Just the other day I bumped into an old friend, my college mate – we were meeting after like, what would easily be a year. The usual greetings and hugs exchanged, she asked me, “So tell me, what are you doing these days?”
Continuing in the same happy, excited tone of someone who had unexpectedly come across a kindred soul, I said, “You remember I told you when we last spoke on the phone? Last November I left my job and am at home these days.”
She confidently nodded her head and said, “Yes of course, I remember you telling me that you had left school. But I want to know what you are doing these days…” and this time I noticed, there was an unmistakable and pointed emphasis on the word ‘doing’ in her reply. As if she missed the whole point and willfully so…as if there was an implied urgency, a palpable demand, to understand what exactly I was doing with my time, now that I was truly jobless (literally and otherwise)! And that got me thinking.
We live in a frenzied, fast-paced world where change is, indisputably, the only constant. People change their jobs, their homes and even states or countries, their beliefs and preferences, their philosophies and loyalties – all, in order to stay in sync with the changing times. Which is a good thing, a positive sign – an indication that we are willing to revamp, reinvent ourselves, and evolve. Hence, when one leaves a coveted, well-paid job at one of the most prestigious institutions in town, a good ten years before the usual retirement age, it is only natural that people wonder, what next? And that is where I saw myself as a misfit, albeit a deliberate one! I loved my job for as long as I was doing it – the challenges, the deadlines, the perpetual race against time, the inevitable encroachment on ‘me time’ and family time, the skewed work distribution, et al! But about six months prior to my exit there came an overwhelming urge, a robust call, to give it up all, for a life less frenetic and more temperate. I had been toying with the idea for a while now and the only thing which always held me back was the doubt about what I would ‘do’ once I quit? And I never seemed to find a suitable answer to this simple query of mine. But finally, when the call came, it proved so powerful that I never wasted even a day’s time before drafting my resignation letter. The ubiquitous ‘what would I do’ suddenly seemed so irrelevant, so redundant, as I began to visualize the longest possible to-do list in my mind during the intervening notice period. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Post retirement, life seems to be playing out on a different turf altogether. Of course, the morning busyness is still there – the usual breakfast and lunch preparation, the daily chores, the domestic help occasionally playing truant (they, too, have businesses to attend, you see). But in the fabric of the mundane, the banal, were embedded my moments of mellow magic! Moments that I had hitherto only dreamt of and craved for, but could not savour in the humdrum of my busy schedule – these were the moments that I was actually soaking and revelling in!
A few minutes spent on the balcony while seeing off my college-going son unravelled before my eyes so many simple yet delightful sights. A flock of grey and blue homing pigeons suddenly emerging from every nook and cranny only to descend on the adjacent terrace to relish their daily meal of grains scattered by a compassionate neighbour; a curious puppy trotting alongside its doting human parent, discovering exciting new sights and smells and looking around, its brown liquid eyes brimming with innocent awe; the early morning sky changing rapidly into a spectrum of colours, painting the canvas of the earth with hues of hope and positivity. And all this got me thinking again – wasn’t it this that I had been wanting to ‘do’ of late? Or was this not eligible to fit into the bracket of ‘doing’ something worthwhile, something you could proudly talk about, something that fetched a monetary gain….?!
Well, for me, it has been a process of taking charge of my life, gaining control over my daily activities, monitoring and regulating them and living life in its true sense rather than watching it flit past like a bystander at the sidelines. It’s not that life had suddenly done a volte face and turned into a blitzkrieg of happy, dramatic events. In fact, far from that! A stay-at-home mom and homemaker always has her plate full! However, the unhurried pace of work, the freedom to spend that extra fifteen minutes at tea or with the morning newspaper, the meet-ups with old friends (they had almost labelled me a ‘social outcast’!), the luxury of re-reading my favourite bestseller in the evening, the fun and banter or even a quiet conversation with my loved ones at home, a longish phone call (read motherly discourse) with my elder son working in another city, the occasional treats prepared to calm Junior’s frayed nerves before an exam – these, for me, are the greatest perks of a retired life, the best ‘doings’ I could possibly ask for. As I always say, to each his own – for me, I suddenly felt light and liberated, as if I had reclaimed my life and was actually living it, and in that lay my greatest ‘doing’!!
A slightly abridged version of this piece was published in The Hindu on 21 July, 2019.