Wear his ring, not his rank!

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Okay! Cool! Your husband is <insert his rank here>. That’s awesome. That’s more than awesome. I would love if you could thank him on my behalf for serving our country with his blood and sweat. Trust me, I understand, how much it takes to be away from family, friends, love, hometown, and everything that, in multiple ways, is a part of his identity. And of course, if you were not his pillar of strength, he wouldn’t be where he is right now. I am explicitly stating that he could not have done any of this without you. But oh dear, that’s where your role ends.

Being married to an army man, I know I always take the second precedence. Duty comes first, always — without any ifs, buts, whys, and why-nots . He has taken that oath and as his life partner, I must help him stand by his words. Well, but then, frankly, I am not doing this for the country, I am doing this for my man, and here is what makes his role very different from my role.

I rejoice his success. I help him overcome a failure. But I don’t sit in his chair or walk in his office, uninvited. They are his, not mine! I married my man for who he is, not for the brass on his shoulders; so of course, with or without the uniform, I take pride in my man and love him with all my heart.

Someone I know introduced herself to me in the first meeting as the wife of the second-in-command in the unit and I couldn’t help but chuckle. “Oh dear! you are not married to an appointment. You are married to a gentleman — all in flesh and blood“, I so wanted to say. But better late than never, Mrs so&so.

No, hold on! That’s not all. Some women talk about helping out their husbands with the duties.

So, am I supposed to share my husband’s duties? No, the answer is — I am not trained to do his tasks. I may be a coder, a doctor, a teacher, but of course, I am not supposed to take strategic or welfare related decisions for the unit/sub-unit on his behalf. I am not supposed to give any instructions to the staff meant to assist him. So, buddy bhaiya certainly is not arranging the school uniforms for kids in my house and escorting my babies and babas to the school bus stops. And in return, I am not grooming their wives. I trust their parents to have groomed the girls well. If at all they need my advice, I would love to offer one, but not in the capacity of an officer’s wife — but in the capacity of a fellow human being who shares similar problems as theirs. Do I feel great that they think that I am worthy of giving them advice? Oh yes! Of course. But I am no one to shove my choices in their life. For example, unless I am a Sangeet Visharad myself and they have come to me to learn music, I am not qualified to tell a JCO/OR wife, “Tumahara sur hi nahie lagta hai! (You can’t sing well!)”

I am glad that the men in uniform — full of chivalry and class — miss no opportunity to show us respect. Whether it is an NCO in the mess offering me a glass of cold water on a super sunny day or an officer pulling a chair for me at a formal dinner, I feel glad that ‘my husband’ socializes with men who respect women. I am proud that army as an organization welcomes me with open arms despite I NOT being a part of it in any official capacity. I remain a civilian. So, women who pass nasty comments on civilians make me wonder, “When did you don the OG, dear lady?”. Last I checked, you were a civilian yourself.

Also, how much ever I love my husband — he certainly is not the be-it-all of my existence. I have a career. My political viewpoint is different from his and we debate, the army parties are not the only occasions I shop for, and oh yes, he didn’t have to ‘groom me’ — my parents & alma mater did that really well.

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However proud I am of my husband for the person he is and, to some extent, the hardships he takes in the line of his duty, that’s not the only thing I am proud of in my life. There are many more achievements to my credit other than being an army wife, an-almost-single-mother, and grooming the ladies around me. So, when women say they gave the life to army because they couldn’t have enough time beyond army activities! Sorry, the army never asked for it! You did it out of your own free will. You did it for your life partner. Blame him with all your might for making your life challenging, but blame the army! Nay!!!

I am not taking away the fact that your life could have been easier if he was not in the army. He chose that life and you chose him! Ah! But that doesn’t mean, you show off his rank instead of his ring.

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The fauji life for a new fauji wife

Coming from a ‘civilian’ background, I had no clue that faujis speak a completely different language. So, to my utter surprise, when my husband asked me why I address my boss by her first name, I was like, “that’s how we address colleagues, don’t we?”. His eyes almost popped out. “She is your boss – super boss – isn’t she? Is not addressing her by her first name considered disrespectful?”, he asked as a matter of fact.  I couldn’t help but burst into hysterical laughter. That was my first ever insight into how fauji’s think. 

Though, before I get into details, I must tell you that my experience in fauj is very limited. It’s only been an year since we have been married and my husband’s ‘field posting’ has ensured that I can happily claim to be ignorant of the fauji manners for some more time. I have goofed up a number of times and I am still learning  to fit in the tribe. I have said “bye, bye” to people instead of “Good evening” while leaving from the officers’ mess. I have called up my husband’s phone and complained endlessly about power failure at home until interrupted by his “buddy” on the other side of the line informing me that “sahab” was in an important meeting.

So, I am definitely not the best person to give any lessons on how to behave in the army. However, I can talk about my journey and the lessons I have learnt in the last few months.

First few months in the army can be quite intimidating for you if you are a civilian of my kind, who prefers Pajamas, Grey T-shirts and Nerdy glasses practically for all good or bad occasions in life. But then you learn to blend in. However, it doesn’t happen overnight. For me acceptance came in four stages and I am sure I am not the only one to have crossed these stages before I came to terms with my life in the army:

It’s-so-funny!
I found my husband’s  observations like “how do you address your boss by her first name?” utterly weird and funny until I heard him addressing his boss and the ‘sir-ing’ did not stop for more than 30 seconds in an half an hour of the conversation. “That’s why, That’s why, you are jealous, husband.”, I exclaimed. He smiled in ‘disapproval’.

Oh-man-ME-TOO!
One of my husband’s ‘course-mates’, who I happily addressed by his first name made a point to address me as ‘ma’m’ even when I insisted that I am perfectly fine with everyone calling me by my first name. Then I met a few more officers and I realized none of them were going to bend this rule or, for that matter, any rule for anyone in this world, so, its better I get used to being ‘ma’am’.

I-can-fake-it!
As soon as you realize, there are no ‘exceptions’ in the army, your attempt to blend in begins. Your husband will dress impeccably in crisp combats leaving you no option but to ditch the idea of wearing pajamas (I have my own theory about comfort versus common sense. But let’s skip that for now). So, you decide to look like a lady for a change. “Fine – just this time! Ah! may be one more time.” That’s how it begins. Then you realize it’s not that difficult to blend in.

It’s fine!
Over a period of time you realize that it’s fine. You start start seeing the logic behind the never-dare-to-break rules. There always are and will always be occasions when you feel out of place but you will also be overwhelmed by the dedication with which people will try to help you adjust.

I have heard and read stories about how families in the army have stood by each other in difficult times. I have seen the amount of dedication with which people follow orders. I have felt thankful for the amount of effort people put in to make me feel in place.  So, though old-habits-die-hard, I make small efforts to fit in especially when my husband encircles the 1930 hours written in the invitation card and writes 7:30 P.M. before handing it over to me.

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