It happens only once in your life, a jarring reality that you cannot push away. There is a cut-off date for your exit from government service much before you could fancy such things. Recently, I crossed the milestone in life after over 35 years, honourably in my perception.
The day began as usual for me but my wife was pestering me over my insensitiveness to the importance of the day. “You should be punctual at least today. Tomorrow will be too late.” She is 10 years younger but wiser by an equal time span.
There was a grand assembly of noble souls in an ashram near my last port of call in service. As an ardent disciple of the head of the ashram and a part-time functionary, I was pretty involved. Compared to it, the retirement function was too small an event. You get a curious feeling on your last day in office. It takes time to adjust to the new status of a retiree. The attachment to the white-collar world is so thick in your blood that it cannot be washed off suddenly. Because of my preoccupation in the ashram on that day I could excuse myself from the formal ceremonies of a send-off promising them a brief get-together instead. This had greatly disillusioned my colleagues who had arranged a “retreat ceremony” through the backwaters of Kayamkulam Kayal, the panoramic lake surrounding the town, in a houseboat with a variety of desi food items.
At the ashram, the speakers were great orators. My wife was eagerly looking into my face signalling me to attend my last official duty before it is too late. But I was in no mood to budge. An old colleague, now reemployed, called me to say best wishes, was startled at my disclosure that I am in an ashram. Perturbed at this he advised me to reconsider my decision. “Sir, you are too young to go to an ashram, if you try you’ll also get reemployment. Please do not take any hasty steps.” I couldn’t explain the situation in the din. Frantic calls were also coming from my office. I was perplexed. I knew I am doing injustice to my entire career by being absent at the last hour. But I was hesitant to obey the call of my heart. By then the swami rose to speak.
He started by quoting from the Bhagavad Gita. “Focus on your proper duty of the moment. In this way remain devoted to the opposite less. And you achieve inner perfection.” Then as if reading my mind he went on: “One of my friends is spending his last day in government service today. He is here in the audience amongst you. His colleagues are eagerly waiting for him in office to pack him off. Of course he is a devotee of the ashram. But I think that he should not have excused himself from the most precious time of his official life like this. It is a dereliction of duty, to say the least.” I quietly moved out with my wife. It was pandemonium at office. The photographer had left for another assignment. The womenfolk including my wife were glum about missing the photo-ops. I had to pacify them with words of apology.
I was wandering in thoughts while the houseboat sailed slowly. Only a few birds were sitting idle on the large wooden poles piled along the route awaiting their last catch.