Saturday, December 30, 2006

FAQ: What do I do the whole day?

I remember an envious colleague telling me on the day I retired, "I wish I too could say, a Monday is just another day."

Ogden Nash articulated the thought in a verse:
Monday is the day that everything starts all over again;
It's the day when life becomes grotesque again,
Because it is the day when you have to face your desk again;

The bliss of retirement, of not having to go to work, is short-lived. Before long you discover there is another side to a life free from Monday-morning work hassle. Now I have people asking how I manage to spend time in retirement. I tell them about my collection of unread books, the TV remote, that handy device for channel-surfing. I tell them about my blog. They nod agreeably. And just about when I feel that the issue has been settled, they pop the question: "Yes, but what is it that you do the entire day?"

Even while in service, friends and relatives, whose perception of a journalist is based on what they see in movies, had difficulty believing that I was capable of an honest day's work. A journalist is seen generally fooling around in coffeehouses or the press club much of the day, dropping in at the office for a while to work the phone and tap a few hundred words on his PC before rushing out for cocktails in the evening. If this is called work, they wonder what idling would be all about.

I mean, they can clearly see the slogging involved in the job done by a ledger-pushing bank clerk or a bricklayer. Even some government babus manage to look busy and purposeful. But when it comes to the media, people are a bit dense on what, precisely, a newspaper correspondent does. I suppose one could raise the same question about the Pope or the President of India.

Our TV and print media photos usually show the President taking a leisurely ride on the horse-drawn Victoria down Rajpath on R Day, hosting lavish parties for visiting dignitaries or pinning medals on people. My boss at the Times of India News Service desk was seen doing not much other than signing sub-editors’ duty charts, leave-sanction forms and lighting up his Guntur cheroot that got put out every now and then. He made seem time-consuming. The boss always managed to look important, purposeful, and in his loosened up tie and rolled up sleeves, fully occupied.

As I said, since retirement the most persistent FAQ I have had, even from well-meaning folk: What do I do the whole day? Spending time on the Net, or with a book, isn’t seen as ‘activity’. I don’t go to the bank or post-office; or stir out my house to pay the phone or power bill. I had a neighbour in Coonoor who had a flair for fixing things - electric iron boxes, mixie, torches, vintage HMV sets that play gramophone records and virtually any other thing that would otherwise have been consigned to the kabariwalah.

Watches and wall clocks that don't run fascinated my busybody neighbour . Occasionally, when he found himself on loose ends, he checked out his neighbours, asking if they needed anything he could fetch from the market or if they had a dripping tap that needed a fresh washer. In contrast, there I was, doing none of this. Must confess I haven’t even mastered the art of wiring a blown fuse. What’s worse, I often get caught ‘book-handed’.

If there is anything a wife usually gets bugged about in a man milling around the house 24x7, it is his obsession with books. Her refrain, ‘don't sit there hiding your face behind a book, do something.’ In retirement, count yourself lucky if you get to read a book, without being interrupted, by having to answer phone calls that are usually for others in the house; distracted by someone ringing the door bell – dobhi or subzi-lady. This is when you miss the office. I used to take a book to work; averaged two titles a week.

Retirement is not all about a running argument with your wife. It makes you more reflective; ponder philosophical questions such as, "How did I age so quickly?" It seemed not so long ago, when I was a care-free bachelor, then, a not-so-caring husband in newspaper, and job-driven absentee father for my son; and now, a grandpa. After retirement, notably, after a grandson happens, you find more relevance to life. Snag is you realize that there isn't much life ahead for you to benefit from the enlightment.

And then the changed lifestyle leaves you with time to think, particularly during those insomnic spells. Few people really do think, although most believe they do. Thinking is demanding and tiring. It is an exercise for the mind. Thinking is hard work. Need I say anything else about how I spend most of my day?

(See earlier version of this piece in

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