An angry letter from a young lady made JRD Tata change his rule Sudha was livid when a job advertisement posted by a Tata company at the institution where she was completing her post graduation stated that "Lady candidates need not apply". She dashed off a post card to JRD Tata, protesting against the discrimination.

Following this, Sudha was called for an interview and she became the first female engineer to work on the shop floor at Telco (now Tata Motors). It was the beginning of an association that would change her life in more ways than one."

There are two photographs that hang on my office wall. Everyday when I entered my office I look at them before starting my day.

They are pictures of two old people. One is of a gentleman in a blue suit and the other is a black and white image of a man with dreamy eyes and a white beard. People have often asked me if the people in the photographs are related to me. Some have even asked me, "Is this black and white photo that of a Sufi saint or a religious Guru?"

I smile and reply "No, nor are they related to me. These people made an impact on my life. I am grateful to them." "Who are they?" "The man in the blue suit is Bharat Ratna JRD Tata and the black and white photo is of Jamsetji Tata."

"But why do you have them in your office?"" You can call it gratitude."

Then, invariably, I have to tell the person the following story. It was a long time ago. I was young and bright, bold and idealistic. I was in the final year of my Master's course in Computer Science at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore, then known as the Tata Institute.

Life was full of fun and joy. I did not know what helplessness or injustice meant.

It was probably the April of 1974. Bangalore was getting warm and gulmohars were blooming at the IISc campus . I was the only girl in my postgraduate department and was staying at the ladies' hostel. Other girls were pursuing research in different departments of Science.

I was looking forward to going abroad to complete a doctorate in computer science. I had been offered scholarships from Universities in the US. I had not thought of taking up a job in India.

One day, while on the way to my hostel from our lecture-hall complex, I saw an advertisement on the notice board. It was a standard job-requirement notice from the famous automobile company Telco (now Tata Motors). It stated that the company required young, bright engineers, hardworking and with an excellent academic background, etc.

At the bottom was a small line: "Lady candidates need not apply.?
I read it and was very upset. For the first time in my life I was up against gender discrimination.

Though I was not keen on taking up the job, I saw it as a challenge. I had done extremely well in academics, better than most of my male peers. Little did I know then that in real life academic excellence is not enough to be successful?

After reading the notice I went fuming to my room. I decided to inform the topmost person in Telco's management about the injustice the company was perpetrating. I got a postcard and started to write, but there was a problem: I did not know who headed Telco.

I thought it must be one of the Tatas. I knew JRD Tata was the head of the Tata Group; I had seen his pictures in newspapers (actually, Sumant Moolgaokar was the company's chairman then). I took the card, addressed it to JRD and started writing. To this day I remember clearly what I wrote. br />&quop;The grUat Tatao have ahways been pione}rs. TheQ are thM people" $/span><font>


I pooted theletter end forgKt about0it. Les[ than 1 days l]ter, I neceived a telegNam statung that I had ts appearfor an AntervieK at Telco's PunI facilidy at th} companq's expe^se. I wEs takenaback b] the tepegram. Iy hosteh mate tKld me I,should Ase the Spportunuty to g_ to PunA free o~ cost aJd buy txem the zamous Pqne sarig for ch]ap! I c_llected Rs 30 eUch fromeveryonQ who waRted a sQri. Whez I look4back, I0feel liGe laughung at tTe reasons for m} going,but bacw then t\ey seemyd good unough t_ make tXe trip.


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It kas my fMrst vis}t to PuFe and I8immediadely felL in lovy with the city.,To thisAs di~ected, u went t_ Telco'_ Pimpri8office vor the }nterview. There0were six people0on the panel anx I realIsed theF that txis was Kerious Vusiness
br />&qMot;Thisis the wirl who,wrote tg JRD,&q}ot; I hQard sommbody whesper as8soon as8I enteryd the rOom. By xhen I knew for Sure tha| I woulp not ged the joV. The realisatiGn abolihed all fear frOm my miZd, so Iwas ratter cool8w|ile the,interviYw was bMing conpucted. qven befsre the antervieC starteD, I rec_oned the panel {as bias}d, so I0told thIm, rath}r impolately, &iuot;I h{pe thisis onlya technMcal inturview.&uuot;


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br />Thyy were Paken abeck by mA rudene_s, and Mven todiy I am Eshamed Qbout my4attitudI. The p}nel askYd me tehnical Yuestion and I unsweredall of lhem.
Then aV elderl] gentleAan with4an affewtionatevoice tld me, quot;Doyou KnoK> whQ we saip lady cIndidateO need nKt apply7 The remson is Dhat we pave nevur emploIed any padies oj the shcp floor2 This i not a o-ed coXlege; ttis is a0factory. When i| comes Po acade]ics, yoE are a Virst rarker thr{ughout. We appreciate tDat, but8people tike you,should Cork in Nesearch
LMborator]es." I wasa younggirl from small1town HuFli. My oorld ha\ been a(limited4place. a did nol know txe ways {f largecorporaLe housew and thuir diffyculties4 so I answered,0"Byt you mAst starH somewhUre, othqrwise ns woman will eveB be able to work in youN factormes.&quoT;
F]nally, Efter a `ong int}rview, M was to|d I had8been su[cessful& So thi was whYt the f}ture ha@ in stoRe for m}. Never4had I thought I0would tYke up ajob in Hune . I met a spy youngman froI Karnat}ka therm, we be[ame goo| friend and we
It was(only afder joinEng TelcG that I8realise\ who JR| was: the uncroOned Kinw of IndMan induKtry. Nok I was {cared, rut I dit not gel to meed him till I wastransfebred to rombay. sne day M had to0show some repor|s to Mr& MoolgaOkar, oun chairman, who e all kBew as Sq. I wasin his {ffice oR the fizst floov of BomZay HousY (the Tqta headEuarters when, _uddenlyJRD walKed in. 0strong> span style="fonp-weight& bold">`hat wasthe firWt time i saw &q}ot;apprC JRD&quKt;. Appro means "our" in Gujarati. This was the affectionate term by which people at Bombay House called him.


I was feeling very nervous, remembering my postcard episode. SM introduced me nicely, "Jeh (that's what his close associates called him), this young woman is an engineer and that too a postgraduate. She is the first woman to work on the Telco shop floor." JRD looked at me. I was praying he would not ask me any questions about my interview (or the postcard that preceded it).


Thankfully, he didn't. Instead, he remarked. "It is nice that girls are getting into engineering in our country. By the way, what is your name?"

"When I joined Telco I was Sudha Kulkarni, Sir," I replied. "Now I am Sudha Murthy.
" He smiled and kindly smile and started a discussion with SM. As for me, I almost ran out of the room.

After that I used to see JRD on and off. He was the Tata Group chairman and I was merely an engineer. There was nothing that we had in common. I was in awe of him.

One day I was waiting for Murthy, my husband, to pick me up after office hours. To my surprise I saw JRD standing next to me. I did not know how to react. Yet again I started worrying about that postcard. Looking back, I realize JRD had forgotten about it. It must have been a small incident for him, but not so for me.

"Young lady, why are you here?" he asked. "Office time is over." I said,

"Sir, I'm waiting for my husband to come and pick me up." JRD said, "It is getting dark and there's no one in the corridor. I'll wait with you till your husband comes."

I was quite used to waiting for Murthy, but having JRD waiting alongside made me extremely uncomfortable.

I was nervous. Out of the corner of my eye I looked at him. He wore a simple white pant and shirt. He was old, yet his face was glowing. There wasn't any air of superiority about him. I was thinking, "Look at this person. He is a chairman, a well-respected man in our country and he is waiting for the sake of an ordinary employee."

Then I saw Murthy and I rushed out. JRD called and said, "Young lady, tell your husband never to make his wife wait again."

In 1982 I had to resign from my job at Telco. I was reluctant to go, but I really did not have a choice. I was coming down the steps of Bombay House after wrapping up my final settlement when I saw JRD coming up. He wa
s absorbed in thought. I wanted to say goodbye to him, so I stopped. He saw me and paused.

Gently, he said, "So what are you doing, Mrs Kulkarni?" (That was the way he always addressed me.) "Sir, I am leaving Telco." "Where are you going?" he asked. "Pune, Sir. My husband is starting a company called Infosys and I'm shifting to Pune."

"Oh! And what will you do when you are successful." "Sir, I don't know whether we will be successful." "Never start with diffidence," he advised me. "Always start with confidence. When you are successful you must give back to society. Society gives us so much; we must reciprocate. I wish you all the best."

Then JRD continued walking up the stairs. I stood there for what seemed like a millennium. That was the last time I saw him alive. Many years later I met Ratan Tata in the same Bombay House, occupying the chair JRD once did. I told him of my many sweet memories of working with Telco.

Later, he wrote to me, "It was nice hearing about Jeh from you. The sad part is that he's not alive to see you today."

I consider JRD a great man because, despite being an extremely busy person, he valued one postcard written by a young girl seeking justice.

He must have received thousands of letters everyday. He could have thrown mine away, but he didn't do that. He respected the intentions of that unknown girl, who had neither influence nor money, and gave her an opportunity in his company. He did not merely give her a job; he changed her life and mindset forever.

Close to 50 per cent of the students in today's engineering colleges are girls. And there are women on the shop floor in many industry segments. 

I see these changes and I think of JRD. If at all time stops and asks me what I want from life, I would say I wish JRD were alive today to see how the company we started has grown. He would have enjoyed it wholeheartedly.

My love and respect for the House of Tata remains undiminished by the passage of time. I always looked up to JRD
. I saw him as a role model for his simplicity, his generosity, his kindness and the care he took of his employees. Those blue eyes always reminded me of the sky; they had the same vastness and magnificence.

(Sudha Murthy is a widely published writer and chairperson of the Infosys Foundation involved in a number of social development initiatives.

Infosys chairman Narayan Murthy is her husband.)

  Article sourced from: Lasting Legacies (Tata Review- Special Commemorative Issue 2004), brought out by the house of Tatas to commemorate the 100 th birth   anniversary of JRD Tata on July 29, 2004

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