I was married to the Army long before I met my wife, even before I started school. And that love affair did not diminish with time. Both my father and grandfather were in the Army and for me, there never was a desire to choose a profession other than the Armed Forces. It wasn’t just the glamour of the uniform that fascinated me. Somewhere deep in my heart was also the call to duty. Looking back on that phase of my life, I now realise how difficult it would have been for my wife to find that that call to duty was the foremost priority of her husband, mostly at her expense.
We had met through a mutual acquaintance and got married a year later when she was just 19 and in her final year in college. It must have been a complete change in the lifestyle she was used to, but she braved it stoically and if she had any reservations, she kept them to herself. It never occurred to me that it was for her a continual series of adjustments to the Army way of life. She managed beautifully, she adjusted – and my life remained the same as ever. It was a one-way street and the marriage worked because she made it work.
In a way we were lucky. We were fortunate to start our married life in Mhow, where I had been posted as an instructor. Housing was a problem, but we got temporary accommodation in a barrack where we were allotted two rooms—one of which we used as a sitting room which doubled up as a dining room and the other was a bedroom which just about had space for two cots and a cupboard! She had no help, and did her cooking on a wick stove, which took for ever.
We had no fridge and we had no washing machine, but she managed superbly and from near scratch she made a home. The Army wife, in that regard, is indeed an incredible woman.
Related reading: What is it like to be a soldier’s wife… #MyStory
Mhow held many interesting memories and a world of anecdotes, but what remains etched in my memory is the birth of my firstborn there. When my wife’s labour pains started late in the evening, quick as a flash, we got out our book on baby and child care written by the venerable Dr Benjamin Spock and started timing the frequency of the labour pains. By midnight it got too much and with a withering glance, she told me to get her to the military hospital. Pronto! I had a Lambretta scooter and without much thought, put her on the back seat and reached the hospital after a ten-minute drive. My elder daughter was born the next day and when the nurse brought her to me, wrapped in a shawl, I realised I was gazing into the eyes of the most beautiful child on earth.
The Army rarely gives you time to be a parent and to watch your children grow up and be a part of their lives. Suddenly, one day, you realise they are all grown up and ready to take on the world on their own. And you wonder how the intervening years flew by.
I’m not sure if it is a price worth paying, to be so caught up in your own world that you miss the most important things in your life. Ultimately, it is the little things which remain etched in your memory, the little things which are the most important.
Once I was posted in a place where family accommodation was not available and my wife was in my native place, just 80 kilometres away. It was her birthday and I couldn’t go. Or the time I was deployed in Sri Lanka and received a message that my father-in-law had expired. There was no way to ring up my wife and give her the support she needed. No way to fly down and be present for the cremation either. We take it stoically, but each time it chips away at our conscience, that somewhere, we have been unable to do our duty as a husband and as a father.
Now, many years after retirement, I sit back and reflect whether I would make the same choices again. Perhaps I would. That is the way I’m made. But this time, there would be a greater consciousness that the world is a far bigger place than the Army, and the most important part of that world is one’s own family.
Having read General Katoch’s emotive piece, read what his wife, Rama Katoch has to say as she shares memories from the times that her husband was at the border. Also read Divya Nair Hinge’s piece about an Army wife who vicariously braved the Kargil war, among other separations.