A Curious Army Wife

I joined this crazy tribe when I married into the Indian Army

Archive for the category “army wife”

Two books by Tanushree Podder that have nailed the NDA-IMA experience

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Boots, Belts and Berets  & On The Double

I had been meaning to write about these two books earlier (months ago actually) but staring at the walls in my house and the computer in office took up most of my life’s time all this while.

Book 1: Boots Belts and Berets by Tanushree Podder traces life of a group of friends through their years at the National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune.

Book 2: Its sequel, On The Double, is obviously the story of a Cadet’s transformation into a Gentleman Cadet at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehradun.

The latter was released just last year, and I was fortunate to be a part of its unveiling at the Pune Literature Festival, where I had the honour of meeting the author! What’s more — I even dressed for the occasion in a new camo print shirt (remember military style was in vogue at that time). I was secretly quite proud of myself for this brilliant stroke of thinking. UNTIL.

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Yeah, that’s me. I later searched for some chullu-bhar paani too.

UNTIL I saw who was seated in the audience. A few veterans, some super-smartly dressed women (who had to be Army wives, I can sniff them out from a distance now), serving officers (in civvies) and AND AND… about a 100 odd cadets from the NDA.

See it’s one thing to flaunt camo print in front of the aam junta, but a totally different ball game when in presence of people who actually wear it (or in case of NDA cadets hope to wear it) as a part of their life.

I am sure they hated my guts. I hope they don’t remember my face.

Coming back to the point, I met Mrs Podder there, and introduced myself, expressing a desire to meet her once I finish “On The Double”. She gave me her number and we parted ways.

By the time I met her months later, she was fresh off the launch of her latest book “Solo in Singapore”. On a hot summer afternoon, we met at RSI in Pune. In a wonderfully candid chat, she told me how she had written the first book as a surprise gift for her husband, a retd Col, and how everyone who’d read this one was eagerly anticipating the IMA book.

Having spent a good two years in IMA myself, I was bound to be a little biased in favour of “On The Double”. It was like having a 3D imagery in my head giving me the visual aid as I read about the matar-gashti of the Gentlemen Cadets in Dehradun.

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Tanushree Podder

I was a little surprised by the omission of the IMA ball parties, events that an army man remember as vividly as their first cross-country run! I asked Mrs Podder about it, but it seems the ball was not ‘rolling’ at that time. The books are set in 1970s, you see!

She recalled stories of her days as a Commanding Officer’s wife, various postings and of course, Ladies’ Meets — yes, two Army wives always talk about it whenever they meet, in this case it was fascinating to compare the ‘then’ and ‘now’ notes.

Get these two books ladies! Trust me, reading material on what our husbands went through in NDA and IMA is gold if you wanna know about the ragda they went through in their ‘pre-us’ years. These two books also make an awesome gift, if you are going through the what-to-gift-a-fauji phase).

In other news, do check out these latest books by fellow Army wives, Shuchi Singh Kalra and Aditi Mathur Kumar.

Solo in Singapore   i-am-big-so-what-shuchi-singh-kalra

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This one’s the story of an Army Girlfriend! 🙂

 

*Guest Post* How is it Like Being an Army Wife?

I’m back with another guest post, this time from Army wife Manisha Shejwal with this amazingly insightful post. Enjoy…

How is it like being an Army wife?

Every young girl dreams and waits for a prince charming to come on a black horse and take her away as his bride to get married. When she is about to get married to an Army man, it is like realizing her dream.

I think dreaming to marry a man in olive-green and being an exemplary Army wife are two different equations. To decode what it takes to become an Army wife, let me shortly tell you about the men in uniform.

Army-Wife-MedIndian Army is one of the first five largest military forces among the total 126 military forces present in the world. The most eligible gentlemen cadets are handpicked for further training through the toughest exam conducted by Service Selection Board (SSB). An Army man undergoes rigorous physical training that tries and establishes extreme limits of his stamina, endurance, and abilities to cope up with harsh working conditions.

He is groomed to handle any crucial situations may they be professional or personal. This training turns him into a completely confidant, smart, and a fit officer, who can take anything; may whatever comes his way. Being aware of his enhanced capabilities after the training, pride comes to him naturally. And ahem:-) … it suits him whether he wears any of his smart uniforms or a simple casual outfit.

During the course of his profession, he gets posted at various peace and field places every 2 to 2.5 years. At the place of peace posting, there is no separation from the family and life is still much easy.

But his field posting is a different affair. Sometimes the names of these field places are difficult to spell and locate on the civil versions of maps. He cannot keep his family with him while he is posted to a field.

While on duty at a remote field place, his day starts at 4:45 am. He takes all meals at the officers’ mess. His office starts very early and he is all occupied with inspections, planning and executing war games, training subordinates, establishing systems, and administration. He always carries the professional responsibilities towards the organization on his mind.

Some of his field areas record the daytime temperature of sub-zero and the lack of oxygen. During some crucial times, he works around 16 to 18 hours a day, without proper food or water at hand. He witnesses the game of life and death from a close proximity.

When he is away from home, he waits for letters and messages from his loved ones. He urges to hear baby talk that his little daughter or son utters into the phone speaker…He keeps his baby’s picture as his cellphone wallpaper.

He tirelessly eats all Aloo-mixed versions of vegetables that the mess cook prepares for meals; may it be Aloo-Gobhi, Aloo-Paneer, Aloo-Capsicum, Aloo-Bhindi, Aloo-Methi, Dum-Aloo, or Aloo-Mutter! Oh yes, also the Aloo-bondas as tea time snack, or that Aloo-paratha in the breakfast…He wonders what the mess cook would serve him if there comes a dearth of potatoes in ration! 😀 He waits for days and months to go home and have the tasty food that his mother or wife serves him with love.

ArmyMan-in-Shoes-MedBehind his tough, disciplined, and hardworking adult persona hides a little child, who giggles freely and sleeps for little extra time while on vacation. He tries to catch up on all that he missed while he was away. And when the vacation comes near to its end, he gets anxious on the slightest thought of separation from his loved ones. But he never shows. As a strong officer, he needs to be in control always; for all that comes his way. He prepares himself again to take the leave of his family and departs with the stock of love to resume work.

It takes something special to be able to handle this proud and commanding alpha man, a loving husband, a father of his children, and a child himself. Being an Army wife is not just about flaunting branded outfits and accessories, or driving a sedan…In my view, an Army wife is a courageous life partner of her husband. Her sacrifice starts when she enters marriage with the awareness that she is at second place in the list of his top priorities. Because for him, the nation comes first.

Here I remember a very meaningful quote in Hindu Neeti-Shastra that narrates six basic virtues of a married woman:

“कार्येषु दासी, कारणेषु मंत्री। (Karyeshu Daasi, Kaaraneshu Mantri)
भोजेषु माता, शयनेषु रंभा। (Bhojaneshu Mataa, Shayaneshu Rambha)
रुपेषु लक्ष्मी, क्षमायेषु धरित्री। (Roopeshu Lakshmi, Kshamayeshu Dharitree)
सतधर्मयुक्ता, कुलधर्म पत्नी।” (Satadharmayukta, kuladharma patni)

This Sanskrit quote means, “She works like a servant for her family, she advises her husband like a wise minister, she feeds her family with a mother’s love, she pleases her man romantically like a beauty named Rambha, she is the form of Goddess Lakshmi because she helps to multiply wealth, and she is forgiving like the mother earth”.

I humbly mention that an Army wife has almost everything in her. She is a blend of strength and warmth. She understands her husband’s unparalleled hardships and runs their house single-handedly when he is away. She takes care of his parents in his absence so that he can concentrate on his work. She becomes their children’s father and does not crib about the problems she tackles in his absence.

She drives car smoothly. She is an awesome cook. She applies her unique artistic ideas to convert a white-washed house into a beautiful warm home. She has an eye for colors, fabrics, weaves, and prints. She can change the cooking gas cylinder or an electric tube by herself. She is an amateur carpenter. She handles bank transactions and investments proficiently. She knows how to handle medical emergencies. She can even bring up their autistic or differently-abled child when he is not around.

C’est tout? Non…She knows Roger means okay and recce means reconnaissance. She knows Army diction of the terms such as TD, Adjt, Div, Cmdt, QM, and more. She can cook three-course meal for 20 people on a brief notice. She is fearless with cockroaches and she can use her new pair of Marie Clair stilettos to kill the small snake that sneaked in from the ground floor bathroom pipe.😀

She conducts herself gracefully and knows all dining etiquettes during parties. She is a mentor for junior ladies and a counsellor for jawans’ wives. She maintains cordial relations with fellow Army wives and senior ladies. She understands her man and complements him effortlessly. She holds her strength up even during those bad times when she feels like she is getting more than she can handle. She can multitask. She is jovial. She is cool.

Does she sound like a superwoman? Or a woman from another planet, maybe…😀 No…She is a common lady with uncommon spirit, endurance, creativity, and emotional quotient; doing it all for the ultimate noble cause.

There are quite reasonable pay-offs for her being an Army wife. She gets to be an inseparable part of a man’s life who is always morally upright. She is his most trusted friend and an advisor. When her hero is promoted as a Commanding Officer (CO) of a unit, she becomes the first lady of the unit. She always receives genuine respect from her husband and his fellow officers. These gentlemen around her make her feel like a pampered queen.:-)

She can stay with her husband during his foreign missions or join him on short foreign trips. She can visit unique places of his postings. She gets to see the natural and cultural beauty within and outside India. She gets to participate in adventurous activities and make a lot of friends. She gets to look at people beyond their places of origin, castes, and religions. She gets to serve others and thus she can create positive karmas for herself.

Army-Couple-MedI am happily married to a very capable signal officer for the past 17 years. We both hail from civil background. My civilian acquaintances knew that I was going to marry the then Captain Saab. They knew only the rosy side of Army life and they often equated it with parties, freebies, and drinks. They used to say like, “How lucky you are! You would lead a very lavish life!” After our wedding they would say, “You have sahayaks and maids at your disposal, you get free house, canteen facilities, blah blah blah,…, you really live life king-size…”.

How much of it is really free, at what cost, and to what extent is another topic for discussion. But yes, we Army people do live our lives king-size. We party hard as if there is no tomorrow. Maybe because we frequently undergo long separations from our families…Maybe because we face numerous uncertainties and we wish to make the most of each moment in hand…Maybe because we know tomorrow would be different…

An Army wife neither receives any formal training to manage the show nor does she receive any bravery award…She stumbles, observes, learns, and moves on with smile and confidence…She becomes stronger each day, for she knows that she is the strength of her Army man. She knows, however unacknowledged her sacrifices go; she will continue to contribute in kind for her motherland.

The writer of this post, Manisha Shejwal is a Freelance Content Writer/Technical Writer. She likes cooking, baking, reading, painting, learning new skills, making Henna tattoos, and writing. She is inclined towards spirituality and  strongly believes in two ideas: One, whatever goes around comes around. Two, happiness is a journey of life by choice. You can check out her blog Happiness Mocktail.

MOD not happy with increase in awarding maintenance allowance to military wives

I am no expert on marital disputes and related cases. However, this article caught my eye and I thought I should share it with you guys. It’s a report that Indian Express carried on March 31, 2016. 

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina | Chandigarh | Published:March 31, 2016 7:21 pm 

A panel of experts of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has slammed the defence services for passing orders granting maintenance allowance to wives of military personnel from their salaries, especially in Army, without due investigation and scrutiny.

The panel, in its report, has criticised the defence services for passing such orders in, essentially, what are private matrimonial disputes. The Army, Navy and the Air Force Acts provide that the competent authority can impose a cut upto 33 per cent on pay and allowances which can be paid to the wife as maintenance on her application. With growing matrimonial disputes, the number of such applications has increased in the last few years especially with the Army granting maintenance to the spouses on almost all applications through non-speaking orders without providing reasons.

An expert committee constituted by the Defence Minister on litigation has however observed that the exceptional provisions are being invoked in a routine manner by defence authorities. It has also found that the system does not have the wherewithal or ability to examine the veracity or truthfulness of the allegations and counter-allegations of both parties which is basically a matter of evidence that can only be weighed and dealt with by civil courts under law legislated for this specific purpose. The panel has said that this exercise can only be carried out under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code and the relevant Marriage Acts, rather than the defence services getting into what may fundamentally be a civil or private dispute between a husband and his wife.

The panel has also observed that even the Army HQ has expressed concern on the issue and that maintenance is meant to tide over a difficult financial situation and not to lead life on someone else’s expense. It has recorded that the award of maintenance results in grave civil consequences for an individual wherein a cut is imposed on his pay and should be taken as a serious matter and not routine. Moreover, it may not be initiated on the fact whether the spouse is working or not but whether she has the capacity to work or not, further adding that a situation cannot be allowed to prevail wherein an otherwise qualified/educated spouse stops working or refuses to take up a job in order to claim maintenance.

The Panel has stated that though defence personnel have a bounden duty to maintain their families, such issues should be left to Courts to decide based on evidence. Surprised at the acceptance of an unusually high number of applications by the Army, the committee has questioned, “does it mean that it was found that out of the total applications received, such a high percentage of officers were found wanting in their familial and marital obligations? If yes, then what were the tools available to reach that conclusion?”

There has been a rise of litigation on the subject in the past. Recently, a Lt Col had averred that his wife held a Doctorate and also working in a real estate firm but still was awarded maintenance by the Army. Another officer had stated that his wife had a degree of MSc as well as BEd and was earning a huge amount from tuitions and he had elderly parents to look after but still deduction of arrears of maintenance had resulted in disbursement of more than Rs 30,000 to the wife per month while he was being disbursed a amount of just Rs 6000. Another serving Colonel had stated that was being expected put his earnings at the disposal of his wife who was fully qualified and competent to work and was actually working.

Here’s the Indian Express link to the report. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/army-defence-ministry-mod-panel-frowns-on-increase-in-awarding-maintenance-allowance-to-wives-in-military/

My first Ladies’ Meet!

There should be two stories under this title — the first Ladies’ Meet that I attended, and the first Ladies’ Meet I hosted.

As luck would have it, both these historical accidents incidents happened at the same Ladies’ Meet.

It was my first month as a newly wed in my husband’s unit, which was hosting this mega reunion of all unit officers (serving and retired).

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Can you believe it! All these years and I have not been able to attend any garden parties that I was invited to. Photo by Saanya Bajaj Rawat, a fellow army wife and an Instagram star!

Women of my unit decided to have a coffee morning and since I was the latest bakra — was given emcee duties. I’ve was an active orator in school and college, so was thankful of the department I was to handle for that “Spring” or “Holi” or “Colours” or “Floral” theme meet (I can’t seem to remember what the theme was).

Having never attended anything that remotely resembled a Ladies’ Meet, I was kind of taken aback by the extensive preparations that went into it. Right from the games, the menu and the gifts, it all seemed a little surreal and waste of time.

Rehearsals took it’s toll on everyone.

I lost my ‘Tambola virginity’.

By the end, I lost my appetite for that elaborate menu.

I also learnt how to say Thank you and Good Evening for at least 7 times before the guest actually left. Before that, guests spent a good 10 minutes gushing about what a great performance we’ve all put up, and how the food was smashing (even that lady whose expression changed the moment she took a bite of that samosa … to be fair, it did not have enough salt).

And I prayed (more than what I’d prayed during Maths exams) that some divine shakti would stop me from attending the next one.

Maybe my silent prayer was heard by the same upar-wala who had earlier handled (manhandled) my maths request.

Within a month, it was time for me to attend another one. Thankfully, I was a spectator this time.

I made the rookie mistake of not carrying my wallet, because it was a man’s wallet and did not go well with my saree (or any saree). So, at the entrance, I felt a little embarrassed when the lady at the reception desk said, “Rs50 please,” and I had no money with me.

A senior officer’s wife, who was standing right behind me, generously offered to pay my share. She later told me that she had an inkling that I would not know about this “entrance fee”, as was the case with most of the newly weds.

The chief guest of the event arrived (usually wife of the senior most officer) and was “shown” FOUR welcome drinks! She picked one. I wanted to stop the waiter cause a blue drink had caught my fancy. It was gonna go waste as it is na, why not put it to good use. I thank my invisible fairy godmother who prevented me from putting  my thoughts into action.

As soon as the MC started off with her animated enactment of the script, a semi-loud chuckle was heard from the far corner. I was sitting there. What the hell, I made that noise.

One of my unit ladies glared at me to stop! I instantly put on my poker face and resorted to man-hi-man hasna. Years later, I remembered that woman while listening to an absolutely brilliant emcee performance by an Army wife at the IMA passing out parade (POP). Talent ki kami nai hai, it’s just not every unit gets an equal distribution of it.

I am not a great fan of Tambola. Never was, never will be. But that day, it was the best game in the world. I won Rs 75 in it and proudly told my husband,”Aaj teri biwi Rs25 rupaye jeet ke aayi hai! Chal tujhe treat deti hoon.”  I dreamt of Tambola being recognised as an Olympic sport that year and me on the podium.

Status quo was restored the very next day.

I’m waiting for your stories… pen it down (one word, one line, one para, one big story… your choice) in the comment section below.

Tell us the story of yourPS:

Confessions of an Army Wife

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.

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This piece was first published in Complete Wellbeing magazine.

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.”

“Ok Ma’am.”

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.

wp-1458592578482.jpgDress up!

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.

Salute the Veer Nari

Veer Nari The woman who sacrificed her better half for your better future(1)

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.

*Guest Post* The Unsung Heroes: Indian Army Wives

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.’

The force behind the forces — Army wives!  Photo by Gunjan Mishra Upadhyay.

The force behind the forces — Army wives!
Photo by Gunjan Upadhyay Mishra.

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!

Kissa Adjutant ki kursi ka!

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The impact of my Major Sa’ab’s announcement that he would soon be on the adjutant’s chair can be accurately compared to that of an iceberg hitting the Titanic. This blog post by A Curious Army Wife is dedicated to the wives of those adjutants, who live a life worthy of a field allowance even during peace postings!

If you are an adjutant’s wife, then here are 10 things that you will definitely relate with:

1. Till now, you must have thought that your husband loves the country more than you. And you were fine by that, weren’t you. Trouble starts when patidev becomes the adjutant and you are pushed to third spot in the love thy list —

  • Our country
  • Whoever is on the other side of the phone.
  • You. (Oh this is so not good).

2. You initially revel in the power your husband has in the unit as an adjutant, till reality strikes hard and you realise, it’s not really power but a big headache. Phone pe phone pe phone…

3. You chuckle when you hear the Jawans address you as “Adjutant Memsahib“.

4. It’s a fun guessing game to indulge in — guess who’s on phone? If you husband answers with “Jai Hind” and then sits up in attention, then it’s probably the CO or a very senior officer. If his posture doesn’t change, it’s his SM. If he scrambles to open his diary to check something, it’s another officer. If he suddenly starts massaging his temples, it’s from MT. If he looks up towards the almighty for some inspiration and patience, it’s from a JCO.

5. You feel weirdly wicked to be in possession of all the information about what the ladies in the unit are demanded  from the adjutant. Aah! So Mrs XYZ asked for the gypsy to go shopping? And Mrs ABC asked her husband’s sahayak to be changed! Poor husband tells these things to you innocently, but you just feel supremely happy at getting the inside dope.

6. “Dinner Conversation” is a distant dream. For a conversation to take place, you first need to have dinner with the person. On the rare chance the adjutant makes it home for dinner, there is very little hope for a proper ‘conversation’ because the damn phone keeps ringing all the time.

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7. You reach that stage where ‘OK Report’ becomes an integral part of your life. Are you going out shopping? Give an OK Report to your husband when you reach. Boarding a train? Give an OK Report when your ticket gets checked. Applying make-up? Give an OK Report when you manage to get the shape of the eyeliner correct. Marroing tadka to daal? Give an OK Report with exact time it took for the daal to cook and gap between boiling and tadka.

8. It’s ok to call him for those OK Reports, but god forbid you call him to ask what time he is coming home, all hell will break lose. “Yaar, you know na I am very busy. I will come when work gets over, don’t call me over such things,” he would say.

9. When he says “Today, there isn’t that much pressure of work. I will finish by maximum 1800hrs. We’ll go for a walk then,” you safely assume you won’t see his face before 2200 hrs.

10. The frequency with which he picks up others’ calls will makes you jealous. “Han han, mera phone kabhi attend bhi mat kariyo,” becomes the patented snide remark of every Army wife.

But when Adjutant Sa’ab has had enough and says in utter frustration, “I think I need to stop taking calls, and start giving some balls,” there is no thikana of your khushi!

All’s well that ends well, or in this case, ends soon.

Make some noise for the JC boys!

Every three months, hundreds of officers of the Indian Army across all arms descend on the cantonment town Mhow (near Indore) and bury themselves in books.
The grueling Junior Command course, better known as JC, is a training course that they take very seriously.
This year, Major Sa’ab was among the JC Boys (as I like to call them now) studying the way that will put serious IIT aspirants to shame.

Some came alone, while others were MBBS (Miya Biwi Bachhon samet).  Major Sa’ab was among the forced bachelors, a privilege he couldn’t enjoy on weekends as I would drop by on Saturdays and Sundays.

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Major Sa’ab’s balcony view from his bachelor pad had these lovely fall colours. The car and bike are both rentals, which is one of the flourishing local businesses thanks to the Army.

So, acuriousarmywife.wordpress.com here has a list of 10 things that only the wife of an officer attending JC will relate to:

  1. JC aya!” Sounds like “Piya ghar aya“, but has the exact opposite effect. It sends most of us into frantic mode and the first thing we do is google ‘Mhow’. Where is this place? What’s the weather like? How far is Indore from Mhow? Where do I shop there? 😛
  2. What all do I pack for two months — this question weighs heavy on our mind even after the JC course is over. Some Army wives try to pack light, especially if they are travelling by air. I emphasis on the word ‘TRY’ because, as an unsaid rule, Army wives cannot pack light. We have to pack sarees, suits, winter-wear (if any) and all that jazz that WE KNOW will be needed in a military station. Those with babies have to carry some extra baggage (and I am not referring to the baby here).
  3. Before coming to Mhow for JC, officers start asking other officers who had attended the previous course about how to study and stuff, while we ladies ask fellow Army wives about the accommodation scene, kitchen facilities, ladies’ meet menace, shopping areas and similar topics of national interest.
  4. On reaching Mhow, most of us feel a little disappointed about how the place is too far yet too close to Indore city (my pathetic attempt at translating kitne dur kitne pass). We know the malls, the eateries and the picnic spots are so damn close to Mhow. What an amazing place it would be to spend a couple of years with the family. But then every trip to Indore costs 2-3 hours, which is gold for JC officers. So the wife either sulks at home, secretly cribbing about not being pampered enough, or she just vanishes with the car to explore the city on her own. Bechara officer, sochta hai Mhow mein car leke jaunga toh time save karunga, but ultimatly has to ask coursemates for lift till classrooms too.
  5. Sugrahini becomes the place where Army wives do their JC. Mexican cuisine, baking, and other such short-term classes are organised to keep the ladies busy and out of their husbands’ way — all at throwaway prices.
  6. I once heard someone say that Mhow shopkeepers make a lot of money thanks to Army wives. Dohads, Chanderi sarees, smocking dresses and special Mhow embroidary saree (I was unaware of the last one, which is shocking considering I lived in Indore for 15 years) are the things that we Army wives love to hoard. The traders of the tiny Mhow market eagerly await the arrival of every JC course.
  7. Other than the things I mentioned above, Mhow is also famous for things that have extremely high value in the Indian Army. I am talking about bean bags, leather show pieces, paintings (especially the fauji ones) and last but not the least… fauji nameplates.
  8. Words, terms and alphabets complete it’s life cycle in two months, bouncing off our ears till it starts making some sense. We hear stuff like Syndicate, AE 1, AE2, I grading, sand model,  Alpha, AI, Bravo, BI, Charlie, and Echo, in addition to KLPD.
  9. The two months fly by way too fast. Many of us were wondering how we’ll take care of the baby (babies, in some cases) alone, without any help from husbands. Many of us kept thinking of how we’ll pass time in that sleepy town where internet connectivity is a luxury. We all think of how we’ll be able to pack all the stuff we shopped for into those tiny bags we brought. Time simply flies!
  10. And before we realise, it’s all over. We make some glorious friends, revel in the fact that our husbands consumed less alcohol and more notepads, and take back some awesome memories with us.  Hasta la vista Mhow!

An Army wife’s guide to surviving the first NDA visit

Sudan Block (NDA) in 2008. Photo by Major Sa'ab.

Sudan Block (NDA) in 2008. Photo by Major Sa’ab.

I don’t know what is it about taking the love of your life to NDA for the first time that gets all Army officers super-senti. It’s a big deal for them. Which is really surprising as very few things come in that category — the big deal category.

But it is going to happen some day. The sooner, the better.

The National Defence Academy in Khadakwasla (Pune) is that place where thousands and thousands of officers of the Indian Armed Forces have spent their most crucial years of life. So when you were out with your college friends eating samosa or bunking a class to watch a movie with your crush — they were in NDA, in an ALL-BOYS academy, dreaming of what it is like to be normal!

When they finally do manage to get a girlfriend/fiance/wife (whichever comes earliest), they will make it a point to take them to NDA to show them the place where ‘boys became men’.

I will not go into what happens at NDA and why it’s where the foundation of a good officer is laid and blah blah. You will get to hear all that from an enthusiastic Colonel at a party someday.

But I WILL tell you about all that you need to be prepared for when you visit the NDA for the first time.

When Major Sa’ab (my husband) took me there for the first time, we were just a couple of months into our relationship. I was working in Pune and he had come to visit me in the tiny mid-term break during his YOs.

He said, “Yaar, NDA jana hai ek baar.”

I said, “Ja naa…”

“You also come, I’ll give you a guided tour.”

To any other person, that would have sounded so tempting. Not to me, as I had visited NDA many times (professional hazard). I still agreed to go.

One thing is for sure, visiting the NDA with an officer who knows his way around the academy is a novelty. It feels good. And Major Sa’ab also lost no chance to say that this visit seems special. Back then, I thought he was saying that just to impress me. Until I met many Army wives (years later) who told me about their special trip to NDA. (See, I told you, it’s a big deal for these men.)

A typical tour generally starts with ye Sudan block hai, ye Habibullah Hall hai, ye drill square, ye swimming pool, ye NDA mess etc. Which is a lot to take in, specially for us civilian girls.

Photo by Major Sa'ab.

Photo by Major Sa’ab.

Almost every lane, ground, field, building — any place where humans can possibly tread — was used for punishments during their days as cadets. Major Sa’ab seemed to feature in an awful lot of those.

He pointed towards austere gray buildings that had alphabets written on it. He pointed to one such building (which looked like a copy of the next one) and said,”That’s my squadron.”

“You were in K squadron!”

“No! I was in Kilo squadron.”

Oh! It’s not ABC here, it’s Apha Bravo Charlie! So not K, but Kilo. Mental note to self.

“That was my room in the first two terms,” Major Sa’ab suddenly became Raju guide and pointed towards one tiny window of the Kilo Squadron. We were doing this while standing outside as it would have been inappropriate for a woman to enter the cadet’s buildings without prior notice (for obvious reasons).

And the mini-monologue started off…

“That window next to me was my best bud’s room. We used to share Maggi at night after lights out. Then that corner room was occupied by a very psycho/saddist senior. Made our life hell. In the third term, I moved to that other room. At the end of the corridor we had the common bathrooms that have partitions but no doors… where we were supposed to clear SSB (shit, shave, brush) before the seniors woke up in the morning. When I was a sixth termer, I chose that cozy little room where I would play loud music…”

And all I heard in that little speech was the bathroom thingy! NO DOORS? Is it even legal!

He then took me to the juice bar to introduce me to the maushi, who promptly recognised him! She was the lady who ran the shop and a fairy godmother for all cadets. Just at that moment, a group of 8-9 cadets came and greeted Major Sa’ab! They were the current sixth termers, who were first termers when Major Sa’ab was a sixth termer. It’s complicated.

More so, because they all looked EXACTLY the same to me. White t-shirts and shorts, lean, extra-small crew cut and skin that had enough sun for another decade. They all looked like clones to me.

“Banana shake for everyone. Maushi…!” Major Sa’ab got the cadets excited at the prospect of having free banana shake. We all sat there for a good 20 minutes (seemed like 3-4 hours) in which they all talked about ‘Academy stuff’. That was one conversation in which I could contribute in no way. So I just sat and switched off.

After the cadets left, we went to the Gol market. “That’s Kapoor’s shop right there. Itna loota hai usne hamein! You see that shop… that is Hamsa, where we used to eat paratha bhurji and chicken lollypops. He used to say ‘Garam nai hai, fresh hai’ for every item he sold. Hahaha…”

Hanss le beta. Little did Major Sa’ab know that he is going to hear the “Garam nai hai, fresh hai” dialogue every third day from his wife.

But a truly emotional moment for us came when we went pass the lawns where the NDA Ball was held years ago, where I was Major Sa’ab’s ball partner.

So that concludes the first part of the NDA darshan for me. Subsequent visits had greater details coming in from my Raju guide, with which I won’t bore you.

One of our friends came to the NDA after taking a detour from their honeymoon, where the guy in question got an earful on what constitutes as a romantic visit and what doesn’t.

Well, to be fair, the NDA is the place where every man’s romance with fauj starts, right?

 

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