Miles to Go - 2 July, 2017
By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
I retired from service years back. Even after so many years of my retirement I remember that decisive day vividly, and I can't help looking back into the past in wonder as well as amusement. When I was on the verge of retirement, I actually became sick with apprehension. Goodness Gracious! How on earth was I going to spend the rest of my life without work? The future appeared to be pitch dark – without even a flicker of light. I confided my fears to some retired friends with long experience, who drew a gloomy and dreary picture of life after retirement. Their horror stories made me dizzy with fear and my blood turned cold. They told me that I would be totally unwanted – and my time would be stretching on my hands and even my family would ignore me – so on and so forth. Apparently a stroke of pen had the power to turn an intelligent and active officer into a dithering moron. You lose all your power, me and fame and become a stranger in the very office you worked for the major part of your life. After spending the entire youth in some institution, turally you get very much attached to it and you treat it as your own. Then one day you reach the age of superannuation and you are chucked out like an old tube of toothpaste. The ominous warnings were daunting, to say the least.
When the momentous day arrived, I had the feeling of doom from the morning I felt that even my family looked at me with pity. But now I am sure that it was merely a feeling of mine and not the actual fact, since they were not even aware of my mental anguish. The day was as normal as any other day. Actually to me it seemed monstrous that everybody went on as usual on the most calamitous day of my life. I felt very sad and ill used at the apparent callousness of my family. Today I think it was really unfair on my part to judge my family so harshly. The poor things did not even know about my apprehensions. With a throbbing heart I went to my college to make the fil adieu. It seemed to me that not one of my colleagues felt for me the slightest bit. For them retirement was a normal procedure. The world revolved as usual. I wallowed in self – pity and felt lonely in a big cruel world. In fact, I thought that it was the end of the world for me.
It is no use blinking facts. For some weeks after my retirement I was just a mass of nerves without any direction in life. I was even afraid to meet people in case they talked about my retirement. I mistook my retirement as a kind of shame, a stigma attached to my me. I never realized that retirement is a normal practice in service. I just felt morose and useless. At home too the situation was no better. They took my retirement as a normal criterion and since I did not have any want, they never took it seriously. Everything went on as before. Only I did not have any work and I had become a woman of leisure. For me it was a kind of catastrophe. Now I admit freely that I was a positive Killjoy to my family, with my long face buzzing around like a hornet . I must have been a sore trial for my family. I wonder how they tolerated my caustic remarks.
Now I understand that I was very unfair to them. How would they know that I took such a catastrophic view regarding a normal procedure. Today I wonder why I felt so sad on the day of my retirement. After all, on the very day I joined service, I knew very well that I would retire on a particular day. Then why could I not accept it with equanimity? Perhaps despite knowing something, we cannot accept it. Al least I found it extremely hard to accept the harsh reality with serenity. I can't ofcourse comment on other retired persons' attitude towards retirement. I can only say that in my case it was a sad event, though I knew very well that retirement is inevitable in any service. It may be that at the time of joining service the concerned employee is too young to bother about retirement, since it is far away and it gets easily forgotten. Perhaps that is why retirement is very hard to accept calmly.
So initially after retirement I felt as if my life had come to an end and I could not think about the future equably. But gradually I picked up the pieces and turned my mind to other possible avenues at first reluctantly and then with all my energies and joy. Now I wonder why I became so sad at my retirement and many others also take a very gloomy view on retirement. Now I see how wrong I was. It is like finishing one phase and then starting another, like you joined college after finishing school education. Life has various phases and they come one after the other, which we take so turally. Retirement is also a phase in life and it does not imply end of life. The end of one phase imply the beginning of another. Life itself has several phases. A person goes from infancy to childhood to youth to middle age and filly to old age. As Mary, the Queen of Scots asserted in 1619, "In my end is my beginning".
After all these years and at the last phase of my life, I have come to realize that it was very wrong of me to take such a gloomy view on retirement. It is very true that I feel a bit sad when I think of the college where I worked for so many years. Today also I meet many of my former colleagues, who retired long back. When I sometimes, on my way to some place, see my college, I feel nostalgic about the past. Perhaps others also feel like that, I still love the institution where I spent the better part of my life.
May be – you do feel like an outsider in the place where you worked for so many years. But these things happen to all of us. In the school where you studied and where you spent so many years of your life, you would feel like a stranger and none would recognize you. They all are new to you and you would not know anybody. But none of us feel sad about it – do we? The present teachers and students of my old school are perhaps the children or grand children of my one time friends.
I go to the institution, which was mine years back. Some young teachers may have heard about me from some senior retired teachers or perhaps from their parents or uncles or aunts, who were probably my students once upon a time. I feel very happy when some of them tell me that they had heard about me from some of their relatives, who were my students long back. it is nice to know that you are not entirely forgotten. Ofcourse you have to suffer the look of pity from some of the young teachers, who just don't want to believe that I am not really sad and frustrated. They never let me forget that I am a retired person, waiting for the end to come, with pathos and resigtion. But they are totally mistaken in their view, you know. I am not at all sad and there is no valid reason for my depression, since retirement is an established fact. But the problem is that we can not accept it as a tural event. Possibly at such times heart rules over the head. Feelings and emotions drive away ratiol faculty. It is funny really if you think about the matter. But it was not in the least funny when I was on the verge of retirement. Now at this advanced age, I look back with amusement.
Some young people look at me in wonder, as if they can't believe their eyes. They wonder how I have remained the same after so many years of retirement, as they thought that retirement metamorphoses a person overnight. It is true that age does leave its marks on an elderly person and it is universally true. The baby's appearance changes year after year. When he becomes a young man the change is so strong and forceful that he would not be recognized by some one who had seen him in infancy. So change is tural. A retired person may change in appearance gradually ,but he does not become another person. And why a retired person only? Everybody changes in appearance in the passage of time and it is a law of ture.
I think everything has some positive and negative aspects. My former colleagues may think that my life has become a drudge and meaningless, but it is not true. There are certain advantages of a retired life. The first benefit a person derives after retirement is that you can get away by saying any outrageous thing. People feel that one has to give allowance to the elderly. Poor things! At home too they are all solicitous to the elderly person after retirement and would fall over themselves to fulfill your slightest wish. That is what I have gone through and I enjoyed it hugely. Before retirement the family did take care of me, but they did not surround me so protectively as they do now. I cannot take even a few steps alone in case I slip and have a fall, which may lead to some damage of my vital parts. They will not allow me to go anywhere out of home without one of them accompanying me to hold my hand.
Perhaps I should be grateful to my family for taking such good care of me. As a friend told me the other day that I did not know how lucky I was. She said that at the present era nobody bothers about the old parents and they are often thrown out of homes by the children. Perhaps she is right. But the problem is that after leading an active and authoritative life all these years I just do not feel comfortable in being cossetted. Perhaps I am being unreasoble , but too much indulgence and care make me feel helpless and useless. But I am grateful to my family for taking such good care of a person like me.
So I think that a retired person should do certain job, which will not put too much pressure on the health of the person concerned. An idle brain is devil's workshop as they say. So an active life is the way to health and happiness. We should realize that retirement from service is not retirement from life. A person may still remain active after retirement. But sitting at home and doing nothing may have negative effects on the person concerned. He or she must not be treated as an old and useless dodderer. The family also should not treat the retired person as a helpless person, which might undermine his or her self-confidence.
A person working for long period in some institution cannot appreciate a life of leisure. Life without work is very depressing and boring. Without activity he or she becomes a cantankerous person and sore trial for family and friends. So as long as the retired person is physically fit, he or she must look for another job, if opportunity is given. A person cannot remain at home doing nothing and waiting for death to come. There may be several doors to the future. On has only to choose the right one, that will keep the retired person happy and confident and he/she would not have any gloomy thoughts and it would be a blessing to the family. A good mental attitude is also good for health.