Traveling in India this spring, I was a curiosity. The Hindu tradition of ashrama separates life into four consecutive stages: student, householder, retiree, and recluse. Regardless of gender or caste, Hindus who outgrow student life rarely return—especially not so close to retirement. In their most gracious way, Indian people I met wondered why a 54-year-old grandmother would pursue a doctoral degree.
Last fall I returned to school, 17 years after completing my MBA at Pepperdine. For the first two months of the organizational leadership program, I felt little spiders crawling around in my brain, as synapses woke up after years of sleep. And with the international study portion of the curriculum impending, I started to get excited, particularly as India was added as a new destination. While the country was not originally on my must-visit list, I thought it would be a rich environment for my first scholarly journey.
I was moved by the thousands of widows who travel to Vrindavan, near the birthplace of Krishna, to beg when their husbands’ deaths leave them destitute. I was impressed by the women toiling to make flat bread by hand and bake it in the sun, a responsibility they bear as shareholders of Lijjat, a women-owned food production cooperative which pays 42,000 slum women daily for their efforts. I was affected by the grandmother of one of our hosts whom we met in Mumbai; years ago she had had her teeth pulled to cure a bad knee, and now, not only does she lack teeth, but she suffers a pronounced limp and is permanently homebound.
Colleagues have asked if the vast social needs of India made me uncomfortable. On the contrary, I was amazed by her peoples’ resourcefulness, optimism, and gracious hospitality. At the same time, I am newly grateful for the freedom of choice which allows Americans to pursue our dreams regardless of our gender, heritage, or age. I think our two countries, both democracies but different in so many ways, have much to learn from each other. I know I have much left to learn from India.
Lisa Perrine (MBA ’92) is a student in the doctor of education in organizational leadership program.