Monday, January 14, 2008

Retirement Means Death or Rejuvenation

I was influenced by two contrasting opinions on Retirement. One by Lee Kwan Yew and other a response by an American reader of Strait Times, to LKY's proclaimation 'Retirement Means Death'. Lee Kwan Yew is a remarkable person and like many foreigners , I too look at him in awe and respect. However in Asian countries, a section of domestic population is always more critical of their leaders . Singapore too is no exception. Y’day at Suntec Convention center, when Lew Kwan Yew talked about Retirement. ‘With nothing to do, no purpose in life, you'll just degrade, go to seed '. No sooner he proclaimed ' Retirement Means Death', scores of messages started pouring in the local newspaper - Strait Times. Majority of them were critical of him and his views.

What LKW said was echoed a while ago in British Medical Journal. The study mentioned that those people who retire at age 55 and live to be at least 65 die sooner than people who retire at 65. That's not all. People who retire at 55 are 89% more likely to die in the 10 years after retirement than those who retire at 65. This study was taken for all retirees at Shell company.

Although Singapore or Shell group survey cover socio-economic group that is vastly different from India and other struggling Asian countries, I reckon, the result may not be all that different. Since economic liberalization, India offered a choice of voluntary retirement but I did hear few of these people who opted for early retirement developed physical problems immediately after the retirement that were not apparent earlier. Perhaps Idle mind invited host of physical problems.

Lee Kwan Yew is 85 and pursues active life, does regular exercise and undertake frequent travel . He considers these are his secrets of graceful longevity . He started jogging in his 50s and now also keeps fit by swimming and cycling. He maintains a packed schedule of international travel, including at least one official trip a year to regional powerhouses China and India. He proclaimed “The biggest punishment a man can receive, he said, is 'total isolation', which he defined as 'if you're not interested in the world and if the world is not interested in you'. 'If the mindset is that I'll reach retirement at age 62, I'm old, I can't work anymore, I don't have to work, I just sit back, now is the time I enjoy life, I think you're making the biggest mistake of your life, “he said.

The response fro the the american reader was equally compelling " The pension funds in many large U.S. companies such as AT & T, Boeing, Lockheed etc. have seldom been fully drawn out by retirees who work till the age of 65 years, as these workers usually die within 2 years after finally retirement. Many of these late retirees do not stay alive long enough to pick up all their pension money. As a result, they leave a lot of unused money in their pension funds, resulting in the under drawn funds. A study of life span v/s age at retirement, based on the number of pension cheques sent to retirees of Boeing Aerospace, found that for staff who retire at the age of 50, their average life span is 86. For people who retire at the age of 65, their average life span is only 66.8.This study concludes that for every year a person works beyond the age of 55, he/she loses an average of 2 years of his/her life span. Boeing employees who retire at the age of 65, receive pension cheques for only 18 months, on average, before dying. Lockheed, Ford Motors & Bell Labs, both found that employees retiring at the age of 65, take only an average of 17 months of pension, prior to death."

So what do I do ? Should I retire at 58 or carry on ?

Being an Indian working abroad , I have no choice. I have no social security, no pension, no gratuity, no provident fund. I must fend for myself till I breathe last. When I look at the Indians who are living beyond 80’s. One things that is strikingly different. They all have zeal to live life and passion to look forward to something new. It would be interesting to see if people who have immersed themselves spiritually too have converted that peace of mind into a longevity.

But even I were to have all the comforts and security of pension fund, I doubt if I would ever retire. My agitated mind would unlikley to let my body do nothing. Despite various convincing comments by readers, I would still agree with LKY that ‘ Retirement for me is indeed a Death’

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Being Hindu in Pakistan and Muslim in India

During one of my train journeys in North India, I came across a person in the first class coupe of Indian railways. He worked for nationalized bank and was on his way from work place to home. He was wearing half sleeve checked shirt and baggy trousers with neatly combed hair, wearing spectacle and carrying local newspaper. He was Indian middle aged common man with a small , stable family and a secure job. I was prepared for an insipid chat on mundane subjects about bureaucracy, ministerial intervention etc but he took me by surprise by telling me about his visit was to shift his family from New Delhi to his newly acquired residence in Meerut. This intrigued me as I was seeing for the first time a migration from a metro city to a small town. But once I understood his reasons for doing so, my intrigue was transformed into a rankled thought that has stayed with me since then.

The above incident happened post Godhra and Hindu Muslim riots that ensued immediately after. This gentleman had his immediate brother and his sister living in Ahmedabad. They lived in a cosmopolitan apartment complex that had a common thread of working middle classmen with a small family and aspirations for their children. Religions, Caste didn’t matter much as all spoke the local language. He didn’t tell me what exactly had happened during the riots but all he said their brother’s family became cynosure in the eyes of bulk of Hindu residents. There wasn’t any overt religious discrimination but visible alienation in the eyes of neighbors was palpable. They along with hundreds of the families belonging to same community took a decision to relocate themselves into an area where they would be have numerical advantage of their religious fraternity and feel safe and secured. This man, though thousand of miles away from riot stricken place, too decided to sell his property and plan his retirement in Meerut where majority of his Muslim relatives stay. Was it a spontaneous reaction or well thought move?

The above story came to my mind as I spent two wonderful days with Hindu doctor family who chose to stay in Pakistan after the partition. For majority of Hindu’s in India and that includes me, a Hindu in Pakistan remained like a Siberian tiger specie in a zoo. Cricketer Danesh Kaneria, Justice Bhagwan Das and Newly appointed Sikh army personnel came as token presence of existing Hindu presence in Pakistan. My perspective changed when I read about ‘Hinduism in Pakistan’ on Wikipedia subsequent to my spending time with this friend of mine. Doctor felt that ‘Muslims in Pakistan do not view Hindu’s – both in India and Pakistan – as suspiciously as Muslim’s in Pakistan do’. Even though I would love to dispute his claims, but I am aware that reality is loaded in his favor. Majority of Hindu’s in India do seem to have made any attempt to assimilate Muslim in their stream. Political parties picked Muslims as and when it suited their political convenience. Indians loudly proclaim the emergence of Azim Premji, Azuruddin and Abdul Kalam as a success of secular spirit of India, but if we were to take a count Muslim’s presence in Indian jobs and professions- they would be incongruent to their population presence. Sachar committee report reveal Muslims in India possess lower educational levels and in turn have higher unemployment rates than the Hindu majority and other minorities like Christians and Sikhs. In Public service their presence is less than 7% percent, in railways less than 5% percent, in banks less than 4% and in India’s 1.3 million strong military, they are mere 29,000 in numbers. I also find most Muslims- despite being educated tend to run their family business. I wonder if there is a definite bias when it comes to recruitment of Muslims that is perhaps distinctly pronounced from other religions such as Christianity and Buddhism. I do feel that Dalits - too must also be feeling the same heat as Muslims in India.

According to the article in Wikipedia, there are three million Hindu’s in Pakistan – almost the 2/3rd of the population of UAE or Singapore and nearly 2 million Hindus stay in Sindh province. My doctor friend said the most visible damage against Hinduism took place not when Pakistan and India went to wars but when Babri Mosque was demolished. He claims ‘Hindu’s in current regime of Parvez Musharuff feel more relaxed while they were edgy during Zia Ul Haq’s regime.’ But what was interesting to learn that Mohajirs (meaning immigrant from India) feel far more alienated in Pakistan. They feel ‘If at all anyone has gone through sacrifice during the Partition – it’s them – and they haven’t got a rightful place in Pakistani mainstream’. Interestingly not many Hindu immigrants from Pakistan ever voiced such a concern.

Is it that Indian Muslims on either side of the border feel that they have been marginalized? Sunday Gentlemen is a blog by 24 year old Mubasshir Ahmed. He discusses various issues that afflict Muslim population in India and what I like about his blog is his perspective in tackling issues in an objective manner without estranged feeling.I do hope more such attempts like Mubasshir should be given media attention that those ridiculous fatwas issued by self proclaimed Islamic scholars.

India has Muslim population in excess of 160 million, next only to Indonesia. Their growth rate is higher than rest of the India population. Today in India, there is no town or electoral constituency that can choose its representative without the impact of Muslim votes and with increased population, this scenario would get more decisive in future. India has to guard against alienation of Muslims. As India marches forward, unless majority community has a mindset to share the benefits with minorities, social divide would get more visible. Economic disparity with religious or sectarian alienation has a explosive potency to rock the nation. We are witnessing this in Iraq, Pakistan and also in Africa. Muslim ghettos in a city is danger sign for India and I only hope the reaction by middle class Muslim man in the train will be viewed as extempore knee jerk reaction.