My dear friends and colleagues, I retire today as a chief scientist. All these years, I have been blessed by your warmth and affection. It was heartening to hear your kind words. I am grateful that our work in science, research, and technology, is recognized and is being actually ‘applied’ to improving lives.
Over the last few months, it began sinking into me that I will move on from here. The next promotion for me is that of a senior citizen. I am proud of my citizenship. I am proud of being an Indian, it is a big part of my identity.
What does it mean to be a ‘senior’ citizen? If citizenship requires me to be actively involved and participate in the affairs of the country, what exactly is senior citizenship? I don’t know yet, but I am sure I will find out quickly.
I am not old. Just 60 years young.
A year later
The last year has been a life without structure but more leisure. Meaning is what we give to life, isn’t it? My meaning has been writing, consulting, visiting my children, playing with my grandchildren, and of course leisurely coffee sessions with Shanta, my wife of 33 years. I also help in the kitchen and tend to a kitchen garden. Shanta doesn’t think of it as a help, I suspect she just indulgences me. “Dr. Ramachandram,” she teases me, “your research will tell you that it’s cheaper and less messy to buy the vegetables.” But you know, there is so much pride in growing our own vegetables. They just taste different.
I did also learn the worth of senior citizenship in India. There is financial value – lower taxes, half a percent higher returns on investments, travel discounts, perhaps priority service at banks and hospitals – if there are kind souls out there.
My sense is that senior citizenship is seen from the lens of stereotypes. I am not a brooding, incompetent, humorless man. In fact, my enthusiasm can beat that of a 20 year old. Getting older is not a tragedy. If you are lucky enough to live long, getting old is mandatory.
Of course, getting old is a discomfort. I got to go to the dentist tomorrow.
Dime and Time
I have plenty of time on my hands.
But really, at 65, I don’t. Time is one thing that’s not on my side. There is nothing called the ‘long run’ for me.
The government seems to know it too. That’s why I have to go to the pension office every November and give a ‘life’ certificate. It’s like an authorization that I am alive and hence the government can process the pension.
I try not to get maudlin or see it as a disrespect to the seniors. Practically speaking, where there is money involved, death can never be subtle.
I am alive and kicking, and I will certify that wherever I need to.
Oh, by the way, I am not old. I think old age starts at 80. I have a long way to go.
Shanta passed on. She was the most warm, sincere, and motherly person I knew. We had no warning. She just went in the night. I miss her. I grieve. I thought it was supposed to be the other way around where women outlive the men.
I now draw my meaning mostly from the time spent with my grandchildren. Story telling is my new superpower. I am also working with a volunteer group for seniors, helping them with technology, social media, and even filing pension related life certificates online. It’s a new purpose.
I drew up my will – I prefer that all material inheritances are sorted now rather than after I go. So I am ready when my time comes and hopefully my family can only reflect on the spiritual or other meaningful inheritances rather than the material.
Define ‘ready’. When is one really ready to go?
7 decades and counting
Taking stock of 70 years: I am the sum of my people, experiences, memories, experiences, and stories. Wisdom happens somewhere along the way. I am also the sum of my prejudices, crankiness, and medical issues. I can disappoint and be disillusioned. But I prefer to remain positive.
My past is rich and I have enough to look back on. But what does the future hold? Will I be alive in 5 years? Will I lose my mind or mobility?
I have started to reduce my belongings. I learnt that the Swedish have a concept called ‘Death Cleaning’. It’s about downsizing and organizing so your kids or family don’t have to deal with all your material stuff. As I go through all the belongings, beautiful memories come back to me. It is difficult to decide on what to keep on what to purge. But I am taking my time. What’s the hurry?
At 70, life gives you a vantage point, one that helps you appreciate the richness and fullness of life.
You know, time is a smelly thing. I think I now smell like my dad when he was 75. I think I am having conversations in my head, just like he used to. I have had health issues, but at my age who doesn’t?
I am now at an age where it is hard to see me as someone more than old. But I am regular guy, who just happens to be old. By the way, when does old age start? I think at 90. Just that the medical insurance companies don’t agree.
In any case, I believe I have lived a good life. I have lived and loved fully. People have said that I will live even when I am gone. Whether people remember me or not, it doesn’t matter now. It mattered when in was 40 and mattered more when I was 60, but not anymore. The pattern of life is that you live only as long as the last person who remembers you. Maybe I will live as long as my grandchildren remember me.
It is nice to remembered, but the meaning is in doing what you got to do while you are alive. I have burned my light. I have lived happy, healthy and productive, and I would die happy, old, and sane.
I am ready any time now.