I got baptised into the Army six years ago, when I got married to a ‘fauji’. While my husband reported for duty soon afterwards, I sat at home, my heart brimming with nervous anticipation of the dinner parties, ball room dance events and other exciting stuff that made for the “royal life” of Army officers and their wives (which they show in TV as part of the “Do you have it in you?” promotional ad). But my excitement was short-lived, because soon I realised that life in the Army was no ball-room dancing. It is very demanding and comes with its pleasures as well as pains.
At first I felt like a fish out of water. I had lived and studied on a university campus for five years before marriage, attending classes wearing T-shirts, shorts or pyjamas and even bathroom slippers. And here I was, in the Indian Army, among the best-dressed and finest ladies one can ever find.
The most important lesson I learnt was ‘humility’. Even on a bad day, if there is a social event you may have to attend by compulsion. Your humility is put to test when you have to put on a cheerful face at the party, even if you are frowning inside. There is no room for impatience or arrogance here.
Packing and unpacking household stuff during posting in and posting out, usually once every two years, can be really frustrating. We ‘live out of the box’. And when your husband is attending a course, it becomes all the more hectic, with frequent movement from one place to another. I have lived in three make-shift arrangements plus a modified field area (near a forest), the same year my daughter was born, since my husband was undergoing training at that time. All that travelling without getting rest post partum, cleaning up the ‘quarter’ which was teaming with insects and other creepy-crawlies, a baby in my hand but no help from a busy husband, and no other help around, was nerve-racking. It tested my physical and mental strength. But over the years, I have learned to cope.
There is such a time in every Army wife’s life when her husband is in field tenure, foreign posting or on exercise. You double up as both father and mother to your children. You have to manage everything on your own. Even if you want to crib eloquently about your problems to your faraway husband on the phone, you may not do it because you feel he shouldn’t be bogged down by your worries. He needs peace of mind to do his duties well, amid difficulties and danger. You know he is a soldier first and a husband only next. Then there is always the fear looming at the back of your mind over your husband’s safety. There is the inevitable long wait for his safe return, which is a test of patience.
There are so many of us ladies who have given the go-by to career opportunities for the sake of being with our husbands. Many of us are content teaching in schools nearby. The more enterprising ones amongst us might find a 9-to-5 job in the private sector locally. It may be less than satisfactory, and sometimes may not fetch enough money for even the monthly expeditions to the beauty parlour. You still may have to depend on your husband for pocket money. But at least you get to remain engaged for the day. I have met many highly qualified women who have left good jobs for the sake of being there for the husband and children.
We have learned to live in any kind of situation that life in the Army throws at us. For us, home is where the Army sends us. And behind every strong soldier, there is an even stronger braveheart — who is the Army wife.