Published: 14th January 2020
Read into this: Why Rohan Murty won't let you borrow books from his personal library
Murty, who studied at the Bishop Cotton Boys' School in Bengaluru and pursued his UG at Cornell University, USA, started the Murty Classical Library of India in the year 2015
When Rohan Murty, who is a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, said, "Programming is as fundamental as algebra. So when you start learning algebra, you should start learning programming," I tried very hard to hold back my look of bewilderment. For someone who has been inclined towards Arts her whole life, this was a difficult statement to process. Then the Hubballi-born scholar quickly clarified, "Wait, programming doesn't mean you become a computer engineer, that's not what I mean. But it's become so fundamental no matter what job you do that you understand at least something about it." And I couldn't agree more with that! Soon, we drifted towards the topic of books, an area I clearly am more comfortable with, and I discovered that Murty, who started the Murty Classical Library of India — under which translations of Indian classics is published by Harvard University Press — is as comfortable talking about books as he is about programming. Excerpts from a wide-ranging conversation with the 37-year-old, who has a PhD in Computer Engineering from Harvard University, about the importance of reading and how humanities help broaden perspective:
We have to talk about your love for books that you've so clearly inherited.
Much like many families, in my family too there is a great love for books. My mother (Sudha Murty, Chairperson, Infosys Foundation), father (Narayana Murthy, Co-founder of Infosys) and I each have our own library at home and there is a general library too. My mother and I don't even allow anyone to borrow books from our libraries, though my father does. In fact, I believe for friendships or relationships of any kind, books are necessary. Think about it, you constantly need something new to talk about and books are a wonderful way to provide new regenerative information for people to connect over. I like physical books — the touch, feel and smell of them. As a result, I am a huge devotee of Goddess Saraswati (Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, art, wisdom and learning). In my house, hers is the main idol.
Is it uncommon for someone to be interested in Science and still have such a deep love for books? How does one nurture the other?
I understand that from an overall audience perspective it is not that common, but some of the very well-known academics I have known are very good at Science and have read widely too. People are interested in more than one thing. Books don't make you any less focused. In fact, I would argue that books can make you better engineers. It is wonderful to appreciate more than just one's own work as it gives you a broader perspective. If you do Science all the time, sure, there is an interesting perspective there too, but there is a certain kind of value that poetry, literature, art or music bring that Science doesn't have; just like Science has other strengths that these subjects don't have. Both give you a broader and more interesting perspective of life.
So, what's new with the Murty Classical Library of India?
The Murty Classical Library of India continues to pump-out three to five new volumes every January, so we are now in our fifth year and we have approximately 23 to 25 volumes out. These books are available on Flipkart and Amazon and cost as much as a cup of coffee, maybe even less. For example, we recently published the translation of the cornerstone of Sindhi poetry, Shah Jo Risalo. We also published Kannada poet Raghavanka's 800-year-old work, his story of King Harishchandra. Every January, just like the gift that keeps on giving, a new volume will come out.
Would an interdisciplinary approach that involves both Science and Humanities help take things forward when it comes to the Indian education system?
In my own perspective, for a country that is poor and is aiming to be better, if you say we are going to produce a nation full of historians or philosophers, it's probably not a good idea because the question of how you're going to employ them in a meaningful way arises. Therefore, it is common that people do Science, Engineering, Law or other fields which put food on the table. But even if you are studying these subjects, you can still appreciate literature. Or if you are a doctor, it is a good idea to study bioethics or philosophy seriously because it helps you reflect. In any shape or form, if one can introduce the humanities as apart of the education, it is a good idea. The Humanities shouldn't be treated as subjects which you can afford to not take seriously, then the opportunity to broaden one's horizon is lost. We should all take on this opportunity.