Tag Archives: retirement

An Instructional Experience

I just finished my first term as a professor at Singapore Management University. I taught an undergraduate course called Computer as an Analysis Tool, which is on business modelling and data-driven decision support. I had about 130 students, in three sections of three classroom hours each per week. I have to say the whole thing was a very enriching experience. Of course, the reasons behind this statement will be expounded on, theorized and hypothesized – this is Unreal Blog, after all.

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Retirement — a Wife’s View

In connection with my recent retirement, my wife sent me an article (a speech given by someone on how to retire happily) which made several interesting points. But even more interestingly, it started with a funny story. Here it is:

In a small village in Kerala, a devout christian passed away. 当地牧师不在车站,,en,并请了一个邻近村庄的牧师致敬,,en,“女士们先生们,,en,这位尊敬的牧师在他面前的棺材开始,,en,“这里死了我,这是这个村庄的杰出人物,品质卓越,,en,他是一位绅士,,en,一个学者,,en,甜言蜜语,,en,脾气温和,外表宽容,,en,他慷慨大方,微笑着。”死者的遗ow大声疾呼,,en,“哦,我的上帝,,en,他们在埋错人,,en,”,,en,形式真实,,en,这位绅士用另一个故事结束了他的演讲,,en,首先神创造了牛,并说,,en,“您必须每天与农民一起去田间,,en,整日在阳光下受苦,,en,有犊牛,,en,喝牛奶帮助农民,,en, and a priest from an adjoining village was called upon to deliver the eulogy. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” began the venerable pastor with the coffin before him. “Here lies dead before me a rare human being of this village with outstanding qualities. He was a gentleman, a scholar, sweet of tongue, gentle of temper and very catholic in outlook. He was generous to a fault and ever smiling.” The widow of the deceased sprang up and screamed, “Oh my God! They are burying the wrong man!”

True to form, this gentleman concluded his speech with another story.

First God created the cow and said, “You must go with the farmer everyday to the field, and suffer under the sun all day long, have calves, give milk and help the farmer. 我给了你六十年的时间。”牛说,,en,“那肯定很难,,en,只给我二十年,,en,我退了四十年。”,,en,在第二天,,en,上帝创造了狗,并说,,en,“坐在你家门口,对陌生人吠叫,,en,我给你二十年的时间。”狗说,,en,“吠叫寿命太长,,en,我放弃十年。”,,en,在第三天,,en,上帝创造了猴子并对他说,,en,“招待人们,,en,让他们笑,,en,我给你二十年。”猴子对上帝说,,en,“多么无聊,,en,二十年来的猴子戏法,,en,只给我十年。”主同意,,en,第四天,,en,上帝创造了人,,en,他对他说,,en,“吃,,en,睡觉,,en,玩,,en,享受无所事事,,en,我会给你二十年。”,,en,男人说,,en,“只有二十年,,en,没门,,en, “That’s surely tough. Give me only twenty years. I give back forty years.”

On Day Two, God created the dog and said, “Sit by the door of your house and bark at strangers. I give you a span of twenty years.” The dog said, “Too long a life for barking. I give up ten years.”

On the third day, God created the monkey and said to him, “Entertain people. Make them laugh. I give you twenty years.” The monkey said to God, “How boring! Monkey tricks for twenty years? Give me only ten years.” The Lord agreed.

On the fourth day, God created Man. He said to him, “Eat, sleep, play, enjoy and do nothing. I will give you twenty years.”

Man said, “Only twenty years? No way! 我要拿我二十,,en,但是给我四十头牛还给我,,en,猴子归来的十个,,en,那十只狗投降了,,en,那就八十了,,en,好的,,en,上帝同意,,en,这就是为什么我们睡觉的前二十年,,en,在接下来的四十年中,我们在阳光下奴役以养家糊口,,en,在接下来的十年中,我们会用猴子的技巧来娱乐我们的孙子们,,en,在过去的十年中,我们坐在房子前,向所有人吠叫,,en,我设法将四十年的牛年减少到只有二十年,,en,希望我的猴子和狗年能获得类似的折扣,,en,幽默,,en,生活,,en,退休,,en,语言能力,,en,六月,,en,在八十年代末离开印度之前,,en,我可以说一些印地语作为我的第三语言,,en,英语是第二语言,,en,张贴标记的马拉雅拉姆语,,en,我的母语,,en, but give me the forty the cow gave back, the ten that the monkey returned, and the ten the dog surrendered. That makes it eighty. Okay?” God agreed.

That is why for the first twenty years we sleep, play, enjoy and do nothing.
For the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our family.
For the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain our grandchildren.
And for the last ten years we sit in front of the house and bark at everybody.

Well, I managed to cut down my forty cow-years to a mere twenty. Here’s hoping that I will get similar discounts on my monkey and dog years!

My Life, My Way

After almost eight years in banking, I have finally called it quits. Over the last three of those years, I had been telling people that I was leaving. And I think people had stopped taking me seriously. My wife certainly did, and it came as a major shock to her. But despite her studied opposition, I managed to pull it off. In fact, it is not just banking that I left, I have actually retired. Most of my friends greeted the news of my retirement with a mixture of envy and disbelief. The power to surprise — it is nice to still have that power.

Why is it a surprise really? Why would anyone think that it is insane to walk away from a career like mine? Insanity is in doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Millions of people do the same insanely crummy stuff over and over, everyone of them wanting nothing more than to stop doing it, even planning on it only to postpone their plans for one silly reason or another. I guess the force of habit in doing the crummy stuff is greater than the fear of change. There is a gulf between what people say their plans are and what they end up doing, which is the theme of that disturbing movie Revolutionary Road. This gulf is extremely narrow in my case. I set out with a bunch of small targets — to help a few people, to make a modest fortune, to provide reasonable comfort and security to those near. I have achieved them, and now it is time to stop. The trouble with all such targets is that once you get close to them, they look mundane, and nothing is ever enough for most people. Not for me though — I have always been reckless enough to stick to my plans.

One of the early instances of such a reckless action came during my undergraduate years at IIT Madras. I was pretty smart academically, especially in physics. But I wasn’t too good in remembering details like the names of theorems. Once, this eccentric professor of mine at IIT asked me the name of a particular theorem relating the line integral of the electric field around a point and the charge contained within. I think the answer was Green’s theorem, while its 3-D equivalent (surface integral) is called Gauss’s theorem or something. (Sorry, my Wikipedia and Google searches didn’t bring up anything definitive on that.) I answered Gauss’s theorem. The professor looked at me for a long moment with contempt in his eyes and said (in Tamil) something like I needed to get a beating with his slippers. I still remember standing there in my Khakki workshop attire and listening to him, with my face burning with shame and impotent anger. And, although physics was my favorite subject (my first love, in fact, as I keep saying, mostly to annoy my wife), I didn’t go back to any of his lectures after that. I guess even at that young age, I had this disturbing level of recklessness in me. I now know why. It’s is the ingrained conviction that nothing really matters. Nothing ever did, as Meursault the Stranger points out in his last bout of eloquence.

I left banking for a variety of reasons; remuneration wasn’t one of them, but recklessness perhaps was. I had some philosophical misgivings about the rightness of what I was doing at a bank. I suffered from a troubled conscience. Philosophical reasons are strange beasts — they lead to concrete actions, often disturbing ones. Albert Camus (in his collection The Myth of Sisyphus) warned of it while talking about the absurdity of life. Robert Pirsig in his epilog to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance also talked about when such musings became psychiatrically dangerous. Michael Sandel is another wise man who, in his famous lectures on Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do? pointed out that philosophy could often color your perspective permanently — you cannot unlearn it to go back, you cannot unthink a thought to become normal again.

Philosophy and recklessness aside, the other primary reason for leaving the job was boredom. The job got so colossally boring. Looking out my window at the traffic 13 floors below was infinitely more rewarding than looking at the work on my three computer screens. And so I spent half my time staring out the window. Of course, my performance dwindled as a result. I guess scuttling the performance is the only way to realistically make oneself leave a high-paying job. There are times when you have have to burn the bridges behind you. Looking back at it now, I cannot really understand why I was so bored. I was a quantitative developer and the job involved developing reports and tools. Coding is what I do for fun at home. That and writing, of course. May be the boredom came from the fact that there was no serious intellectual content in it. There was none in the tasks, nor in the company of the throngs of ambitious colleagues. Walking into the workplace every morning, looking at all the highly paid people walking around with impressive demeanors of doing something important, I used to feel almost sad. How important could their bean-counting ever be?

Then again, how important could this blogging be? We get back to Meursault’s tirade – rien n’avait d’importance. Perhaps I was wrong to have thrown it away, as all of them keep telling me. Perhaps those important-looking colleagues were really important, and I was the one in the wrong to have retired. That also matters little; that also has little importance, as Meursault and my alter ego would see it.

What next is the question that keeps coming up. I am tempted to give the same tongue-in-cheek answer as Larry Darrell in The Razor’s Edge — Loaf! My kind of loafing would involve a lot of thinking, a lot of studying, and hard work. There is so much to know, and so little time left to learn.

Photo by kenteegardin