true for their children. Both Sumathi and Sudha find it difficult to believe that their children will keep the same simple life they are living now. "We simulate a middle class lifestyle but I don't expect my child to live a spartan life," says Sudha. "With so much money around, children's minds must change," she thinks.
Sumathi is already feeling the change when her son asks for some expensive, branded T-shirt. "He doesn't feel the need to work hard," she says. And it is not only the money that is changing this new generation. Their son for instance, by name all the CEOs in the IT industry and follows all the stock prices. As Sumathi recalls what her son recently said, the problem with his mother is that she is too simple.
Gisele Regatao, a graduate student of business journalism at City University of New York, is spending six weeks at rediff.com, after winning a Reuters Foundation fellowship in journalism.
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