Pirouetting smoothly in the ball room in an evening gown or chiffon Saari with her uniformed , handsome husband or perhaps holding a goblet of wine, talking to other officers and their wives in a party- this is an image of an Army wife that’s ingrained in the mind of people in the non-army world! As a matter of fact, this image is not the stand-alone thing, it is further wrapped in the thread of enigma, mystic and curiosity. What is it, that makes people inquisitive about them? Who are these women in reality? With a lot being discussed these days on the social platforms, I found it rather imperative to write this piece.

First thing first, Officers wives constitute a tiny part of the whole ‘army wives’ chunk. To put things in perspective, there are about 45,000 officers at different ranks in the Indian Army while OR (Other Ranks) strength stands at around 12,00,000!

Either because of the lack of enough number of family quarters or by choice, a lot of them stay with their in- laws, parents or independently in the villages and towns; looking after home, family, children and farming. They work hard, shouldering all the responsibilities of their husbands’ as well. So, you see, NO GLAMOUR there!

Unlike earlier times, many of these army wives are highly educated and are employed as teachers, bankers etc and perhaps some of them might be walking around you, without you ever knowing their identities. They ride their scooty/cars to work, drop off their children to school, to doctors, to the park, to hobby classes- yes, they are very much aware and aspirational, they want their children to excel in whatever they do and support them- just the way you all do, albeit with one difference. These women stand for their children’s fathers too! You talk to these children and ask about their fathers. Their replies will make a lot of things easier for you to understand. “Papa duty par hain,” pride resonating in their voices. Where did they get this spirit and grit from?  From their mothers of course!

WHAT ABOUT THE OFFICERS’ WIVES?

Coming to the Officers’ wives, the first two lines of this write up are right to some extent- such events are held mostly in the training academies and are extremely formal in nature- but these make up a very miniscule part of their lives. Any which way, it is this segment (Officers’ wives) that gets maximum scrutiny, and the most bizarre conjectures.

To begin with, they do exactly what their civilian counter parts are doing- balancing job and home if they are working and looking after home and children if they decide to be home makers. They look like you and are probably around you, at their workplace, in the market, at the PTM.

THEN WHAT MAKES THEM DIFFERENT?

The answer to this is simple- the institute that they belong to, its ethos, its discipline and responsibilities make them different.

Coming back to the fact that a lot of them are working, throw in the challenges of frequent shifting, finding new jobs every one - two years; duty of looking after the families in her unit/formation- this particular obligation is rather important as she knows that the men whom her husband is commanding, can only perform their duties in the high pressure situations and in difficult terrains, to the best of their abilities, if they have trust and faith that their families are being looked after- and responsibilities towards her children, which many a time, she manages as a single parent. Amidst all this, several have achieved quite a lot in their individual capacity as well. There are Doctors, bankers, engineers, professors, authors, Mrs India(s), chefs, journalists, artists and even army officers themselves- you name it and they are there.

Juggling between her career and passion and what is asked and expected from her at the organizational level, she learns to adapt quickly. She learns not to expect her husband for all the important events, teaching the same to her children.  On the way she acquires social etiquettes, elegant dressing style- all the more commendable, for this is achieved within the framework of limited resources, and good taste (first sign of that was when she chose an Army officer as her life partner). She is uprooted every now and then, only to set up a new home from scratch at places that she had not even heard of hitherto. She carries ‘life’ in the boxes which she takes with her to every new station.  She acquires skills to turn the four walls into her ‘palace’ with the things she takes out from those boxes with dexterity of a magician or an enchantress - stuff accumulated over the years- that tribal painting when they were in North East, the potteries of Suratgargh; her first station after marriage, carved centre table bought from the Leh flea market. And all along she keeps filling her knowledge chest with all the information pertaining to culture, geography, history of those places, by way of living through it-further enriching her personality. In turn, this helps her develop perspective. She learns to value what she has and ignore what she does not.

On the path of becoming a true army wife, she learns about sacrifices- from giving up her career ( yes, for a lot of them its either/or situation), coping up with the anxiety and stress of frequent solitary existence and shouldering the family responsibilities single handedly to the epitome of all sacrifices-courageously looking at life, if  god forbidden, her husband gets martyred in the line of duty.  She becomes fearless, independent and courageous in the journey, making her alluring, intriguing, resilient, gritty - after all, this life is not for the fickle hearted.

I am tempted to give an example here. In a recent Counter Insurgency operation (May 3rd,2020, in the North of Kashmir, (Handwara), the Commanding officer, a Major, and three others of the Rashtriya Rifles, lost their lives. What did the Commanding officer’s (Col Ashutosh Sharma) wife do? Battling her own profound grief, she called the wives of the Maj and the ORs to enquire about them and to give them support! For her, they came first before her own self, for that is what she had learnt from her husband- ‘Service before Self’! Do you see any ‘GLAMOUR’ here! Or perhaps there is- What can be better than being by the side of one, who has/had chosen to serve the country!

She is as proud, if not more, of her husband’s Uniform as he himself is! No star shines and sparkles brighter than the stars on her husband’s shoulder. She knows the ethos of it all, including the ultimate sacrifice. AND THIS IS WHAT MAKES AN ARMY WIFE DIFFERENT.  

Their lives are as mundane as yours, only sans all the privileges that you consider normal and with way heavier responsibilities which she carries on her tender shoulder with utmost poise and grace. Unfortunately, many people choose to see only an infinitesimal aspect of their lives, for it suits their interests and skewed morality. And these are the people who shall have neither the courage nor the will to live this life!

I have consciously chosen to not write anything about the ongoing issue on the social media, simply because they do not deserve to be in the same space as the courageous and resilient better halves of the Olive-Green members. Perhaps I have also learnt what to value and WHAT TO IGNORE!!!!!!!!

Copyright © Aradhana Mishra

Photo Credit @SSBCrack