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.