How does it feel growing up as cantonment kid?
Kids, they are amazing. Naval kids are strong – stronger than their moms at times. They are resilient. They are well adjusted, confident and gregarious – even the shy ones. The life skill of taking to a new place, new friends and a new life comes easily to them. Or in proper military lingo, our kids easily acclimatise to changes. Naval kids are a constant source of inspiration and awe to me. Watch them closely, there’s a lot to learn.
A cantonment kid or a military brat is a child of parents who are in military – either Army, Navy or Air Force. Today, it primarily refers to any child who has never lived in a place more than 3 years, studied in Kendriya Vidhyalayas and Naval Public Schools, made new friends & stayed connected with a few of them, and lived a secured life in NOFRA (Naval Officers’ Residential Area).
Most naval postings are at metro cities or sea side towns, but we take a part of every place with ourselves, making it a distinct part of our personality. During New Delhi posting, we had a temporary stable-like accommodation at Princess Park, a site 100 meters from the canopy of India Gate. They were second world war barracks of British army. But most sought-after place to live.
Just 500 meters away was National Stadium, where we could send Pracchi, then 8 and Nakuul, then 5, for coaching in gymnastics, the mother of all sports. They loved it, took part in competition and earned a few certificates. Five hundred meters in other direction was National School of Drama, where kids did their summer internship.
Pracchi also learned music and harmonium with one of my senior colleague’s wife, Mrs Rakshit, residing in the same campus. Then came annual Bal Diwas festival, celebrated on the lawns of India Gate, right across the road. Pracchi participated in vocal music competition and stood third in her category and returned home with certificate and a medal. Both kids also participated in Shankar’s drawing competitions and as usual romped home with merit certificates.
Drawing, music and dance was the inborn talent of kids. Though mother never danced, and father can’t sing! Yes, mother sings and father can draw. Later, at Port Blair, both kids then 12 and 9, manged a clean sweep of almost 50% of events at Kendriya Vidhyalaya and city levels. Their walls overflowed with medals, trophies, books and souvenirs received as mementos and prizes. These were indeed moments of joy and happiness. Who will not feel proud at the success and recognition of your children?
My kids too, like most naval kids, zigzagged across the country, adjusting, shifting, learning but always enjoying whatever each place has to offer! We always looked forward to festivals and holidays. You may not get to go to your home town, but you do get to celebrate with your own Naval family, such as Bara Khanas, Melas, etc.
The girls from defence background have stronger personalities and are also disciplined but at times overbearing. The point in case is my own daughter. Haha..! But they know how you walk, how you sit, how you talk etc. Because of their backgrounds, these girls learn grace and poise from an early age. It comes naturally to them. My kids, Pracchi and Nakuul never went to a finishing school. In short, they are adaptive, open-minded, a survivor and thus, a winner.
I recall an incident of December 1982, when Pracchi was barely three and Nakuul had not yet arrived. We had invited our Air Force friend and his wife to my ship INS Rajput for walk around and dinner in the ward room (a nautical term for officer’s mess). The formal dinner was properly laid out by the steward, including cutlery and crockery, as per naval decorum. There was also a plate with fork, knife, spoon and what not for Pracchi. Thank God for the first time the mother was not possessive and let her have it her way. Me too gave no instructions. Pracchi, merely observed from the corner of her eyes and picked up the right cutlery for the right food item, and ate with grace, without dropping a single piece, whereas her mother was struggling with western style of eating. The other senior officers in the ward room were dumb struck and could not resist but to shower praises on kid Pracchi and particularly, Shail M’am, for great upbringing. Haha..! You know it is a masculine way to impress the lady with compliments and naval officers are way ahead. Shail, even today struggles to eat with fork and spoon, forget about the use of knife.
My daughter Pracchi, now a live presenter and image lifestyle coach says, “We develop great conversational skills and carry ourselves with oomph and confidence. We interact with a lot of people who belong to different age groups and different cultures. I would never hesitate to speak to a stranger or a new person. Ultimately, our communication skills help us become winners. The grooming and etiquette also come naturally, as we watch our mothers wear their clothes with grace, and from fathers adopt immaculate manners.”
Adds my son Nakuul, now a leading TV actor and an anchor, “Making new friends, going to new schools made us confident. I remember how we would swim or go to yacht club every Saturday. People mingle with one another at the various sports activities and Navy Balls. A defence hub has a particular culture, which becomes an integral part of our personality. We pick up good etiquette and manners like, how to use a fork and knife, how to eat with grace, and walk with dignity. These aren’t qualities one can learn over a month-long crash course. It’s the naval upbringing that helped me stand out and win.”
Who has the last word?
Naturally my kids always have the last word. Nakuul chips in to say, “While we do live in a secular, protected shell of a life within thriving green Nau Sena Baghs (equivalent to cantonments), it is in many ways the perfect environment to grow up in. Unlike other children, home is not a brick and mortar building or a lane or even a city”.
Pracchi adds, “For us the Fauji brats, home is the Navy and everything it stands for. Home is the sound of the early morning Bugle, the sight of sailors marching past in unison, the smell of Brasso, that used to polish our father’s medals and buttons, the feeling of pride we take in the life we have had.”