Arvindavalli has completed a doctoral programme in music and is waiting for her convocation day. Liffy Thomas on what makes her different from most other students

C. Arvindavalli can’t wait to don the convocation gown. And, at 72, she is not the regular dreamy-eyed graduate.

Ever since Arvindavalli signed up for a Ph.D programme in music at Queen Mary’s College, she has been a walking wonder for youngsters that are in pursuit of the same goal. As the septuagenarian has submitted her thesis on ‘Thirumangai Alwar Pasurangalil Isai Koorugal’ and is waiting for the convocation day, their admiration for her has grown immeasurably. “I don’t know when the convocation function will be held, but I have bought the application form to get the provisional certificate,” says Arvindavalli, unable to suppress a school-girlish excitement in her voice. After a long hiatus, Arvindavalli returned to the classroom in 1993 for a bachelor's degree in veena. And this turned out to be the beginning of a string of educational pursuits – including MA (Vaishnavism) and MA (Veena) – which has now culminated in a doctorate.

She was inspired by the example of late C. Jaganathachariar, her father who headed the department of Tamil at Vivekananda College, to go for a doctorate. “He had many doctoral students coming home to seek his guidance,” she recalls.

K.R. Seethalakshmi, an exponent in Carnatic and Tamil music, made the doctoral pursuit easy for Arvindavalli. Arvindavalli also found support at home, with her husband and children collecting research materials, pictures and translating content from English to Tamil. “I stayed away from the kitchen for the last five years – that will tell you how helpful my family has been,” says Arvindavalli, who however did not let academic ambition come in the way of veena classes she has been conducting at home. “She was prompt in submitting her reports. She came to college regularly,” says Ms. Seethalakshmi, principal of Dr. Ambedkar Government Arts College. “I never took leave from college. I enjoyed coming every day and being with my younger classmates,” she says. Arvindavalli is trying to find out what academic challenge to take on next.

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