By Zubeida Mustafa
Retirement is now another phase that can be added to the seven ages of Man that Shakespeare wrote about. Its concept has changed radically, considering that medical science has added years and health to life.
Today people don’t ‘retire’ in the conventional sense of withdrawing from active life to wait for the inevitable end. Most people remain as active in their later years as they have been in any of their other ‘ages’. But the nature and intensity of their activities change. If there is one word I can use to describe this phase of life, it is ‘liberated’.
From what? Drudgery of routine work, stress of imposed deadlines, enforced social and sartorial conventions one never really cared about and, above all, a lifestyle that makes you a creature of professionalism. This feeling of liberation should enable one to opt for activities one really enjoys.
A leading gynaecologist, whose role in uplifting women’s reproductive health has been immense, told me after she retired from service that she found herself to be busier than she ever was in her younger years. She is doing voluntary work that she finds satisfying and helps in health awareness programmes.
A former principal (one of the most popular) of the Habib Girls’ School in Karachi, Zubeida Dossal, has spent years on school boards using her experience to contribute to these institutions. She has also produced enlivening literature for children in her retirement years.
Amanat Hasan, my uncle, an engineer by profession, who retired several years ago after leading an extremely busy life, now has plenty to keep himself occupied with. He has converted a room into a workshop where he stocks a variety of tools imaginable to make interesting devices. At present he is working on a case to display a slide rule and a calculator which he says will carry the note: “Elegy on the demise… here lies in eternal abode a one time most powerful tool of engineers.” It is intended to demonstrate the evolution of processes and devices used for mathematical calculations down the ages. He should also add a model of the human brain and the abacus to his exhibits!
One could go on and on because men and women with creative minds have filled their retirement years with interesting activities. A few that may be mentioned are: writing one’s genealogy—making family trees to trace one’s roots for the benefit of one’s progeny, reading books, gardening, painting, writing, quilting, carpentry, making jigsaws (the massive sized ones that take months to complete), aerobics and walking in groups and babysitting for their third generation (men are also taking to this and enjoying it too).
These ideas should provide food for thought. However, it is important that a person wanting to enjoy the eighth age (actually it will chronologically be the seventh in Shakespeare’s scheme of things) must have planned for it in his youth. He must be able to sustain a modest lifestyle (quite a challenge in a volatile economy like Pakistan’s) and should have kept an eye on the future when learning new skills and choosing hobbies.
Even if he has missed the bus he doesn’t have to despair. He can start learning something—a language, playing a musical instrument, art, and so on—in his ‘retirement’ years. Neurologists say learning a new skill is the best way to exercise your brain.
Hasan shared with me the secret of his happiness in his day-to-day life. Have “something to look forward to”. He begins his day with plans of what he will do. “Thus I start an activity with fresh enthusiasm and enjoy it.”
It would increase the choices available if organisations were to institutionalise voluntary services so that their performance is optimised by volunteers. Short courses to teach a skill or acquire knowledge would also serve a useful purpose for those wishing to learn a skill in their twilight years.