Few days back I celebrated my birthday by distributing Mysore Pak from Sri Krishna Sweets in my Department. The warmth from my mostly much younger colleagues was a pleasant surprise. A delicious blueberry cake was presented by the colleagues . It was an informal and happy moment.
It was also a reminder that one more year has passed and there are lesser number of years to look forward to (as compared those spent).
Being close to the formal end of a long working life is a point to ponder over. I started working in mid 1970s (1975 to be precise) when unemployment was a sore issue (remember Manoj Kumar’s Movie Roti, Kapada aur Makan released in 1974). Getting any job was a fortune. That mindset influenced the thinking of a large segment of our generation. Employment and career were considered synonymous. Wealth was a mirage and money a pie in the sky. The amount that is paid today for a casual visit to Café Coffee Day was our net monthly salary for a long time.
All this is past. It is over. The hardship of that era were predictable (if you have no money, there is nothing to predict except what you cannot buy). Today is different. NAMO is in Chair. Acche Din (good days) have come or are going to come or just on the way. All of us have multiple opportunities. At such time, is retirement the word to even think of?
Is retirement a synonym for doing nothing of consequence? Seems simple – to do nothing is and still live a good life every person’s dream. But step back a bit. What does it mean in real terms?
First point is the end of formal employment. You are not obliged to say to your boss or bosses – “yes sir, I will do it just now sir? Yes, yes, it will be in your mail by tomorrow noon”. Conversely it also means that there would be on one standing impatiently to see you and seek pearls of wisdom flowing from your brain. Even your 3 year old grandchild would be busier than you are and may brush you aside if you pester them.
Next is being around in your house whole day or most of it. I remember reading once that “distance makes the heart grow fonder”. This distance here does not necessarily mean the physical distance that we saw in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehana (between Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee). The distance could have arisen due to the individual spending a large part of waking hours in public or private transport, air conditioned offices, flying across India or to other continents etc. This would have made the presence (limited waking hours) of the individual tolerable. If you are viewed as a despotic individual who fusses over small things and make life generally miserable for others, then there would be a sense of dismay over your uninterrupted presence in the house. The best part would be that the concerned individual would be blissfully unaware of this view.
Another is a perception of loss of authority. One company I worked in had a peon to carry even a very light office bag from the car to the cabin for some senior executives. This was emulated by lesser mortals within the structure also. Every one of us would have enjoyed some such privilege (4 copy leke aao – bring 4 photo copies being a common order to a peon) over at least one or if not more subordinates. Post retirement such privileges would cease rather abruptly. It is hard to gauge the impact of this loss.
All retired individuals are supposed to go for morning walk (and perhaps evening walk also). You will hear many inquiries about when you retired, what you intend to do etc. This will only irritate you as you would think the other chap (who underwent this trauma few years or decades back) is inflicting his earlier pain on you. You would tend to give critical comments about another fat older individual wearing a half pant (shorts) and loud T shirt coming for morning walk and seeming to enjoy life more than you.
Religion, connected rituals and books are the next stops for succor. Now, religion and rituals are tricky affairs. Most of us perform some kind of salutations to God on a daily or regular basis without much thought or understanding. (Where is the time for all that?). Now that we have more time, we could turn our attention to God. Our belief is that He would not mind the decades of neglect when He had stood by us during times of need and guided us when we took stupid or wrong turns in life. Now, these rituals take time, effort and lot of patience. If we do not have enough of it, then this will not fill much time. If we overdo it, then it will test the family members patience.
Most of you would be surprised to know that religious books are a major segment of book publication. These are purchased regularly with noble intentions and carefully stored and never opened.
I recently received complete Valmiki Ramayana (Sanskrit sloka and English translation) in two large volumes as gift from a venerable old man. These were unread and in mint condition. I read one page a day. (Rama, Sita and Laxman have just reached the forest. Their further journey will unfold in the coming months). What is surprising to me is the contemporary relevance of some of the events and reactions and the quality of description in the epic.
I have another retired relative who told me he gets up 4.00 a.m. and starts reading religious books and hence hardly has any time to spare. That is too much. Presently my Kindle (electronic book reader) is filled with thrillers, spy novels, etc. which are downloaded freely or for nominal cost I am thinking of loading such serious books in my Kindle and reading it when I get time. . I am confident that God would not mind my delayed display of interest in His actions in a different Era.
Another option is being involved in some non- commercial organization. It is common to find nonprofit organizations- housing complex, schools, religious groups, NGOs- run mostly by retired individuals. There would be one or two leaders who have been around for a long time and few of his followers of various vintage. These are good options but subject to certain caveats. The chap running the show would in true Indian tradition be a cross between Hitler and Putin. While you may display some independence, really speaking you should stick to doing your bit and then scram. If you are compelled to be part of a large team, then you should know when to be subservient and when to assert. You should be seen to be a visibly contributing member without doing back breaking deeds. Another aspect is internal politics. You should not get into Kejriwal type of situation where you are ruling party and also in opposition.
There are other options like teaching, consultancy, and part time assignments etc. which are available only for selective segment. These imply an element of choice or selection for the individual and are in a different strata. Such individuals are only semi-retired and do not strictly fall in “doing nothing” category.
The most common time filling activity is “baby sitting”. Now, this is re-living your prior experience in this area with a depleted energy level and in a different time/age zone. World has changed, the external and internal interests of children have changed significantly the values system we have been brought up have undergone transformation. The access to information and awareness of external world is unimaginable. An eight year old child can operate a sophisticated laptop and access internet with more dexterity than many of us. We are grossly inadequate to match the wits and energy of the children of this era. So there could be a mismatch between reality and expectation. Any way who wants to do what they have done several decades back?
So what does a retired person to do to fill the time with worth while activity?
There are no easy answers. The key is to be mentally occupied and alert. Physical fitness is desired but operates at less than optimum level for most. Retaining interest in the world around us in a manner perhaps different from the earlier life would stimulate our thoughts and activity. Travel is an option which I see now being considered more commonly. Visiting places you desired but could not is now feasible.
One bane of growing old is seeing those whom you know well stepping into another world. We miss them in a way that comes with age and experience. We desire to share many things with them which now is not possible. Another pain is seeing a hale and hearty senior relative slowly losing memory and sharpness. We wonder whether we too would pass through such a phase.
Life is to be lived to the fullest till the last breath. Retirement from employment is just that. It is the beginning of a new life.
Do you agree?