BENGALURU: Fading evening light pours in through the windows at Sumita’s Self Defense Academy, Bannerghatta, where Captain Kaustav Nath and Sumita Nath are surrounded by four students, all aged between nine to 13 years. Their fifth student – and it’s hard to believe it until she wears her karate uniform – is Dr Mridula Chauhan (62), who took up these karate classes only six months ago.
She looks frail, more so in the loose-fitting white suit (judogi) she’s wearing. Kaustav asks the four pre-teens to pair off for a combat, leaving Chauhan and Sumita to duel against each other. They bow, saying ‘Osu’ (pronounced Oush; used as a term of respect) and the fight begins. Sumita’s moves are slow, almost like she’s trying hard to not use too much force against Chauhan, who on the other hand, moves swiftly. Her limbs don’t seem delicate anymore and she holds her gait steadily, packing punches with as much power as she can, eyes focused on her opponent, a hint of a serene smile making its way ever so often.
Once this is done, she moves on with her practice to don some boxing gloves and makes her way to the punching bags. They barely move an inch but according to Kaustav, it’s still an improvement from August last year. Ask Chauhan what prompted her to learn Kyokushin Kai Kan karate, and she shrugs as she says: “Because I can. And I have the time now.
An earth scientist with Geological Survey of India (and the fourth woman to be so), Chauhan retired from her job in December 2017, to suddenly have a lot more time on her hands. “It was my first and last job, I was with them for 35 years,” she says. Her main reason for taking up these classes was to be able to protect herself if she were ever caught in any untoward incident. “I’ve always been frail. I’m 40 kg now and the maximum weight I’ve ever been is 44 kg. I don’t want anyone taking advantage or targeting me in an unwanted situation,” she explains.
Chauhan graduated from college in 1978 but the examination phase of her life is far from over. The sexagenarian recently took her exam to progress to the next level. She didn’t think she would be progressing levels within half-a-year but being nervous isn’t her style. When asked about her confidence in passing, she smiles like the class topper who already knows what the results might be.
She wasn’t the only one who was optimistic about the exam either. While she may be the oldest member the Naths are teaching, she is also their sharpest. “When I teach her a new move or kick, she takes five minutes to grasp it. The same thing could take another younger student around three days,” says Kaustav.
Chauhan’s day begins at 6 am, when she walks around her neighbourhood for 15 minutes (during which she also turns off the switches of 40 streetlight bulbs in the area) and spends the rest of the day with her husband, sister and mother. Despite her karate class being scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays, she’s there almost every day to practice with Sumita, and attributes this to her stroke of good luck that bone brittleness or arthritis hasn’t affected her as much as her fellows of the same age. The impact of a pat on the back from her lingers longer than one expects and is enough to prove that the classes are definitely helping this sexagenarian stay fit.
Her family has been encouraging, but more importantly, less interfering. She says, “I live my life on my terms. If anyone showed any concern about my getting hurt, I would tell them it would be my pain and injury to look after. When I told my husband, he just asked me to stay away from trying any karate moves on him,” she says with a laugh.