Life’s lessons
Amarinder Sandhu

Wise and Otherwise
by Sudha Murthy. Penguin.
Pages 220. Rs 150.

Wise and OtherwiseAn individual is a learner from birth till death, and life with its bitter and sweet lessons is the best teacher. This book is a collection of 50 thought-provoking stories that throw light into the various aspects of life. Sudha Murthy has written these stories from her personal experiences. These vignettes are riveting and often emotionally moving.

The writer’s work as an academician and her association with the Infosys Foundation takes her to various parts of India. Using her experiences with the`A0people from different walks of life, she has penned poignant`A0stories that occur everyday. The beautiful prose keeps the reader engaged and all the characters are realistic.

These stories are tales of simplicity, honesty, humility as well as tales of arrogance, jealousy and the unending desire for material pleasures. All the stories have catchy headings. Some of the stories have a lesson to impart while others offer an insight into various facets of an individual’s personality.

Using her personal experiences with people she meets during her work and her travels, Murthy engages the reader with her beautiful description of the characters. The poor but honest Hanumanthappa who returned Rs 300 he had not used highlights the fact that education or class don’t bring about honesty. It has to be present within a person. This virtue is also present in Zubeida, who died of cancer, but returned the remaining money that was not used for her treatment. You never know when a beggar can teach you a new lesson as in the case of Meena. A beggar’s zest for life taught her to get rid of pessimism and cynicism.

Through her writings the writer also discusses women and empowerment. She very rightly draws the contrast between Nalini, an educated and independent college professor whose husband made all the decisions, and the uneducated Yellamma who grew and sold vegetables. Yellamma was confident and knew her mind about which vegetable to sow. The educated Charu working in a bank is the submissive daughter-in-law who hands over her salary to her husband and leads a life according to her in-laws’ wishes. Using examples, the writer indicates that education and monetary independence don’t necessarily ensure self-confidence in a woman.

The author also discusses dowry deaths, fate of unwed mothers and the changing patterns of marriages. She has used real-life examples to make the stories more tangible rather than being merely sketchy. Brides getting burnt when stoves burst is a common story. Murthy writes about her first-hand experience with such a victim. She also mentions one of her students who committed suicide due to pregnancy before marriage. The writer compares Indian society, where unwed mothers`A0are shunned, with Norway, where children born out of wedlock are openly acknowledged, accepted and the mother leads a normal life. The story Alliances Invited shows the slow transformation taking place in the institution of marriage.

Power corrupts`A0and so does money. In today’s fast-paced world, everyone is in the rat race to make money`A0and powerful institutions like marriage and family are at stake. The story My Money, Your Money`A0is an eye-opener as it indicates how money can shake the very foundations of a good marriage. Treat me as a Human is a tale in which Murthy has made use of small visual details and the reader can experience the very sights and sounds of the story. The author has made an excellent attempt to teach the lessons of life.

In this age of information technology, today’s children deserve their due. They definitely possess more knowledge, and the story Not All’s Wrong with the Next Generation is a tribute to them. Ignorance can be bliss sometimes, but if the youngsters do not know who Rani Laxmibai`A0was then they do need to brush up their history. Such anecdotes`A0have been`A0written with much humour`A0and wit.

Written in simple language with real life stories, this book is extremely readable. It is a remarkable`A0effort to open a window into the various aspects of humanity.`A0The stories are straightforward and take on the voice of the people. The chaos and bustle of India comes alive in this book. The writer seems to focus on the thoughts of the people about whom she is writing. It is a good book on which the readers can actually dwell.