A Curious Army Wife

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

Archive for the category “Travel Tales”

Army Train Journey Part 2: Samne se dheere chalega, dheere chal!

So where was I?

Aah yes, the Special Army Train had just arrived at our station at 12 noon. Check the first part here to get yourself up to speed (pun not intended).

The special Army train pulled up at the platform at the opposite end of the station — a platform which was not in use for other passenger or long-distance trains.

“Bas! Four more hours,” I thought about the departure time — that’s the time Major Sa’ab had said it will take to load the train.

Hashtag Husband Wale Jhooth!

Our entire Unit was moving from a field location to a semi-metro peace location, remember? Unit property and men were being transported via a special green-coloured Army train, with the officers, their families and Jawans being the only ones aboard.

It had a special train number and is managed by the railways only for the purpose of moving Armymen and Fauji property around the country — no, it does not show up on IRCTC website.

So, once the train arrived, Major Sa’ab, other officers, JCOs and ORs immediately got busy with ‘planning’ the next move. Planning is very important in fauj. Not just in war, but in loading a train as well.

I came back to the guest room. As per my calculations, taking into account time taken for loading, lunchtime and tea time, we should be good to go by 1800 hours!

Nope! It seemed more like 1,800 hours before we managed to leave the station at around midnight. Here’s why…

I am sure that by 6pm the train was loaded, but then some paperwork had to be taken care of. It is, afterall, a sarkari matter. We lost a couple of hours to that.

It was dinner time by then, so why miss a chance of a readymade meal in the transit camp mess? And once the beer bottles were opened, it became obvious to me and CO Memsahib (we were the only two ladies left now) that the officers will delay our departure further by an hour.

Hashtag Madira Sevan Train Schedule Ke Liye Haanikarak Hai!

We had waited for 5-6 days for this ‘son of a train’ to come, so a few more hours’ delay in departure is nothing! After dinner we went to the station, but were asked to wait for sometime at the platform. It was a small small station, only local trains stopped here.

So, you can imagine the kind of infrastructure they would have in place — which was nil.

There was no electricity, so CO Memsahib and I sat in dark, covered in three layers of Odomos cream to protect ourselves from mosquitoes.

It drizzled for 3-4 minutes, but we had honestly run out of fucks to give.

Once inside the train, we were thrilled to find that an entire coach had been alotted to officers and families. The bachelors took up one end of the coach, Major Sa’ab and I took up a middle compartment to give them (and us) ample privacy, and then after two empty compartments, the First Family of the unit set up camp.

It was May and the AC was a welcome blast. I was however, not so thrilled to know that the jawans were housed in sleeper compartments, with no AC.

Major Sa’ab assured me that the men were all rough-n-tough, and have seen worse. They will survive the heat as long as they got a place (and time) to sleep, he said.

Hashtag Ab Kya Hua?

So where was the hold-up now? Why the hell weren’t we moving?

We asked a young officer and turned out the delay was because of something I would have never imagined!

The senior officers didn’t like the order in which the train was laid out, and so they were busy ordering rearrangment of the coaches. The open coach was moved next to the officer’s coach; the pantry was positioned differently; jawans coaches were distributed throughout the train; ye coach idhar, wo coach idhar…. and it went on for another 2-3 hours.

You see, moving the coaches of a train is not like moving lego bricks — an engine had to be attached to everything that had to be moved and then “shunting” was done, which involved moving that coach to a different track, then making space for it on the original track, and then bringing it back to it’s rightful position.

Oh the whims some faujis have!

Hashtag Fauji Choooos

We hooted and clapped and congratulated each other the moment the train started. “Hurrraaaayyyyy!”

The officers, the ladies and the 8-year-old daughter of CO were all gathered on the open coach, taking in the cool breeze of the countryside. We chatted for sometime and decided to catch some sleep.

I had other things to worry about — high on that list being my leave which would end in two days. I had taken almost a week off from work, but we had wasted 5 days waiting for the train to arrive at our departure point.

I asked Major Sa’ab, “Ye train kab tak pahunchegi?

Bass yaar, dedh dino me (one and half days).”

“All this while you have been telling me that special army trains are known to take 5 days for a journey, and now you are saying that it will end in dedh din?” I fumed.

Arre, see… we are already behind schedule, so I don’t think the train will go that slow. We’ll reach in time for your office, don’t worry,” Major Sa’ab assured me.

A helpful tip for all Army Wives here: Uparwale se zyada bharosa Murphy’s Law me rakho. Because:

So, I had made up my mind to get off at the next city which had an airport, and catch a flight back to our destination — so that I do not overshoot my leave. Lady luck was on my side this time, since the next such stop would be New Delhi.

Day 1

Next day, Major Sa’ab woke me up at 7am.

BLOODY HELL!

I am on leave, which means I owe to it the “vacation gods” to not wake up before noon.

Major Sa’ab said breakfast will be here soon. I said I don’t want breakfast, lemme sleep.

In return, I got “that” stare from Major Sa’ab which is used by officers — in peace stations — to tell their wives that “Ab tum apni marzi ki maalkin nahin ho, ab Unit ke taur tareekon se bhi chalna padega.”

Welcome to peace postings — I thought. And woke up. And tried to make sense of this world. And hurled a few curses (mann-hi-mann) at Major Sa’ab. And had breakfast.

Jaanu ko phone pe “OK Report” bhi toh deni hai.

We all tried to find things to keep us occupied. The young officers were ecstatic on being in full mobile network and internet connectivity. Remember they were posted at a remote border location where one bar of mobile network called for celebrations.

We sat for sometime on the open coach and saw fields and rivers pass by. It was sunny, but the wind didn’t let us feel the heat.

The open coach! This is what makes this train extra special.

In typical fauji fashion, at around 11, some snacks were served with chai. Then came soup. By lunchtime, I had already forgotten what it’s like to travel in a regular train — this one was so so so different.

Lunch was served at the bachelors’ end of the coach. My eyes popped out when I saw the elaborate set-up for lunch.

On one of the side berths, a camo print cover was laid out. And then there were the bowls and platters with the Unit crest, filled with food. All army wives know how food is served in officer’s mess, right? It was the exact same setting.

Plates, spoons, forks, napkins, and then 2 types of sabjis to choose from, a plateful of green salad… I really really wanted to laugh and roll my eyes at this typical “faujipanti”. It was all new to me… you see, I was expecting packed lunch boxes, like they serve in Duranto Express.

Lunch laid out in the Special Army Train

You can take a fauji out of the fauji area, but you cannot take the faujiness out of him!

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. We passed a station named Phillaur. It might seem like a useless piece of info for you, but at that time, it got us all excited because Anushka Sharma starrer “Phillauri” had just released.

Phillaur station

The usual snack breaks were followed on the train as welll, like evening tea, soup, pakodas, etc. Dinner was an equally elaborate affair.

The train had to stop at a small village station in the evening, probably waiting for some other important train to pass and clear the tracks for us. The officers ordered the men to get down and run the entire length of the platform twice.

“The boys have to be kept occupied. They are used to physical activity everyday. We can’t let them sleep all day in the train. They have to be kept active na,” was Major Sa’ab’s explaination.

Train pe toh baksh do unko. This was my layman’s reaction.

In addition to men stretching their limbs, there were three dogs on board who had to be taken out on small walks.

These three well-trained German Shephards were part of the unit property, and were faithful companions who had stayed with the men at the field location.

So we had men, women, children, pigeons (see Part 1) and now dogs on this Special Army Train!

A young officer on attachment with Major Sa’ab’s Unit was excited about the entire journey because the train was to pass through his village and the CO had accepted his special request for a halt there.

Had the train been as per schedule, we would have reached his village in the evening of Day 1. The officer was, from what he told us, a ladla of his village and his family wanted to meet the officers and the jawans of their son’s Unit.

They had arranged for Chai, Samosa and Mithai for everyone at the station — yes, for everyone single person on that train.

Apparently a group of halwais were busy making the snacks for us at his village, which was to be transported to the station as soon as news of train’s arrival came.

Since we were woefully behind schedule, we could not reach his village on Day 1. He was a little upset, since some food had gone stale because of the heat. We hadn’t even reached New Delhi and his village the train’s next halt after the Capital.

Day 2

At around 1 am that night, the train pulled up at snails pace at the Tughlakabad Railway Station, where I had to bid the special Army train a hasty goodbye.

I was leaving the journey midway since all my leaves were wasted in just waiting for it. My plan was to catch a flight from New Delhi, and resume work the next day.

On my way to the airport, I checked all popular travel websites for fares of early morning flights. Baap re… I realised what a bomb I would have to spend, but eventually remembered that being a family member of a fauji, I can get some cheeky discount from www.udchalo.com.

This website (if you don’t already know about it) gives awesome airfare deals to Armed Forces personnels and their family members (provided you have a dependent card).

So that night, I found that fares here were quite low compared to other websites, so I immediately started the booking process, but my dagabaz phone network vanished the moment I hit “Pay”.

I got a msg from my bank that money has been deducted, but didn’t get a booking confirmation.

Hashtag Lag Gaye!

I had reached New Delhi airport by that time, so I checked with the airlines who told me that they don’t have me on their flying list.

At that time, the UdChalo team did not have a 24×7 customer care service, so I panicked a little. I had to book that same ticket again, but thankfully the next day I got a mail from the folks at UdChalo that my erroneously deducted money will be refunded.

Hashtag Mera Piya Ghar Aya!

I reached my destination safe and sound, and three days — YES THREE DAYS — later, on Akshaya Tritiya, the special Army train arrived at our new peace station.

I missed half of the train journey, but the look of awe on my colleagues and friends’ faces when I told them about the experience was worth the trouble.

Hopefully, when the Unit moves to their next location, I would be able to enjoy the full journey, in full fauji tashan!

Tab tak ke liye, namashkaar!

Army Train Journey Part 1: ‘Expected Time Of Departure’ is moh maya!

Heard of the special Army train?
No, no, not the NDA special.
I am talking about the one in which female presence is allowed! 😛
20170424_183611
I first heard about this special Army train from many army wives, who had accompanied their husband’s battalion (or Unit) in such trains while shifting from one positing location to another, and decided it was high time for me, the ‘Curious Army Wife’, to experience the journey.
Hashtag Travel Goals
Hashtag Life mein ek baar. 
Hashtag Rahul Gandhi Pappu Hai. 
So, when it was time for Major Sa’ab’s unit to move from a field location to a peace station, I came to know the famous special Army train will be used for this movement.
Major Sa’ab told me officers are allowed to bring their families on this special Army train. I think it’s only legit that I have a minor listicle-attack to explain some things about this train before I tell you my story.
Salient features of special train (yaad kar lo bhiya)
1. Moving an entire battalion from one location to another is a massive task and an ENTIRE train is needed to shift it. Some Units need 2-3 trains!
2. On routes where there are no railway tracks (like the remote mountainous regions), army trucks do the work.
3. Men, machines, files, furniture, all the troops’ luggage and even the flower pots (bole toh gamle) are transported via this train.
4. The train is green in colour, not the usual brown/blue/duronto colour. Coaches have Indian Army written on it. Jhanki hai boss!
5. The train travels at a leisurely pace. It takes its own sweet time in reaching its destination. So a journey that takes, say 12 hours by a normal train, will take at least 36 hours in the special Army train.
6. No civilians are allowed to board it. The train is so exclusive that not even other faujis (as in those who do not belong to the battalion that is moving) are allowed to step in.
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Getting back to my story. 
“Chalegi kya Special Train mein?” Major Sa’ab asked me.
“Jaisa aap kahein,” I replied.
“Aa hi ja. Bahut kam logon ko mauka milta hai. Baad mein pata hai aa paye ya nahin,” he said.
“Aapki iccha ko na bolne wali mein kaun hoti hoon. Aa jaungi,” replied the obedient me.
Hashtag True Story. 
Major Sa’ab’s Unit was in a very volatile location in the valley. It was scheduled to move to the same city where I was working (very very convenient for me).
Two months before the expected journey date, he advised that I should ask for leave of absence from my office. I said,”Give me the dates first.”
I should have changed the name of this blog to The NAIVE Army Wife right there!
Major Sa’ab patiently explained that these dates are not fixed two months in advance and gave me a tentative moving date.
Let’s, for the sake of easy calculations, assume the date was April 1 (quite symbolic).
I was to take connecting flights to reach the station where from where the Unit would move in train.
This was the date I had with me when I approached my boss seeking leave. Once I got the green signal, Major Sa’ab said they have received communication from Delhi that their unit is to move on April 5.
Chalo koi na, I thought, since my office was pretty flexible when it came to leaves.
With a fortnight to go, Major Sa’ab told me the revised date is April 12-16. “Book your flight tickets,” he said!
“HOW?” I asked in my politest voice. “I need ONE date to book it.”
Days passed as I anxiously waited for that. Everyday, I heard a new departure date. When the date was finalised on April 18, I decided to book my flight ticket.
Last minute flight fares are sometimes insane. Thankfully, the only portal that could give me some discount was UdChalo.com.
If you haven’t heard of UdChalo.com, then you are probably spending a lot on flight tickets. This start-up (completly run by fauji kids and Ex-servicemen) provides discounted airfare to Armed Forces personnel and their family members.
Hashtag Plugged. 
Hashtag Travel Hacks For Faujis
Now here’s Major Sa’ab’s official statement about the special train departure.”The train will come to the station on April 18. It will take roughly 4-5 hours for us to load it. Once that is done, we will leave by April 18 night, or maximum by 19th afternoon. Normal train takes 2 days in reaching our destination, we will take not more than 4 days.”
I decided to reach the station of departure on April 19th morning — I had full faith that the train won’t leave before that.
I reached the airport and saw Major Sa’ab there after almost 5 months! Oh! How I loved my man!
In the jeep, he tells me, ” Accha listen, you were right and made the correct decision.”
Hashtag What’s The Fuck Up NOW? 
“That train hasn’t come here yet.”
Ein?
“There’s been a slight delay. But it will come tomorrow,” he gave me aashwasan like Modi.
“This is so unfair. I’ll waste one day of my leave for nothing” I did kadi ninda like Rajnath.
He was silent. Like Manmohan.
The Unit had to travel to this railway station — located at the nearest city — by loading all their stuff in those army trucks. It took the trucks an entire day to cover this distance, and three journey’s to-fro.
Our Commanding Officer’s (CO) wife and the new bride of another officer were there in the transit camp to keep me company.
For the next five… no no, I need some more drama here… FOR THE NEXT FIVE FREAKING DAYS, the train didn’t come.
Some stupid cargo train carrying coal had derailed somewhere, blocking the route from where our empty special Army train was to come.
The ladies shopped, cribbed, slept throughout the day, cribbed some more and then topped it off with some more cribbing.
We went to a mall in the evening, saw that toy train in which kids ride, and decided that we are going to sit in this train for a joy ride. Three grown-up women trying to fit themselves in that small coach was a testimony of how badly we wanted to sit in a TRAIN… ANY TRAIN.
“Train ki koi khabar,” we would ask everytime we saw each other in those five days and then burst out laughing.
Hashtag How Sad Are We. 
Hashtag Panjon Panjon Panjon Panjon
20170423_110132
On April 24th, Major Sa’ab was getting ready in the guest room to go to the railway station. Today, like the previous five days, the train was “definitely” going to come.
I accompanied Major Sa’ab to the station.
I wasn’t prepared for this.
The entire length of the platform at the other end of the station was covered with Unit property. From this side, it looked like a miniature model of the New York skyline. It was covered in green tent cloth to protect from rain and dust.
Breaking the monotony of black boxes and trunks were some flowerpots (as promised), furniture covered in gunny bag, personal belongings of the Jawans, classified stuff and a net box full of pigeons.
YES… PIGEONS!
20170423_111702
These were pet birds who kept the jawans company in the hills and were looked after very well by the fauj. When the time came for the Unit to leave that location and move to a big city, the CO decided to take these birds along! Isn’t that just… I don’t know.. I have never heard of people moving with lock stock barrel and pigeons!
And all this, I didn’t think would fit in a train.
And then the unthinkable happened!
I heard a nice long whistle and the rhythmic sound of the train pulling up at the station from one end!
200w_d
Show some love to inspire me enough to write Part 2 of this blog(coming soon) to read about how I realised there were 3 four-legged friends with us on the train and why I couldn’t complete this journey (no, wasn’t thrown off it) 

Army Heritage Museum

On a recent trip to Shimla, I convinced Captain Sa’ab to take me to the Army Heritage Museum and he was justifiably shocked. I always keep harping that any vacation we take should be free of faujiness. There are times when an Army wife also needs a break from Army and I am no different (being a civilian at heart). Officers have this inbred tendency of booking Army guest houses or using the hospitality of a friendly unit whenever they go holidaying and I wanted none of that.

The Army Heritage Museum in Shimla

The Army Heritage Museum in Shimla

So Capt Sa’ab double-checked with me whether that was what I wanted … visiting a museum (which is not my favourite place in the world) and that too about the Army (the less I say the better).

But somehow this time, I wanted to see the history of this establishment for myself. It is one thing to hear about it’s past and present structure from people, and another thing to see all the data compiled at one place.  And so, I found the place extremely informative and enthralling. Capt Sa’ab proved an able guide as there was none there at that time.

There is a  separate little cottage which houses the history of Infantry. Overall, it was a pretty neat effort by the Army to showcase its glory. I wonder why they didn’t charge any entry fee. Since we had reached a few minutes before closing time, maybe that’s why we didn’t see anyone around, so I am not sure if they have guides there.

The different uniforms used in Army for different occasions.

The different uniforms used in Army for different occasions.

A beautiful display of Armoured insignias in the garden.

A beautiful display of Armoured insignias in the garden.

The Infantry House.

The Infantry House.

Description and history of each infantry regiment.

Description and history of each infantry regiment.

 

 

 

 

IMA, where gentlemen become officers

IMA, where gentlemen become officers!

My friend’s brother had survived 18 months at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun and so it was indeed time to celebrate. She was going to come all the way to Dehradun to attend the Passing-out-parade, and since I was living in that city, I couldn’t have been happier (because it is quite far from all other cities and no one ever comes here).

Her brother, a skinny and dark GC (Gentleman Cadet, what all trainees at the IMA are called) was allowed to invite four guests to the passing-out-parade (POP) — a ceremonial culmination of their rigorous training. He ended up being swamped by 11 relatives and friends, all wanting to see him stomp the parade ground in front of the Chetwode Building like a crazy guy before he became an officer in the Indian Army.

Now this POP is a pretty sought-after function in and around Dehradun, with civilians and faujis clamouring for entry passes, which is really unusual for a military event. Parents, friends, relatives, distant relatives, would-be in-laws… everyone wants to be there when their boy gets his stars.

So my friend’s brother, lets call him GC Bub, somehow managed to get passes for everyone, and so, at 0600 hours, all 11 of them were seated in the battalion enclosure in front of the Chetwode Building.

Though the POP doesn’t start before 0900 hours, the three hour early arrival was because of limited seating, which is allotted on first-come-first-serve basis. I had passes to a special seating enclosure right behind the chief guest, but I preferred to sit with my friend along with other family members. A shudh-desi civilian like me would never let go of any opportunity to have some civilian-chhap fun.

And what fun it was! Lets not forget the impressive parade which the GCs put up after getting grilled for the drill for the past 3 weeks. Yes, it takes that long to get the moves right and in sync with 600 other GCs. Now while the GCs were standing in attention while the emcee was ranting about the academy’s history, we decided to take up this impossible task of finding GC Bub among all those lookalikes. He had given us a vague idea about where he would be standing, so a super-zoom camera came to our rescue and after about 10 minutes, we found him! Nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

A man cleaning the Adjutant's horse's poop!

A man cleaning the Adjutant’s horse’s poop!

And what else do we see in the view-finder? Some GC in the back row would comment on something the emcee said and a bunch of other GCs around him would try as hard as possible to control their laughter! Men will be men 🙂 .

Then there was one time when the Adjutant of the academy, sitting on a handsome mare on at the right end of the parade, moves to the left end before the march-past. As soon as he left his position to move, a man, probably hiding behind one of Chetwode’s pillars,  ran out with a dustpan in hand. In a matter of 30 seconds, he swept the horse’s poop, and ran back to disappear behind the Chetwode! As my husband later told me, he is the man “whose only job is to watch the horse’s ass”. 😀

After the parade, families were to move to the Somnath Stadium for the pipping and oath taking ceremony. It is pretty hard to handle to group of 11 grown-ups and so GC Bub…. sorry, Lt Bub was fuming at the stadium since only half of his relatives had turned up. “I had time to run back to my room, shower, change into a different uniform and come to the stadium, and you guys can’t walk 300 metres in that time?”

Aah, that’s your Army man speaking. My friend exchanged an all too familiar look with me, which said, “Oh boy, that used to be my brother.”

Now the stadium was full of people high on emotions. It was like a Karan Johar movie unfolding right in front of my eyes, as teary eyed mothers embraced their sons in uniform and fathers were proudly introducing them to others. Sisters just couldn’t stop taking pictures as parents uncovered the stars on their brother’s shoulder.

Time to celebrate!

Time to celebrate!

The oath-taking ceremony, where the new officers vowed to serve the country, was a moment right out of another Bollywood movie — Lakshya. There were hundreds of Hrithik Roshans in front of me and in typical filmy fashion, my head was full of “Lakshya ko har haal me pana hai” music. No hats were thrown in the air (we kept waiting for that to happen but I later came to know that’s not allowed in IMA anymore), but the dancing, hugging and push-ups (yes our fauj is full of weird traditions) continued for a long time.

These officers are now bonded for life. They may not meet again for months or years, but their “course-mate” would always be the first person they help when the need comes.

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