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How they are enjoying freedom at sunset
Nikhil Menon, Outlook Money
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August 27, 2007

At 72, Vasant Gondhalekar has suddenly been awarded a new goal. "I've been to the Great Wall in China, Machu Pichhu in Peru, seen the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, the Colosseum in Italy and, of course, the Taj Mahal," he ticks off. "That leaves two sights from the new seven wonders - Chichen Itza in Mexico and Petra. So I'm making plans to visit those places."

Less than 20 years ago, Gondhalekar would have been an oddity. Retirement would have been synonymous with grandchildren, not grand tours; a quiet, contained life. But as India evolves, attitudes are changing.

And nowhere is this more evident than in the post-60 generation, who were in their peak earning years in the early 1990s, when liberalisation turned around the economy.

The key to a retirement that sets you free lies in good planning and optimum utilisation of available resources. So, whether you want to celebrate your sixtieth by trekking in the Sahara or ring in your emancipation from the 9-to-5 grind by parachuting off a plane, it's achievable.

Eye on the goal. Just as many young professionals look forward to weekends, many early- and mid-careerists look upon retirement as the time when they can finally do what they want. It's not a bad idea at all - if you are up to the task and aware of the challenges involved.

Like most tasks, it begins with setting a goal. C.B. Govindan, 57, for example, had always known that he would retire early. "In fact, my aim was to retire by 45. I had to wait an extra year, but it happened," he says.

After two decades in various senior marketing positions in the food industry, and working with hotel groups such as the Taj in Mumbai and Centre Hotel in Abu Dhabi, Govindan was regional liquor manager at the Inchcape Middle East in Dubai in 1996, when he announced that he was going to retire and go back to India with his wife. His friends were shocked.

"But my philosophy was, and still is, if you can't retire by 45-50, you haven't done your homework well," he says.

Govindan had: Waiting in India for him was a 6,000-sq-ft house and 12 acres of farmland in the hills of Kodaikanal, where he now grows fruits and vegetables as a hobby. Govindan has also thrown himself into community service. He helped raise Rs 700,000 over 5 years for the local Van Allen Hospital.

His smartest move, he says, was "moving half my money back to India in 1989, following my bankers' advice." The subsequent stockmarket boom in India ensured that this move paid off. Today, his stockmarket investments keep him going and allow him to concentrate on his hobbies.

Playing the cards wisely. If Govindan got lucky with the stockmarket, Gondhalekar depended on Tata Chemicals [Get Quote], the company from which he retired as a vice-president in October 1999. "I banked largely on the generous retirement benefits. In fact, my medical expenses are still taken care of by them," he says.

But Gondhalekar didn't sit back and let life take its course. "Investing became a habit when I was 35-40. Besides fixed deposits, I put my money in equity, in fact, I still do, and, recently, I have ventured into bonds," he says.

"In 1994, I began preparing for retirement by buying 28 acres of land in Ratnagiri to grow coconut, mango and cashew."

A few months ago, he sold off the land at a profit and invested the proceeds in fixed deposits. That, coupled with the returns from the stockmarket, is enough to fund his twin passions: travel and photography. For the first several years after retirement, his wife was his constant companion to places like China, Europe and Africa.

Though she passed away four-and-a-half years ago, Gondhalekar has since travelled to the ends of the earth: Antarctica in winter 2005 and the North Pole in June this year. "I travel to see unique nature, offbeat sights," he says. "In Antarctica, for instance, I took 300-400 photographs with my digital camera."

On your own. A cushy send-off package can be of invaluable help. Merchant Navy captain Sunder Shastry did not have that advantage, but the 63-year-old has managed well on his own.

"My wife Leela and I are able to go for a movie or a holiday on an impulse, without having to worry too much about the costs," beams Shastry, just back from a holiday in South India, on the heels of a visit to their two daughters, settled in Australia and New Zealand. "That's the best part (of retirement)," he says.

This socially active couple also goes pleasure sailing once in a while - Shastry is a member of the Royal Mumbai Yacht Club - and is actively involved in charitable causes through the local senior citizens club.

To get here, says Shastry, he took advantage of his non-resident status as an employee of an international shipping company by investing in Resurgent India Bonds and NRI Bonds in the late 80s. These bonds have yielded him handsome returns.

Wary of "stockmarket speculation", Shastry also maxed out on his yearly PPF contribution early on. This served him well when he needed to take loans against the fund for his daughters' weddings. In 2003, he overcame his equity aversion and invested in mutual funds, a move he is still thankful for. His income today consists mainly of dividends and income from trading and bank deposits.

Know thyself. For a retirement that lives up to one's expectations, it is important to ascertain those expectations early. After a lifetime in the Intelligence Bureau, M.K. Dhar, 69, for instance, was determined to fictionalise his experiences.

His first novel, Bitter Harvest, was based on terrorism in Punjab, which he witnessed first-hand; four more novels followed and three more will be published by the year-end.

With no extravagant plans for his post-IB years, Dhar is happy with the returns from government-backed options. He also invests in mutual funds and equity-linked saving schemes, developing his own savings dictum: invest in initial public offerings and book profits as soon as the stocks appreciate to 20 per cent of their value. It is a mantra that has stood him in good stead. "The independence my money affords me is worth more than anything else I have. After all, what is life without independence?" he says.

Reports from Sumana Mukherjee

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