In the earlier article, I wrote of some quirks of the men in my family, of the importance of crisply ironed garments and mirror-shining shoes.
I am always fascinated by the discipline of the armed forces and the elaborate customs like the rank distinction, formal dressing, dining, partying, and numerous other social traditions, that distinguish the ‘fauji’ families from the civilian population they protect.
My Pilot husband carried these traditions with pride and aplomb.
After our wedding, I moved to the station of his posting, and we stayed in his bachelor quarters for a few days. Luckily, his unmarried coursemate (and roomie) left for his annual leave right after our wedding, leaving the rooms to us. Finding married accommodation immediately in small stations was a challenge a few decades ago. Things have, hopefully, changed since.
Thereafter, a friend gave us the keys to his house for a month while going on leave for his wife’s delivery. Eventually, we were allotted our own temporary quarter.
The station has officers’ quarters for unmarried officers within the mess vicinity. The ground floor of these quarters is used as a temporary accommodation for married officers and their families, to meet the housing shortage. Bachelors stay in the top floor rooms.
The orderlies take care of the daily needs of the unmarried officers, like bringing early morning tea from the mess, arranging uniform, and polishing shoes. When required, they also bring food for the officers from the mess. They shop, do laundry, and clean the rooms, amongst other things. One of the orderlies, Munshi, was a favourite of most officers, including my husband. When I joined my husband, Munshi continued to bring the morning tea till we are on the first floor. The ground floor quarters had a kitchen, yet Munshi persisted for a few days, knocking on the door every morning with the expectation that my husband will take the tea from him.
Munshi was a tall Dogra, a local resident. An officer once gave him a long overcoat which he wore all winter. The man was towering but very gentle and endearing. Many young officers depended on him. I tried to keep him around for a while, but we both realised that I needed a maid instead.
My husband would not allow his uniform be sent to the local dhobi for ironing. Without an orderly, he took it upon himself to shine his brass buttons, iron his uniform, and shine his shoes. Uniform is a reflection of an officer’s identity. Despite all my loving efforts to take over the responsibility, he did not let me indulge. His simple logic was that he would not want to get lazy or complacent about at least this chore.
Except in a few places, the formal dressing is almost a passé today. Even in the corporate culture, the concept of grooming and dressing is getting limited to the senior staff, with the younger generation opting for Tees and jeans. The casual dressing is becoming a norm. Although it is heartening to find young children of the armed forces dressing for the mess events like new year’s party etc., the strict dressing rules are becoming a thing of the past, and the recent controversy around the United Airlines is one such example. The mandated dress code for the families of staff when travelling on staff ticket or buddy pass infuriates the internet and the social media. This generation will be remembered for its fragile egos and pseudo-outrage. People have opinions on everything, and they have the time to voice them too all day long. I dread the day when the armed forces will get embroiled in this dangerous trend.
I am all for the progress and change, but a change for the sake of it, undermining, or even destroying the basic fabric of culture and responsibility scares me. Maybe, I have become dated.
More anecdotes in my personal files soon…
||Sarvam Sri Krishna Arpanamastu||