Pension blues and post-retirement life are two scary areas which any middle-class employee would find perplexing

Had Mark Twain lived in India and experienced the travails of senior citizens, he would have rephrased his words on a positive frame of mind. His quote, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter,” would have been revised as “Age does matter over mind, if you don’t mind you are in trouble” in India.

In fact, there is a sense of pity and anxiety the moment people retire from active service and are dismissed as old fossil in a maddening race for money, fame and name. They allow the near and dear to grab as much wealth as possible. They also realise that in this unpredictable lifestyle they may not even live to see the brighter morrow to throw money as they like, yet they chase that cushy bank balance which could see them through their unexplored post-retirement life.

Truly, none should grudge this thinking and people should also spare a thought for their elderly parents in the autumn of their lives. Sadly, it’s a vicious circle where the earning member and his wife struggle to provide a decent education to their kids and yet try to balance their lives with the well-being of elders.

An NGO study in a national daily gives a disturbing picture of the lives of senior citizens. One out of every two senior citizens in urban India is unhappy with his/her living conditions and 80% are looking for a better lifestyle that includes more shopping, socialising and holidays. Perhaps, this may not be actually true since a majority of them prefer to visit temples/shrines and listen to discourses.

The nationwide survey of 1,900 senior citizens was conducted across 12 cities including Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore by a market research firm over three months last year. It studied four parameters — socio-economic issues, security issues, healthcare and lifestyle needs. More than 80% of seniors seek to sustain their lifestyle with age or improve it, as they do not wish to ‘retire’ from a normal, active life, the study found. More senior citizens want to stay young at heart, with 75% respondents saying they wanted to socialise, engage in sports, go on a leisure outing and shop for luxury goods.

This may be true in cases where their savings can ensure that lifestyle but a majority of the pensioners make it doubly sure before spending their pension on any such luxurious getaways.

A regular morning walker with me, a D-G of a Government of India establishment, found himself lost in society the day he retired. He stopped appearing for the morning walk as preparatory to his retirement for the past 15 days and just two days after his retirement he looked totally haggard, lost and shaken.

I could read his emotions and forlorn state, as if he was cut off from society. He was a terror in his power-packed post and many of his colleagues disliked his behaviour. The day he retired, many were found celebrating, while the formal retirement function was on in another wing of the office! Can we blame him for discharging his duties dispassionately and curtly? As my former boss used to say, “I am not paid to please all” ... true, but does he have to be a demon to be an upright and disciplined boss?

Pension blues and post-retirement life are two dark and scary areas which any middle-class employee would find perplexing. Sadly, the plight is more pitiable in the private sector where there are no good advisers to guide you on a contented life. Health is one big uncertain zone where one’s calculations go haywire if a retired person falls sick. Hospital expenses shoot up, drilling a hole into his savings. There is no national social security or health plan for all. The Central Government Health Scheme is one saving grace for retired employees, while the private sector has no such scheme. As American boxer George Foreman rightly said, the “question isn’t at what age I want to retire, it’s at what income.” How true. Income and savings are interlinked bogies and invariably there is a yawning gap between what you earn and save. Sadly, the state has no plans for senior citizens and it feels its responsibility is limited to caring for pensioners of the central government. Social security schemes are a big disappointment and one has to fend for oneself. The condition is deplorable in rural areas and interiors of the country. It’s only the politicians who irrespective of their age survive the hardship thanks to their clout and power. The unsung and destitute senior citizens lead a pathetic life.

(The writer’s email: veturisri@yahoo.com)

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