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Unpacking For The Last Time: Reflections In Retirement

07/02/2016 12:02 AM IST | Updated 29/08/2016 9:00 PM IST
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This year will be different for me, even special. It will be my husband's first year in retirement, and thus, by extension, mine too. His retirement comes at the age of sixty, after 35 years of service in government. The age of retirement seems odd, when politicians are voted to work well into their 80s. Judges of the high courts retire at 62 while those on the bench of the Supreme Court remain until they are 65. Many foreign diplomats work into their 70s.

Anyway, here I am with him, trying to finish unpacking hundreds of dusty cartons, collected over the past decades and stored in anticipation of this time in our lives. Bubble-packaging takes up most of the space in the cartons. As I unroll each carefully sealed sticky-tape, it evokes images of a childhood game, 'Pass around the Parcel', only here, I need to remember where I bought the item or the person who gave it to me.

What hopes we had all those years ago, travelling thousands of miles across the continents, to seven countries, away from our parents, grandparents, friends...

Strange that visions of some of the packers flit to and fro through my misty vision, though I cannot quite place them all in context. As I open a small hand-painted tea-set, I think of my packers in Korea almost 30 years ago. I remember they enjoyed the 11am and 4pm chai and samosas during their three days in our home. They presented me with this gift, saying I was kind and to remember them when I drank chai. I said I was just doing what we all do back home in India!

What hopes we had all those years ago, travelling thousands of miles across the continents, to seven countries, away from our parents, grandparents, friends -- into new environments and diverse cultures and making new acquaintances. At the end of each posting, we would talk of future family gatherings in our home, of a lush green lawn that you could sink your feet in, breathing in the familiar air, chasing butterflies through the colourful flowers in bloom. We spoke of finally being near and living amiably with relatives and long-lost cousins and old friends. Alas. The pollution from vehicular traffic in front of our house is a health-hazard.

There are many books our adult children have said we may give away too, and toys... A bit of my life ebbs away with each parting gift

I place all the clothes and jackets that are wearable, gently used, to one side -- for the winter collection by local youthful volunteers. It's heartening to see them doing their bit so whole-heartedly, going into the streets and slum-tenements, interacting with the children. There are many books our adult children have said we may give away too, and toys. It is with great love that I pack away these items. Each has memories of glad joy, even some sorrow, etched into its fabric, into every dog-eared page. A bit of my life ebbs away with each parting gift, but as I straighten up, I know a new little person will feel the same joyful emotions and be warm for a while -- until he or she outgrows them too! This is the end of the road... just 20 odd boxes of such items, as we always gave away wearable clothes and some household kitchenware before leaving each country of residence.

The deep-fat fryer that found its way back here is given away for free to the kabaadi-wala, but I caution him that the plastic handle seems unsteady -- I am unprepared for his toothy grin and "Chips"! Each item must be usable, the husband admonishes. Yes, I know. But we need to stop eating french fries at our age and re-discover the magic of greens. Of exercise or walks at a steady pace. Of the need to slow down and de-stress. To sleep early or get-up late, if we wish.

Our books are treated with great respect and we are going to re-read our favourites and those yet unread. Perhaps the spouse will start his carpentry again and his painting... the yacht does actually float -- tested in a bathtub 24 years ago! The fire engine with its ladder and hose pipe has not been found yet... the treasure hunt continues!

I have time to stand and stare now. In retirement.

I wonder at it all, this coming home, to retirement -- this is the ultimate 'coming of age'. It is not easy. It takes longer to get things done. It is tiring. It gets a bit boring, all this unpacking, but it's for the last time. There is a sense of apprehensive finality. I have travelled the world since I was five years old. I am at some intangible cross-roads, full of indecision, torn between taking off again and digging roots, at this late stage of my life.

I miss the clean cities I have lived in. I despair at the illiteracy around me and the sudden development, in uneven graphs that defy the imagination. I am pleased that people are earning more, but saddened by the lack of civic consciousness. I am angered to see people on motorcycles, scooters, auto-rickshaws, even in cars breaking laws by not wearing helmets, disobeying traffic rules, impervious to their surroundings, showing no respect for pavement-walkers, driving on the wrong side of the road.

But I am getting used to side-stepping past the old bulls that come to rest on the pavements, so stoic and at odds with the chaotic traffic, the congested city-dwellings and footfalls. I am becoming an expert at ducking sudden projectiles of paan-liquid on my way to the corner store.

Yes, I have time to stand and stare now. In retirement.

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