When 96-year-old Alappuzha-native Karthyayini Amma appeared for a literacy-equivalency examination in her village in Kerala last year, she was not just breaking a record. It seems she was also indirectly inspiring her peers to break old-age stereotypes and hit the classroom. Fifty kilometers away from Karthyayini Amma’s residence, 105-year-old Bhageerathi Amma took that inspiration this week and stamped her own record.
Panchayat officials and locals in Prakkulam in Kollam district are elated that Bhageerathi Amma, a mother to five children and grandmother to 13 grandkids, wrote three papers of the class four literacy equivalency examination conducted as part of the formal education programme of the Kerala Literacy Mission.
She wrote the three papers on Malayalam language, Mathematics and Environmental Science, one each day, earlier this week at her home where literacy mission officials and panchayat members acted as invigilators. By doing so, she has now become the state’s oldest candidate to sit for a ‘literacy equivalency’ examination and perhaps even the oldest in the country.
“It gives us so much happiness to see Bhageerathi Amma write the examination at such an advanced age. When Karthyayi Amma wrote the exam last year, she was inspired to take the exam too. That gave us confidence too,” said KB Vasantha Kumar, a resource person of the literacy mission who oversaw her exam, over the phone. In fact, it was Kumar’s wife SN Sherly, a ‘prerak’ (teacher) with the literacy mission, who guided the centenarian’s lessons.
Bhageerathi Amma, said Kumar, was forced to drop out of class 3 at the age of 9 reportedly at the insistence of her mother as the latter had five other children to take care of. When her mother asked her to drop out of school to help her raise her younger brothers, she did it reluctantly because she had a zeal to study. Later, her marriage at a young age and giving birth to six children led her to abandon her dreams to study altogether.
That dream has now been brought back to life through the coordinated efforts of the 105-year-old’s family, locals and members of the Thrikkaruva panchayat.
“It wasn’t very difficult to teach her lessons because she has a sharp memory and good singing skills. We had to approach psychologically and introduce the subjects to her in an indirect way. She was able to pick up well,” Kumar said.
“But the only problem was that she found it tiring to write continuously. That’s why we scheduled the tests on three separate days. Since she couldn’t travel to the exam centre, we allowed her to take them to her home. She was very happy with her performance,” he added. Results are expected in about 20 days’ time.
Bhageerathi Amma currently stays with her youngest daughter, Thankamani Amma (70) and depends on financial support from her eldest son Thulasidhara Pillai (84) in Prakkulam. She loves watching TV soaps and cricket on TV.
But ironically, even as she tasted literacy success, Bhageerathi Amma has still not become eligible for social security pension disbursed by the state government. Though Aadhaar officials came to her residence to take fingerprints and retina scans, her old age stood in the way of getting proper samples.