Respect and reverence are among the most highly lauded of human emotions. I developed the same sense of respect and reverence when I first met Ms Sudha Murty at an event more than a decade ago during a function in Kolkata.
Today, when we see death and destruction all around in the midst of one of the most savage pandemics mankind has ever witnessed, books like ‘The Gopi Diaries’ are not only welcome but constitute necessary reading.
The Gopi Diaries: Coming Home
During the course of the conversation that I had with Ms Sudha Murty then, I was bowled over by her humility and her passion to help those less fortunate. Today, upon learning that she has published a new book on her pet dog, I was eager to see if this spirit has found a new channel in her to speak up for those who cannot express themselves in human language. ‘The Gopi Diaries: Coming Home,’ is the latest book for early readers of author, engineer, philanthropist, social worker and chairperson of Infosys Foundation, Ms Sudha Murty. Amongst the most accomplished women in this country, it comes as a sweet surprise that Ms Murty has now taken up the cause of animal rights and animal welfare, albeit in the form of her latest literary endeavour.
Speaking about ‘The Gopi Diaries,‘ Ms Murty explains, “I have always been fond of animals. I grew up with animals and had pets. When Gopi, the dog, came into our lives, I had an opportunity to examine the question, “How does a dog look at humans?” Indeed the question of how a dog perceives humans has now attained scientific respectability with the topic of animal emotions considered to be among the fastest-growing topics in the Western world. Scientific research now suggests that dogs can understand up to 75 human words and that it is possible that perhaps both humans and dogs may have relied on similar communication networks that were already in place before language evolved, and later adapted to process speech.
Unconditional Love For Animals
‘The Gopi Diaries’ has been primarily written with a children’s audience in mind. “Children should be encouraged to love animals to imbibe the quality of unconditional love that is rare to find in humans. The only unconditional love in humans is mother’s love but unconditional love is widespread in animals who can teach us this highly desirable emotion,” Ms Murty explains. Unconditional love is one quality that the animal protection fraternity needs to learn about from Ms Sudha Murty because we tend to get embroiled in the strategies and policy decisions affecting animals.
At a time when many people are rethinking the human-animal relationship from both a scientific and moral perspective, ‘The Gopi Diaries’ by Sudha Murty conveys a lucid message, “I believe in kindness. Animals cannot speak. We make decisions on their behalf. Animals have life and are worthy of moral consideration. The Earth belongs to all of us, humans as well as non humans. Butterflies, birds, bees and orchids, they all have a right to live on this planet. All animals have a right to be loved by humans.” What Ms Murty is saying is echoed in the Indian ethic of compassion as espoused by Gautam Buddha and later on by Emperor Ashoka more than two thousand years ago, who laid the world’s first formal animal protection statutes. Incidentally, Ashoka’s humanitarian and animal protection work was also featured in the world’s most popular science programme, ‘Cosmos: Possible Worlds,’ telecast in India earlier this year on the National Geographic channel.
Image: Ms Sudha Murty with dog photograph by Shrutkeerti Khurana
As the author of thirty-seven books in Kannada and English, Ms Sudha Murty is a prominent literary figure who has expressed her views on varied themes from poverty alleviation to women’s upliftment. On the subject of animals in Indian literature, she is eloquent, “Our ancient texts like Panchatantra and Jataka speak about animals.”
Animal Protection in the current scenario
In the current discourse of environmental damage and climate change and pandemics, how important is it to espouse the animal protection ethic? “Very important. We are occupying their space. We must minimize our usage of the Earth’s resources and live harmoniously with all life,’ Ms Murty explains, a viewpoint in harmony with environmental leaders like Jane Goodall, Lee Durrell, Virginia McKenna and Sir David Attenborough, individuals with whom I have had some personal contact at some point of time.
Dogs, cats, rabbits and parrots count among Ms Sudha Murty’s favourite animals, given that she had some of these as pets when she was young. It goes without saying that a child’s behaviour is influenced by his or her parents during formative years and that has a lifelong impact on what he or she becomes. Ms Murty builds on this aspect of childhood, “Parents can obtain pets like dogs and cats for their children and teach them how to take care of them. Parents can encourage their children to help animals in shelters and attend to them.” It has now been established by many scientists like Marc Bekoff and Dame Jane Goodall, who has said her childhood pet dog Rusty, was one of the greatest teachers she had in her life, a teacher who taught her that animals have humanlike emotions when many scientists did not recognize that animals have emotions at all.
The exploitation of animals by humans
Of course, historically, throughout the ages, humans have exploited animals in the most brutal ways in order to maintain our supremacy over them in an endeavour that has often been based on the unbridgeable gap between ‘us’ humans and ‘them,’ animals. As the scientist, Carl Sagan stated, “Humans — who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals — have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and 'animals' is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them — without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret. It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behavior of other animals renders such pretensions specious. They are just too much like us.” Thus we see animals cruelly exploited in the wildlife trade, elephant rides in Amer fort in Jaipur, crocodile shows in Thailand, and tigers being chained perpetually so that tourists can click pictures with them in proximity in Thailand. Ms Sudha Murty clearly states, “Personally I do not like these activities and am in favour of phasing them out.”
Show kindness, sympathy and care for animals
Today, when we see death and destruction all around in the midst of one of the most savage pandemics mankind has ever witnessed, books like ‘The Gopi Diaries’ are not only welcome but constitute necessary reading. Ms Sudha Murty outlines her overriding philosophy manifested so cogently in her book and personal exemplary lifestyle that form a beacon for us all to follow: “Show kindness, sympathy, and care for animals. Enjoy their company. I hope the second part of my book, Gopi’s Diaries’ that is scheduled for release by Christmas, will help children to imbibe these qualities.”
Image: Ms Sudha Murty with dog photograph by Shrutkeerti Khurana
Some more light on Ms Sudha Murty
Ms Sudha Murty was born in 1950 in Shiggaon, Haveri District in North Karnataka. She completed her engineering from BVB College of Engineering, obtained 1st rank across all branches and received a gold medal from the Institute of Engineers. She did her ME from Indian Institute of Science with distinction and started her career as an engineer with TELCO (now Tata Motors). Today, she is the chairperson of Infosys Foundation and has handled 16 national disasters in the last 24 years. She studied in a Kannada-medium school till the 10th standard and fell in love with the language. Her strong ties to the language and its people led her to establish more than 60,000 libraries in Karnataka. She also strongly believes in creating awareness for social causes and has passionately traveled the world for this purpose including universities and gatherings in USA, Colombia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, New Zealand, Australia, England, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Tibet, and Singapore. A prolific writer in English and Kannada, her books have been translated into all major Indian languages and have sold over 30 lakh copies around the country. She is a columnist for English and Kannada dailies with more than 30 books and 200 titles to her credit – including novels, non-fiction, children’s books, travelogues, technical books, and memoirs. She has also received nine honorary doctorates. Some of her awards include the R.K. Narayan Award for Literature, the Padma Shri in 2006, the Attimabbe Award from the government of Karnataka for excellence in Kannada literature in 2011, the Lifetime Achievement by Crossword Book Awards in 2018 and more recently, the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for Excellence in 2020. She lives by the belief that “Generosity of a few is hope for millions”.
A Token of Gratitude
Gratitude goes to Ms Shrutkeerti Khurana, Program Director, Infosys Foundation, Bangalore, for organizing this interview.