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Usha Chadaga earned a PhD at 75

May 02, 2022 16:24 IST

'You can do anything after retirement. You have to pursue it. You have to take it up as a challenge.'

IMAGE: Dr Usha Chadaga. Photograph: Usha Chadaga

Usha Chadaga, 75, a grandmother, is now Dr Chadaga. She was awarded a doctorate last month by Mysore University for her research thesis on the 13th century Vedanta philosopher Madhvacharya, who popularise dvaita or dualism.

Dr Chadaga rerired as the principal of the Santhana Public School, Thiruvananthapuram, and began studying Sanskrit at the SMSP Sanskrit College, Udipi and gained an MA in Sanskrit from the Karnataka State Open University.

Inspired by Madhva philosopher Bannanje Govindacharya, she made up her mind to research Madhvacharya's philosophy.

Five years of dedicated work followed. It was her reading the Vedas in Sanskrit that put her on the path to striving for a doctorate, she tells's A Ganesh Nadar.


Did you know Sanskrit when you enrolled for an MA in Sanskrit or was it a completely new language?

I knew a little Sanskrit; I know Hindi. I enrolled for an eight-year course in Sanskrit.

Why did you choose to do an MA in Sanskrit?

I wanted to learn Sanskrit. Earlier I had attended spoken Sanskrit classes. Before that, I had done my BSc in microbiology.

How did it feel to attend college after retirement? How did the other students and teachers treat you?

Other students were supportive -- they were 20 year olds. I was interested in the subject so I did not mind any comments.

The teachers respected me as I was a retired teacher.

When I joined the college I was the only lady student there. One year later other girls joined.

I could not write fast during the exams and I practiced a lot to improve my speed.

Why did you choose Sri Madhvacharya's doctrines for your thesis?

I wanted to learn about Vedanta and Sri Madhvacharya was born in Udipi. I liked his philosophy and so I decided to do my thesis on it.

Why do you like Sri Madhvacharya's philosophy specifically?

The college where I studied is meant for Sri Madhvacharya's philosophy. I studied it and liked it. His interpretation of Vedanta is very good, I liked it. I went for it as I liked it. This is the place, Udipi, where he was born.

How does someone qualified in microbiology suddenly move from a science-related field to something as different as Sanskrit and philosophy?

I did microbiology for my degree. Then I worked in that field. I took up Sanskrit after retirement because I was interested in Sanskrit. I had finished all my commitments and I had free time to pursue my interest.

How long did your research and writing the thesis take?

I started in 2016. I first did a one-year course in his philosophy.

In 2017 I started my research and then started writing. It took five years, including the pandemic period.

How did your guide Dr M Padmanabha Marathe help you?

He guided me on how to go about it. He told me what points I have to put in the thesis. He would also tell me what was relevant to the subject.

When did you first think of learning Sanskrit and getting a PhD?

Actually, I wanted to read the Upanishads in Sanskrit and so I learnt the language.

I did not know how much of the meaning of the Upanishads was lost in translation.

Bannanje Govindacharya guided me when I was studying Vedanta.

He told me to do a PhD and he gave me the subject.

He passed away last year. I feel sad that he is not here to see my thesis.

Was your family there for you?

My family was very supportive. My husband, my children, my mother, my brother, and my sister, everyone was supportive.

Is it easy to concentrate on studies after retirement?

It all depends on one's interest. As I was interested I could concentrate.

What were the greatest difficulties while trying to earn a PhD? Did you ever think of giving it up?

Yes! So many times that thought did come to my mind. Getting a degree in Vedanta was difficult as I was older than 60 and there were no other lady students at that time. Getting an MA in Vedanta was difficult, but a PhD was not.

How do you feel after receiving your PhD?

I feel great! (laughs). I was happy that I could do it. I wanted to do it for myself. I knew I could not teach after this. I feel satisfied that I have done something.

I am thinking of publishing my thesis in English.

What is your advice to other 75 year olds?

You can do anything after retirement. You have to pursue it. You have to take it up as a challenge.

How was your daily routine when you were writing your thesis? How many hours a day did you work?

I would sit for an hour with my laptop every night. Sometimes I worked 2-3 hours daily. During COVID-19 times I worked for 5-6 hours a day on my thesis.

Do you exercise regularly?

Yes! I do yoga and also go for a walk. I sing bhajans too for two hours a day with my group.

Do you think our educational system facilitates doing further studies some years after finishing studies? How can our system facilitate this further?

I think there are restrictions, but if you are determined you can do it. There are no restrictions here (in India) about your age.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/