COVID-19: ‘The pandemic stole my retirement party’

Jaleel Thottathil, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Malappuram honoured K.V. Kurian (right) with a bouquet of flowers and traditional salute just before the latter was to end his day and service on March 31. Photo: Special Arrangement  

There would have been panegyrics. There would have been pyrotechnics. There would have been a “victory lap” on horseback. There would have been a tall turban perched on her head. There would have been a dance performance, in which she herself would have been the primary dancer. There would have been a bunch of colleagues who would have accompanied her all the way to her home in Sevapettai, near Tiruvallur, and bid her farewell.

From great expectations — raised by “blurt-mouthed” colleagues letting in on what was being planned for her Big Day — only two weeks ago, K. Kamala, messenger at NABARD Chennai, now finds her retirement party reduced to a memory — a memory of painful what-would-have-been’s.

Kamala is among many other state and central government employees who retired on March 31, 2020, with their much-awaited grand office farewell parties morphing into a quiet and small gathering around desks, and in many cases, not even that.

(In Central and state government offices, the last day of the month an employee attains retirement age will be treated as their last day in service, and that is also the day the farewell party is organised.)

There are many stories of colleagues bidding farewell on messaging platforms; and this one is singular.

R. Jayaraman, who retired as deputy general manager from Corporation Bank, called for a socially-distant farewell meeting of his reportees at 6 p.m. before he was going to leave office, for the day and for good. Some were working from home, but the vast majority of the employees were in the same building. And, twenty-five of his reportees logged in on a video call. Jayaraman shared how joyous and fulfilling a run he had in the organisation. During the 30-minute video call, Jayaraman’s colleagues shared how fortunate they felt about knowing and working with him.

There are other unusual stories of how Central and state government employees retiring on March 31 hung up their boots. One of the most remarkable is now gathering likes at the rate of knots on social media platforms: It is a video of how police officials in Mallapuram district honoured their retiring colleague, K.V. Kurian, sub-inspector of police (traffic enforcement unit), Malappuram, right on the road with a salute. Kurian was carrying out COVID-19 road checks on the Palakkad-Kozhikode NH Road when Jaleel Thottathil, Deputy Superintendent of Police, honoured him with a bouquet of flowers and the traditional salute just before he was to end his day and service, at 5 p.m.

“That was my retirement function,” says Kurian. Under normal circumstances, his last day at work would have drawn to a close with a festivity.

“My duty is more important than my retirement function,” he says, referring to how the police are among those on the front lines of efforts to check the spread of the novel Coronavirus.

The second best thing

Though retirees will place the lack of a grand bow-out, in perspective, and their colleagues will see how best the retirees can be made to feel cherished in the current circumstances, the disappointment of not having said one’s goodbyes to all colleagues, on the last day at work, can’t be brushed aside easily.

Kamala had joined NABARD Chennai in 1988 as a maintenance staff and at the time of her retirement on March 31 2020, she was messenger, which is the equivalent of a peon. From what she has to say about her journey in the organisation, it is clear that her ex-colleagues, past and present, constitute an extended family. Being unable to say goodbyes properly rankles in her heart.

“A carrom player who would represent NABARD Tamil Nadu at national-level NABARD tournaments, a dancer who would liven up NABARD Chennai events with impromptu performances, and above all, someone with a high degree of social intelligence that enabled her to interact with everyone at office with ease and politeness, she was extremely popular. While she would dance at everybody else’s farewell party, it is quite an irony that her own had been reduced to a quiet and formal event. If her farewell had happened as planned on March 31, it would have been one of the liveliest farewells NABARD - Chennai would have seen,” says S. Chandramouli, secretary, NABARD Sports and Recreation Club, which organises retirement farewells.

Due to the lockdown, the office had to quickly organise a symbolic farewell for Kamala around 4 p.m. on March 24, with only a handful of colleagues in attendance. The vast majority had been asked to work from home.

“The Chief General Manager had learnt on the morning of that day that I was in tears, heart-broken that my retirement-farewell expectations had gone up in flames. She totally empathised with my situation and ordered a bouquet for me. A Group B officer dropped me home in his car. These were grand gestures that I will carry with me into my retirement life,” says Kamala gracefully.

“At this time, all of us have to stay safe, and viewed in the light of this reality, my personal disappointment amounts to nothing. I hope and pray everyone is safe from COVID-19. So, this is not a time for farewell parties or any other celebrations,” says Kamala with endearing clarity of thought.

Jayaraman, who joined the bank as a clerk 38 years ago and went on to take up various other roles, knows that at any other time, the farewell would have been organised around traditional rituals and customs of the land.

“Usually, we have a grand function in an auditorium, I would have received a send-off in Karnataka style as I was working in Mangalore at the time of my retirement, but all of these had to be skipped due to the lockdown,” he says. “And then, there was also the sadness that was the last day Corporation Bank would function as Corporation Bank. The bank’s merger with Union Bank of India came into effect on April 1.”

A poignant irony

Having been a key organiser for close to 200 retirement functions over the last two years, it is only natural that R. Manivannan gets the best farewell send-off in the office.

“What can we do if the present situation is such?” Manivannan thinks aloud, making an effort at self-comforting auto-suggestion.

“I was plain unlucky,” he adds

He retired as general manager - human resources from ONGC at Mehsana in Gujarat. March 30 was his last day at his desk.

“I did not go to work on March 31 as I knew no function had been planned,”

He continues: “Since I moved to this office two years ago, one of my primary duties was coordinating efforts to organise retirement functions for colleagues, which includes buying mementos, getting the ‘service card’ ready, and inviting family members of the retiring employee to the function,” he says.

At a later date

Manivannan, who has put in 32 years of service with the organisation, says his colleagues have promised that after the nation recovers from the current COVID-19 situation, they will have a farewell party organised for him, along with those retiring in that month.

Jayaraman Soundararaj, who retired as superintendent from the Tamil Nadu Government-run Department of Employment Training, is content receiving a shower of messages in the office and department-related WhatsApp groups.

“There are some seven WhatsApp groups. Due to what is happening on account of COVID-19 the world over, nobody wants to celebrate anything. So, WhatsApp greetings would suffice now,” he says, stoically.

He is however looking forward to an informal gathering with friends-colleagues after the nation and the world ride through the COVID-19 crisis.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 7:53:55 AM |

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