Keerat Kaur writes about her experiences as an Army kid, and what made growing up in that environment beautiful for her.
Remember those blue coloured inland letters we used to receive back in the day? I have a distinct memory of receiving dozens such letters from my father peppered with puns and light humour while I was at a boarding school. An ideal childhood memory…except the circumstances weren’t ideal. My father was ensconced deep within Batalik sector during the Kargil war. And those letters came all the way from the heart of a battle. It wasn’t the contents of the letter that mattered so much but the very sight of the letters because I would know for certain that he was still alive and kicking (the enemy that is)!
Growing up a Fauji kid is an otherworldly experience.
First you grow up with a ‘Hanikarak Bapu’ who thinks nothing of waking you up at 5.00 am for a run or measures your bed making skills with scales and callipers. Shoes have to be polished till you can see your face in them. Walk and sit in such a way that no crease or folds mar your appearance. You learn dining etiquette before you probably learn to walk. Sure, these stereotypes have existed for years. And most of them are true (And no, we never call anyone ‘Bloody civilians’). But there is more to the Fauji way of life than just discipline and rules!
When you are shifting towns, homes, schools and friends every two years; change and transition don’t seem that intimidating any more. In fact, you begin yearning for change and every posting becomes a new chapter. When I was 11, my father was posted in Leh, which wasn’t quite the tourist mecca it is today. We lived in a house made out of tin cans stacked atop each other, the treacherous cold was kept out using rustic bukharis and there was no running water. Sounds like a recipe for misery? It was, in fact, quite the opposite. Our battalion was at a picturesque spot about one and half hour away from Leh city. Hills pockmarked with caves at the back and the serpentine Indus River in front, our Sundays were spent exploring and picnicking.
We would come home with stories of our discoveries and adventures, our pockets full of oddly shaped rocks and sand, our hearts content.
The Army sometimes posts you to woebegone places with unheard of names but we take a part of every place with ourselves, making it a distinct part of our personality. I picked up oil painting from Mhow, my brother learnt his Football skills from Sukna. The smaller the city, the bigger the learning it gives you. Army kids zigzag 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 Army family. I remember tucking into biryani on Eid with the same fervour as we celebrated Janamashtmi or Gurupurab or Christmas. There is no segregation, no differentiation. We bonded over the lack of permanency in our lives. We revelled in every fleeting moment, cherishing whatever came our way.
I’ve flown on a Microlight over the Ladakh mountains, done snorkelling in the Andamans, battled rapids in the Teesta River in Sikkim and gone para sailing in Agra all before I turned 18.
I’ve tried my hand at every sport and game from horse riding to squash and even croquet. We are masters of all trades and at the same time, Jack of none. Making new friends becomes second nature. And one of our first friends is our ‘Bhaiya’ or Sahayak. He is friend, mentor, guide – all rolled into one.
Fauji kids also have their very own Shaktiman – the ungainly military trucks that paraded as school buses. You trooped into these rickety dark trucks with tarpaulin roofs and a wire mesh at the back, chickens in a mobile coop off to school! You fought for space on rudimentary wooden benches while a conductor kept a wary eye out for paper planes or water fights. It wasn’t comfortable but it sure was fun!
While we do live in a secular, protected shell of a life within thriving green 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. For Fauji kids, home is the Army and everything it stands for. Home is the sound of the early morning Bugle, the sight of soldiers marching past in unison, the smell of Brasso used to polish our father’s/mother’s medals, the feeling of pride we take in the life we have had.
(Written by Keerat Kaur)