Murals of Fauji Life: Saviours and Survivors- A Priceless Life

In a tribute to his friend Piyush Midha, an Air Force officer tells of the upbringing of military brats, which is not a choice but a chance that they are just born that way. It continues from generation to generation. Part 1 of the autobiographical narration was presented earlier. Here goes Part 2 of the two-part series

By Wing Cdr Siddharth Kharbanda

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Cantonments as garrisons were composite military-civilian townships. They were high on heritage with diverse legacy and inheritance. Sprawling pastures abridged with paved landscapes. The chirping of birds distinctly reverberated, and reveille bugle sounded. Training muster assemblies and administrative working parades were common. Such bio-reserves naturally became a habitat for umpteen species of flora and fauna. Descriptive hoardings were put up.  

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Verdant campuses provided a colonial touch, invigorating quotes, and sculptures of gallant men that inscribed grit and valour. War memorials were sublime cenotaphs. Flags in quarter guard were lowered with great reverence and respect. The last post and lights out were ingrained since time immemorial. 

We remembered dad’s IC number more than our roll number. It gave us a proud attachment and unsaid allowance to sign chits and firm adulthood through dependence. We showcased the dependant card with utmost dignity. Many travelled with this effortlessly in military bogie without reservation! It came as a saviour during the numerous challan at check and entry points. Civil police were never deterrence and could be handled with ease. We feared the CMP more than the state police. 

 City of joy 

Calcutta was the city of joy. It had its sweet idiosyncrasies. British-styled mansions existed in Hastings. A Doberman, parrots, and a school of fish did not lead to pet hoarding. The harbour was nearby so we frequently visited the jetty. We went for rides in tugboats to the anchored ships in the Diamond Harbour. Vidyasagar Setu had commenced. Calcutta had trams, metro, and hand-pulled rickshaws. We played Tennis at the Ordnance Club. The city was known for its convent schools. ICSE boards were preferred amongst the community and laid a strong foundation. We made friends across different stratum and religions. We ventured to Dulabari in the Jhapa district, and en route saw the Border Marker and ‘no-man’s land’. We got our hands-on Atari video games, cut glass, and woollen blankets.  

Sports and swimming were a daily affair. We got our maiden exposure to the equestrian sport. Cricket was played by all ages. Tweezers took care of thorns and tiny blades during misadventures. Other therapies relied on homeopathy and throat paint for sores. Vintage car rallies were sought after. Statue was enacted when you needed something very precious. PC Sarkar’s magic was unexplained, but wasn’t life less magical? We played the membranophone percussion, Tabla.  

We went for rides in tugboats to the anchored ships in the Diamond Harbour. Vidyasagar Setu had commenced. Calcutta had trams, metro, and hand-pulled rickshaws. We played Tennis at the Ordnance Club. The city was known for its convent schools 

We visited Mothers’ House and Missionaries of Charity. Bus rides were most entertaining. Gumboots were worn to school. Incessant rains made marshy pastures. During one of our relocations, our luggage trailer truck got stuck in a similar bog. Eventually, the EME’s ‘Recovery’ was pressed in. BD coy was witnessed live. Calcutta was famous for its Fort William and its moat. Dad was in AWHO. Library services were sustained at St Peter’s Church, which housed stained glass and rustic odour. We glanced through encyclopaedias, Tintin, Archie’s, and Sainik Samachar! Book fairs at Maidan were indispensable.  

Teenagers gathered the strength to call the heavenly spirit in the strange and mysterious board game Ouija. Tina Charles and Jim Reeves were timeless. Medium Wave played the forces’ request. TV drama ‘Oshin’, the famous fictional biography of Shin Tanokora was timeless. Mythological stories of ‘Vikram aur Betal’, Jaspal Bhatti’s Full Tension, and Mungerilal ke haseen sapne featuring a small-time clerk were followed, so was Richie Rich and ‘Didi’s comedy, a German show starring Dieter Hallervorden and his antics. Jesse Mach’s ‘Street Hawk’ and David Hasselhoff’s ‘Knight Rider’ was evergreen. Thanks to Neal Marlens’s ‘The Wonder Years’ that infused in us the spoken language. Cards were made by ASHA children. SOIs were a standard place for folklore.  

British-era houses 

The ration was a stapled diet and CSD was the economic source. We could eat anything under the sun. French toast, English salad, pudding, the icing on cakes, homemade cupcakes, jelly and cookies were the favorites amongst wet canteen’s patty and cream rolls. Pickle was homemade and wine was fermented to age. British-era houses still existed in Lucknow. The periphery was flanked by Mango, Imli, and Jamun (Black Plum) trees. Ceramic bathtubs were placed in the backyard. Chimneys were blocked and ventilators had room for kacha banyan gang to peep in. ASCON was the initial blessing to book limited trunk calls to the native place. Landline was used to discuss homework and to plan the umpteen pranks. We could memorize telephone numbers then. We picked telephonic courtesies and salutations. We knew what an ‘exchange’ was but never knew where it existed. Hercules MTB shock-absorbing bikes were famous.  

Landline was used to discuss homework and to plan the umpteen pranks. We could memorize telephone numbers then. We picked telephonic courtesies and salutations. We knew what an ‘exchange’ was but never knew where it existed

We danced in rain and made burrows till the stratum corneum wrinkled. We caught fireflies (jugnu), played Monopoly, and Pictionary, performed bicycle and relay races, slow-cycling, trekked on range hills, performed hand string tricks, saw Hollywood classics at Surya auditorium and AMC Centre’s open-air theatre, witnessed dog shows, saw Royal Enfield stunt team of the Corps of Signals, the ‘Daredevils’, witnessed hot air ballooning, visited Imambaras and bhool bhulaiya, ran mini-marathons and so forth. We tapped on tunes of Enigma and Modern Talking sung by Thomas Anders.  

We watched kitchen gardens at close quarters. We sowed the seeds and saplings, watered the plants, and watched the vegetables grow in such a potager. Our mothers were adept with ornamental plants, bonsai that never grew, and cactus whose spines we loved to touch. We were synonymous with a cactus; light, airy, and warm, still sharp as a spine.   

Quotable quotes 

Army Public School Lucknow was an institution fondly known for its values and foundational measures. It was a temple of goodness and batchmates were the epitome of greatness. Teachers were hailed as heroes. The famously infamous quotable quotes included, “principal has just passed away”, “he is understanding the tree” and “I have two daughters, both are girls”, to name a few. Houses were named after famous mountain peaks. We participated in Bahai and NCSC meets. Puns were intended and satires were ironical. We could hypnotize for brief peripheral awareness.  

Army Public School Lucknow was an institution fondly known for its values Teachers were hailed as heroes. The famously infamous quotable quotes included, “principal has just passed away”, “he is understanding the tree” and “I have two daughters, both are girls” 

School recess included sponsors for the canteen and peg bottles from the military dairy farm. English plays were demonstrated through classroom drama. We were made a white demo during Yoga classes. School buses were full of reserved seats. It was a race for the window seat, just to realise you boarded the wrong bus! We ransacked soft drink crates during stoppages at traffic signals for forlorn mischief. SF quarters were famous hangouts for the eligible and heartbroken. Sometimes we fell just short of the qualifying mark in field events, but never gave up. Social service, tree plantation drives, and inter-class sports matches were the norm. The pool was a place for discussing the day’s affair. Underwater breadth-holding was contested for a controversial game.  

There were songwriters, composers, and dubbers. We could mix anything under the sun. Billboard was always heard, and cocktails were not just drinks. We had the greatest collection of philately and numismatics. Lucknow was dad’s last leg. He superannuated after three decades of glorious innings. He was felicitated farewell in a buggy, as was the ritual at Central Command.  

Exposure to diverse cultures 

Many would have goosebumps in living through the similar glory of yesteryears. Generic conversations included past postings and mutual friends. Life was rich with experiences. Scars, as reminisced of childhood injuries, spoke volumes of umpteen pranks and escapades that became points of small talk. It was always eerie to reunite with old acquaintances. It still is. We lost close friends but moved on. Life taught us to pay tributes. It gave us exposure to diverse cultures and traditions, fests and festivals of terrain and suburbs, of colossal flora and fauna with a fond collection of memories and yore. Distinct facets and mores of customs allowed us to unite easily. It dwelled us into a joint family with a landscape of an accommodating temperament conformable both in nature and signature. When others spike-like melted butter, we could melt butter. We made friends in the sands of time. We revealed our friend’s achievements. There was no envy and no malice. The little peevishness was earmarked for the loved ones.  

We fondly experienced, silently shared, sympathetically empathised, relate to, and were thankful for lifelong memories. This bond was of tacit understanding and implicit vibes 

We believed in our own eyes and ears. We reached our conclusion. We developed our own opinion. We acted upon our conscience. Try walking in our shoes; you’ll stumble in our footsteps. Unless you’ve lived these times, you will not get it. It’s not a choice but a chance that you are just born that way. “Sow good services, sweet remembrances will grow from them,” rightly quoted by Madame da Stael. That’s a title, a group of us of the same boat, of the same commune, of the same fraternity.  

The transition from one generation to the next as reminisced in prose autographed in a diary was a challenge to better our ways. We were unpretentious, yet good-looking. We were both saviours and survivors. We fondly experienced, silently shared, sympathetically empathised, relate to, and were thankful for lifelong memories. This bond was of tacit understanding and implicit vibes. These were just a few of the reminiscences. This life was priceless! 

(Story conclude…)

-The writer is a serving Air Force Officer. The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda