Oxford University Summer School for Adults
Munira Chudasama, 74, is a woman on a mission: to explore educational opportunities at the very best universities around the world.
In the summer of 2010 she attended the Oxford University Summer School for Adults (OUSSA), taking three week-long classes in Wittgenstein, Ethics, and Buddhism.
Two years ago she went to Harvard for a four week summer school to explore the intersection of sociology, gender and work. In each experience she cherishes the opportunity to explore and discuss the hard issues. 'The more challenging it is, the more I love it!', she says.
One of eight siblings, the Mumbai native received Master's degrees in commerce and sociology before setting herself up in business in 1969 as a designer and purveyor of French-style fashion with local hand-finishing. She ran 'The Golden Thimble', her boutique, with great success for over 35 years, while raising two children and participating fully in both her traditional Indian family life and the Mumbai political scene. Her husband is a well-known entrepreneur, social activist, and two-time sheriff of Mumbai.
Now retired, and with her daughter running her business, Munira has time to explore. But the road was not easy at first. 'When you have been looking after your near and dear ones for over four decades, they do become possessive and start to believe that in your old age there is nothing but the family to think about', she comments with a wry smile. 'However, I feel that my family is well settled and I am 74 years of age. I am not someone who can sit idle; education is a passion with me and so is travelling. Nothing could be better than combining the two.'
She decided to alternate her focus year by year: one year would be spent in the West pursuing educational interests, and the following year in the East, focussing on spirituality. This year's busy schedule in Oxford was preceded by last summer's Buddhist retreat in rural India in which participants spent 10 days in silent Vipassana meditation.
At home in India, Munira is far from retired. She is president of the Ladies Wing of the Indian Merchant Chamber, where she focuses on the promotion of rural women leaders. 'Marginalised women who filled a gap and brought about change in their community – we wanted to bring them into focus and help them further.' In 2007 she conceived of an idea to publish their stories, spreading word of the large impact of these small successes across India. The resulting book is called Grass Roots Divas.
Next summer Munira plans to visit China and Japan for spiritual exploration, as part of her alternating East-West educational plan. 'I want to feel that my life is filled up with knowledge', she says.