WisdomCircle Logo

Donkey in the Concert: My View on Life Post-retirement

About the Author :

Sattam Dasgupta, engineer and entrepreneur, is the co-founder of Ittiam System. Over the course of his thirty-year career, he has worked in the fields of chip design and computer software and has been granted a dozen patents by the US Patent Office. Sattam has a keen interest in people and technology and how they shape each other over time. He enjoys riding his Royal Enfield, and he’s always up for a long ride.

Birds chirped on a nearby tree as I lounged on a chair, scrolling through the day’s news on my mobile. It was a Monday, yet there was no rush to get ready and dash to the office. As usual, my wife, Shachi, had left a cup of piping hot coffee on the side table. I had barely taken the first sip of it when my phone rang. It was Chanchal, my close friend and batchmate from college.

“Brother, your retirement starts today!” he exclaimed. “Knowing you, finances must be well taken care of. So, what do you plan to do with your time – consulting, independent board member assignments, or something more? Or will you simply sunbathe like a crocodile with jaws wide open?”

“I was thinking more like a swamp buffalo lounging in the mud,” I chuckled. “And by the way, I did not retire but declared as in the game of cricket! On a more serious note, I will no longer waste six to seven hours of my and other people’s time in needless meetings!”

“You always make light of things! With that much free time, I would go bonkers.” Chanchal replied, sounding a tad serious.

“There is so much to learn and take in, my friend. I am glad to do so at my own pace without the pressure of being busy.” I tried matching his tone.

“Hmm. Oh well, I have to run to a meeting. The day is already lined up with them. Talk to you later” he said and hung up.

My coffee had gone completely cold by then.

Soon Simha, our happy-go-lucky Labrador, scampered in, wildly wagging his tail. We usually met early in the morning and late at night on most days. He was delighted to see me at home at this hour and enthusiastically followed me down the stairs.

“Want another cup of coffee now or after breakfast?” Shachi asked with a smile. She, too, seemed happy to have me around.

Shachi and I have been married for almost thirty years. Our children are all grown up and on their own. So, life was back to the two of us again, with Simha added to the nest. I looked forward to returning to my teenage years, carefree, without responsibilities, and stress-free, provided my grades were good. Now it was not about grades anymore but the retirement kitty, which I was more or less confident of.

It was a quiet and blissful day ­­­‑ a walk with Simha along the community roads, lunch at home, and a refreshing siesta interspersed by the pitter-patter of monsoon rain.

Word of my retirement spread fast. By late evening, calls and messages started trickling in as my friends began trundling back from their offices or waking up on the other side of the globe. The exchanges were a mix of curiosity about my plans, the reasoning behind my decision, and how I intend to spend my time. A few told me they would work as long as possible instead of idling, while others wished they could do the same as me. But clearly, the question of how time would be spent dominated the conversation. Irking me at times.

The day had started with an idyllic morning and ended with me on my bed, pondering all that I had heard from my friends. We belong to the same age group and are at a similar stage in life’s journey. Most of us have secure finances, too. Yet we had such diverse views and feelings about retirement. It was surprising indeed.

A handful were looking forward to retirement. They had a passion beyond work and wanted to pursue it wholeheartedly. Some were interested in travelling, writing, or teaching, and others wanted to give back to society. However, the questions about how I plan to spend time came from the unstated anxiety of a different set of people – those who had no serious hobbies or interests and were singularly focused on their jobs. Without it, they were as lost as a tourist without Google Maps. Then, there were people who wore work as a badge that set them on a higher plane than those who were “idle”. Their business cards enshrined both their identity and status. Without it, they felt like a peacock without a plume.

I wondered when and why our jobs had transformed from what we do for a living to who we are and became our reason for existence.  

A Week Later

I came downstairs to make the morning coffee. Finding it on the side table every morning became too much of a luxury for a man who had the whole day to himself.  Shachi was busy tending to her collection of orchids. Simha was curled up on his mat in the corner. He looked up, acknowledged my presence with a wag, and returned to sleep. He was confused. Since his puppy days, Simha had been used to me being around for a few hours each day and, at times, being away for weeks. Now, here I was, at home for seven straight days having hardly stepped out. He had given up on jumping at my sight. After all, one cannot do that all day.

With my coffee in hand, I sauntered back to my sanctuary and my window to the world, my laptop. There were exciting developments around the globe—current affairs in general and artificial intelligence in particular. I unknowingly wrung my hand in anticipation. I had received an email from an old school friend tactfully asking me if I could organise the annual reunion since others were too occupied with their daily grind at the office and occupied due to travel demands. “My calendar is filled with post-retirement commitments, especially to myself,” I wrote back without a moment’s hesitation.  

A month later

Out of the blue, Chanchal video-called me from the airport. He sounded pretty upbeat and was flying out of the country on one of his deal-closure trips. I was making my post-breakfast coffee, and Chanchal believed he had caught me in the act.

“Haven’t you had enough of your retirement already?” he laughed. “Never thought I would see you making coffee on a Monday morning!”

“Not at all. I cannot get enough of it. Life has been blissful since I stepped aside.”

“Come on. I don’t believe you a bit!”

“No, really! I am also studying the dynamics around retirement. It is just fascinating!”

“I need to check with Shachi instead and dig out the truth. Bye for now!” Chanchal laughed and disconnected the call.

Shachi had just walked in, having finished her morning ritual with the orchids. She had overheard our conversation.

“Who was it?” She asked.

“The incorrigible Chanchal asking the same old question about how I spend my time. And talking about how he cannot think of not working and so on.”

Shachi kept quiet for a while and then said, “I am wondering about it too. Anyway, the cook will come in the evening. Can you go and get some groceries from the store?”

Grocery was a phone call away. Usually, we would place an order and get it delivered to our home.  I guess things are not the same anymore. So, I gathered the shopping bags and headed for the store. Shachi said she would message me the list on the way.

Two months later

Over the past few weeks, I had slowly stopped my usual practise of reading or writing in the afternoon. Instead, I started to catch up on classic films while Sachi took a power nap. On that day, I had planned to re-watch “The Shawshank Redemption”. For a change, Shachi also joined. However, she soon got a call from her childhood friend, Ananya, and moved to the drawing room. I paused the movie to wait for her. The call seemed unending. Tired of waiting, I went to tell her that I was going ahead with the film.

Shachi, still talking on the phone, said, “retired but busy consulting and advising. He is not a man to sit at home.” I wondered if she was talking about me. Ananya’s response was not audible, though I heard what Sachi whispered in return. “Yes, having him around all day feels unusual. Frankly, it does make me slightly irritable,” she said with an undertone. “I wish he resumes travel; I will be more relaxed,” she laughed. “Then I can return to the ladies-day-outs. Oh, what fun they are!”

I quietly went back to the living room, switched off the television, and returned to my corner upstairs. Simha followed silently and took his place next to the study table.

Shachi knew I had no intention of returning to work, consulting or otherwise; I had an insatiable love for being at home and doing my own thing.  So I wondered why she told Ananya the opposite. Like some friends, did Shachi also find my retirement socially embarrassing? If so, she had not hinted until now. The discovery was somewhat unsettling. It was like tripping on my shoelace, unaware that it was untied. Maybe even our children thought the same way too. I could not help but smile at myself.

I realised that for thirty years, I was away from home for at least two-thirds of a workday’s waking hours and travelled for weeks at a time. I had unknowingly created a world that adapted around my visits. Like a well-oiled machine, my family had fine-tuned their lives to my fleeting presence. Now, with me at home full-time, I was like a hippo trying to find a spot in a synchronised swim team. Sachi had figured out ways to blossom in my absence, devised ways to conquer the daily challenges, and discovered her realms of joy. My sudden presence had upset the harmony built over the years.

In my mind, I was bearing responsibility for the well-being of all. I did not grasp when the self-appointed provider became the braying donkey in the classical concert.

One year later

A year sped by. The world seems to be changing faster since I retired. Maybe now I have more time to notice it. In a matter of days, OpenAI has brought us to the verge of a paradigm shift. I feel like a Neanderthal strapped on a spaceship yet enjoying every bit of it — delighted and grateful that I have time to explore.

Retirement is a hard taskmaster. It forces one to choose, giving little time and few options. I had to either go back to work to maintain the status quo and sulk or continue to be the braying donkey in the concert at the cost of others. I chose to be the second with one critical change — I stay quiet. That seemed like the optimal solution to the problem.

Life has been blissful since. Sachi has her space to pursue her joys, just like in my good old working days. Now, she also has my support whenever she wants — for grocery shopping, attending social gatherings, watching a play, or just for a leisurely tete-a-tete over coffee amongst her orchids. The donkey is in the concert but seldom brays!

Share this article on: