July 17, 2011

INDIA: "You've got to make a plan before you retire"

CHENNAI, Tamil Nadu / The Times of India / Life & Style / July 17, 2011

Sixty & Sizzling
By Kamini Mathai, Times News Network

Recently, retired Lieutenant Colonel K Ramraj shot and killed 13-year-old Dilson when the boy entered the army officers' enclave to pick almonds. The 58-year-old, who had retired two months ago, was supposedly unhappy and unable to deal with his own loneliness.

While Ramraj's is an extreme case, many elderly people find it difficult to cope with life after retirement. "It doesn't matter what you do or where you come from, if you're not ready for retirement there is no way you are going to be able to deal with it, emotionally or physically," says family therapist Brinda Jayaraman, who has counselled both retired members of the defence forces as well as civilians. "You've got to make a plan before you retire," she adds.

New Delhi-based retired army colonel Shivraj Kumar, for instance, has learnt to use Facebook to spread awareness about his 'Poster Hatao' campaign, where he urges people remove unwanted posters and clean up the city. A couple of years ago, interior designer Girija Venkatesan, who will turn 60 in a couple of months, decided it was time to slow down. She decided to turn consultant and that left her with plenty of time to do everything she had to put on hold when work was priority. "I think ever since I decided to retire, I've begun living," says Girija,who splits her days between salsa, jive, ballroom dancing and driving.

While, for Girija, retirement meant getting started on everything she wanted to learn, for T Gurumurthy, it was a matter of learning simple skills to keep himself independent. When the retired staffer of EID Parry found that his right hand was so unsteady that he could not even sign a cheque, he enrolled himself at a handwriting class to re-master his own signature. "I just want to be independent as long as I can," he says.

Brinda suggests making a financial plan to figure out how much money you'll have at your disposal. It will put your mind at ease or make you work harder to get things in order. It's also good to come up with a social plan, one that will keep you mentally active. "Recently, a woman brought in her husband for counselling," she says. The man, who had retired a little while ago, had started interfering in every little thing his wife did and it was upsetting her. "She would shout at him and say she did not need his help.With nothing to do, he slumped into depression," says Brinda, who advised them to divide chores and domestic responsibilities.

"He soon snapped out of it. He just needed to feel important again, like he did at his workplace," she says. Most organisations that work with the elderly try and guide them to cope with retirement. At Dignity Foundation, for instance, they take on members from the age of 50 onwards, to encourage "productive ageing". "We steer them towards taking on social work, or a second career or hobby even before they retire so that when they finally do leave work, it doesn't hit them," says social worker Sindhu S.

Eighty-three-year-old K Ganakasabapathy, for instance, is learning various regional languages. "I am learning Telugu and Malayalam now," says the retired transport officer. "It is just to expand my social circle. I can now make friends with people who speak only these languages," he says. "And it means that there are thousands more books left to read." Brinda says that the one thing you must avoid is stock-taking, a futile but common exercise among the retired. "They spend their time brooding over how they have wronged and been wronged. It just makes them retreat further into a shell," she says.

That little mantra has been the base philosophy of the lectures that Lakshmipathi K has been giving for the elderly at various centres all over the state. The 73-year-old retired headmaster and popular motivational speaker says that at every seminar (and he has one almost every week) he tells his audience to learn to live in the moment. "Retirement takes a toll on a person, but it is up to us to decide how much. Learn to adapt, be tolerant, exercise and meditate. You just can't go wrong," he says.
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