If age is only a number, it is also not a deterrent to those who want to pursue their academic dreams. Mumbai University boasts of a good number of senior citizens who have gone back to college to either complete graduation or pursue their Masters degrees
The Free Press Journal spoke to four such tough cookies, who are oblivious not only to their age but also aches and pains.
For them, days begin with morning walks but nights don't end with holy books-they stretch well past midnight and amidst heavy academic books. For all their families are a big succour and it is this that adds zest to their endeavors.
Suryaprakash Vaidya, who is now 77 years old, is finishing his third year of B.com at Mumbai University. The circumstances his family faced did not allow him to finish his education while growing up, “The financial situation was such that I was not put through proper schooling. I lived in an 8x8 room with my parents and 9 siblings.”
Undaunted even by the Pandemic
Unable to gain this privilege himself, Suryaprakash always looked up to well-educated people and yearned to become one too. He finished B.A. and M.A. while raising his children, and is rediscovering his love for commerce today. “The younger students in my B.com class would always help me find a seat, I never found going to college daunting. Before getting my degree, a sense of inferiority surrounded me. Every exam that I passed acted as an encouragement,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic did not stop Suryaprakash from writing his exams,” The university would arrange for an alternate center near my house where they would set the server for me. I would sit alone in the room and appear for the examination.”
Pragada Shankar Rao was a part of the distance learning program at Mumbai University, where no lectures are held and students are only required to appear for examinations.
"Though I graduated in electrical engineering long ago, I found myself drawn to economics," said 80-year-old Shankar Rao, who got a Master's degree in economics.
Burning the Midnight Oil
"During the examinations, I fell back on the countless books the MU Library offered and the study material listed for this course. The Internet and Youtube were beyond my reach," he said.
Shankar Rao often burned the midnight oil in the days leading up to his exam. "My wife and children can't seem to wrap their heads around why I do this. they reprimand me every time I try to stay up late and study..." he said. This does not seem to have slowed down the former Railway Officer. "I will be appearing for the LLB Entrance Examination in August," said Pragada Shankar Rao, who recently finished his MA.
On the other hand, the 81-year-old Ramesh Shankar Kadam will only start the second semester of B.com in July. The former employee of BMC said, “The curriculum helps me remain engaged in my free time. I have taken a computer course in the past, so the online exams were never a challenge, though they were boring. Offline papers are challenging for my health, but I can explain myself better there.”
“Every time he is bored of studying he turns to social work, and whenever he is bored of that he returns to study. He had a paralysis attack a few years ago, but studying keeps him happy and engaged.” said his wife, Sulbha Ramesh Kadam.
“But he can be quite a stickler about the tidiness of his study table!” she quickly added.
Vijay Gopal Sawant found joy in studying political science and pursuing an M.A. at 70 years of age. Recalling the reason for enrolling in a Master's degree’, he said “My mother always wanted me to be well educated, she would be proud of what I am doing right now. Being the oldest man in the classroom does get difficult, but I try to remain focused on my aim.
Reminiscing School Days
Vijay appeared for his final exam and is waiting for the results, “My parents won’t be yelling at me this time if the outcome is not up to the mark. This makes me less nervous.”
Vijay thought back to his school days when waking up and hurrying to the school was a task. “It is not that way anymore. Now I want to wake up early for school!”
“Fifteen students in my batch are more than 65 years old,” said Bhushan Thackare, who teaches the Master's batch for Political Science. “They are very curious to explore a subject from all angles and don’t expect to be treated differently. Last year, a 78-year-old student topped the political science batch,” he added.
“I believe this age group is the most attentive of them all. They are the ones who respond to all the messages on the groups” he added.
“It feels like they are the caretakers of the class,” said Prof. Thackare.