Age, not barrier to learning

Age, not barrier to learning

Creating an endless yearning for growth and a passionate Life

By Aditi Raman Shridhar
Teach me how to read this book on Kindle,” said my 89-year-old grandma as she nudged me in my sleep. It was afternoon and we were in her home in the city of Darjeeling in India.

“The print is small and the page isn’t changing,” she said while incessantly tapping on the screen and looking bemused. Her eyes looked strained and magnified through those thick glasses but she wouldn’t rest until this was fixed. It had only been a week since she started reading on Kindle device and seeing her eagerness to learn and be creatively engaged was inspiring.

Watching her read reminded me of a story grandpa told us about her. When they married in 1944, she was 15 years old and had never stepped inside a school. He was 21 and a college lecturer. Being illiterate annoyed her especially when grandpa praised any student. Seeing him read and write, she craved to get educated herself. “She had a voracious appetite for learning. She wanted an identity and knew only literacy could give her that. ‘Me too’ was her favourite phrase when it came to education,” he said.

Grandpa taught her every day after college. They began with elementary level and by the time their own kids passed out from school, grandma had become proficient in English, Hindi and Mathematics. She read anything that was in print, he joked. She wrote letters to friends and family, assisted her children in their studies and was more updated on current affairs than grandpa. The timid girl he once knew spoke eloquently at social gatherings on any subject with anyone. And her kids imbibed from her that education was a holistic package for a good life, not only for a degree and job.

Fast forward to 2018 and my grandma exudes the same childlike keenness to learn. But the subject has shifted from academics to digital learning. This happened after my grandpa died three years ago and her life turned lonely and depressing. For a long time, she didn’t smile or do the things she loved.

Only this summer when her grandkids visited her, a friend’s video call on my phone caught her fancy and something started to change within her. She looked livelier and desired to speak with her friends on video too. Her eyes lit up with excitement when she connected with people again.

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Grandma knows how my generation lives and breathes technology but she was never appealed by it. Until now her landline phone, radio and TV kept her content but this time she noticed us intently. Posting about our activities on social-media sites and receiving hundreds of comments by friends and strangers amused her. Shopping and paying bills online seemed otherworldly to her.

She sensed how easy and fascinating her life would become if she had digital education. And the spark to learn and re-invent her life rekindled inside her. In six months under the tutelage of her grandkids, she learnt to operate a smartphone. She calls and texts via WhatsApp, enjoys songs and prank videos on YouTube, reads on Kindle and orders grocery online. There are occasional faux pas when a picture of her forehead gets clicked and sent on chat groups but it’s charming.

Grandma turned 90 this month. Her legs are wobbly and she gets easily tired. But the desire to learn burns as intensely inside her as it did when she was 15. Education is not restricted to any subject or age. It is a life-long pursuit and I wish the fervor to keep learning stays in each one of us.

What are you curious about?

Curiosity is a necessary stimulant for learning. A neurological study has shown that curiosity makes our brains more receptive for learning and that as we learn, we enjoy the sensation of learning. Our brains love curiosity and it is no surprise that that we’re more likely to remember what we’ve learned when the subject matter intrigues us.

Each of us is curious about one or more things in life and it usually occurs involuntarily. A curiosity for learning languages, for example, might be triggered from a desire to interact with people of various countries or to be able to read books and poems in those languages. My mother’s curiosity in sewing and knitting came from her desire to dress her kids in her handmade clothes. Another interesting feature about curiosity is that it may or may not be connected to your profession at all. For example, my father is a pediatrician and he extremely curious about folk tales. He said it was triggered in his childhood when his mother used to narrate stories to him and he had a desire to keep the memory of those moments alive and so he became naturally inclined to read and research and write down nearly all folktales from around the world in his notebook. He is able to narrate stories at length from various cultures and he researches so much on the various characters, drawing parallels in their behavior and tales.

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Curiosity is necessary for life. It helps us grow, create a passion and it also helps us in interacting with people who share similar interests. Curiosity gives us an amazing opportunity to be effortlessly creative and we are hooked to a certain kind of self-transformation and growth through it.

Curiosity can be of various kinds. My husband is extremely passionate about railfanning and tracking airways but his profession is business and resource management. For some people, it is in skincare and beauty, for some spirituality and personal transformation, for some cooking, and the list goes on.

There was a time when a couple of my college friends used to whine about not having any passion or interest in anything in life. They used to often ask me what their passion was. For many years, I tried to help people in getting answers to this question but it is only recently that I have learnt that curiosity and interest doesn’t get created by the rationality of mind. It is triggered or stimulated by an external or internal stimulus such as a happy moment or a miracle moment in someone’s life. There is an emotional connection to the passion you hone, whether of love, a desire to help or willingness to serve.

I understood this from the way my husband described how he got so interested in tracking railways and airways and learning about everything remotely connected to the two. In his childhood, his and his grandfather used to go for long walks and watch trains passing by through fields, at a distance. The sound of the whistle makes him nostalgic of the moments he spent with his grandfather. He often relates to trains in the ways we related to some of our own childhood memories.

For many people who don’t have a curiosity or interest in something, it can be extremely frustrating. It feels hopeless to have no sense of fulfilling drive to learn something. However, this is easily correctable. It only means that the person is not aware of where their interest lies and what they love spending time doing. Most people kill their curiosity and passion because they have a wrong belief that passion equals to profession or something that gives them an identity.

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The area of interest or your object of passion has nothing to do with your identity or character building or profession. It is purely an engagement with creativity that you indulge yourself in. No subject of passion is better or worse than another passion. Passion is fulfilling when you love doing it consistently for most part of your life. And that gives a lot of fulfillment and fun.

If you don’t have a passion yet, just notice yourself and your activities during the day. What do you love doing the most? If your answer is – I love watching YouTube videos, then ask yourself what do you love watching the most. If you love watching music videos for example, your passion could be singing, dancing, looking stylish or videography. Break it down and notice what about the videos attracts you and if you were to play a part in that creative process what would you be doing? You are sure to arrive at some result.

If you are the kind who simply loves to binge watch shows and get passively entertained, don’t be discouraged. I have good news for you. You could have a passion for entertainment and you could do something more productive around it. A friend of mine used to watch television all day long, before and after college hours and all day, easily ditching us in all group activities or any kind of social engagement. She is a cinematographer today because she realized that for so many years she was hooked to television, watching cinematography and how movies and shows are shot on camera. And after college, she changed her stream and went into cinematography. How cool is that!

Cultivate the passion to live

Life is so much more than your 9-5 office routine, marriage and social engagements. Life is first a journey within yourself and creating many beautiful aspects around it as you walk along the way. It is a wholesome package featuring love, parenting, wealth creation and service to humanity, self-growth and transformation, health, having beautiful once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an urge to keep creating more and more.

Age is no bar to learning and curiosity is a gift that one must cherish. Keep your curiosity high and the passion to live way higher. Until next week.

Aditi Raman Shridhar is an Indian writer, healer and health instructor.

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