What is it being a naval wife?
My wife Shail says, “I am a Naval wife and I relished every second of it – the good, the bad and sometimes even the ugly. For some reason, I feel incredibly proud of being a naval spouse and my association with someone who went through tough entrance test and passed out from Naval Academy with distinction – my husband is my pride.”
Maybe it’s because of what they say — Naval wives are the silent ranks, standing by their husbands and holding fort while they are away on duty. That’s a pretty important job. Yes, it’s a full-time job to be a Naval wife. We are constantly moving, we belong to every place the Navy takes us, wives are experts at packing and unpacking in black painted wooden boxes. Wives stay away from their husbands for days and weeks at a stretch. They are rumoured to party like rock-stars both in our absence and presence.
The letter writing was the best hobby, my wife cherished most during post married life. One day her letter to her best friend fell in my hand, when she asked me to seal the inland letter, as lick was not sufficient to energise the glue of the postal department. Out of curiosity I read it too. She proudly announces to her friend in the epilogue, “I am happy, contented and a proud navel wife”. My thoughts zoomed into the mythological story of Lord Brahma, who was born from the ‘navel’ of Lord Vishnu, through a connection of a Lotus. “What did she mean here?” She least realised that the there is a difference between the spelling of ‘naval’ and ‘navel’, each meaning differently. On another occasion, in a party on board INS Vikrant, a young doctor who was trying to impress her, introduced himself as a naval surgeon. She was quite amused at his super specialisation as she thought it to be a ‘navel’ surgeon. She was awe stuck and simply said, “Wow”. Thank god nothing more.
For our spouses, the Navy is the first wife who demands a lot of attention and gets it each time. Since we have dangerous job description and our inability to plan a holiday or even a family function, because duty can call literally anytime. Pretty daunting, right? But our wives learn on the go. They learn to respect their husband’s profession, the challenges it comes with and the demands it makes.
Shail chips in saying, “When I was carrying my first child, Pratap went on deputation to Russia and saw our daughter for the first time when she was 10 months old. Though I lived like a single mom for nearly 16 months, at Vasant Sagar, in Mumbai but my naval colleagues never let me feel so. The help was always available at drop of hat.”
She continues, “Seriously, our civilian friends will never understand how tough it is to pack your life in 22 boxes every twenty-two months. Separation from one’s husband is never easy. We never get used to it. But life has to go on. We do not need sympathy. Be friendly to your Fauji families.”
The most controversial topic of all time is that a few wives wear their husband’s rank as if they’ve earned it themselves. It is also true that there is a lot of stuff happening that most of the wives don’t see fit for the current times. Personally, I wish wives had less of the unnecessary drama and more of productive volunteer work. I must admit that our wives also bond over our unique trials and tribulations and support each other. They also bond over etiquette classes and shopping tips for just about every town or city in India.
You’ve heard about it a lot, but you will never understand it until you are a naval wife. I am not talking about the packing and unpacking, the broken crockery and crystal. I am talking about leaving the friends part, having no career for themselves, the kid’s good education and uninterrupted growing up part. Then there are small but still important issues like finding a new tailor, a new salon and changing your landline number every two years, if we had one. But Naval wives learn to deal with the separation and the moving. In fact, many come to enjoy the life of a constant traveller. I also realised that distance really does make the heart grow fonder.
Why only risk-takers find real fulfilment?
When we were to move from Vizag to Port Blair, some colleagues and relatives advised against taking my father with me. There was a little choice for him but to stay with us. I loved taking risk. My father was growing old and he was in frail health after coming to Port Blair. He missed his brothers, sisters, and cousins who were back home in Udaipur and Delhi. But at home he was active as before, in spite of his failing memory. He would insist on assisting us by clearing the table after a meal and remove clothes from the hanging lines once they are dry and fold them neatly. He would make his own bed. We didn’t resist much as he too needed some activity to pass time. He was a self-made man and gave us the sanskars (values) of doing your own stuff, be it cleaning the soiled plates, sweeping one’s room or wash one’s clothes, particularly under garments. He was himself a senior government official and had 2-3 staff on duty at home. But he was a man of principles and never took advantage of his official position.
He passed away peacefully at Port Blair at the age of 82. My naval colleagues and neighbours did not allow us to light the fire in our kitchen for next 3 days. The doctor to certify death, transport for funeral and the regimental pundit, all were organised without me moving a finger or saying a word. Mind you, there were no cell phones and landlines were as good as not being there. I could only inform our dear ones by late evening when I could to get through to the mainland on landline. Before funeral, the word spread in the town that my father was an RSS & VHP sympathiser and adviser from Rajasthan, though not actually a member, yet more than 50 volunteers and sewaks from Port Blair assembled at the funeral site to pay their last respects. It was indeed a touching farewell as many spoke about his patriotism and high values in his life. Some even turned up for the prayer meeting held on third day at my residence. In times of grief the Fauji families come together as never before, something that one cannot see in the civilian societies.
Why only risk-takers find real fulfilment? To me it gives a sense of purpose. A miscalculated risk can be damaging, but never taking any risk at all is to never really live. The reality is that how far we move is directly proportional to how far we’re willing to push. However, today a man risking his life for his beliefs is an iconic symbol of rebellion and courage.
Continue… Part III