Doctor and author Atul Gawande, in his book Being Mortal, wrote, “Life is meaningful because it is a story” and 75-year-old Rajam Rajamani’s life story is not just uncommon, but also awe-inspiring.
Rajamani might not be the oldest person to have earned a PhD, but the circumstances under which she did makes it a rare feat.
Over the past 12 years, Rajamani has battled two bouts of breast cancer, loss of vision in one eye, respiratory collapse and kidney failure. But nothing could stop her from pursuing a doctorate degree.
Rajamani enrolled for her doctoral thesis on ‘Comparative Study of Indian Ramayana and South East Asian Ramayana’ at Mother Teresa University in Kodaikanal.
“The health travails began when I was living in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. I developed serious respiratory problems. On different occasions, I was hospitalised in the intensive care unit. Ever since, I’ve been living with an oxygen machine. I even have to sleep with the machine to ensure that my oxygen level doesn’t dip fatally,” said Rajamani.
In 2004, after she had moved to Mumbai, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, for which she underwent surgery. The cancer came to haunt her again in 2010 after which she underwent another surgery. In the same year, Rajamani was also diagnosed with kidney failure.
“Every time, I have gone to a doctor, I have invested complete faith in him,” said Rajamani, adding, “If you start having doubts in your mind, you are never going to live happily.”
In 2011, Rajamani applied for a PhD; her application was approved in 2012.
Even though through the course of researching and writing her PhD her health was not at its best, it did not stop her from finishing it in three years.
Dr Vishwanath Billa, who has treated Rajamani, said, “She’s been the most inspiring and positive person I have come across in the longest time. She has defied all odds and shown how life can be lived to the fullest. Her life is a telling example that we need to rise above our problems.”