Raiding a married couple at midnight was a norm, rather than an exception in our days in the regiment. Everyone, sometime or the other, had been woken up by the horns and bright headlights of motorbikes (of married and bachelor officers), banging on the front door for food; with my husband, more often than not, leading the pack! So you can imagine what was awaiting me in the regiment. All the married officers (read: their wives) were waiting impatiently for my husband to get his bride so that they could return the favour which my husband had so frequently and fondly bestowed on them.
Those days my husband, still warm in the role of a newly married officer, used to lock (yes, as in lock and key) the front door from inside. And then, one day, it was our turn! I was woken up by a frightful noise coming up from our front yard and blinding bright lights streaming into our drawing room. Realising that it was a raid, my husband got up hurriedly to open the door, only to find it…surprise…. locked!
Precious moments were spent in trying to find the key, in all the confusion and shouts from outside. By the time we opened the door, we were treated to lots of ribald jokes, naughty winks and sly laughter from all. And with this single-handed masterstroke, we entered the regimental folklore for a long time to come!
The lady’s revenge
Our midnight adventures didn’t just end there. My husband, you see, was the life of the party in his bachelor days and had made many a wife cook something extra AFTER the dinner party. Our CO’s (Commanding Officer) wife had goodnaturedly hosted my husband and his two friends on many such occasions and was just waiting for my entry into the regiment. One night, she led all the officers and wives to our house to exact her due, (with our kind-hearted CO pleading with them to let me off the hook, but to no avail) and I was galvanised at midnight to make aloo parathas for all !
So, it was a common sight to see our house crowded at night, say at 2:00 am with happy chattering people waiting for me to serve them my clumsy attempts at piping hot parathas, anda bhurji and ghar ka aam ka achar! My nights were as vibrant as my days were dull. I was beginning to think that all action happened only after sundown in the Army world!
His best buddies
My husband was at his happiest best with his two bachelor buddies (one of them about to shed his bachelor tag!) and looked forward to them coming over every other day to our place. A motorbike roar at a distance used to signal their arrival (while I used to be blissfully unaware) and he would rub his hands in glee at the prospect of a fun evening ahead. How I wish he was as attuned to my changing moods as he was to the sound of a distant motorbike!
Many an evening I spent barely hiding my tired sleepy face (not that it ever bothered the trio) from them and fervently wishing for the daily ritual to end and pack up for the day!
I realised that as long as I kept the starters coming, they never asked for dinner – it was assumed that they would be with us for dinner – and they could carry on the whole night without a pause. So I took to banging kadhais and belan in the kitchen, and generally creating a racket for them to take the hint that dinner needed to be served immediately. My husband used to react as if he were suddenly woken up from a trance. He’d urge his friends to come in for dinner and offer me sheepish apologies, which I understood was only for my appeasement, as everything would be repeated to the T, the very next evening.
Sending off in style
My initiation into hosting dinners also came too early for my liking. One day, the man of the house came home and announced that one of the regimental officers had got posted out and waited expectantly for my reaction. On my nonplussed look, I was informed that he’d invited them over for dinner, as they would be packing the whole day and would be too tired to cook.
Related reading: The myth of a happy married life
Even now, I cannot for the life of me figure out from where do the officer and his wife gather the enthusiasm and energy to get ready and come out for a meal, after spending a nerve wracking time sorting out and packing their stuff the whole day. I for one used to be so tired when we packed up our house that I would have welcomed if somebody had stuffed food in my mouth at the end of the day and let me sleep my tiredness off! The idea of getting ready, smiling throughout the evening (as you are the only one there who has been packing the whole day; the rest are as bright as buttons), making small talk, hiding a yawn here and there, doing justice to the meal which the hostess has slaved over all day, still gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Thank you, Ma!
So there I was, a bride of a month or two, fervently trying to figure out what could be made from my very small list of accomplishments in the kitchen world. I gingerly opened the unopened cookery books so thoughtfully provided by my mother in her wish for me to become a Michelin starred chef and provide her son-in-law with gourmet meals. I can never forget my happiness on finding a recipe for chicken called chicken-do-pyaaza which did not require any mincing and mixing but for the onions and tomatoes to be chopped and sliced and gently sautéed with khada masalas! A vegetable or two and with my no flop recipe of a simple custard-cake-fruit dessert, I had conjured up a presentable meal and was happy to see my husband beaming with pride the whole evening.
Little did I know that it was just the beginning and soon my mother’s dream of seeing her daughter thoroughly engaged in the kitchen and providing her family and sundry with five course meals would turn into reality!
Finding my hidden talents
You have no choice but to be a good cook, if your husband is in the Army and a foodie, to boot! So I dug up the latent talent of cooking buried somewhere deep inside me and soon I was whisking up chicken Marylands, shepherd pies, and rum soaked chocolate ice cream to my family’s delight!
And you are not worth your salt as an army wife if your fridge is not stocked round the year with boiled potatoes, chopped onions and tomatoes, ginger-garlic all pasted and bottled and the dough kneaded and kept ready, for you to enter the kitchen and whip up a meal of potato sabji and rotis (and whatever else takes your fancy) at the drop of a hat, whatever time of the day (or night) it is for the small invading army of bachelors. You are then firmly entrenched in the hallowed hall of fame of Army wives!