Sunday, April 16, 2017

Zest for Life

Musings on Life and Death

Around 30 years ago – in the 1980’s – when I was travelling by the Deccan Queen – I was pleasantly surprised to see an uncle who was in the Army.

He was delighted to see me too. 

I changed my seat – so that I could sit next to him on the 3 hour journey from Pune to Mumbai.

He told me that he had retired from the Army on superannuation a few days ago as a Major General.

Then – he said that he had taken up a job in Pune – in the industry – and – he was going for a training course.

“Training…? At this age…?” I asked him, surprised.

“Well – I am only 56…” he said.

(Those days Major Generals retired on superannuation at the age of 56 – later the age of superannuation was increased by 2 years for all officer ranks – and now – Major Generals retire at the age of 58)

“You are 56 – and – you want to take up a new job…?” I asked him.

“Why not…? I still feel young – and – I want to work – in fact – I am most enthusiastic about this new job – there is so much I want to do…”

“Which firm are you joining…? I asked him.

He told me the name of the industrial firm – it was a famous and reputed organization – probably the largest in Pune – or even in India.

“Oh – that’s great…” I said, “so – what are you joining as…?”

“DGM – Deputy General Manager – I will be working in HR and Training…”

“You are joining as a mere DGM…?”

“Yes – why are you looking so surprised…?”

“You were heading a premier military training establishment…” I said.

“That was before I retired. Now – I have to unlearn all my military training and begin afresh. And – by the way – I am only 56 – and it is never too late to start learning…” he said.

He talked with passion about his new job in “Civvy Street”.

I was impressed by childlike enthusiasm.

Despite having “retired” – he had a “zest for living”.

I had a few classmates who worked in the same industrial firm which my uncle had joined.

A few weeks later – we had a get-together of classmates – and – I asked them about my uncle.

They were full of praise for him – the way he had rejuvenated the training in that organization – his MBWA (Management By Walking Around) Style (earlier – Senior HR Executives never walked on the Shop-Floors talking to Workers) – they were all really impressed by my uncle – his positive approach and style of working.

Those days – I was on a ship based in Mumbai – so – whenever my ship was in port – I often came down to Pune on weekends.

On one such visit – I happened to see my uncle getting down from his company bus.

Yes – he was travelling in his company bus (his firm was known to be rather “egalitarian”)

Also – those days – in Pune – the “industrial off” was on Thursdays – and all industries worked on Saturday and Sunday.

So – though for me it was a “weekend” – for my uncle – it was a working day.

I ran across and greeted my uncle.

He was happy to see me too.

“So – have you come to Pune on weekend…?” he asked me.

“Yes…” I said, “And you…? How come you are getting down here…?”

“I wanted to do some shopping – then I will walk home…” he said.

(His home was around 3 Kms away)

“Let’s have a cup of tea…” I said.

“Of course – where…?” he said, enthusiastically.

“How about “Good Luck”…?”

“Great choice – nothing to beat a good cup of Irani Chai…”

We walked down to “Good Luck” Café – and soon – we were sitting at a window table relishing the delicious tea.

I pulled out my cigarette packet.

“Wow – “Benson and Hedges”…?” my uncle exclaimed.

“We get them “Duty-Free” on board ship…” I said – and – I offered him a cigarette.

“Well – actually speaking – I have quit smoking a long time ago – but then – this special occasion – I think it calls for a smoke – so – I will make an exception…” my uncle said, and he took a cigarette from the pack I had proffered towards him.

He spoke excitedly – about his work – about his plans to introduce new innovations in training – about his visits to campuses for recruitment – he really seemed to be enjoying his job – and he was eagerly looking forward to implementing all his ideas and doing good work.

I told him that my classmates were full of praise for him and appreciated his working style.

My uncle seemed pleased on hearing this – and – he said to me: “I am so happy that youngsters like my work – but – you must ask them for honest feedback too – so that I can continually improve…”

“Yes – I will ask them and tell you…”

“I wouldn’t mind meeting them informally – youngsters have great ideas and I can always learn from them…” he said.

I said that I would arrange a “party” on my next visit – and he heartily agreed to come. 

After tea – we parted – and – I saw my uncle walk away with a spring in his step at such a brisk pace – a speed that even youngsters would find it difficult to walk.

I was truly amazed at his “zest for living”.

Yes – even after his “superannuation” from the Army – instead of “calling it a day” and living a “retired” life – he was enjoying his “second innings” with a childlike enthusiasm – enjoying – “living” – every moment of his life.

Yes – despite his advancing years – he really had a “zest for life”.

A few days later – I got a telephone call.

“There is sad news…”

“Grandfather…?” I asked (my old grandfather was bedridden with prolonged illness)

“No. Uncle…”

“Which Uncle…?”

“The one who was in the Army…”

“What…? The one who was a Major General and is now working in “XXX” company…?”

“Yes. He died last night...”

“But how is that possible…? I met him a few days ago. We had tea together. He was “hale and hearty” and very cheerful. In fact – I was going to have a party for him with my classmates – and he had promised to come. How could he die so suddenly…?”  

“He died peacefully in his sleep. They say it was a heart attack…”

“Oh My God – it is very sad – I can’t believe it…”

“His funeral is a 5 PM in the evening…”

“I am starting right now – I will be there…” I said.

There were a large number of people to pay respects to the departed soul – his Army Colleagues – mostly Veterans and a few “Top Brass” – a huge number of coworkers from his company – friends and well-wishers.

I felt very sad.

He was not ready for death.

He wanted to do so many things in life.

He had such a “zest for living”.

He did not want to die.

He wanted to live.

But – death snatched him away.

However – looking at it from another angle – he died happy.

He had not “hung up his boots” (as they say)

He “died with his boots on”…!!!

He died when he never expected to die.

He must have gone to sleep thinking about the exciting things he was going to do the next day.

But – he never woke up to do those heartening things he was looking forward to doing.

Is there a happier way to die than this…?

Isn’t it best to die when you still have a “zest for life”…?

I too want to die when I still have a zest for life.

I do not want to live when I have lost the zest for living. 

Dear Reader: What about you…? 

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1. This story is a fictional spoof, satire, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All Stories in this Blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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