In Kerala, around 25,000 people retire every year from government service.
If old age is a rerun of childhood, this place can be called the day care for the retired, by the retired.
Pakal Veedu on the first floor of Gandhi Bhavan at Kacheripady is an abode for the day for happily retired men.
As one enters Pakal Veedu, the statue of a meditative Gandhi greets the visitor. This seems apt, for the sole criterion for joining the club is that one should subscribe to the philosophies of the apostle of peace. Around a table strewn with dailies sporting mastheads of the vernacular to the national sat the men hashing out the hot button of the day. The crowd was small to begin with, but kept growing as the day warmed up outside. “On the first day after the weekend, we don’t expect many people to come as they have to get many chores done,” said P. Paramu, who retired as a soil investigator from a construction company. He had to visibly strain himself to be heard.
The two-year-old Pakal Veedu is an association with no formal agenda on most days. It neither insists on membership nor its corollary — fees. “Anybody can sign up, just that they have to be a believer in Gandhian philosophies,” said Paramu.
In Kerala, around 25,000 people retire every year from government service. Compared to other States, government employees hang up their boots early here as the retirement age is 56. With the average life expectancy of the people of Kerala on the higher side (74), there are more and more retirees who are badly in need of a creative hangout for the rest of their life. Pakal Veedu is the answer for such people in the city. People walk into Pakal Veedu after hearing about it from someone else and sign up promptly. While some are ardent members who arrive at 11 a.m. and stay on till 3 p.m., some just drop in to have a chat.
Leaning on to a table, Abraham Hormis, a man with a tuft of milky white hair, shakes as he speaks: “The motto is simple: Varika, irikkuka, chirikkuka, kalikkuka, povuka”" (Come, sit, have fun, make merry, and leave). He retired as a senior manager from a bank.
The group, with a strength of 150-plus, does have a serious side too. The members turn themselves into activists for a cause when a situation demands.
They have hit the streets against shoddy road work, shot off missives to newspaper editors on government inaction, and organised agitations against corruption in support of Anna Hazare. They speak up against anything they perceive as unjust, like the recent private bus fare hike that they believe is unscientific and a total rip-off.
C.A. Vijayachandran, a lanky man dressed in white shirt and a matching dhoti, and sporting a lush beard and scarce hair, spoke in his baritone voice: “This group is an attempt to make ourselves believe that we are not a spent force.” His sartorial sense is emblematic of his thoughts. He said: “We want to continue making an impact on society in a way we can; Pakal Veedu makes it possible.”
Just then, somebody plonked a bunch of old song books onto the table. “Meet K.N. Bahuleyan. He retired from Apollo Tyres,” said Mr. Vijayachandran.
Flipping through the pages of lyrics, Mr. Bahuleyan, who appears to be the youngest of the lot, settled on a slow-paced hit number to start out the day’s singing session. Mr. Hormis mimicked the orchestra while others joined the chorus — no stage fright, no fear of cracked voices to hold them back. Here they are in their element. It was just the beginning. Next in the line was a folk melody. The catchy song ensured that there were no neutral observers in the group.
By then it was time for lunch. One of the group members volunteered to fetch meals from a nearby restaurant. In a corner, they also had the wherewithal to prepare tea or coffee.
“We love being here,” said Mr. Vijayachandran.
“But will you forgo this get-together if some of you land a job again?” I asked.
“If it’s something more interesting than this, if it suits my creative taste, then I might,” said Mr Vijayachandran. “What could that job be?” Pat came the reply, “May be, a book store manager”, sounding as if he had been thinking of it for months.
The camaraderie born in the abode has spread to their families too. Pakal Veedu organises family get-togethers, celebrates birthdays and wedding anniversaries of its members and goes on jaunts to tourist spots.
Mr Hormis has put the need for such a setup succinctly in their newsletter. “For a tot, there is always the mom; for a lad there is always a lady; but for the elderly, there isn’t anybody.”
For all the days of companionship, there is also the uncertainty of life that rips the group apart once in a while. In a span of two years, five of its members have died.
“One among us was there with us till the end of a day, the next day we got a call saying he died in sleep. It’s so hard to not have a friend that we have got used to,” said Mr. Paramu.