The many faces of retirement in India

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Staying active and relevant in your golden age.

By Boshika Gupta

Three days a week, Gururaj Pandurangi, 85, hops into a bus before getting on a train at the nearest station and patiently waiting until he reaches his destination, almost an hour later. His office is located in Kalbadevi, Mumbai, around 39 kilometres away from his home.

While he reached the conventional retirement age several decades ago, Pandurangi has chosen to continue working albeit with a certain amount of flexibility in his 80s. This is not unusual. More and more people are opting for less rigidity, shaping their own definition of retirement, chasing their dreams, making money or simply trying hard to stay active even in their twilight years.

Pandurangi is a consultant and is present at his workplace by noon, staying on till five pm and ensuring that he times things at his own pace. Choosing an appointment-based system helps him to regulate his tasks and not take on too much. Working isn’t obligatory anymore in terms of his financial needs. “Just to keep myself busy,” he explains in a matter-of-fact tone.

Pandurangi isn’t alone.  Suresh Bellani, 67, is an assistant manager at a company he’s been with for 30 years. For him, his office is his comfort zone and his colleagues are like family.  While most of his contemporaries at work stopped working between 58 and 60, Bellani was given the opportunity to stay on.

“Without a job, I may not live for too long,” he admits, explaining that not going to work for more than a few days makes him extremely restless.  Sometimes, he even chooses to not focus on a holiday and work instead because it keeps him happy. As for his bosses, they trust him thanks to their shared experiences and a solid connection. “They need me and I need them,” he says.

As per the United Nations Population Division, India will have 324 million people who are older than 60 in 2050.  The country has a muddled history with aging and countless stories point at widespread abuse. Getting older is scary and there are many terrifying factors to tackle such as health problems, isolation and much more dependency than most of us like to lean on.  Emotional support and love are crucial in these times and help confront the trials associated with aging.

Pandurangi, for example, has the love of his life to thank for his resilience and everlasting spirit. His wife asks him what’s wrong if she sees him not getting ready to go to work on a particular day, encouraging him to stick to his reliable routine.  She gives him the strength and help he needs to continue feeling active.

Retirement itself is a concept that’s changing and evolving constantly. It’s no longer restricted to clichés. Pratibha Vinayak is a media professional who technically retired at the age of 62 and a half in 2012.  She was with a multi-national company and called it quits after working for several years beyond the official retirement age at her organization (58).

According to Vinayak, if there’s no fire in your belly, it’s extremely difficult to keep going to office at that age. “I fall somewhere in-between because I’m not working full-time and I teach now,” she says.  An adjunct professor at MICA, Ahmedabad, Vinayak divides her time between Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

When she’s not on campus interacting with enthusiastic students, she likes to travel, meet an old group of school friends and simply curl up with a great book. “My personal time is very precious to me,” she says.

Her part-time position offers her plenty of flexibility while allowing her to keep in touch with what’s happening in the extremely dynamic media space. “I’m not teaching because it keeps me busy. I’m teaching because I love it and that’s what keeps me busy,” she explains.

She thinks she’s lucky to not be in a situation where she’s compelled to work for financial reasons. Bellani, for instance, considers this one of the reasons why he must carry on as long as his health lets him. He lost his son four years ago and has a family to support.  The responsibilities he must fulfill motivate him to work hard without breaking a sweat. He maintains that it’s not just the money; his priority is to stay busy.

Retirement is a complex space. It poses the same question, no matter who you are. What next?

Some take the opportunity to travel and marvel at the beauty of all those places they never got to see when they were too busy working. Others, like Vinayak, choose to nurture a passion like teaching and enrich the lives of others. And there are even those like Bellani and Pandurangi who hold on tightly to something they’ve known and loved for a long time, seeking comfort in its familiarity. It’s important to make retirement a flexible, dignified choice with solid pension packages and part-time options, allowing people to follow their individual paths without feeling forced into pursuing something they don’t want to do.

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