Tamil Nadu

Retirement didn’t stop them from living a full life; neither will the lockdown

In stride: S.J. Stephen and his wife, Hephzibah, say life on lockdown isn’t too bad. Photo: Special arrangement

In stride: S.J. Stephen and his wife, Hephzibah, say life on lockdown isn’t too bad. Photo: Special arrangement  

Still a part of the workforce, several retirees lean on technology, planned schedules to help them cope with the forced stay in their homes

N.S. Parthasarathy normally plays golf at least three times a week. Most afternoons would see him striding across the greens at the Madras Gymkhana Golf Annexe or the Tamil Nadu Golf Federation, a caddie in tow with his Callaway irons. He is 88. “I am probably the oldest active golfer in Chennai. I’ll brag and make that claim till somebody challenges me,” he said with a laugh, during a telephone conversation.

Before COVID-19 and the lockdown, the Thiruvanmiyur resident led a busy life, dividing his time between walks in the morning, perfecting his putt, his job as a consultant at Power Centre, a city-based software solutions company run by his son-in-law, and writing fortnightly for Madras Musings. But now he has had to adapt to staying indoors 24x7.

“For anyone prepared for a semi-retirement phase, this is easy. You just have to be inventive and widen your interests,” he said, adding how the hours are taken up with researching articles, work calls and catching up with friends on WhatsApp. “I’m reading a book on the life of Guru Nanak now, and my wife and I chant in the afternoons [a new pastime that brings them a sense of peace],” he said. “The main challenge is the change of physical environment. My wife has to deal with me being at home all the time. Tact and humour are my tools,” he added.

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Zoom gatherings

At a time when a lot of what’s being written about the COVID-19 pandemic puts the focus on the most vulnerable ‘greying generation’ many retirees in Chennai are calmly going about their lives, adapting to the changes and not letting anxiety get the better of them. S.J. Stephen, 73, and his wife Hephzibah, 66, share that while they miss meeting their friends and being a part of church activities, life on lockdown isn’t too bad. “We now use Zoom to meet up and pray. We also have more time to work in our terrace garden [where they grow vegetables like ladies finger, ridge gourd, brinjal and tomatoes] and tend to our chickens,” said Ms. Hephzibah. The couple, who used to be early morning fixtures on Anna Nagar’s roads, getting in their 10,000 steps a day, have adapted by shifting their attention to their terrace and treadmill. They also allot hours daily to connect with family and friends. “One day, I’ll talk to all my four siblings, another day I’ll video call my 12 nieces and nephews, or my senior friends,” said Mr. Stephen.

Reaching Out
  • Many of the retirees who continue to work for personal fulfilment are also volunteering at this time. N Krishnan, 83, chairman of the HVK Group of Companies and an active member of the Rotary, finds time in his structured daily schedule — which has him reading two books a day and streaming shows like The Test on Amazon Prime Video — to brainstorm with fellow Rotarians over Zoom. “We are trying to figure out how to raise money and donate to organisations that help the people most in need now, such as migrant labourers, etc,” he says.
  • In Thiruvanmiyur, Ramanathan Balakrishnan, 74, a consultant with the Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group, is doing much the same. “We are getting together [digitally] in our society to source and pool money, to help those in need to go to the nearest Amma canteens and shops [for provisions],” he says.

Then there are those who are filling their days by embracing technology to contribute wherever possible. Alamelu Nagarajan, honorary educational director of AIM for Seva, a service organisation that gives underprivileged children access to quality education, is studying Vedanta via Zoom classes and organises online meditation sessions. The feisty 70-year-old with a playful side — she can whistle with two fingers, much to the amusement of friends and the neighbourhood kids — has been living with her daughter in Thiruvanmiyur for the last three months. “I’m not someone who can sit quietly. So now, I’m looking up forgotten recipes — like a Thooyamalli vegetable rice ball dish that I made the other day — and sharing it with friends. I’m also video chatting with the parents in our complex on ways to keep their kids engaged: through fun maths classes [she teaches Vedic maths], traditional board games, etc,” she said.

The tough get going

But this is not to say there aren’t challenges. For Mr. Stephen, it is the prospect of not being able to see his children, who are settled in the U.S., any time soon. “There’s nothing like meeting family and friends face to face, especially the elderly. It means a lot to them,” he said. Others are concerned that their children worry too much about them. “My daughter, who lives in Bengaluru, is worried about my husband and I living alone in Neelankarai,” said the soft-spoken Ritha Rajan, 71, whose job as the Academic coordinator of Music Academy’s Advanced School of Carnatic Music is on pause. “She’s already called all our neighbours and made sure they check up on us often,” she added, explaining that she was currently spending her days immersing herself in Carnatic, Hindustani, western classical and old film songs.

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The uncertain times are proving stressful for some. S. Parameswaran, chartered accountant and managing partner of S. Parameswaran & Co. in Kilpauk, said while it was a cause for concern that nobody can predict anything about the coronavirus, he was not letting the uncertainty affect him. “Social distancing will help us,” he emphasised. “But after the lockdown, I’m looking forward to going back to work. My clients’ turnover and volume of business may be lower [because of the shaky economy], but I won’t let it affect me. I will file returns and prepare financial statements.”

The retired are banking on their experience to retain a positive outlook. “We’ve been through difficulties in life, so these troubled times aren’t too much to bear. I am looking at it as a welcome gift; as a workaholic who did not know how to stop, it has helped me take a break. I’ll rebound now with renewed energy,” says D. Chandrasekhar, 72, founder of the Madras Dyslexia Association. His only worry: that he may not have time enough to finish all the goals he has set himself for the lockdown, including reading the complete collection of short stories by Raghavan Chudamani.

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 8:31:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/retirement-didnt-stop-them-from-living-a-full-life-neither-will-the-lockdown/article31240544.ece

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