Cantonment Calling: Foot in the Mouth

There are some hard lessons to be learnt as an Army wife. Lily reveals tongue in cheek that her transformation from a fire brand student leader to a robot like creature, bereft of superior intellect, was not a long ride. There is a hierarchy that must be strictly observed amongst the women folk wedded to the uniform as well.  If your husband is a senior officer, it’s natural that all ladies are reverential besides being socially courteous. An exclusive weekly column in Different Truths every Wednesday, beginning this week.

The olive green is not just a shade of green – it’s a unique way of life. Having been wedded to an army man for well over thirty years, I became a completely different human. A subtle personality change slowly wormed its way into my buoyant psyche. From a fire brand student leader, with never a care in the world to a simpering and fawning, robot like creature bereft of superior intellect, was not a long ride. A humungous effort went into transforming myself from a self-assured young faculty of English Literature in a degree college to a rather meek yes woman.

There is a hierarchy that must be strictly observed amongst the women folk wedded to the uniform as well.  If your husband is a senior officer, it’s natural that all ladies are reverential besides being socially courteous. At the risk of baring my heart, I admit to being guilty of “sucking up” to senior ladies. It started as a young captain’s bride. The commanding officer’s wife was a motherly lady once upon a time. She would be benign and helpful, guiding young brides to be efficient army wives. Those ladies remain my role models till today for they were the elder sisterly figure in a sea of humans, far away from home.

It was imperative to say “yes, Mrs so and so” with suitably downcast eyes and a doting look of adoration on one’s countenance. One would do well to harbour no ideas of disagreeing with anything put forth by the senior lady, however, ridiculous these might seem.

An episode looms large in my huge memory bank. I had barely been married a few months and was an eager and bright eyed young captain’s wife. We were positioned in a tiny Cantonment where a rather high ranking couple was arriving for an official visit .A meeting was convened to decide how the visiting lady could be entertained. A formal dinner menu was also discussed. The top lady of the formation perfunctorily asked us young wives for suggestions. A lot of dishes were discussed till a lady next to me said, “I think egg curry would be an excellent idea.” I have never forgiven myself for my foot in mouth reply. “Oh no,” I said, “That is for times at home when there are no other options. Not for a formal sit down dinner.” A hush fell over the tiny group of ladies at my cheeky remark. I had gone against an unwritten army code. One never negates a senior lady’s words. Murderous looks were flung my way by the lady in question. I was still very fresh and raw to understand the far reaching implications of my tirade.

She fumed under her breath and gave me a detailed talk on the virtues of Anda curry, as it is called in the vernacular. I heard the detailed recipe of a classily boiled and deep fried egg that had to be smothered in rich onion and tomato gravy. My ears were red with embarrassment as I tried to look repentant. I wasn’t too successful since I was young and warm blooded. I was about to start afresh with my support of my not too welcome ideas until I felt surreptitious kicks on my shins and pinches on my arms. To my amazement all the other ladies were looking daggers at me and frowning in discomfort.

I clamped my mouth shut with a determined look of a sacrificial goat. News of my stupidity spread like wildfire but I am thrilled that nobody ordered that dish for dinner!

Believe me please when I say that my taming began on that fateful day. I learnt to auto stop my over-enthusiastic mouth just before it let go. I nodded like a sheep or bowed to any ideas that came out of a senior lady’s mouth. Never once did I falter. The lesson came with a heavy price. The lady in question would look down her nose at me disdainfully for days and barely if ever talk to me.

The anda curry made me persona non grata for times immemorial!

©Lily Swarn

Pix from Net.

Lily Swarn

Lily Swarn

Lily has published English poems in three anthologies. She was awarded Reuel international prize for poetry 2016. A postgraduate in English from Punjab University, she was awarded a gold medal for best all-round student and academics. She edited her college magazine and wrote middles for newspapers. Poetry blossomed after her young son's sudden demise. She writes in Hindi and English. Hailing from a defence family, she is settled in Chandigarh.
Lily Swarn