We are a typical tribe. Yes, we are. There are certain attributes unique to us. Many of you presume that we are super-stylish women who are party experts and travel all over the country with their dashing and well-groomed husbands in smart uniforms. Some of you know us as the women who live in bungalows-too-big-for-our-own-good and enjoy discounts too-good-to-be-true at military canteens. So what does the life of an army wife actually look like? Let me tell you…
What people don’t know about us is that we are amazing actresses too. We put up a brave face for the world but deep inside we are terrified for the safety and wellbeing of the men we love.
We just don’t get enough opportunities to stay together because that’s how life is in fauj [Indian army]. When our friends from the corporate world talk about taking a solo vacation to get some space from their spouses—we don’t understand them. It is because army wives like me desperately look forward to stealing a sojourn 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 knocked at the door.
Time to kill
After marrying Major Sa’ab [high ranking officer], I settled into a role of a full-time housewife, leaving behind a steady career. I must confess that I enjoyed every moment of the first six months. Having worked as a journalist for many years, covering sporting events around the country, I finally had time to read that book and cook that dish—and do all the other things that I had kept waiting since a long time. I felt like a rich person amongst all my colleagues, having the one thing they did not have—free time!
But alas… I had underestimated the Army’s talent of keeping its officers and ladies [yes, us too] on their toes during peace postings. We had AWWA [Army Wives Welfare Association] functions to attend, family meets to organise, ladies meets to practise for and attend every social engagement.
We just don’t get enough opportunities to stay together because that’s how life is in fauj
The extent to which we plan our lives
I almost burst out laughing when 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 irresistible prices.
I am a saree-freak, so I 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 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 right? I’ll wear this crepe saree there.”
I was amazed to see their planning! It put the government’s panch-varshiya yojna [five-year plans] to shame.
Chivalry isn’t extinct
“Don’t call me Ma’am, please.”
I gave up trying to convince officers to call me by my 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 chivalrous gentlemen, it would be in the Armed Forces.
And I am not talking about pulling-the-chair and holding-the-door-open 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.
These bravehearts will help each other to any extent, even if they are not particularly fond of each other—they take the meaning of the word camaraderie very seriously. Women get pampered the most. And we love every moment of it. Occasionally, my husband would make sure that I didn’t get carried away and brought me back to reality. He tried to “groom” me into becoming a good example for others.
There is a long list of words that civilians don’t use, but faujis can’t do without. Like, detailment, fall-in [And more like these] . Grooming is another word that faujis like to use a lot.
I was amused on seeing a sign board outside a military mess. Something about the way “Offrs’ Mess” is written triggers the journalist in me, wanting to point out that any normal person would read this as “Offers” instead of “Officers”.
I also had a hearty laugh when my husband first said he needed 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, Number One dress, Number Two dress, combat dress and so on. 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 a hearty laugh when my husband first said he needed to “prepare his dress” for the next day
I had to undergo a complete wardrobe makeover 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 army women at any social function. Army wives are experts at wearing a saree in five minutes flat, five times a day.
Interacting with soldiers’ families
I realised how little I knew about the organisation before I married my husband. To a girl my age, only the glamour of crew cuts, aviators and powerful bikes was visible. It was only after I started living with my husband 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 [soldiers] and their families. Learning about the kind of background they come from and their hardships was the jolt that brought me back to earth and snapped me out of my fantasy.
It was only after I started living with my husband in his Unit that I came face-to-face with things that only an army wife will come across
Most wives of Jawaans came from villages; some had not even passed class 10 while some were post graduates. I was told that the women looked up to the wives of officers [provided we were nice to them] and I needed to always be by their side.
I was shocked to learn that many of them don’t get to stay with their husbands for 3 – 4 years at a time and have to live alone or with the husband’s extended family, which comes with its own set of problems.
One young wife asked me how much I earned, and responded with a shocked 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 her education was, to which she replied that she was a computer graduate. I gave her advice about how she should not waste her time at home and get a job, citing that many options she had and sincerely hoping that she will pick at least one of those. I don’t know the outcome of that pep talk as my husband got his posting orders the next month. But I hope to meet that young woman again someday and learn that she is doing well for herself.
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 pack our trunks, say goodbye and move to a new place to start all over again.
That’s life for us. And we appreciate its value like no one else.
- Illustration: Maryam Hasanahmad – homespunaround.blogspot.in
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