July 30, 2013
It was the for the second time this month this middle-aged, tall, fair, usually proud gentleman walks into my office and greets me in a low tone. He seemed upset, frustrated, disappointed and clueless for all my assessment. I just recalled his earlier visit, and there was a sea-change in his personality.
The last time he was here, there was this positive stride, that inimitable depth in his voice, unbelievable energy levels, he seemed so excited to be back home and re-unite with his family. He said "I left to the Middle East about 27 years back, I have been waiting so long for my eventual retirement, and now I am back. So looking forward to spending all my time with my wife and two children. I will certainly make up for all my lost time with them and ensure that they haven’t missed me at all for all those years". We had a great conversation and then he left, as I wished him a happy retired life which he truly deserves.
I asked him, how are you doing Mr.X? hope you are having a good time back with your family?
He said, "Which family?" Which left me shocked!!! "I have no family, I wish I hadn’t returned from the Gulf."
By this time it was clear to me that there was something that may have seriously gone wrong between our two meetings. I started to make all my efforts to know what exactly his case was.
"What is the matter Mr.X?" I asked
He started with his painful story.
"There is nothing called discipline in this place. Starting from the time my wife and children wake up every morning, go through their routines, no habit of wishing or greeting their parents, whole day either fondling around with their IPhones, or their IPads, with earphones playing loud music, no study, no play, no relatives, only friends, coming home late at night, my son has a tattoo done at almost every visible area on his body, he looks like Bob Marley, my daughter calls me a pest and keeps reminding me that she is eighteen now and I have no right to intrude into her privacy. My wife has been too lenient on the kids during my absence and that is the only reason why it has all come to this situation. My son takes my SUV to college, my daughter is now pestering my wife to put pressure on me to buy her a car too. All they want is my money, that is what I used to get when I was in the Gulf, but they never wanted ME for sure."
Before I could intervene, I realised he was just started and there was still a very long way to go. So I ordered for some fresh fruit juice so that we don’t get drained before we end this conversation.
He continued, "I have been driving there for such a long time but here I am terrified to even reverse my car in my own building. The traffic here is so bad, no systematic pathways, potholes and waterlogging everywhere, heavy vehicles sounding horns every second, autorickshaw drivers driving their autos as if they were flying a kite, no footpaths. So I do not drive here at all."
From a very busy man, he was transforming himself into someone who didn’t know how to spend his free time at home. He was not permitted to own pets, nor did anyone find him exciting to have a conversation with. There was only one boss in the kitchen for all these years and that didn’t change. So what did he do every day? After all, when would his 61" LED TV with surround sound come into use?? He spent most of his time with his beer mug, following how all his equity investments faired at the stock markets. He would spend hours in conversation with his brokers. Money was never an issue after spending quarter of a century abroad and he had also let out three of his properties on rent. So then, what was the problem??
His wife kept yelling at him because he sometimes left home to meet a few of his old buddies but never informed her about it. "why should I inform anybody?" he asked with frustration. "Am I a kid? Doesn’t she realize that I am the one who has lived independently like a king; I am the one who is spending on everyone here, I do not question/stop anybody from living their lives and she has no business questioning me either."
He took out all his anger on everything possible, from politics to pollution, from railways to the highways, education to religion, rupee to dollar, from sportsmen to policemen, Nano to Ferrari and it went on for ever. After which I offered him a glass of water.
Dear readers, this Mr.X represents so many of those who we may have met ourselves in person or heard about. As elaborate as this may sound, it is up to us to draw our own reasons for justification. In most cases, people just lose their true identity and get into a state of depression before we know it. Here is what I managed to gather out of this and after a very short discussion with this gentleman; he seemed to be convinced with what I thought was his problem.
Transforming oneself from a routine hard worker into retired life is a very difficult phase of life. Having said that returning to one’s home country on retirement after an immensely long stint in the far west (USA,Canada), Europe, Middle East, Oceania (Australia, NZ), south-east Asian countries, Japan etc can be an unimaginably difficult proposition to cope with. Ironically, it is far more difficult than the complexities one had to face when he/she had been given the posting abroad. The reason being, the expatriate (the person who has been assigned his duties abroad) is determined and his high motivation levels towards his job tends to make him learn the etiquette, culture, do’s and don’ts so that he/ she would be comfortable in the midst of the local majority. Some places make us scared and we curb our natural instincts and compromise for survival. But in the end, we find out a way and in course of time we would get conditioned and accustomed to life abroad.
But when we return on retirement, we are so accustomed to our work-life abroad, that we find that so many things at home aren’t going according to script. The things that are routine to our other family members here will seem ridiculous to us. We try to correct them in a hurry and it may just not go well with the rest of our people at home. It is a case where both the parties are right on their own terms, but there is enough scope for a clash since when I find something wrong and try to correct it, I assume that the others are wrong, and due to the routine habits that others at home have been following when I was away, they may complain of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder due to my routine of being systematic.
We need to realise one very important fact. When we are settling down at a particular place for good, it is important to respect and get used to the ways of that place rather than trying to inflict our own routines that we are used to following when we were abroad. If at all we find it very necessary to bring about some changes in daily routines, we need to do it slowly in course of time. Otherwise, there could be major problems that may arise within our family.
Another point to be noted is that, returning home from abroad on vacations and returning for good (after retirement) are two different propositions. The former would be very exciting, considered as a de-stressor, chance to reunite with the family, meet old friends, surprise our children and so on. It is the same as travelling on a holiday. We should remember that things happen really fast and we are back working before we know it. We were like a guest in our own house for about a month at best. On the contrary, when we return on retirement, we become a new member of our family. I am the one who needs to get used to the place once again, and not the ones who are already here. Just imagine what my children would be going through on my arrival. They are so used to not having me around, they only get around me once every year and that too for a short duration, I used to be their Santa from the time they were born, and they would certainly take time to get used to me. Wouldn’t they?? Its true that we all need our children to be at their best, but we need to give them some time to get used to us as well. In due course, it will certainly culminate into a really good relationship.
Mr.X also complained that his hometown was not as secure as the countries in the west. He was referring to social security, natural calamities, infrastructure, law and order etc. yes, it could be safely said that no place in this world is totally safe and his hometown is no different. It is also true that there is always a scope for improvement in all quarters. But having said that, there are countries where in a teenager could hold his fathers’ licensed gun and shoot down his own classmates, there are regions which face thunderstorms and hurricanes just like we have monsoons here, there are countries that provide fool proof security to its citizens but still faces the wrath of the nature by ways of earthquakes and tsunami, some of the ideal places we dream of working one day have the problems of racism, dictatorship, etc, a few countries may sentence you for life in prison for the same crime that may go unnoticed here, you may be held hostage for years in a few other places, some countries have anti-women legislations and the others may not offer you any security. I then asked him which place sounds more secure Mr.X? I gave him a tip that I give everyone. "nobody in this world can keep us more safe than we ourselves can. Whatever may be the situation, we too have at least 50% of our own responsibilities, and the rest is out of our hands".
The third noticeable tendency is to find ways to invest ones hard earned money and get quick returns out of it. Mr.X was no different. He mentioned that he had quite a comprehensive bank balance and since he had most of the costs of living and education funds secured, he wanted to know how he could invest his money, even if it meant to start his own business venture here. Although, it can be too tempting to blindly invest large sums of money in anticipation of astronomical returns, it is something that needs to be worked on carefully and on unbiased professional advice. One should realise that it can be the perfect recipe to blow up all the money as well. I advised him to take into consideration his hands on experience, contacts, domain knowledge, skills and most importantly, "his personal involvement" to be his main focus as we zeroed in on a suitable avenue for his investments.
Lastly, it is an open secret that an individual who is so used to staying all alone and an individual staying with a group of people and the one living with his family members for the greater phase of his/her life will find it extremely difficult to re-adjust to a different mode of living. In this case, Mr.X spent a good number of years away from his family. He got so well accustomed to self-dependency and accountability that he would have been obsessed with doing his own work, at his own will and even though he was now living with his people who would obviously care about his daily proceedings, he would have misunderstood their concern for inquisitiveness. More often than not people, who are used to individual living, undermine the need to keep their own people informed about their engagements or outdoor activities. This being said, it is not their conscious effort to do so, but the direct culture impact of work-life. The family members need to be aware of this too. It would be well advised to render an open mind, plenty of patience, and most importantly, that time for readjustment. It is very easy to lose our cool and come to a conclusion that would make our family life "living hell".
The meeting had an over-whelming impact on Mr.X who now started to reflect on various things that he had gone through in such a short period of time after his retirement. He felt the need to make some necessary adjustments to his lifestyle to set the tone for a new beginning. He was right to realise there was a big change in his family that he experienced on his arrival, and now he recognised that the "change" was he himself. He never imagined that he would come across like a "well known stranger" amidst his own people. I was positive that he would now head back home straight and start thinking more collectively and practically. I hoped for the best nevertheless.
To my surprise, here was Mr.X once again, on his third visit… and this time, he came along with his family, just to say thank you very much Mr.Fernandes. Mrs.X and their two children seemed happier than anybody else in the room. I was so overwhelmed with the transformation that had happened and the family now was in sync with the stranger.
This article is based on series of experiences. The character in the situation is not in reference to any individual in particular, but a comprehensive representation. The author invites the readers to share any similar concerns, experiences and grievances via firstname.lastname@example.org. The issue is a very relevant one in the present day and age, but we never know, the solutions may just be round the corner, if only we give it all a broader thought.
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