The evening could not be more pleasant. The near-incessant rains this year have kept temperatures down in Bangalore to a most salubrious cool. Plus we were at our club which rests in one corner of Cubbon Park, an oasis in the heart of the town where temperatures are an additional degree or two lower. Result: it not only felt like hill station weather but was actually so. This added to the good spirits that prevail at a family reunion – the wife’s sister and her family had come to visit from Kolkata – and we ordered drinks rather freely.
Then as we chatted, exchanging notes about who was up to what, I realised the great irony. Among the seven of us gathered around two tables joined into one, only one person, the wife, had a full-fledged job in the old-fashioned way in which a salary came punctually at the end of the month with a payslip. The rest were in various mixes of formal and informal pursuit of goals that brought something home, keeping not just the pot boiling but spirits reasonably cheerful too.
Take the case of our son, who is determined to craft a career in film making. He has given us endless lists whose burden is – you name the director and I will tell you how he did not make his first feature film before he was in his mid-30s or later. So the fact that he got odds and ends of work in bits and pieces left him neither depressed nor gloomy. And to keep the tap running in between those mini-jobs, he copy edited for a leading publisher, earning more than a bit of pocket money. Work shuttled between Delhi, where the publisher resided, and Mumbai, where our son worked, courtesy the internet. The only problem was ensuring the courier with the payment cheque did not go unreceived.
Then there was our daughter, who, after college and a stint in the corporate world, was passing through a period of voluntary joblessness, more than surviving on the savings and getting ready to prepare for the entrance exam for a post-graduate course in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, which she fancied. The bonus for her was a sharp fall in her transport costs. Virtually every decent hangout joint for the young has a branch in Indiranagar or around its booming 100 Feet Road so while her friends came at some expense she just walked across from home.
My sister-in-law, the wife’s sister, showed none of the signs of an ageing teacher who just retired and for whom active life was essentially over. The freedom from having to go to school every day had enabled her to hit the cultural scene in Kolkata with a vengeance. Both her home and the cluster of Rabindra Sadan and Nandan were accessible by metro rail, cutting travel costs. Moreover, just when she had begun to wonder out of which saving the pocket money would come, some of her former students and their friends landed up at her home demanding that she start a coaching class. This was love’s labour, paid for.
Her daughter, my niece, was work-wise in a peculiar no man’s land. Yes, she attended office at the animation firm at which she was by now a bit of a senior artist. But contracts and payments were coming a bit irregularly and the last three months’ salary was due. Normally, this would have created a crisis but the firm had tied up with a leading private sector bank to give the employees loans in lieu of salary, interest to be paid by the company. Both the bank and the firm were cool with this arrangement as they knew that clients would eventually pay up. So feeling down over working but not getting the salary was out of the question.
And then there was yours truly, retired and left on the shelf but feeling none the worse for it. The urge to write remained undiminished and the regular columns ticked away, not counting the odd piece written on the spur of the moment for an outstation paper. Not only that, here was this research project at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, of which one was happy to become a part. The senior fellows, pleasant nomenclature for the grey-haired, were looked after in their own modest way. So not only was there no tension over cash flows, even the earlier tensions that inevitably came with being part of an office were gone.
The only person who was truly retired and was doing nothing and loving it (he now had all the time to watch as much of cricket as he could take) was my brother-in-law. He had struck it cool by selling off his father’s old house at a huge appreciation and what was not used up in buying a new small apartment went straight into bank fixed deposits.
As we finished dinner and headed for Corner House, Bangalore’s own unequalled ice cream franchise, I realised that the days when salaried jobs were the mainstay of the Indian middle class and the retired took a clear window side seat were over. Uncertainty was higher but so was the satisfaction gained from doing what one really wanted to do.
The new paradigm was articulated by our son, who, on being asked what would happen if his dream feature film took inordinately long to come, replied that there were always those jobs at the new style corporate film production houses which could be picked up any time, adding in Bollywood Hindi, tension mat kijiye.