With the Republic Day patriotic spirit still warming my veins, my heart prompts me to write a tribute; for the soldier of course but also for the lesser known backstage force : His Family. Yes, he has one.
For once, I’m not going to applaud his dedication to duty, for that’s his soul and will always be. I’m not even going to comment on his daring, almost nomadic kind of life, for that’s what he’s chosen to live. I’ll take a detour today and lead you to a unique place…a place that’s just as much ‘bricks and cement’ as any other, yet waits to become a home. And when it does, there’s no other home that can compare to it in beauty, brightness and blessing.
A Home Less-Ordinary
There’s no place like home. Even for a soldier. He builds it warp and weft, twigs and grass, hands and heart with stars in his eyes and his ‘family’ by his side. Perhaps, every fiber and every twig in a soldier’s home is entwined with a story. Stories are woven into quilts, built into rooms, hung on walls… enter a soldier’s home and breathe those stories, eat them on his table or meet them round a corner.
Such a sweet parody of stories is his home. When I got married to an Army man, it took me a while to realize that in the Indian Army, the word ‘family’ is generally used for the soldier’s ‘wife’. Initially, I was amused… but gradually, I taught myself to converge an entire ‘family’ : its dreams, its hopes, its goals, its sustenance, its standing, its weaknesses, its strengths, its everything… into a one-relationship blanket of the wife and simply call it ‘Family’.
So, you see, the soldier does have a family. This family is so similar to a civilian one. It has needs. It is fond of ice-cream. It likes to go out. It looks forward to a vacation. It saves for a new dress. It gets pregnant. It gets the seasonal-flu. It grows an Adam’s apple. It requires a plumber or an electrician once in a while. It goes to school. It is apprehensive of the exam -results. It finds Math difficult. It has PTMs and Annual Days to attend. It learns to ride a bicycle. It loves to dance sometimes. It waits for super-hero movies to release. It tries various selfie-angles. It buys make-up and memory cards. Ohhh! it’s such a normal…regular family that you’d often confuse it with a regular civilian one till…
Till you look beyond. Till you read between the lines. Till you notice that the clothesline is missing the clothes of a man. Till you find the kids’ report-cards with a single signature. Till you smell a hint of his cologne in the bedroom. Till you discover a pair of eyes that could use some sleep. Till you catch the sound of every footstep that caresses the front door. Till you feel the emptiness amid the crowd.
And then, after having unveiled the silent sadness, as you’re about to leave the austere home with mist in your eyes, the telephone rings. It’s the soldier calling. He’s coming on leave. And suddenly, it’s Spring!
Some Festivals Elude The Calendar
Some festivals don’t have fixed dates. They come with the soldier when he comes home. They honor him and his family with their flexibility. They are happy to revisit his home. They are eager to gift-wrap their entire gaiety and cheer just for that home, at that time.
When he’s home, ask the soldier’s wife and she’ll tell you how it feels to be a Queen. Ask his children and the’ll never stop talking. Their scrapbooks will be spilling over with adventures and experiences and learning and happy pictures. These children, they treaure the feeling of being pampered, for the feeling takes time to come.
Yes, a soldier has a family. A loving, doting family that waits for days, one day at a time, for the soldier to arrive. They live well, for he wants them to. They keep all the school pictures and drawings handy for him. They cut his birthday cake. The little daughter makes elaborate cards with her felt pens and glitter for Daddy. The son makes plans for a time in future. The soldier’s aging father waits patiently for the surgery that he needs.
And the wife, well, she threads everything together. She becomes a veteran in hiding the tears that always come unannounced, riding on a memory…memories. She doesn’t falter for she knows she can’t. She falls, rises and fights again. She lives a life that all can’t. She grows to value discipline and independence and resourcefullness. She learns to attend PTMs alone. She manages to keep the relatives in touch. She becomes the multi-taskforce she never knew she could be. She becomes the ‘family’ and then some.
I cannot conclude without the reference to pain in the context of a soldier’s wife. Her pain is very real, she knows it up close and personal. She can recognize its every feature and touch it. The pain…unforgiving, brutal, consistent… of waiting, of uncertainty, of safety…the pain of being incomplete as she courses through the routine. Her pain is often taken for granted by a rather casual world. Her sacrifice is considered mandatory. After all, it was her choice.
Yes, it sure was. She doesn’t regret it. She doesn’t regret the sacrifices. She wears her tears proudly. She knows what she has and she treasures it, protects it…nourishes it with all her might. She has the love of a soldier, a kind of love that is distant but rare. She fights to survive the miles. She fights to keep a home for him, a warm ,story-rich home that he can always come home to and carry in his heart.
A home so near, so far. A home that celebrates the reality of life in the Army. A home that stands for a thousand homes.
I dedicate this post to every single home, in villages or cities, metros or suburbs…every single home that a soldier comes back to. Blessed is such a home. A soldier’s home.