The life of an “Army wife” piques curiosity and interest. But more often than not, she has entered the popular imagination as a caricature made of extremities, or been stereotyped through Indian cinema. She is either a sympathy-arousing woman, waiting eternally on her husband to return from faraway lands, or a deceptive woman who stealthily cheats behind his back (think Ekta Kapoor’s recent web series, XXX).
It’s no surprise, therefore, that when Madhuri Jagtap, 31, currently based in Udhampur, was to marry an Army man, she was clueless about what awaited her as a military spouse. She imagined herself as a character from the famous army movie, Border. “I always thought of army life as a tough one and dreaded not being able to see my husband-to-be very often,” she says. “However, as I uncover this life bit by bit ten years into my marriage, I realise that it is so much more adventurous than portrayed to be.”
“It is arduous to move towns and cities every few years and live out of a trunk, but is exciting, too, to get acquainted with unknown lands and get a flavour of new cultures for a few years,” Jagtap adds. “Besides, you get to make friends from all parts of the country and have a rather busy social calendar with social gatherings being organised almost every day!”
Thankfully, for military wives, there are endless opportunities in every posting, field or peace, to not just show up in their fineries, but also exhibit their talents and polish social graces. Each month, an inter-unit ladies’ meet is organised with much fanfare. Each meet has a theme—‘Fairy tales’, ‘Monsoon’, or ‘The 90s’—and ladies are diligently deputed tasks. There is an emcee, a scriptwriter, someone who organises the menu, another who does the décor and, of course, those who entertain through singing, dancing or showcasing any other talent/s. On most occasions, the ladies have to be dressed in sarees. Military wives are perfectionists. So, the rehearsals for the big day begin a few weeks in advance, when all else is put on the backburner.
While the ladies’ meets are fun and let-your-hair-down-affairs, Army Wives’ Welfare Association (AWWA) events are formal and require military wives to act more responsible, since they take on the mantle of leadership and encourage the spouses of jawans, who come from relatively less privileged backgrounds, to participate in events and showcase their talents.
When they are not busy organising or attending these meets, Army wives can be found playing the dutiful Army lady by visiting infants born in the families of jawans and patiently listening to and addressing any challenges that the wives of the jawans may be facing. That apart, they’re constantly involved with the upkeep of the MESS—an activity that keeps them particularly busy when army supremos come a-calling and they have to turn into the perfect hostesses.
It would be naïve to assume that life as a military spouse is all fun and games. Says army wife Manisha Yadav, 31, currently based in Jammu, “I always wanted my husband to be the first one to hold our baby after he was born. In the civilian life, it is a given that a husband will be with his wife when she is in the throes of delivering the baby, but this isn’t always the case with us, military wives."
"I prayed hard for my husband to be with me during delivery. My husband hadn’t taken leave in six months and his seniors had granted him leave for my due date. But things didn’t go as planned as my labour pains began earlier than expected. Thankfully, my husband was able to make it in the nick of time,” she adds.
Manisha regrets missing out on family life and having her husband around when their child was an infant. She had to raise their son with her parents as her husband was miles away on the call of duty.
Jagtap, too, has had her share of challenges. “I got my first shocker when just six months into the marriage, my husband was posted to the field. I remember being up on the mountains with no one except myself and sometimes had to bear long distances. It was a tough time.”
The situation does not get any easier when the family is posted together in posh, family-friendly cities. Often, postings come abruptly and the wife has to stay back in the original station, so that the child can complete their academic year smoothly. The husband, nevertheless, heads off to the new post. In such cases, the wife may choose to opt for an “SF (separate family) accommodation”, which is offered by the army to the military spouse, close to her husband’s field posting. Needless to say, the conveniences (for instance, the MESS, electricians and plumbers on call) and luxuries she may have enjoyed with her husband may not be as easily accessible to her.
One of the many challenges that comes as a part of marrying a man in uniform is setting up a career. By the time you settle down in a town or city, get a job you like, it is already time to pack your bags and move. Thus, there are plenty of ladies who bear the pangs of separation from their husbands and shift permanently to a city where their careers can thrive. There is also a large number of ladies who decide to quit their ambitions.
Then, there are military wives who take the middle path. They fuel their ambitions by joining army schools as teachers or principals in the cities or towns their officer husbands get posted to. Others pick up whatever jobs they may find in small towns, even if it means a compromise on the salary. Many go on to become famous entrepreneurs, authors, bloggers and influencers.
Timsi Bector, Mrs India 2021 second runner-up and a popular fitness influencer, is a beaming example of army wives breaking the glass ceiling, “Getting married to an army officer was the best thing that could happen in my life. Savouring all and proudly accepting to be a soldier’s second love, the first being always his country, helped me discover my inner strengths,” she says. “The last 14 years has been a rollercoaster ride. I had to leave my career and job and I never call it a sacrifice. It was more about prioritizing things. I kept on working for my passion, taking baby steps and never realized that I had covered miles!”
Jagtap, too, found her calling in teaching after she married an Army officer. “I got a job in Bathinda, Punjab, at a pre-primary school. Although the pay was little, it soon dawned upon me that teaching was my passion and I continue to pursue it in our current posting. I am working as an instructor in the Army Vocational Training Centre and enjoying myself immensely while encouraging the ladies from less privileged backgrounds to hone their skills.”
The life of an Army wife has its own share of bouquets and brickbats, a large part of which has been shrouded in stereotypes. Whatever comes her way in this microcosm of life in the Army, she learns to embrace it with smile and strength.
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