99-Year-Old Immigrant Awarded Honorary Doctorate

Aug 11, 2017

Miami University is awarding an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.) to 99-year-old Lilavati Bansal for her vast collection of writings.

Bansal has written more than 25 books and numerous poems in her native Hindi, and in Urdu after teaching herself the language at the age of 70. She continues to write and recite her works.

In a recommendation letter, Chair of the Awards and Recognition Committee Andrea Ridilla writes, "Lilavati has produced a prodigious amount of literature including folk songs from North India set to music; feminist literature highlighting the achievements of prominent women; a compilation of literary traditions related to sayings, adages and maxims; poems for young children; and a book on puzzles and riddles."

A portion of one of Bansal's poem. Hear her recite this poem above.
Credit Provided

Bansal moved to the United States at the age of 93 to be closer to her children. She became a citizen at 96 and is an active member of the local Indian community, according to her son, Ambrish Bansal.

"Many times [community members] will bring their children to see her and be inspired by how lively she is and how she focuses on positive things rather than negative things of her life," he says.

Lilavati is known in the community as Ammaji, mother, in the Greater Cincinnati Indian community.

"She's written so much, she's accomplished so much including many awards she's gotten in India, but she never did get any formal recognition for her body of work and for her accomplishments," says Ambrish. "We thought it would be a very nice gift to her."

After marrying at 18, according to a provided biography, Lilavati raised five children and served as president of a 300-member social service organization for 25 years.