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!
Time for readers to pour in some relationship advice. Here’s a young girl who wants to marry her Lt Sa’ab but her parents are not in favour of pyaar wala shaadi. Give her some strength guys!
Some suggestions I received through Facebook –
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 —
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.
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.
Happy Army Day everyone!
I hope more young men and women realise what a challenging and noble profession this is, and join the Indian Armed Forces.
Let us take a moment to salute our men in olive greens who don’t always get the luxury of sitting in an AC room, or having ghar ki roti, or attending their kids’ PTA, or going to a movie, or staying with their families…
But hey! It’s Army Day today. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a fultoo-serious affair. So, here’s my small attempt to bring a smile on your faces, appreciating the brighter side of life!
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.
So, acuriousarmywife.wordpress.com here has a list of 10 things that only the wife of an officer attending JC will relate to:
Got a mail from this young girl who is going through what every ‘working woman married to a fauji’ goes through!
Your advice can make her life easier… so help out please!
Have a look at what some helpful women had to say when I posted this in a Facebook group.
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.
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?