I am married to an Army man. This simple introduction will tell you ten thousand things about my life.
And we know the value of ‘life’ like no one else.
We are a typical tribe
Yes, we are. There are some attributes that are unique to us. Many of you know us as the super-stylish women who are party experts and travel the country with their dashing husbands in smart uniforms. Some of you know us as the women who live in bungalows-too-big-for-our-own-good and enjoying discounts too-good-to-be-true at military canteens.
What people don’t know about us is that we are amazing actresses too – we have to put up a brave face for the world but deep inside we are shit scared for the safety of the men we love.
We just don’t get enough opportunities to stay together because that’s how life is in fauj. When our friends in the corporate world talk about going on a vacation alone to get some space from their spouses – we feel like smacking them. Maybe it is because army wives like me desperately look forward to staying with our husbands whenever we can. In fact, we can count the exact duration in a year (down to the last minute) that we stayed as a couple before duty called.
I had a nice steady career before I became a full-time housewife when I married Major Sa’ab. And for six months, I enjoyed every moment of it. After years of working my ass off, covering various sporting events around the country as a journalist, I finally found myself having time to read that book and cook that dish — the ones I had been wanting to since a long time.
Time to kill
I was suddenly feeling like a rich person amongst all my colleagues, having the one thing they did not have — free time!
But no no no… I had completely under-estimated Army’s talent of keeping its officers and ladies (yes, us too) super busy during peace postings. We had AWWA functions to attend, family meets to organise, ladies meets to practise for and attend every social engagement (by order)!
I almost burst out laughing when one fine day I was told that the station commander’s wife had called a Banarasi saree seller to her place and had asked all interested ladies to join her in saree-shopping. Who had so much time on their hands?
But that was not to be treated as an invitation. It was a farmaan! An order!
So I accompanied all the ladies of the Unit to the memsahib’s bungalow to check out some sarees. And I had to hand it to the lady, she had indeed done us all a great favour by getting that saree-man to her place. He had some of the most beautiful banarasi sarees and at super-cool prices.
I am a saree-freak, so totally enjoyed feasting my eyes on silks and crepes. I did not buy anything though — defiantly disobeying memsahib’s hints that I should get one — because I was out of job and felt it below my dignity to ask my husband for money (a situation that changed very soon).
The other ladies present there went home with a bunch of sarees, having already earmarked them for future functions.
“This blue saree is for the monsoon theme party.”
“I will save this black one for a dinner function”
“There will be a ladies’ meet during the GOC visit too naa? I’ll wear this crepe saree there.”
I was amazed to see their planning! It put government’s panch-varshiya yojna to shame.
Chivalry isn’t extinct
“Don’t call me Ma’am, please.”
I gave up trying to convince officers to call me by name. I was not used to being called ma’am, it felt unnatural especially when someone belonging to my father’s generation addressed me so.
But that’s when I realised, if there is one place where a woman can enjoy the company of a chivalrous gentleman, it would be in the Armed Forces.
And I am not talking about pulling-the-chair and holding-the-door kind of chivalry. I am talking about a deeper sense of honour and responsibility that makes the men in uniform take care of their women folk.
They will help each other to any extent (even if they are not particularly fond of each other) and take the meaning of the word camaraderie very seriously. Women get pampered the most. And we love every moment of it. Occasionally, Major Sa’ab would make sure that I didn’t get carried away and brought me back to reality. Tried to ‘groom’ me into becoming a good example for others.
Grooming is another word that faujis like to use a lot. There is a big list of words that normal people don’t use, but faujis can’t live without those words. Like Groom, detailement, fall-in etc.
I was extremely amused on seeing the sign board outside a military mess. Something about the way “Offrs’ Mess” is written triggers the journalist in me, wanting to point out every time that any normal person would read this as “Offers” instead of “Officers”.
I also had a hearty laugh when my husband first said he needs to “prepare his dress” for the next day.
“DRESS! Ha ha ha! Are you a woman that you want to wear a dress?”
Major Sa’ab frowned. He opened his wardrobe and made me memorise the names of all his “Dresses”. Games dress, ceremonial dress, No.1 dress, No.2 dress, combat dress…. so I learned it the hard way that in Army, even the men wear dresses. And they do it in style!
We, the Army wives, sometimes have to catch up with them in this department. I had to undergo a complete wardrobe change to cater to the requirements of every occasion (in every season).
This involved spending a bomb on sarees, which is the unofficial dress code for all women in any social function. Army wives are experts at wearing a saree in 5 mins, 5 times a day.
Major Sa’ab often joked about how my life changed from being a care-free army girlfriend to a responsible army wife. I sometimes feel that too.
Interacting with soldiers’ families
I realised how little I knew about the organisation before I married him. Only the glamour of crew cut, aviators, woodland shoe and powerful bikes was visible to girls our age.
It was only after I started living with him in his Unit that I came face-to-face with things that only an Army wife will come across.
The most memorable among those things was my interaction with Jawaans and their families. The kind of background they come from and their hardships was the jolt I needed to bring me back to earth from all the show-shaa baazi and Victorian hangover of Army.
Most of wives of Jawaans came from villages and towns, some had not even passed class 10 exams while some were post graduates. I was told that the women looked up to wives of officers (provided we were nice to them) and I needed to be by their side in sickness and health.
I was actually shocked to learn that many of them don’t get to stay with their soldier for 3-4 years at a time and have to live alone or in joint families, which comes with its own set of problems. But I definitely salute them for being the force behind their soldiers, just like the families of the officers.
Interacting with them was an eye-opener.
One young wife asked me how much I earned, and it actually felt nice to see her shocking expression when I told her.
“Can women earn that much money? Can I too?”
I didn’t know what to tell her. I asked her what was her education background, to which she replied that she was a computer graduate. I gave her a lot of gyan about how she should not waste her time at home and get a job. I gave her many options and I sincerely hope that I was able to help her — I don’t know the outcome of that gyan session as my husband got his posting orders the very next month. But I hope that I will meet that young woman someday and that she is earning as much as I am.
That’s the beauty of this organisation. We meet, we bond, and we party like there is no tomorrow. And very soon, it is time to say goodbye to everyone, pack our trunks and move to a new place to start all over again.
That’s life for us. And we know its value like no one else.
This article was written for the magazine COMPLETE WELLBEING and was published in February 2016 issue. The illustration used with this article has been made by Maryam Hasanahmed of homespunaround.blogspot.com.
In case you are a new bride or someone who is not from the Army fraternity (but were kind enough to stop by here to read this blog), Veer Nari is the name given to a war widow in India.
She is officially defined as “The widow of defence personnel who has laid down his life for the defence of the country whether in war or in a military operation and whose death is attributable to the military service is called ‘Veer Nari’.”
Take a moment to understand the pain of a woman who married a soldier but lost him in the line of duty. Their courage and hardships seldom get mentioned.
PS: Know a Veer Nari whose story the world should know about? Drop in a mail (my email id is in the ABOUT section of the blog) and let me know how to get in touch.
Sharing a beautiful post written by a blogger whom I immensely admire for her varied skill-set. Gunjan Upadhyay Mishra, a fellow Army wife and writer, has knocked it out of the park for a six with this piece….
THE UNSUNG HEROS: INDIAN ARMY WIVES
Once, Yama, the ruler of hell, heard a large group of women laughing and talking, enjoying a party in hell. He asked his assistant to find out who these women were, and how were they so happy even in hell! Yama’s assistant instantly answered his query, ‘Sir, these are Indian Army Wives. They enjoy wherever they go.’
That might sound like a joke to many. But to my ears and eyes, it is the absolute truth. I walk among hundreds of heroes as a part of my daily routine. Someone might come across an inspiring story once in a while. I have hundreds of such stories happening around me, which I witness, feel and live. I see my heroes, I am proud to be in their company, we smile at each other and nod a ‘good evening’ or ‘good morning’, even when we don’t know each other’s names. We know that it does not matter much, we are friends anyways. Such is the spirit of our Army, our officers, and naturally, their better halves. Yes, my heroes are none other than Indian Army Wives!
Indian Army wives constitute a little army by themselves. This little army is a storehouse of talent and fun, a cache of songs and laughter and a beacon of hope in dark times of loss and turmoil. Among this group, one can meet women from all walks of life. Doctors, engineers, army officers, civil servants, lawyers, journalists, air hostesses, teachers, entrepreneurs, authors, poets, actors, classical dancers, corporate trainers, singers, artistes, you name it, we have her! How they manage to be everything that they are is nothing short of magic! At times, they leave me star-struck with their wit, their beauty, their panache, their elegance, their rich taste and class. But these qualities can be easily seen by anyone.
Indian Army wives are much more than that. They are an ocean of beautiful hearts and minds, come together drop by drop, handpicked by destiny, to be paired with the bravest on earth.
I read somewhere, that we should not judge others, as we do not know their story. But I have seen people judging army wives many times. You see them partying daily, but you do not see the uncertainty of tomorrow clawing at their nerves. You see their glamour and style, you do not see the struggle that they go through in moving between one mossy old house to another, every alternate year, or even before that. You think that they do not lift a finger, but actually, the amount of back-breaking work that they do goes unnoticed, well hidden behind their charm. You can spot her driving away in a sedan, but you are conveniently unaware of the fact that she is running from pillar to post, to keep everything in place in the absence of her husband. You think that they enjoy too many ‘freebies’, you never try to understand their pain that is darker than those 30 odd black boxes in which they carry their entire life.
Staying away from her husband for a while is a part of any army wife’s life. During these tough times, while the officer is braving the challenges of glaciers and super low temperatures, the wife has her own glaciers to climb.
In that duration, she doubles up as a father to her kids, a son to her in laws, and does everything that the man of the house is supposed to do, that too with elan. Did you know that army wives compare their separation length with each other and someone who has been away ‘only’ for three years in a marriage of seven years feels luckier than the one who had to spend three years and one month away. Isn’t that a fancy yardstick?
Life, in itself is not easy. Life as a woman is more difficult. Women have the fighter’s instinct and they are tough from within. Army wives are a lot tougher. They live in the present and enjoy thoroughly while keeping in mind that tomorrow might be different. The past year went like a slideshow, leaving me scared and saddened many times. Every now and then, an unfortunate news comes and wakes me up from my sweet dreams to the harsh truth. The reason of my not writing much this September and October was not sheer laziness or any kind of fancy army-wife-partying spree, it was a rather low and heartbroken phase for me.
We lost Maj Dhruv Yadav, an officer who I met very briefly, and had the chance to find out how much he loved kids. He used to ask Coco, ‘Who am I?’, and when Coco replied ‘Dhu uncle’ in recognition, his face beamed with joy. Proud to be in Coco’s good book, he did this again and again, just for the fun of it.
When his news came, all I could remember was Coco’s beloved ‘Dhu uncle’ and his radiant smile and cried at the sheer injustice of fate. I have never spoken to his wife, but all I could think of was her, and their unborn child. I bless his son with all my might, and wish him all the happiness of the world. Even today, not a day goes without remembering Maj Yadav, though I barely knew him. I do not know anyone stronger than his wife, and salute her for being so brave. She, and many others like her have proved time and again, that as long as we have such iron willed women, our frontiers will stay safe.
I must let you in on a little secret now. I am an army wife myself, and consider myself quite strong. A senior officer once jokingly said that I should be awarded ‘Paramveer Chakra’ for my bravery of staying alone in this ‘forest resort’ like house for a few months. But I think my bravery ends there. Inside, I am scared. When I was about to get married, my colleagues sometimes played ‘ae jaate huye lamhon’ for me, not knowing that inside I died a thousand deaths.
Can you believe, I run away whenever the movie Border is being aired on tv? I haven’t watched it, and do not have the courage to watch it ever either. My bucket list has bungee jumping though!
I pray to God for peace and harmony, because no one else’s life depends on it but my own. Whereas, my magnanimous heroes promise to stand by each other, come rain or sunshine. They do not know defeat, and quitting is not an option for them. They stand proudly by their faujis and that my friends is all the more reason why I worship my heroes, these soldiers without uniforms, the Indian Army Wives.
Check out some more ‘Army wife life’ and DIY posts on Gunjan’s blog Bringing Up Coco!