Dreams Come True: Woman Learns to Read at 104

by Matthew Memrick

An Indian woman worked hard and achieved her dream of learning to read at age 104.

According to The New York Post, the Kerala, India woman said she always wanted to read, but there was no education available for her in the village of Thiruvanchoor. Also, her low-caste status made opportunities to learn difficult.

But her determination paid off, and it goes to show you that it’s never too late to change your life. Kuttiyama can’t wait to get the local newspaper and learn about world events.

“I hailed from Kerala’s backward Ezhava community and was born in the midst of poverty, education for women family members was unthinkable at that time,” Kuttiyama told The Guardian.

According to The Global Statistics website, India’s 2021 literacy rate was 77 percent, and Kuttiyama’s state was the most literate in that Asian country.

In comparison, the United States had a 79 percent literacy rate in 2019. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 21 percent of American adults have a “low-level English literacy,” and 4 percent are “functionally illiterate.” 

Indian Woman Always Curious About The World

Kuttiyama’s childhood involved cooking, washing clothes, and taking care of the family’s living space for 11 siblings.

Her marriage at 16 produced five children. To survive, her family sold herbal medicines at their small shop. The woman said she stayed happy but missed out on the world because of her illiteracy. She could not even write her name and address.

Kuttiyama said she was “always curious” about the world and “regretted” her inability to read. She said she begged younger people to read newspapers to her.

Last year, a neighbor noticed her kindness to her grandchildren and stepped in to help. That 34-year-old man, Rehana John, was a literacy trainer.

Old Woman Determined To Read

John gave her some books, and they met nightly to talk about the material.

The woman worked through poor eyesight and hearing problems to show John that she was a fast learner. He said she “made his teaching feel meaningful.” The man said Kuttiyama came to the meetings ready to go. She also prepared food to give him.

The older woman was not alone, however. John revealed he was helping an 84-year-old woman learn to read as well.

But John comes back to the bond he’s formed with Kuttiyama, saying “she’s his mother now” and that they share “a rare kind of camaraderie and relationship.”

Old Woman Tests Well, Too

After months of study, Kuttiyama took the state primary literacy exam in November with excellent results. She garnered 89 percent in literacy and 100 percent in mathematics on the exam.  

State education minister Vasudevan Sivankutty boasted of her results, saying, “age is no barrier for knowledge.” 

But the centenarian isn’t done yet with plans to ace the fourth standard exam. For nine-year-old Indian students, that test covers writing papers in Malayalam and English languages. Test takers must also show knowledge of the environment and more math.

Kuttiyamma wants to “achieve 100 percent marks in the equivalency examination for all papers.” But she’s still determined to meet with John daily and not give up her household chores