As a Geography and History teacher in the 60s in Coimbatore, S Lalithambal often dreamed about travelling the world but couldn’t because circumstances didn’t allow her to. In 2022, she six-decades after she had first dreamt of seeing a world outside of India, she stepped on a foreign land. Her journey is not just overwhelming for her but also for her family who made sure to make her dream come true in all their power.
In a candid conversation with SheThePeople, S Lalithambal talks about fulfilling her six-decade-old dream of travelling abroad, how she surpassed challenges, and how she's living it up in her 80s.
The feeling of getting a passport in her 80s
While S Lalithambal wanted to travel the globe, she happily chose to prioritise her work and family responsibilities at a young age. When asked about her journey, she recalls, "Some financial struggles and other life priorities took over and I spent my prime years making sure my family had a bright future. But I always wondered whether I’ll ever be able to travel outside, I never got to make a passport for myself either."
"Life was working its way ordinarily but I realised there’s so much more to see and to be able to have this feeling at 84 will always remain special to me."
Her granddaughter, Kaavya, who settled in the Netherlands sometime back, took it upon herself to make her grandma's dream come true. "She managed to make some savings and her first mission was to bring me to the country and show me a world outside India. I lost my husband in 2020 and my plans of travelling were further delayed, too, owing to Covid. Finally, in 2021, Kaavya asked her mother Mekala - my daughter - to apply for my passport. While finding the 10th mark sheet was another challenge altogether, everything fell into place and I had my hands on a passport for the first time at the age of 83."
Takeaways from the trip
Ask her if she felt the change was overwhelming and she responded, "Of course, I was a bit hesitant thinking I might feel out of place but my wonderful family calmed me down and I landed in Amsterdam in June 2022." S Lalithambal travelled with her daughter to Europe for about three months and even visited countries like Germany and Belgium.
The best part was seeing for real the things I taught my students in Geography and History. For example, the famous Battle of Waterloo, the largest painting at Rijks Museum took my breath away. And just like that, my reality became better than so many years of imagination."
Her biggest takeaways from the trip: "Well, the sights were wonderful and seeing the scenic outdoors there was a great experience. I loved the people, nature and the uncomplicated life they lead coexisting with nature. Another takeaway from the trip is to let go of apprehensions."
"Growing up in Kerala, I was a terrific swimmer but life happened, I lost touch and now, 50 years later, here I was, swimming and feeling like I was the same little girl who once swam freely and dreamed a little more for herself."
S. Lalithambal with her family
Woman Travels Abroad At 84
For women in her age group to travel extensively is rare and so very inspiring. When we ask her what she would want to tell her younger self, she says, "I would tell my younger self to leave behind fears and barge into life. Turn every incident into an experience and with that learning march ahead confidently in life."
"I would tell my younger self that to leave fears behind and barge into life. Turn every incident into an experience."
What would you say being an independent woman meant to you? What is that one piece of advice you’d like to give the younger generation?
For me, an independent woman personifies respect and strength. For any independence, a lot of struggle and turmoil needs to be met if we talk about women. So, I salute independent women. I want to tell the younger generation that always value themselves and be righteous; never bend and give in to domination be it situations or people, and never forget roots. I brought up my children and grandchildren teaching them that financial independence also sets you on a path to taking your own decisions confidently. To see that my daughter, granddaughter and my grandson Ram not just embody this but also include my decades-old desire in their decision-making is overwhelming.
"I was very independent and lived life on my policies without compromising much. I brought up my two children and three grandchildren the same way."