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Retirement: Fear factor

August 18, 2012

Every country has its own estimation of retirement age based on local practices. In Pakistan, this turn arrives when one throws their 60th birthday bash. Contrary to popular beliefs, retirement is actually a state of mind. Often mistakenly it is related to age. So untrue.

I have come across young 22-year-olds who have acquired a retired status. It can be forced or voluntary. In the case of youth, that I have alluded to, they would be classified as voluntarily retired from their services. Generally, this group takes their retirement like a breeze and are quite content with status quo. It’s the other category which can make it a question of life and death.

Retirement is akin to relinquishing a job or an assignment. It is not meant to be retiring from life and living. Therefore for some it becomes a forced decision, as they have not much choice in the matter when the number 60 looms large in their face. Those who  have acquired a position of prominence, find it difficult to let go of the sources of ‘false pride’ that are attached to an office. Consequently they look at retirement as the beginning of trauma.

Many a senior colleague I have noticed falling prey to this misplaced assumption of pelf and power to be of permanence in nature. Nay it is, only temporary. Glory and power which inherently are short lived become over the years a forgone necessity. The holder of the ‘office’ assumes that he is entitled to the servitude of all others around him till eternity. Recently, Yousuf Raza Gilani must have experienced that even the ‘batman’ alters allegiance overnight let alone the band of cheer group who revolved around him all the past five years. It is this mindset which makes retirement for some people, a real nightmare.

Then there are some ‘smart alecs’ who fall neither in the category of voluntary nor forced retirement. They just play their cards well. Often this idea is facilitated by policies which govern the system. For example, in many welfare states because of the enormous sums of dollars and cents one gets upon retirement, it is fashionable to opt for an early departure. Infact two of my friends in Germany took retirement at the age of 52 years because they realised that they would benefit more by retiring than by continuing to work for another six years.

In my personal opinion, no able bodied person should be allowed to retire. No healthy person should be forced to become a liability either for the state or for the family. In Japan and Korea, those who surpass a certain age factor are absorbed as advisors, sometimes at half their pay cheque. They aren’t permitted to languish in ‘old age homes’ and yes the organisation continues to benefit from their years of experience and wisdom.

Retirement should be planned and welcomed. If it hits as a rude awakening to growing old, it is most likely to cause health related issues. Everyone retiring or approaching retirement must develop some habit, hobby or passion to indulge in. The most important aspect from a health point of view is to strictly maintain a health routine. Not going to office is not meant to be a license to staying late in bed and in case of men, not shaving and growing an untamed stubble, or changing meal times. This should never happen. It’s a perfect recipe for health disaster and a sure shot way to descend into depression.

Attitude makes all the difference. This time too must be savoured and relished. Prepare and devote time to long cherished pastimes like reading, writing, painting, listening to music or spending quality time with family and friends. They can read or research history and if they possess a facile pen, record their own views too.

I have encountered several people who remark in retort to a question, ‘what would you do post retirement?’ Spat comes the reply, ‘Will spend time in prayer and worship’. It sounds distasteful. In order to remember God and to be closer to Him, one doesn’t have to wait to turn 60.

A very senior banker who rose to the rank of the CEO, visited me following his retirement, about a decade back, in conversation I asked, “Sir, what are your plans now?” little did I know that I had ruffled a hornet’s nest. He roared back, “What to do you mean? My wife thinks I am some kind of extra domestic help.” I sympathised with him and apprehended my future.

Wives generally remain subdued during the professional era of their husband, barring a few arguments here and there. But post-retirement, the wives become rather formidable characters, in perhaps the manner of Joan of Arc, Indira Gandhi, Razia Sultana and the numerous likes thereof. On this count too, men must prepare to avoid the ‘shock and awe’ treatment.

Men in particular should never retire. The old hawk Khushwant Singh on turning 95 was asked by KK Birla about his retirement plans (he was then editor, The Hindustan Times) to which Singh responded, that he would retire only at Nighambodh Ghat, the cremation ground in Delhi.

Khushwant Singh in his autobiography has quoted Nathaniel Cotton (1707-88) who beautifully sums up life, living and retirement:

“If solid happiness we prize, within our breast this jewel lies, and they are fools who roam.

The world has nothing to bestow; from our own selves our joys must flow and that dear hut, our home.”