I didn’t realize just how much we missed the sense of belonging that that one usually associates with a regiment until we had the dinner party at home, last Friday. Mum and I call it ‘the unit-like feeling’ – it is like having an extended family minus the fights, plus loads of jokes, snacks and drinks (hard, of course). Papa was in one of those moods of his, where he cracks one joke after another and we all laugh till our sides ache. Defence humour is so clichéd, yet so endearing. And then there are the myriad anecdotes that nobody seems to be ever running out of.
My favorite one is of mum’s academy experience at MCTE, Mhow. She tells me about how a hundred officers and ladies sat on long wooden tables for dinner. Newly-married and from a non-defence background, mum sat tensed and rigid, surrounded on both sides by high-profile, senior officers and stealing nervous, surreptitious glances at papa. He gave her encouraging nods and got back to his plate, deftly using the fork and the knife, like they were nothing but extensions of his fingers, perfectly oblivious of mum’s consternation. Despite the training papa imparted to her on their use, she nevertheless shied away from taking a helping of chicken lest it rolled off her plate, or worse still, flew off and hit somebody smack on the face. And then there was the problem of speed, and how you had to take the tiniest of helpings of a dish and finish it before the next course was passed along to you (which was a few seconds later), or you didn’t get any of that! So after her fake, put-on dinner on such nights in the mess, mum had her real one of bread and soup back at home. Twenty-two years down the line, and as competent as papa, my mum claims that army life just grows on people, and that she has loved every single moment of it.
Another incident that I can probably never forget dates back to June, 2000 when papa was posted in Baramulla, fifty kilometers ahead of
Well, it was one such night that our nocturnal gathering was interrupted by gunshots, and the electricity going off. Some uncle, with huge hands (I vividly remember that part because ‘they’ pushed us kids off the bed), commanded in a booming voice that we all ought to lie down on the floor. Our dads, meanwhile, were ready in their uniforms in a trice, and were marching out as we heard the steady resound of gunshots somewhere frightfully close. We were locked in, and I know for a fact that the little kid next to me peed in his pants.
After fifteen horrifying minutes of lying on the cold stone in pitch-blackness, the heart beating so wildly, almost threatening to break through my rib cage and flying out, did our dads walk in. The lights came on too, and we were told that the big stir was a practice session. Just that. Plain, simple, that.
That day, horrifying as it was, was also a reality check. I know it was something they knowingly signed-in for, but we didn’t! For those fifteen minutes that seemed like an eon, we had no inkling if we would ever see our dads again. Their ‘devil-may-care’ and ‘bring-them-on-and-we’ll-show-them’ attitude, their tremendous grit, and their total disregard for their own safety as they calmly walked out of the secure barrack was disturbingly crazy. And that feeling, and ironically enough, that pitch-black night will forever remain etched in my memory.