We are not that world anymore when people managed countries wearing hand-spun clothes. We are Instagrammers who judge people on the brands they wear, the accent of their English, and the kind of cuisine they like. Our idea of success does not include a woman wearing an everyday salwar kameez. Something similar happened with Sudha Murthy, the chairperson of Infosys Foundation that makes a story that must be told.
It happened at the Heathrow Airport in London where Sudha landed to chair a meeting. It is natural that she was flying business class and stood in a queue for boarding the same. she was patiently waiting for her turn when a lady told her, “Go, and stand in the economy class queue. This line is for business class travelers.”
Such a rude gesture angered Sudha more than it offended her. Before she was able to explain to the lady that she indeed was in the right queue, the lady called her a “cattle-class person” and stomped away. The treatment meted out to her was downright insulting and she decided to give the lady a befitting reply. But not through words.
Suddenly, Sudha looked around and it was clear to her that the lady thought she did not belong there was because of her clothes. Famous for her simplicity, Sudha was at the airport wearing a simple salwar kameez that made her a misfit among the expensively-dressed business class flyers.
The 66-year-old says, “Class does not mean huge possession of money. Mother Teresa was a classy woman. So is Manjula Bhargava, a great mathematician of Indian origin. The concept that you automatically gain class by acquiring money is an outdated thought process.”
Sudha Murthy could have shown her boarding pass and cleared all doubts about her “class” in no time, but she waited to find out how, according to the lady, she was not befitting for business class standards.
Call it coincidence, the lady crossed paths with Sudha later that very day. The assuming woman had discarded her Indo-Western silk outfit paired with an expensive pair of heels, and complemented with a Gucci handbag at the airport. Ahead of meeting Sudha, the lady slipped into a plain khadi saree to suit the theme where Sudha was pitching Infosys Foundation to sponsor funds for the overhaul of a government school.
Needless to say, the lady was shocked to see Sudha chairing the meeting.
“The clothes were a reminder of the stereotype that is still rampant today. Just like one is expected to wear the finest of silks for a wedding, social workers must present themselves in a plain and uninteresting manner.”
The philanthropist goes on to express grave concern over the existence of an “external force” dictating people to appear in a certain way to be part of the “elite” club. This, she added, led many people into “wrong habits”.
“In most metro cities, many college-going girls become part of high-level prostitution because they want to earn quick money to buy designer clothes. This is because of the pressure created by the external force,” she says.
“So when I experienced the same myself at the airport I was more upset than angry,” she said. But like legends, Sudha chose to respond to her insult with her grace and actions rather than with her anger and words.
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