As she got the enrollment form for the 10 day mock boot camp signed from us, I knew the day for her to embark for the camp was not far away. It would be a good exposure for her to experience the guidance under the military wing and learn things which were not part of a prescribed school curriculum. I was worried about the rough conditions she would have to endure like food ,shelter and clothing. They have to live under the canvas tents come rain or shine, eat the food cooked in the community kitchen, wash their clothes, fill water, clean the tents which was amidst some wild creepies and crawlies.
Memories of my little girl being fussed over with the best of food and putting her to bed with bolsters by her side for comfort and other such cuddling and pampering played through my mind. Must she endure all the discomforts?
But both father and daughter convinced me that it would be an unique experience for her and these are rare opportunities. The next step was to shop for the uniform and boots specially available at the cantonment stores. As men with camouflaged dress embellished with stars on the shoulders and DMS shoes strolled the streets and walked in and out of many stores. I did realize that they were the reason we all slept tightly in the night while they served at the borders and defended us from our enemies, but felt nothing more than that. They had chosen their vocation because of their passion to serve the country and out of their own choice. Nobody forced them right?
The d-day dawned and we dropped her at the camp site where nearly 500 children from various schools and colleges across the city had gathered and across all ages too. From age 10- age 16.We were told we had an opportunity to meet her every evening and she may get an outpass if necessary one of those days.
Since the camp site was closer home we had the added advantage of meeting her daily in the evening, I visited her in the evening. The first day I saw my daughter and her friends , the mommy strings in my heart tugged , though my strong but fragile child did not cry, I could sense the once happy go lucky girl was unhappy with the rough and tough environment and home sick. They were unhappy with the food, the shelter and they were taught so many tough things like rifle handling,shooting, drill parade and other sports under the harsh sun. They also took turns to do watch man work outside the camp for two hours to secure their camping tent. The children used to comforts(not luxurious comforts though) of life could not take the harshness of the training.
My anxiety levels grew and I told my husband , we must withdraw her that evening but she refused to give up. From next day on I and her friends mom decided to take some food so that they would be comfortable. The days we did not take the food, they have starved .
Ten days later, now my daughter tells me “Nee edhu kuduthalum saapdiren, Ma”( whatever you give, I’ll eat ma) and she says she has become adept at crisis management. The days it rained they had to pool everything into their camp and strap it up. They had to do this all in no time and rush to the government school close by to spend their nights. Many a times, they could’nt bathe and ate sooka rotis and the subzis they disliked. They have got up at odd hours to secure their tent. They were involved in community work and have lived without TV or radio. They have retired to bed at 7.30 inside their dark tents only to getup at stroke of four in the morning. Now she says, it is an experience she would like to go through again.
Many a times I’ve seen on TV and movies how the men of navy, army and Airforce have served our nation putting their lives at risk. I’ve heard many stories from my grand uncle who was with the army and travelled all the way from Burma to India by foot along with other soldiers. All through the journey he had just 3 Kim bottles(similar to Horlicks) in his knapsack to replenish themselves and they have walked for seven days through jungles and plains. I’ve heard stories from my friends who are army officers and naval officers wives who are my neighbours. One friend told me how she had gone to her parents home to deliver the child while her husband was laying roads during the Kargil war and she was worried about her husband’s return all the time. How their husbands never ate on many days and did not have bath . They don’t know from where the next gun shot would arrive. Many a stories from so many army wives and naval officer’swives.
My daughter was not even in such a situation, just a mock camp organized by her school and still I felt like swooping her in my arms and taking her away from the camp.
What emotions must the family of these people army, navy and airforce be hosting? Those of pride, worry, fear. Would they be stressed? Would they be worried about their husbands or sons/daughters during war time? Would they take pride? Would they be anxious about their return? Would they be impatiently waiting for their call? Would they fear about their lives? Would they be a source of strength, inspire and motivate them? So many questions…….. only they know the answer. So many feelings……. only they endure.
Now, did I say somewhere in the above paragraphs, that I did not feel much for them. I’ve changed my mind…….
Next time I see those men with those stars in the shoulders, I know those two stars are worth a million in the sky and next time those wives narrate the stories I would understand better.
All that I can do for these people is just dedicate this post. No today is not army day or navy day… today is the day I changed my mind and really felt for these men and women in uniform.
If only the men who induced wars realized and empathized the mental turmoil of all those men in uniform and their families perhaps there would be peace and not war and so many more families would be happy.