STARTING FRESH AT SIXTY

Rishi Majumder meets senior citizens who got a brand new career post-retirement, thanks to a unique senior citizen initiative that values their talent

Photographer: Sachin Haralkar

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Soli Bamji, now 88, has a portfolio spanning a lot: working in a Tata textile dyeing and printing department in Bombay, selling textiles, Xerox machines, industrial chemicals and even artificial flowers in Canada before winning a researcher scientist’s position for a paper manufacturer, trouble shooting for the Birla paper mills in Bihar and South India, trading Indian garments in France, advising French industrialists on exchanging technology with Asia, and finally working for a company manufacturing metal sprayers in Sydney. 67-year-old Madhav Namjoshi, on the contrary, stuck with one institution all his life —the Central Bank of India. Here however he switched roles as Branch Manager, Vigilance Officer, Enquiry Officer and even Faculty at the bank’s staff training centre. Sabar Jilla, also 67, started off as a clerk with ACC, to rise to senior officer. She later joined a consultancy service as personal secretary to its head. Atul Marwa has a less civilian past — rising to Lieutenant Colonel in the Indian Army, he was in its logistics arm as an ammunitions expert.
The senior citizens mentioned above are about to discuss the relevance of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Company and Dignity Foundation’s planned website on second careers (as part of their joint initiative ActivAge) which will encourage interested Senior Citizens to post resumes online, so interested companies might recruit them. ICICI Prudential will supposedly take a special interest in these resumes, recruiting as soon as it finds adequate vacancies. Dignity is an organisation long synonymous with senior citizen welfare. ICICI Prudential Executive Director Bhargav Dasgupta claims the company was egged on to the idea by “a consumer research survey on what retired citizens want to do.”
“I have nothing against senior citizens passing time by playing carom or cards at a designated club,” explains Bamji. “But unless you do something which utilizes your faculties sufficiently, you don’t really feel alive.” He then distinguishes between those who are “forced to
work” and those who “like to work” and claims that for the latter ‘retirement’ would render life meaningless even at 90. Bamji is interested in work which involves teaching and public speaking. He recounts his jobs as researcher in Canada and India, when he successfully trouble shot a variety of industrial problems, actually using his lack of former knowledge to his end: “It gave me a holistic approach and a new perspective. I asked seemingly obvious questions, to get unobvious answers.”
‘Giving back to society’ is another
reason these senior citizens state unanimously for going back to work. Namjoshi goes as far as to say, “I want to work, for corporate and public institutions alike. But for free.” His favourite angle to his bank job being dealing with an array of clients, “interacting with the public” is what he wants to continue doing. Like Jilla, he works with Dignity Foundation, and in turn with a host of public authorities from among the police and BMC. Jilla too, insists on this period being a sort of Saatvik phase in which she would work to serve others rather than herself.
“When I joined the army, the idea of a corporate job was looked down upon because of the state-controlled and monopolized business environment,” recounts Marwa. Today Marwa works for ICICI Prudential, using his logistical insight to aid the company in opening over 2000 rural locations. Many careers — like filmmaking, advertising, choreography — which would have captured a youngster’s imagination 20 years ago, but were unfeasible, are open today. Author Catherine Bird in her
bestseller Second Careers: New Ways To Work After 50 lists case studies of those above 55 as extreme as a lawyer who became a salmon fisher, a navy officer who became a Methodist minister and an executive who became a travel escort. Our land of the caste system once demanded that sons follow the footsteps of their father’s ‘calling’ ten generations down the line. But the world’s newfound flatness is today prodding even senior citizens to try to live a dream dreamt long ago. The final and seemingly most obvious reason for embarking on a second career is money. Funnily, this is a factor every senior citizen interviewed claimed to care least about, if at all. But while most senior citizens may be prompted to such altruism by having saved enough, they cannot deny the role remuneration plays in gauging a human being’s worth in today’s ever increasingly material world. Few, for instance, would imagine JRD Tata agonizing over his self worth at 88. Befittingly, many senior citizens ended their debate on second careers with dissent. “I love work. But I don’t like the idea of being bound to an organisation,” argues Namjoshi. “That’s why I don’t want to take any remuneration for the work I do. Remuneration equals obligation.” Jilla furthers Namoshi’s perspective, emphasizing she doesn’t want her “commitment to work to be an enforced commitment”. Point taken, and ball thrust back in our court. Every scheme, including that of ‘active ageing’ likens the cause of senior citizens to a larger human rights propaganda, treating them as people to take care of, rather than a valuable national resource. Yet in the eyes of every silver-haired denizen talking animatedly about their past work experience lies, more than grudges towards the present, ideas for the future. To translate these effectively necessitates more than a website. It necessitates a change in attitude and an adjustment in organizational framework. “Find me someone to help me with my computer,” Bamji mentions in an aside after the debate. “I have so many projects planned on it. I just need someone to give me a few hours to sort out some doubts.”

Senior citizens at the Dignity Foundation office

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:

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