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Shalini was lost in thought for a while. Aparna continued to talk, now in a different tone.
“I wish I had the choices you had, Shal. You do what you want to do. You relate only to those people whom you want to relate to. You do not have an obligation to relate to a person like my mother-in-law.”
Shalini thought for a while before she spoke.
“Aparna, don’t ever think your life is bad or mine better. True, I had an unlimited range of choice. I have had good relatoinship with at least half a dozen men. If your life is straight hell, as you said, then my life should be a clear heavan, as it is completely different from yours.
“I must confess Aparna, it is not so. It is just different. Neither better nor worse. I have seen many people who live sort of your kind of life tell me that I am blessed. But I am not sure. From where you stand, my life might look like the garden of Eden. You will have to come here, to live in my shoes, to know what it really is.”
“Life is not a gamble as philosophers love to speculate; it is an eternal trade off. We have to give up some thing in order to get something else. We always long for what we have given up. We see others who have made different trade-offs and feel that they live a better life. But the truth is others seeing us think the same way.”
Both the women did not speak for a while. They exchanged some pointless pleasantries and took leave of each other.
What Shalini had been planning was a kind of quasi-retirement. Would it not be too early, she thought. Or was it an active life but in a different direction? No, it was not. Living the life of a sanyasin, whatever may be the cult or religion or sect you belonged has to be a kind of retirement. For you are away from the highway of busy traffic and take refuge in the bye lanes of temporary solace.
She remembered her father’s advice to his close friend on the subject. The friend was working for an MNC in <st1:City><st1:place>Delhi</st1:place></st1:City>. He had been a globe-trotter, a high flying executive who had made his millions pretty early in life.
Once when he visited Chennai he hosted a dinner for Shiva and Shalini at an exclusive club.
Over his first round of drinks he told Shiva that he was planning to retire.
“It’s pretty too early, Ganesh. You are not even fifty.”
“I know. But I have worked enough. I have had enough. You know what I am going to do? Sell all my properties in <st1:City><st1:place>Delhi</st1:place></st1:City> buy a small house in Kodaikkanal very near the Kurinji Andavar temple.
“I will live on the interest from my savings. I will do nothing. Get up in the morning. Have a brisk walk. Then after my bath visit the temple and then go around the streets of Kodaikkanal. Come home for a good lunch. Two hours nap. Dress up and go to the lake. Walk around the lake a few times, seeing tourists from across the country. Come home for a light supper and a warm sleep. Well, if that’s not a peaceful retirment, what is it?”
Shalini was so impressed by that man’s plans. But Shiva was not. He was thinking. Every one especially the friend’s wife was looking at Shiva. After a full minute Shiva asked his friend:
“Have you bought the house in Kodaikkanal?”
“Not yet. I have identified a good, compact house, just a stone’s throw from the <st1:City><st1:place>Temple</st1:place></st1:City>. Have given a token advance. Will finalise the deal within a month.”
“Ganesh, take my advice. Don’t buy the house. Take it on a lease, let’s say for 6 months or one year.”
“What happened to you Shiva? I am going to live in that idyllic place till I die. Why should I not buy that house? Why go for a lease?”
Shiva’s smile was indulgent.
“I have been observing this kind of phenomenon of late. Working in a busy metro like <st1:City><st1:place>Delhi</st1:place></st1:City> or Mumbai and then opting to retire in a totally laid-back town. I have not even seen one who could do that successfully. We cannot shift life’s gears downward, as we do in a car, when we slow down. I can tell you a hundred cases where an arrangement like this has failed.
“And you have not seen Kodaikkanal during off-season. Especially during rains. Completely deserted and abandoned. Though there are hospitals and doctors, nothing like what you get in a regular town, like let’s say <st1:City><st1:place>Coimbatore</st1:place></st1:City> or <st1:City><st1:place>Madurai</st1:place></st1:City>.
“But that’s not the point. I have formed a hypothesis that it is very difficult to live in a town, that’s not as busy as the one, you have been living for years.
“Listen, Ganesh. Give some money to the building owner and stay there in that place for a month, let’s say in June. If you find the living ok, you go for one year-lease. And if after the end of one year, you still find that ok, you buy the place and settle down there.”
Shalini was upset about her father throwing cold water so mercilessly over his friend’s retirement plants. She saw the man’s face fell and once they were alone, she started a hot argument with her father.
Shiva just smiled and said, “Dear, let’s just defer this argument to July, after the end of the trial period. Ganesh would not go against my words.”