ARE YOU WORTH KNOWING?

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THESE DAYS I AM INCREASINGLY WITNESS TO A retirement phenomenon. Meeting an old acquaintance most men tend to ask, “aajkal kahan ho” (where are you nowadays?) Far ftom seeking information about the well-being of the person, the question seeks to ascertain whether (a) the poor fellow has a job, (b) whether the job is worthwhile and (c) whether it has any ‘future potential’.

My erstwhile colleagues who have joined the superannuated club often describe how they spend six months of the year with their cherubic grandchildren in foreign lands, a pastime which they find immensely rewarding. For the rest of the six months, they enjoy life in Delhi and all that goes with it. That makes a statement of one kind — namely that they have the means to travel, their children still want them around and they have something interesting to return to back in ‘desh’.

And then there are others who feel the need to tell everyone, “I am involved with an NGO, which keeps me fully occupied” or “I am busy growing wheat on my farm”, or “I’m busy with arbitration cases” or “I am a Director of Companies”. Last but not least, “I am writing a book”. There are some truthful ones who do not mind announcing, “I run the house and cook breakfast for the family”.

There are a few fortunate ones who are probably busier nowadays than ever before. Their days are filled with assignments and consultancies, some honorary, some not so honorary. Having found a cushy niche for themselves, they are perhaps the happiest of all. To the inevitable “kahan lvii aajkal” comes the crisp response, “Aap ke samane khada hun janaab”. (I am in front of you, Sir).

Surprisingly women react quite differently to an evaluation of their spouse’s post-retirement worth. While most men want to probe and place the victim before they decide whether serious conversation is worthwhile, women react in quite the opposite way. Unfairly criticized (by the opposite sex) for being inquisitive, indiscreet and envious, women never ask other women questions like, “kahan ho aajkal?’ They hug their acquaintance with warmth and pay lavish compliments to brighten up the moment and set the tone. Conversation automatically veers around running the household, children, marriages, illnesses and the joys and sorrows of moving into a new house with or without vao..stu or feng shui. Women also love to describe their husbands post-retirement foibles — bossing the Mali without knowing the first thing about gardens and flowers, offering unsolicited advice on how to run the house more efficiently and worst of all getting into silent mode behind newspapers for hours on end. Women have a natural ability to describe their husband’s shortcomings laced with humour, something that most husbands appear incapable of doing, with equal panache.

I doubt if any research has been done on the subject but on the basis of empirical evidence I can say with authority that women do not feel the need to establish themselves the way men do — they have trained themselves to live life as it comes and believe it or not, being admired by other women is for them the biggest highpoint, anytime. Next time someone asks the inevitable “kahan ho aajkal”, I suggest those who have nothing spectacular to report simply say, “mere bibi se puch lijiye”.

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