Saturday, September 8, 2012

The tale of an infantry spouse
Chitra Jha-October 26, 2011


I started my life as an infantry spouse way back in 1984. I was a young girl with stars in my eyes and a spring in my walk. Life seemed beautiful, to say the least. I looked forward to happy matrimony and togetherness. But destiny had some other plans. Within a fortnight of our marriage, my husband got posted to Ladakh. I was working in Kolkata , which also happened to be my in-laws city, so I stayed put there, pacified by a promise of frequent communication.

Those were the days when the postman had the power to make or break our day; and the shrewd fellow knew it. His comings and goings were carefully monitored by all, but especially by the 'separated' families. There were wonderful days when the postman brought 3-4 letters at one go, but these bountiful days were preceded and followed by many 'dry' days. To be fair to the infantryman, the fault didn't lie with him as he was sincerely writing a letter a day, (which was something that my in-laws just couldn't believe) …the real culprit was the weather and the terrain.

His high altitude post was dependent upon air support for day to day maintenance, which had its own limitations. Our communication was dependent upon factors beyond our control, and even when it did happen, we always received stale news, which was at least a week old. Now when I think of those days, I can still feel the excitement and the disappointment each day brought.

Finally, 'peace' dawned in the form of a posting to Kanpur, and I was ecstatic. Life in the 'paltan'  (battalion) was full of fun because we had a wonderful crowd. Setting up a home in our two-room quarter boosted my spirits, until one fine winter evening, my husband announced that he was leaving for some firing or something the very next day. I recall the tears that wouldn't stop flowing. Poor hubby didn't know how to handle them. Help came in the form of a senior officer's wife, who understood that my tears were not only for the impending separation but also for the lack of another quilt to keep me warm at night. An offer for quilts and moving into the neighbour's spare bedroom was made but I chose to go home to my mother instead.

My 'maika'  (in laws house) remained a great support even during our next posting. I was seven months pregnant with our first child when we reached Udhampur one fine afternoon, only to be told that the officer was slated to go for some firing for about two weeks the very next morning. I realised the ubiquitous connection between my husband's firing expeditions and my parents' welcoming arms; and off I went to my 'maika' once again. In those days traveling was not as easy as it is now, but that is another story…

The third posting to Dehradun coincided with our younger son's birth. Within two weeks of our arrival at the Indian Military Academy (IMA), the junior decided to pop out, even though it was the P.O.P (passing out parade :- the famous commissioning parade) time. Poor chap didn't know how busy his dad was going to be at that time. Four days after his birth, when we were discharged from the hospital, I boarded the IMA bus with the baby in one hand and the suitcase in another. The hubby dear was surprised to see us, as he was just taking off in an ambulance to bring us home. I have a feeling that he was secretly relieved and proud of his independent wife!

By now, I was a mother of two, who had understood that God helps those who help themselves; and that was the beginning of a new empowered me. I handled everything from children's immunisations to their college education; from household budget to stock market investments; and everything in between.

Today, after 26 years of married life, when I look back, I see the distance I have travelled. The best thing that ever happened to me was marrying an infantry officer. Frequent separations (and I didn't run off to the 'maika' anymore), challenges of single-handedly parenting two growing up boys, and the modern pace of life saw me blossoming from a simple small town girl to an efficient army wife.

Over the years, I have grown exponentially and a lot of credit goes to our infantry way of life. Now, the separations have become few and far between. Children have flown the nest. I have more time to develop my hitherto dormant skills, and life feels wonderful.

When I look at the young brides of today, and hear their cribs about the husbands not being there when they need them, I think of my own self at that age. Little do these young girls know that these are the times that will strengthen them for life. I have tried saying it in that many words but have realized the futility of imparting wisdom before its time. In my heart of hearts I know that these very girls will one day share their stories of triumphant and empowerment, courtesy the infantry way of life.

Moving from place to place, adjusting in all kinds of accommodations, queuing up for children's school admissions, not being able to reach the near and dear ones when required etc build a character that is made of steel and yet carries a rare compassion for others in similar situations.

Things have changed a lot during these 26 years; both in the army and in the general way of life. Cell phones have not only lessened our dependence on the postman, but also made a mockery of the distance; hence, separation is not that unbearable as it used to be in our days. Infantry battalions have more light vehicles and all officers own four wheelers, so new born babies don't arrive home in a bus or a three ton.

But all said and done, there is no challenge greater and more fulfilling than being an infantry wife. The camaraderie of an infantry paltan, the feeling of being in a home away from home, the strong bonds between friends, and of course, the growth that comes from a life lived to the fullest, can't be described in words.

The field-peace-field tenures make us infantry wives stronger in all respects, and that is our triumph, our glory, and our victory. And, how can I forget the children? They are the biggest beneficiaries of this nomadic life. Moving from place to place, they learn the important skill of being able to adjust under all circumstances. Going to ten schools in twelve years makes them learn how to prove themselves time and again, not only to their teachers but also to themselves. They also learn how to make friends easily and yet not get too attached to them. Of course, communication and soft skills come easily to all 'fauji' kids, and infantry kids are no exception! In our case, the satisfaction of parenting two successful boys has made life all the better!

Today I am 52 but haven't lost the stars in my eyes and the spring in my walk….

Thank you, Infantry.


About the Author

Chitra Jha, is an Inner Peace counselor, healer and writer. She contributes articles to Life Positive, The Hindustan Times Horizon, and The Times of India .

She has written a book titled, 'Achieve Your Highest Potential' for Penguin India.

Currently, she is writing a book titled, 'The Science of Meditation'.

She also leads workshops on 'Celebrating the Inner Peace' and 'Life Management'.

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