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Learning knows no age

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K. Shyamala is gearing up for her next academic year. She is just 81 years old, says DEEPA H. RAMAKRISHNAN

K. Shyamala is eighty-one years old, and is looking forward to her next course in Vaishnavism at the Madras University. “There is talk of a course on Nalayira Divya Prabandham being brought under the open university system… If that happens, I will be the first to apply,” says the octogenarian.

Not long ago, she completed a bachelor’s and a masters degree in the same subject, returning to the classroom after a long hiatus. With the support of the Venkatakrishnan, head of the department of Vaishnavism at the University, she dealt with the initial hiccups.

‘At every contact class, he would encourage me. My confidence levels soared, and I sat in the front bench,” says Shymala. Her family was a big source of encouragement. “My son was cheering me along the way. My daughter-in-law would write essays for me. Now, she has signed up for MA Vaishnavism,” said Shyamala, who recently received an award from the Lioness Club.

Shyamala had earlier successfully completed a bachelor’s vaishnavism, where a paper in English introduced her to Shakespeare and Tagore. “Tagore’s Kabuliwallah brought tears to my eyes,” she says. Two degrees have not Shyamala’s hunger for learning – she believes only a few pursuits are more fulfilling than treading the path of knowledge. ?

But for an extra-ordinary effort on her part, she would have missed this road altogether. After studying up to class seven, there was a long lull. “I began my second innings at a time when I had forgotten even the Tamil script and English was a tough nut to crack. If not for my grand children’s assistance and a tuition I wouldn’t have passed the English papers in first class,” said Mrs. Shyamala who quit school at 13 because her mother would not let her study in a co-ed school. ? She continues to hone her English skills, often going through books she received from a private English teaching institute.

“When I go to the bank or to the pension office, I need to fill up forms. Given the hassle of official terminology, entering details in Tamil is difficult. It is easier to write in English,” says Shyamala, who has also taken up a course in Sanskrit .

She says, “I want to learn languages other than Tamil.”

Much as she values learning, Shyamala is hardly a bookworm. As the wife of a college professor, she has travelled to many parts of the State, as a result of his transfers, and wherever she has gone, she has made kitchen gardens with plenty of vegetables. “Only these past few years I have not grown any vegetables. I only have flowering plants in my garden,” says Shyamala, who is also an expert in tailoring. For over 60 years now, she has been stitching her own blouses and also making clothes for her granddaughter and great granddaughter.?

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