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Wisdom Stories Ep. 41: Aruna Khanna

Cultural expectations surrounding the elderly are being challenged today, and with good reason!

While it was the norm to slow down and retreat into a quieter life post-retirement, more men and women are finding purpose and joy in doing the opposite.

WisdomCircle honours such men and women by shining light on their journey through an inspiring series called “Wisdom Stories”. These people have successfully smashed stereotypes, and their stories remind us that life should be lived to the fullest, no matter what age or stage.

My first turning point was in Bhutan, where I was promoted to School Principal in Jaigaon. The school broke new grounds under my aegis and I got exposure to the administrative side of education, which paved the way for more challenging roles. Subsequently, we moved back to Delhi, and I appeared for an interview and got selected for the post of Principal at J.K.Happy School, where I worked for 20 years before retiring in 2005.

Failures have never deterred me. I wanted to become a radio artist and auditioned. While I did not make it, it was a great learning opportunity. Later I was coaxed to take up Economics for my Bachelor’s Degree but for my Master’s, I put my foot down, changed my subject to English, and appeared for B.Ed. exam, and went on to excel as a teacher. I wish the film “Three Idiots” was released in my time!

In 1980-81, I started teaching a class of 12th-grade students in Hasimara, West Bengal. The atmosphere was intimidating. My students were big and well-built boys who made me feel uncomfortable. I couldn’t have been more wrong. That was the best batch I ever had and the Board results were excellent. It was a life lesson on biases. When you stay honest and positive, everything aligns.

Image of Aruna Khanna

My parents had a great impact on me. Although my mother was from a well-off family, she faced difficult times. When my father was diagnosed with bone cancer, she began a stationery business. I felt proud when her profile appeared in magazines and newspapers. She was very tenacious. She wrote with her left hand when her right was fractured. I inherited her passion for cooking, embroidery and knitting, and published my own book on knitting designs, dedicating it to her. The book has been in circulation for over 20 years. When I was battling cancer, I remembered my father’s grace and strength when he was in a similar situation. His quiet courage helped me ride out a critical time of my life.

Setbacks have made me stronger and motivated me to enjoy every moment. Even at 78, my students seek me out in increasing numbers for guidance in Board Exams. Many students from economically weaker sections feel supported, and the smile on their faces is my reward.

At 70, I discovered my passion for Yoga. It’s never too late. I keep my creative energy engaged by knitting and stitching to the delight of my family. As James Bond says ‘No time to Die’ – I have lots to accomplish before I say goodbye to everyone!

Aruna Khanna

Interview and photograph credits: Saonli Sen Choudhury of WisdomCircle

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