There has been much mud-slinging after news of a senior army officer's wife humiliating a junior officer's wife in public appeared in a national daily. Like it's the trend these days, this piece of "news" has been dissected to the minutest detail on social media platforms by just about anyone.
Within closed doors of WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media groups only for defence officers' spouses, the response has been mixed. But what has made most of us cringe is the manner in which this isolated incident, by virtue of being thrown in the public arena, has somehow given everyone the right to paint the defence forces in such poor light.
Two wrongs don't make a right. Equating incidents of intolerance or violence in two different places doesn't justify either. So although I can mention countless incidents of subjugation of a junior officer's spouse by the spouse of a senior in the corporate sector and in the private sector, I will not. Simply because two wrongs don't make a right.
Having said that, and coming back to the fauji circle, what affected me and many others like me was the way in which one incident was used as a paintbrush to sweep over the entire community in a negative shade. By community, I specifically mean spouse of defence officers.
Six years back, when I stepped into this world as a newly-wed, I had a stereotypical notion of a fauji wife. One who wears pearl necklaces and chiffon saris and attends parties. A friend even nicknamed me kitty party -- denoting the ladies get-togethers that fauji wives frequently organise.
To put it mildly, it added to my burdening apprehension. I was giving up my life as a full-time journalist in Delhi to be with my husband in a tier-2 city with fewer opportunities. Would I be able to connect with anyone; have a conversation on subjects that fire up my mind and my intellect?
Of course, I did. It was a galaxy of smart, well-qualified women -- there were doctors, engineers, management gurus, architects, psychologists, educationists, you name it. Every lady I met was a powerhouse of talent. With more and more IT companies and others offering work-from-home options, a number of women now continue to nurse their career even after giving up a full-time job; some find jobs to suit their qualification and interest in the place they are posted in, while others opt to teach in nearby schools. There are many who are happy to don the cap of a homemaker.
But my real introduction to the bond that these women shared -- and of which I was now a part -- happened when my husband was away on his call-of-duty. It was frequent and would be sudden; we would plan a movie in the evening and I would get a text message late in the afternoon saying that he would be back in a few days. Far from the nationalism debates on the TV and in the social media, we, ladies, would check on each other as our husbands go about doing their job without a word, sometimes in treacherous situations.
But even as we sit on the edge of our seats, everyday life has to go on -- children have to go to school, supplies have to be bought, the car has to be re-fuelled, the dog has to be walked. I still remember the time when my one-year-old daughter and I fell ill at the same time. My husband was away, and I was in no position to even drive to the doctor. I was on the verge of breaking down when two junior officers rang the bell, picked up my baby and took us to the hospital. Later, my husband's Commanding Officer's wife dropped by with a gift for my baby and to see if I needed any supplies. Other ladies kept visiting me on rotation for the rest of the time to ensure I was looked after till my husband returned.
This is what fauji life is.
I wonder if anyone wonders who looks after our soldiers' homes when they are out protecting the rest of the country? The "privileges" come with a price. But we don't complain. In fact, most of the welfare meetings focus on how to make the women more aware and independent -- learn driving, how to apply for online courses, how to take care of one's health.
It's a support system that supports the soldiers to do their job single-mindedly. And isolated incidents can, in no way, taint it in one clean sweep.
(The writer, whose husband is in the defence forces, has requested anonymity)