[Sudha Murthy, chairperson, Infosys Foundation] She is known for her ability to glean interesting stories from the lives of ordinary people. The following is extracted from her latest collection, 'Bombay to Bangalore':
It was the beginning of summer. As I boarded the Udyan Express at Gulbarga, I saw that the 2nd class reserved compartment was jam-packed with people. I sat down and was pushed to the corner of the berth. The ticket collector came in and started checking people's tickets. Suddenly, he looked in my direction and asked, what about your ticket? 'I have already shown my ticket to you', I said.
'Not you madam; the girl hiding below your berth'. I realized that someone was sitting under my berth. When the TC yelled at her, the girl came out of hiding. She was thin, scared and looked like she had been crying profusely. She must have been about 13 or 14 yrs old.
The TC started forcibly pulling her out from the compartment. Suddenly, I had a strange feeling. 'Sir, I will pay for her ticket', I told the TC. He looked at me and said, 'Madam, if you give her 10 rupees, she will be much happier with that than with the ticket.' I didn't listen to him but bought her a ticket to the last destination, Bangalore, so that the girl could get down wherever she wanted.
Slowly, she started talking. Her name was Chitra. She lived in a village near Bidar. Her father was a coolie and she had lost her mother at birth. Her father who had remarried, died a few months ago. Since her step mother started ill treating her, she left home in search of a better future.
By this time the train had reached Bangalore. I got down from the train and then I saw Chitra watching me with sad eyes. I took compassion on her and took her to our friend Ram's place. Ram managed shelter homes for boys and girl which were supported by Infosys. Chitra had found a home and new direction in her life. I always enquired about her well-being over the phone.
Her progress was good and I wanted to sponsor her college studies. But she said, ' No, Akka. I would like to do diploma in computer science so that I can immediately get a job.'
She came out with flying colours in her diploma and obtained a job in a software company. With her first salary, she bought me a saree and a box of sweets. One day, when I was in Delhi, she called me up to say that her company is sending her to the USA. She wanted to take my blessings but I was here in Delhi.
Years passed. Chitra was doing very well and was sending me e-mails regularly. Years later, I was in San Francisco attending the 'Kannada Koota', organized by the Kannada speaking families of California. I was staying in the same hotel where the Kannada meet was taking place.
When I checked out of the hotel room and went to the reception to settle the bills, the receptionist said, 'Ma'am, you don't have to pay. The lady over there has already paid your bill.' I turned around and found Chitra there, standing with a young man. She was looking very pretty in short hair. Her eyes were beaming with happiness.
She hugged me and touched my feet. I was overwhelmed with joy. I was very happy to see the way things had turned out for Chitra. But I came back to my original question; 'Chitra, why did you pay my hotel bill?' Suddenly sobbing, she hugged me and said: 'Because you paid for my ticket from Bombay to Bangalore!