Life in the armed forces is not easy. Not just for the officer who dons the olive green and serves his nation, but for his family and loved ones as well. There’s a constant feeling of jealousy which looms over you, if your boyfriend/spouse is slogging away in some insurgent valley and doesn’t have the means to even wish you on your birthday when it’s the first one you’re celebrating without him. But a fauji kid’s perspective is slightly different. For us, we’d often feel like the second child despite being the only kid in the family, because our fathers cared about their uniform or their weapon slightly more. Don’t get me wrong though, our fathers are not inconsiderate humans who are blinded by their love and devotion for our country. It’s just that, their priorities differ, as when they became a part of this fraternity, they swore to put it above anything else in the world. Now any good officer will follow this to his grave, and luckily, we as army brats, have had that engraved in our brains since childhood.
My father took 2 years of study leave due to some personal reasons when I had just completed my third grade and we moved to Jaipur, which happens to be my hometown. Jaipur is a breathtakingly beautiful city and till date remains my absolute favorite place to visit as I’ve explored its every nook and corner. The reason why I’ve been able to do so is because, after those 2 years of my father’s leave, my parents took an important and difficult decision. My mother and I decided to stay put in Jaipur, while my father would carry on with his postings to any part of the country. They did so because they saw how smitten I was with this new town, my excellent school and they wanted to provide me with the best in life, something I shall always be grateful and indebted to them for.
Can you imagine going through 8 years without your father’s authoritative yet supportive presence, and not have him around for perhaps a girl’s most needy period- her adolescence. As it began, the initial part wasn’t so tough, to be honest. It was just like one of his exercises or war games and I’d tell myself that he’s out only for a couple of months. I really started to feel the pinch, when those couple of months kept increasing and he was missing every important event of my life – PTMs, sports meets, annual function, birthdays, all over again. The only quality time I got to spend with him was when my mother and I would visit him for 2 whole months during the summer vacation and for me as a kid, that felt like a privilege. Of course that had its cons too. We would seldom be cancelling our vacation plans as it was more important to spend quality time with dad than go off to the hills or visit the beaches. Although I really believed 2 months were never enough to fill this silent void that had been created in my life.
When I look back at it, I believe I was pretty naïve and foolish about it too. I started focusing all my energies on my academics, extracurricular and my friends. Now this might come across as a smart move, but it really wasn’t. I’d shut myself out completely to my family and only spoke to my parents when I needed something materialistic. I didn’t go to them with my emotional turmoil, my stupid boy crushes or anything else that would bother me and one can imagine the kind of things that go on inside a teenager’s mind. It’s not like I resented my father and didn’t love him. I understood his condition perfectly well, but the times when I became really frustrated, logic left my body and the only words that came to my mind were “Why is my dad not here?” It felt like a terrible abandonment and I’d hate to see the look on my mother’s face whenever the summer breaks would be ending and we’d be boarding a train to come back home. Home, which somehow didn’t even feel like ours anymore. Every time I won a medal or achieved something the first person I’d call or Skype with was obviously him, but there were days when I craved his physical presence so bad and wished that he could treat me to my favorite food and not just say “congratulations” over the phone.
One thing that I know for sure though is, I know I had it tough; my mother had it tough too. But no one had it as difficult as my father did. My mother and I at least had each other, which wasn’t all that bad. But my dad is the one who had to live in a big house in some remote city in Haryana all by himself. Life in the army is not the same if your family is not living with you. Parties are not the same, dinners aren’t either and life sure as hell, isn’t no matter how many stars you have on your shoulder. Of all the things I felt when I didn’t have my dad at my beck and call, be it sad, frustrated or even miserable, I was never lonely. He on the other hand, was. There’s only so much you can keep yourself busy with in terms of work, and socializing is not the same when most of the officers in your station live with their wives and families. Realizing this early on, never let me go the wayward way, or become a typical spoilt bratty girl or a teenage rebel without an actual cause.
Would I take it all back and do I wish my dad had not joined the Army and was a regular civilian? Never. Not in a million years could I wish that. Do you know why? Because now that he’s finally retired and hung his boots, he’s home with my mother all the time when she needs it the most as even I’m away for college. He’s always there to pick me up from the bus stand when I visit them for vacations and he’s always the one waking me up and preparing breakfast for me every morning. So I know he’s trying to make up for all those years, and I think he’s succeeding as home finally feels like home again…
Reetika very well written.
A wonderful piece. You have summed up the sentiment of Army children beautifully. My own daughter would have gone through the same emotions
Your piece has come straight from the heart. I enjoyed going through it. Look forward to more of your articles .