100-year-old freedom fighter enrols for PhD

Guwahati: Age is no bar for this centenarian freedom fighter from Assam Bholaram Das, who announced on his 100th birthday that he has enrolled for a PhD programme, and he could well be the oldest university student in the country.

Interestingly, Das who has enrolled in the Gauhati university will have one of his grand-daughters, a professor in the same university, as his guide for his doctoral thesis, Das' family members said.

"I thought I must work towards a PhD that could satisfy my hunger for learning," Das, a widower, said during his 100th birthday celebrations last week-end. He has a daughter and five sons, besides 10 grand-children and a great-grandchild.

An inspiration for both young and old scholars, Das intended to conduct his research on how his native village Bohori in lower Assam contributed towards the spread of the egalitarian stream of Hinduism -- neo-Vaishnavite movement propagated by 16th century social and religious reformer Sri Sri Sankardeb -- across the state.

"In my 100 years, I have done many things in the fields of politics, governance, religion and society. So now I am planning to study the subject close to my heart -- neo-Vaishnavism's philosophies of one god and humanism," said Das with a smile, dressed nattily in a brown suit and tie.

Das foray's at the ripe old age has stunned many a people.

The university's Vice-Chancellor O K Medhi said he was thrilled, "Because Das can be an inspiration for youth with his formidable spirit and dedication to public service. It is indeed rare to find a student who is 100 years old."

The university Chancellor Governor J B Patnaik said Das would stand out as a role model for the next generation.

Das' grandson Abhinab, an engineer, is amazed at his grand-father's alert mental faculties and his eagerness to learn new things even after 40 years of retirement from service.

The still agile centenarian is an avid reader owning an enviable library of books and loves to watch cricket matches on the television.

Jailed at the age of 19 for participating in the Independence Movement in 1930, Das had spent two months doing hard labour in the jail.

He joined Congress in 1945 and went on to pursue his studies in commerce and law before taking up an array of jobs as a teacher, lawyer, magistrate and finally retiring as a district court judge in 1971. Das' wife Mandakini passed away in 1988.