I expected Mrs. Charanjit Gill to say she was finally happy to be settled in a cosmopolitan city, now that Col. Gill has retired from the Indian Army, runs a successful business and the couple along with their wonderful boys have made Pune their home. Because life for an army wife, you see, is never easy. Home is often where the Army takes them, even if it is to obscure places; separation and loneliness are inevitable when husbands are posted in field tenures and if all this is not bad enough, here was a wife who had to put a brave face and see her husband off to be part of the historic Kargil war in the year 1999.
Mrs. Gill however surprised me when she said, “It’s nice to be settled in Pune, but I miss Army Life. There are no doubt difficulties and dangers, but to tame them, we have an infectious spirit of bonding and camaraderie, that you rarely find anywhere else outside the Army life.”
“Even when our husbands were at war, it was in being there for each other that we wives found our strength to overcome what was one of the most nightmarish phases in our life,” says Mrs. Gill, remembering the armed conflict between India and Pakistan that took place in the Kargil district of Kashmir and along the Line of Control (LOC).
“I had stopped reading newspapers and watching television then, for fear of the worst,” honestly recounts Mrs. Gill. “Our transfer order had already come and we were to head to Gwalior, but the transfer was postponed on account of the war. So, whilst Col. Gill was at the war-front, I along with my young children, Parleen and Gagan, who were 12 and 9 years of age respectively then, continued to stay at Ambala at my parents’ place,” she recalls.
Col. Gurmeet Gill who was with the Artillery division of the Indian Army during the Kargil war is the third generation officer from the family to serve in the Indian Army. His father and grandfather have both served in the Indian Army before him, with his father and uncles, having been part of the 1962, 1965 and the 1971 wars.
Having seen war and bloodshed, didn’t Col. Gill’s father prevent him from getting into the Army, I ask. “Nothing could deter my husband from getting into the Armed Forces,” she replies. “He was extremely passionate about joining the service and true to his nature, never showed or expressed fear even he was told he was going to be part of the Kargil war,” she says.
“As a wife, on the other hand, no matter how much you do away with negativity, you are constantly gripped with anxiety and fear. What seems like an unending wait for your husband’s safe return becomes a test of patience. You sob for days, sleep little and even grow irritated at well-meaning friends and family wanting to know every little detail. Add to it the responsibility of doubling up as both father and mother to your children, when you are pretty much lost yourself,” she honestly confesses.
The couple had an arranged marriage in 1985. “What was that one thing that made you say yes to the marriage, despite knowing your husband will always be a soldier first and husband later?” I ask Mrs. Gill. “It was his confidence, personality and his ability to care for others,” she says coyly. “Even when he was at war and could call home to talk only for a few minutes, he would never forget to tell me how his friends were doing, so I could let their families know and put their minds to rest too.” It’s no wonder then that when he returned back safe to the family after the war, it was a surprise planned along with a friend, who announced to Mrs. Gill, “Am bringing your husband back home safely from the war,” she says laughing.
“I was at a friend’s place when I received this call,” she goes on to say, when I urge her to tell me more about the reunion. “On receiving the call, my first reaction was to rush home to make sure food was ready for them when they reached home,” says Mrs. Gill, laughing as she recalls the moment. “On seeing him back home, I ended up all teary-eyed with emotion, although that was the last thing I wanted to do.”
I asked Mrs. Gill if Col. Gill ever tells her now, how much he missed his family back then when the war was on. “I have never asked him honestly,” she says. “Reality is too close when you are at war and am sure there was way too much going on around him, for him to worry about us. He would make it a point to communicate to me as often as he could and talk to the boys, every time he called. Those were my most-awaited moments then and all I wanted was for him to be safe,” she recalls.
They say when you are a fauji wife, life doesn’t get easier; you just get stronger. And when all a woman cares is for the soldier to be safe, free of worries and to do his duties well, even when she is battling an equally difficult war in her mind, you know you are talking to the brave heart behind the warrior – the soldier’s wife.
(As Told To Divya Nair Hinge)