In all their youthful ignorance Lily and her husband decided to have their first baby in Dalhousie Cantonment. She gave birth to a daughter in a primitive setting. There was no oxygen and no medical equipment in case of an operation or an emergency. The midwife was a capable person, whose daughter she was teaching in the Sacred Heart Convent. The author gritted her teeth in between the pains and recited excerpts from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to take her mind off the torture! A day before, her husband had declared that he was to lead a convoy of troops in the wee hours of their first wedding anniversary. She was lonesome. Here’s a candid account of an army wife, in her weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
The Sacred Heart Convent had a dispensary halfway up the steep hill that harboured the fortress like convent and the chapels. The hill had a level walk circling it. It was called Potreini chakkar by the apple cheeked locals. A kind of nature ramble type quaint footpath, let you trudge up to this dispensary. You could also run down the steps with your long braids flying, if you were sent down to get a pill for stomach ache.
In all our youthful ignorance my husband and I decided to have our baby here in this tiny dispensary. Dalhousie Cantonment had a small military hospital where the lady medical officer used to deliver babies of soldiers’ wives but was hesitant to take on my case even though she was a good friend. I had to go quite a distance to the plains for my regular check- ups when it was clear that the stork was going to be calling on us. I was advised to either go to Pathankot Military hospital or to Chamba for the baby, which were both a snaky meandering, three hour drive in the hills. With God’s grace, I was going up to work till the last days of pregnancy. I remember huffing and puffing up the countless stairs that went up to the college with my huge stomach. There were well over a hundred stairs I think. The bracing oxygen rich breeze did wonders for my spirits as well as lungs.
The days during pregnancy were spent trudging in almost one and a half feet of snow in long boots to eat gulab jamuns, samosas and drinking piping hot tea in a small tea shop at the corner. That was the height of indulgence for me.
Army officers are allowed a fixed number of days for vacations. These annual holidays are well planned in advance and most important family occasions are held around these days. Well, as luck would have it, both my husband’s senior’s wife and I were expecting a baby around the same dates. Both of the gentlemen applied for leave but only one could get it. As is the tradition, the seniors are granted leave. These are etiquettes of the army and praise worthy precedents.
For a starry eyed newlywed, the first wedding anniversary is generally a time for celebration and bonhomie. In my romantic heart, I had already made plans for an elaborate party and visions of receiving an appropriate gift on the 25th of April. My filmy notions crashed as I was presented with two wooden chairs (believe it or not) instead of diamonds as an anniversary present. Furthermore, my husband declared that he was to lead a convoy of troops in the wee hours of his anniversary.
I remember baking a delicious large cake that night. We hastily cut the cake at six in the morning. I think it was still dark. We ate a piece each and I packed the rest for to be carried for all the officers who were going with him. I spent my first marriage anniversary all alone in a tiny mountain house, while the military man went off leading a convoy of troops and equipment. Alas! So much for romantic visions.
The good Lord planned in such a way that a day after my husband returned from the training camp, the baby decided to make an appearance too. Labour began in the middle of the night. There was obviously no doctor at that unearthly hour. The visiting lady doctor was an Air Force officer’s wife who lived up the steep hill top of Moti Tibba. A thunderous mountain storm was raging and howling ominously. Huge raindrops pelted down frighteningly on the tin roof of the dispensary. The nun who was in charge was summoned from the convent. She brought a local midwife along. I distinctly remember praying before a picture of the Virgin Mary as I muttered the Sikh prayers that I had memorised since childhood.
I gave birth in a primitive setting, almost like I would in a remote village in India. There was no oxygen and no medical equipment in case of an operation or an emergency. The midwife was a capable person, whose daughter I was teaching. I gritted my teeth in between the pains and recited excerpts from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to take my mind off the torture! A helper had come up with us carrying a stove that had to be pumped and lit with kerosene for fuel. He camped in the room outside where I lay and made a hot cup of tea for me. It was the elixir of life at that moment despite the heavy stench of kerosene permeating it. The baby girl was born, big and robust, yelling out lustily at 1.15 at night.
Morning dawned with an excited Principal, Sr. Therese, a pretty, pink skinned Belgian nun carrying a colourful crocheted baby blanket and a huge bunch of her precious roses from the convent’s garden.
I was ceremoniously moved for post-natal care to the Cantonment Military Hospital. That was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life as a forest fire that was causing havoc on the hills below came flaring right up till the women’s ward where I was lying. Sky high flames closed in on us with thick black smoke. Bedlam broke out as shrill cries rent the air. Choking on the fumes and blinded with the hot glare of the fire, I hastily picked up the baby from the cot and ran as best as I could in my condition, stitches and all!
How unpredictable life is!
Pix from Net.