Of work, leisure and retirement

Shihab Sarkar   | Published: September 06, 2018 21:43:06 | Updated: September 06, 2018 21:55:13

Some people dread the very idea of retirement. They can't think of a life without work. They want to remain engaged in activities, both physical and mental, till they become indisposed. Some others eagerly wait for the period of leisure and retirement. To them retirement is the time they have begun to cherish for when their active working life has started waning.

After completing a hectic and busy life man does need a period of rest. Upon reaching this point, many say goodbye to their active careers. Most of the people do not feel the urge to resume work after going into retirement.  To them bound by certain periods of work hours for long years, retirement appears as the time to consolidate their mundane gains. The real workaholics cannot normally manage enough time to think of material benefits during their active lives. This is what applies to most of the persons with busy careers. Better parts of their lives remain filled with activities directed at achieving excellence in their areas of work. After a break made with the previous active life, long intervals emerge with fresh possibilities. They offer entry-points to yet some other types of careers. Career experts would like to call this part of life a valuable space to redefine one's existence.  Sages and great thinkers, thus, undergo phases of transformation in their inner lives at this stage.

There are exceptions. Many great people, in spite of their voyages to the worlds of reflective thoughts, remain physically active, and mentally alert, even in their doting age. Rabindranath Tagore, the poet, could muster the ability to compose poems even only days before his death at 80. Rest or leisure was something strange to the poet's basic self.  Tagore used to extract leisure from his nonstop bouts of writing. In fact, workaholic creative people do not need it in the conventional sense of the term. They are born with a special gift: finding in their creative pursuits the sources of pleasure. The unique joy of creation makes the worldly cravings for leisure redundant. The needs for leisure and space for retirement vary from person to person. Besides the mentally active people, there are those who serve the fellow humans through other efforts. These endeavours involve inspiring man to dream and visualise an ideal society -- and showing mankind the way to freedoms. These people spend a major part of their lives teaching man how to struggle forward and reach their cherished goals. Ranging from social reformers, revolutionaries to nonconformist statesmen, these people also do not require rest.

A man initiated into the spirit of revolution does not normally have a retired life. Revolution and retirement are antagonistic to each other. A social, cultural and political rebel may lose his or her youth-time strength and flamboyant temperament due to aging. But they remain active. In their greying period, these extraordinary people are found assuming a different role. Depending on their periods and places, these advocates of change later emerge in different types of role. They range from that of a guide, an adviser to a symbol of messianic wisdom.

With the need for social changes fast proving superfluous, the times of revolutionary leaders have also found to be on the wane. Social activism and reformation, too, has changed definition. Since the mid-20th century, globally active social leaders have been found occupying administrative positions. Along with them, the post-World War-II period has found the Presidents of developed nations engaging in philanthropic work after retirement. These global personalities include UN Secretary Generals like U Thant, Kofi Annan, US President Jimmy Carter, US Vice President Al Gore et al. As recognition of their peace-brokering and charity works, many of these figures have been honoured with prestigious international awards including the Nobel Prize. Like authors, thinkers and politicians, a significant number of scientists, too, try to make the best of their retired lives. The very nature of their work doesn't allow them much scope to indulge in leisurely pastime. After the end of their active careers, they take upon themselves the task of elucidating their inventions and theories. They are also invited by institutions and colloquiums to deliver special lectures and talks, on subjects ranging from pure science to quest for happiness to the future of mankind. After the US dropped the Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Einstein became active in the political movement to prevent the use of atomic bombs in the future. In the 1940s, years after his migration to the US from Germany, Einstein remained involved in the US civil rights movement. During this period, he also joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people. Simultaneously, the scientist was found playing an active role in the physicists' communities. In the later days, he was seen developing his watershed Theory of Relativity further.

The later-life humanistic activities of Albert Einstein bring him closer to Poet Tagore. Unlike the scientist, the poet throughout his literary career maintained a parallel course of activities. Those dealt openly with socio-political emancipation, attainment of global peace being the dominant goal. As he discovered, the meaning of existence can be realised only through reform. He had his unique concept of reformation which he first employed in education, the method of imparting lesson in particular. Alongside the monumental corpus of his literary work, the poet established his educational institution Shantineketan. It stands witness to his passion for grooming ideal humans in the midst of nature. Like the monotheistic Brahmo Samaj which Rammohan Roy founded in the 19th century, Tagore's Shantiniketan survives in the South Asian landscape as a glorious individual achievement.

Stepping into the apparently infinite world of retirement, lots of successful career-focused people get down to writing their autobiographies. This is yet another kind of activity, requiring the exercise of awakening one's sleepy memories. Moreover, a style-conscious person has to keep in mind the imperatives of writing discipline, linguistic precision and lucidity etc. Writing autobiographies after the end of active life has its numerous advantages. One does not necessarily have to hesitate while telling the bitter truths. Be they about persons or happenings. The fact of being free of obligations of all kinds and hues prompts the autobiographer to proceed on with his or her long cherished project. With no watchful individuals or groups poring over, the narrator appears to get the first taste of freedom after the career-straitjacket.    

 Work and retirement cannot be defined precisely. The conditions are relative, depending on the psychological make-up of the persons concerned. While already inside the shell of idle musings, a few can get spurred by a sudden urge and swing into bursts of activity. A lot of others bid farewell to work once and for all while in active phases of life. Their remaining part of life is endless retirement. The 19th century French poet Jean Arthur Rimbaud or modernist Samar Sen, the poet of Bengal, stopped writing in their youth with no nostalgic sighs.

At the layman's level, retirement and work hardly overlap. As the down-to-earth people approach old age, they start preparing to embrace the new realities of life. Preparations for entering the long phase of inactivity and unalloyed rest come up as a virtually predestined option.  Work-loving people, who are not limited to the exclusive clan of celebrities, are there who carry on their life as usual. But this is exception. Or else, the predominance of retired old persons would lead to a lopsided demographic balance in society.


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