Coming from a civilian world, Devika sometimes still looked back in wonder that she had married an Army Officer at the age of 22. A typical Delhiite, she had visions of trailblazing a successful career path; as a journalist, in her case. Like of all youngsters passing out after a year of playing with current affairs, politics, news, and views and slowly recognizing the power of a written word, she was just straining at the leash to be let loose in the world of writing. But her parents (like countless others) had a different view and before she knew it, she was engaged to be married to an Armoured Corps Officer. In retrospect, she now knew that it was too young an age to take such life-altering decisions, but going with the parents' word was more of a norm then (in the early 80s) and to question them was an option not readily exercised by her and the society that she moved in! She also strongly suspected that her parents had hypnotized her into agreeing, knowing their concern about her being let loose as a cub reporter in the big bad world of Delhi wolves.
So there she was a bewildered and shy bride, just four days into marriage (no honeymoon for them as her husband had no leave left!), getting off an Express train, in a small cantonment, somewhere in central India. They had passed this station countless times, during their annual summer vacation trips to their grandparents' place. She and her brother had always wondered about the compulsion the train felt to stop at this dusty, sleepy and almost empty station for precisely three minutes. Now, she knew! BABINA, (British Army Base in North Asia) near Jhansi was going to be her first marital home (whereby the way, she returned again and again after short breaks).
The train offloaded its precious cargo( meaning - them and their vast luggage), and chugged off merrily before she could even take in the unusual activity on the platform. Bemused, looking around, she was suddenly engulfed by white-gloved waiters offering trays of tea and biscuits and helpers coming forward to relieve her of anything heavy except for her handbag. Her newly minted husband had quite forgotten about her as he was surrounded by his course mates and friends , backslapping and congratulating him with mischievous knowing looks.
They were royally escorted by his bachelor friends to their temporary accommodation (An Army word for living in another officer's home who had gone on a course and taken his family along, after locking his personal effects in one room ). Her new house was an old mellow bungalow with a king-sized lawn, a huge drawing room with a fireplace, a big dusty kitchen, and two bedrooms. Her husband was preening around as if they had been given a palace to live in.
Their palace was not without its problems, however. The first one they encountered the first night itself when suddenly, she felt a fat drop of water on her nose. Looking up, she saw the ceiling directly over their bed, all wet and drenched with small drops threatening to become huge and letting go of their moorings. Waking up her husband in a frenzied hurry, she was amazed to see him take in the scene with a nonchalance of an everyday occurrence and place a bucket under the wet patch ( on their bed!) and told to go to back to sleep and not think about it !! The next few days were spent in placing odd-sized utensils (as they had run out of buckets, by then ) in different corners of the house, trying to catch the rain that was falling outside as well as inside the house! These things happen, she was informed tongue-in-cheek, in old British style bungalows.
Slowly accepting this adventure like life, she was still not prepared, when one day sitting in their verandah, waiting for the all-important newspaper, her only link with the outside world; (the morning papers were delivered at twelve noon –for a freshly graduated journalist like her it was sacrilege !), she was shown a greyish-silver rope like thing by the helper. A proud as a first-time parent, he duly informed her, that it was the discarded skin of a snake that resided in their backyard and was found anywhere on the premises, depending on its mood to slither about!
One day, the bell rang in the afternoon, just as she had settled down for her afternoon read. A driver was at the door waiting to take her for the 'Welfare'. As she had no idea what this was (her husband had quite forgotten by then that she came from a civil world and had no clue about the Army traditions) she took it to mean that someone is going to look into 'her' welfare and happily sat in the One Ton, making a mental list of what all she would request for her comfort. So imagine her surprise, when she was taken to a hall, full of wives of other ranks (JCOs and Jawans) and Officers wives who were solicitously enquiring about their problems and solving them as best as they could. Till date, she has not been able to tell her husband her first welfare meet!!
She learned to keep a clean and tidy home. Her first challenge was when the curtains that she had got made for the house were longer than required and were dancing on the ground. Before she could blink her eye, her husband and his helper coolly lifted the curtain rod and nailed it higher on the wall, and lo and behold! the curtains were the exact length that they had wanted. Welcome to the Jugadu world of the Army!
Her first purchase as a wife was a Nutan Stove, with wick and all!! For the first one week, she had cooked what little she knew on a stove lent to her by her helpful neighbor. Smiling to herself, Devika mused on how great it had felt to buy their own stove, filling it with kerosene and seeing it all light up! How innocent those days were!
Anything that she wanted, her husband told his helper to get it from the canteen. It was intriguing to think about this wonderful place from where things kept appearing without paying for them; just to be rudely awakened at the beginning of the next month when a whopping canteen bill was presented to her by the canteen officer. To this day, she still remembers the cost-cutting it entailed the following month(s). She had learned her first lesson as a homemaker- no pay, no buy!
And just liked that, slowly but surely the Army world sucked her in. Over the next few months, as she settled in, she was pampered and fawned upon, made to feel welcome with everybody going out of their way to be helpful; senior wives taking that extra step to make her feel at home, passing on easy to cook recipes, sending big or small utensils as required and generally making her as comfortable as they could. Her husband being a hardcore Army man, gently nudged her to observe and to learn from them the Army ethos, traditions, and etiquette.
To give them full credit, the regimental ladies went all out to make a worthy Army wife out of her. She was tutored in the art of flower decoration ( a must for an Army wife ), to cook and bake delicious starters and desserts (another must, as hosting teas and dinners comes with the territory ), to be well-groomed always (even while sleeping, if possible )and to generally conduct herself with a dignity that befits an Army wife.
Devika reflected to herself that Army grows on you. People are so welcoming, so heartwarming, so friendly, and including that you just can't help being a part of their world. Though she had never seen herself as an Army wife ever, she realized that she was born to be one as she had found her soul mate in the Army world and would not have traded him for anything!! She, of course, lost out on working in the printed world (as they always were posted in small cantonments and the opportunities of a job in a newspaper or a magazine were just not there)but then we all lose some and gain some, don't we?And gain she did, a dashing Army man, ready to lay down his life for his country!
Years flew by and they had a roller coaster of a ride through life, with many bumps and major highs. With children having flown the coop, they now had each other and the memories they had made together. She had no regrets. She looked fondly at the man sitting with her on the verandah, sipping his tea contentedly. She smiled at him lovingly and looked forward to spending their silver years together where there was no need for words ever ,just companionable silence!