‘Who’s Anantha Murthy? What’s his contribution?’

The embers of the N.R. Narayana Murthy row over the national anthem are still smouldering. With the controversy virtually rendering the Infosys chief persona non grata among parties and politicians whose support was/is crucial to realising his putative presidential dreams, other Bangalore industry bosses are stepping in to do some damage-control.

Leading the late charge is Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. The Biocon chief has mounted a quite breathtaking attack on the Kannada writer U.R. Anantha Murthy in today’s Praja Vani. Speaking to some journalists (the Praja Vani representative presuambly being one them) on the sidelines of a media conference to announce “Bangalore Bio-2007”, Kiran Mazumdar says:

“Who is Anantha Murthy to criticise Narayana Murthy? What has he done for the State? Besides waxing eloquent about literature, what is his achievement? Why do you pull down those who have climbed up the ladder with their own talents and hard work?”

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is entitled to her views on Anantha Murthy, of course, just as he is entitled to his views on her (or Narayana Murthy). Nevertheless, the contemptuous tone and tenor of Kiran Mazumdar’s rant against intellectual activity is revealing of the strange hubris that afflicts the Indian corporate nouveau riche.

“We (industrialists and entrepreneurs) are striving to enhance wealth in the country. We are creating jobs. We are adding to the foreign exchange reserves. We are carrying India’s prestige to far corners of the globe. Despite all this, why this intolerance towards us?

“Look at how we have grown. Why do you think all this has been attained through illegal means? Instead of looking at what we are today, you should see how this has been achieved through our sweat, blood and tears. Is it so easy to start with nothing and reach where we have?”

No sane person would find fault with much of that, but can a person’s contribution to society be looked at through the prism of money alone? Merely because a person has generated jobs or added to the forex reserves or provided a brand-name to a city, are we to overlook even their worst excesses, howsoever obvious?

Do we forfeit our right to ask, examine, inspect, question, criticise, scrutinise because we haven’t created jobs or wealth or got our passports stamped in various ports of call?

We may be wrong, but we have an unalienable right to be wrong.

Notwithstanding the merits or demerits of Anantha Murthy’s criticism on NRN, surely Bangalore-born Kiran Mazumdar can’t be unaware of Karnataka’s place in the world. Long before IT-BT carved its niche, Karnataka was known for its men of letters, five of them winning the nation’s highest literary award, the Jnanpith, Anantha Murthy being one of them.

Does learning, teaching, writing—thinking—for a living not count as a contribution?

Does intellectual thought, howsoever unreasonable or unpalatable, not matter?

Man does not live by bread alone, nor does society. But in not so much questioning Anantha Murthy’s contributions as questioning the activity of thinking, the biotech philistine proves that money can buy everything—except grey cells when you are greying.

By Kiran Mazumdar’s intellectually warped yardstick, writers don’t count, artistes don’t count, poets don’t count, architects don’t count, sociologists don’t count, philosophers don’t count, linguists don’t count, geographers don’t count, journalists don’t count… only industrialists and entrepreneurs with IPOs count. And the moment we see them, we should roll over, make way, and shut up.

How funny is that?

No wonder, Amartya Sen, not Dhirubhai Ambani, got the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Also read: U.R. Anantha Murthy on N.R. Narayana Murthy