He has difficulty in seeing and hearing. Not a surprise, considering his age. But what was a surprise was that these difficulties did not deter 75-year-old N.M. Viswanathan from applying for Ph.D. four years ago. And, the gritty septuagenarian also formally completed it on Thursday as the viva voce board of examiners approved his thesis.

It was a day to reckon with for Mr. Viswanathan, a retired professor of Economics at the Government Arts College, Udhagamandalam, when he heard the external examiner J. Govindadass, Principal of Government Arts and Science College, Karamvakudi, announce that the board recommended his thesis for award of Ph.D. by the Bharathiar University. Mr. Viswanathan is the oldest Ph.D. scholar in the history of the college.

The age alone is not unique in his case. Here is a rare case of a former Head of Department becoming a scholar and choosing his former junior colleague as his guide. O.B. Pramod Kumar, Associate Professor of Economics, Government Arts College, Coimbatore, was a lecturer at the Udhagamandalam college when Mr. Viswanathan was the HoD. Mr. Viswanathan served in the college from 1964 to 1990.

When the 71-year old Ph.D. aspirant, who was leading a quiet retired life in Coimbatore, wanted to do a thesis on ‘A Study on the Productivity of Tea in Tamil Nadu with Special Reference to The Nilgiris District’, he approached the 50-year-old Associate Professor to be his guide. Thus, began an unusual and unique four-year journey that ended on a successful note on Thursday.

Needless to say it was an emotional day for Mr. Viswanathan. The new pink shirt, grey tie and trousers, and shiny black shoes showed that it was a celebration for him. And, there were more than 50 well-wishers to applaud him on his achievement.

Sharing his unusual experience of being a guide to a septuagenarian, Mr. Pramod Kumar said that Mr. Viswanathan was a dedicated scholar who came to the college everyday and diligently did his reference work. He also acknowledged the help of faculty, staff and a few students who had helped the Ph.D. scholar who had limited knowledge of computers in his efforts to complete his thesis.

A foreign examiner too approved the thesis with the comment “a significant contribution to the existing literature on the topic”.

On approval by the Syndicate of Bharathiar University, a provisional degree would be awarded to Mr. Viswanathan. He would receive the official degree during the next convocation of the university.

Sixty-two-year-old M. Karunamoorthi, former HoD of English, Government Arts College, Coimbatore, summed up the awe of the audience in these words: “All of us look at retired life as a phase before attaining the lotus feet of God. But, you are an inspiration to young people like me to see life in a different perspective”.