Service With A Smile

By Kanwalpreet

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Parties, clubs, cozy markets, facilities at the drop of a hat, the jeeps and gypsies with uniformed drivers: these are what the people see the life of the defence personnel and their families. The Bollywood movies only add to the misinformation by showing couples swirling to music with gay abandon. Soldiers singing in the barracks as they partake their food in the ‘langar’ (community kitchen) all adds to the glamour. But peep behind the smiles and the glamour. You would see a little fear in the hearts of parents, wife and children of the soldiers. Every time there is a terror attack in any part of the Country, it is families that are on tenterhooks. That telephone ring can shatter dreams in a jiffy. The same telephone, the mobile is also a lifeline. It connects a soldier with his family who tries to catch precious moments through this dainty instrument.

Every time an air warrior takes flight for a sortie, the family goes around their lives but with a silent prayer on their lips. Their dearest son, husband and father is in the air with a mean machine. When a ship of the Indian navy sails and the soldier-sailors wave to their families, the latter pray for their safe return. Well, some of the daring soldiers are cloistered in submarines, many metres (anywhere up to 800 metres), below the waters. The soldiers and officers serve the nation sacrificing comforts at every level. On the other hand, the wife steps into the shoes playing the role of the nurturer and the provider. The children have their own issues. Missing their father’s hug every night, missing him on the parent-teachers meeting (though as the brats grow up, it comes as a relief) as well on their birthdays and school shows are just some occasions.

Its not all play. The transfers, called postings, are a tear-jerker. Saying goodbye to friends and classmates is an ordeal in itself. Thankfully, the social media with the Facebook, WhatsApp has solved this problem of connectivity. Just when you become familiar with the market, the library, the eating joints and the surroundings, its time to move. Adjusting to a new environment, a new school tests one’s patience. The packing takes its toll. The defence wives are very careful with every penny as each penny is earned with great sweat and toil. The husband/father might be sitting in knee-deep snow in a bunker at the Siachen glacier or in the desert of Rajasthan with the wind blowing sand even into one’s food.

The children know the tough defence ways. It is a tough job being in the Forces and they have to be honest to their parents. They see their mother multi-tasking in the absence of their father so they have to be of assistance to her. For a long time, the houses which were given to families when the soldier was posted to a non-family station, often called field area, were called ‘Separated accommodation.’ It sent a wrong message to the people outside the Cantonment that the accommodation was for couples who had separated, namely divorced! This anomaly was corrected and the word ‘separated accommodation’ was deleted from usage. It became tough for us, children, to explain to our friends in school that our parents were not divorced. It was a common lingo for kids to tell each other their address by saying that one lived in Sector A, B etc or in the ‘Separated quarters.’ This language and lingo were not misunderstood in the Cantonment but created a storm when used casually with our civilian friends. Thankfully, it was rectified.

And don’t you think that with our fathers away we had unbridled fun. The entire Cantonment kept a watch on you. If you tried to zip on the two-wheeler, the Military Police is always there to reprimand you. They are stern and firm. Cantonments have a life of their own. The energy is pulsating. There is a sense of loyalty and dedication. Families huddle together when in grief. They celebrate when there is a joyous occasion. The soldiers are missed during festivals and other joyous occasions. So, the family learns over a period of time to treat everyday as a festival. Many a times, the bread winner of the family gets leave when the children are taking their exams. Imagine, seeing your father after six months, that too in the midst of exams. And your father would have to leave as soon as your exams end. What an unfortunate coincidence! So, what do the brats do? They study in advance keeping their days free for their hero in uniform!

Life is just not easy but life is made easy by cherishing moments. When a soldier tells his children that he is posted to one of the troubled areas, the lump in the throat is obvious. But it is not to be spoken, shown or expressed. The ‘Naam, Namak, Nishaan’ is not only embedded in the soldier of the Indian army but in the entire family. The ‘Touch the Skies with Glory’ is just not a part of Chapter 1 1 of the holy Gita but the motto of the air-warriors and their families. The skies are the comrades of the brave. The ‘Samnovaruna’ (Be auspicious unto us, O Varuna) is a prayer not only of the sailor of the Navy but of his entire family. May this tribe of courageous soldiers and their families grow, prosper and live long!

Here is wishing every child of the Defence Forces a happy year ahead. Be proud that your parents have made you a part of a very august institution. Work hard, party hard and give your best to your family and country. Let your friends learn a lesson from you and your role models.


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