The smart aleck in the Oxford Dictionary describes a Civilian as a person not in the armed services or the police force. The word finds its roots in the old French phrase “droit civilian or civil law”, which was refined in the early 19th century to quantify the non-combatant citizens, essentially people like you and me. We live the same desires and dreams- a respectable degree, a handsome pay cheque with onsite opportunity, big cars, MK bags, a partner earning in dollars etc etc. As Civilians, our Patriotic quotient is mostly limited to the India-Pak match, few movies and occasional forwards on Watsapp.
But then something happened. In search of a resonating partner, I landed up choosing a Fauji and he threatened my Civilian tag. Apparently his entire family was a Fauji- father in-law was retired Colonel, husband and brother in-law were Majors and my mother in-law was the honorary General of the house J. Still surprisingly, this rebranding did little to my Patriotic fervour as for the first five years of our marriage we were separated. My husband was posted in the border areas and I continued to enjoy my Civilian status in a cosmopolitan.
My impression about the Fauj was an overblown cinemascope, symbolised by ‘Sunny Paaji in Border’ and ‘Akshay Kumar in Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyo’. Because of our separation, I never saw him or his friends do anything like that. I once asked him, “Tum log aise hi ladte ho?”, and he said, “Movies are emotional melodramas sold to make money. There is no war going on”.
The separation and the unreality of events in the movies made me dislike Fauj from the bottom of my heart. I was struggling alone in a hostile city and my husband wasn’t doing anything even remotely close to Sunny Deol.
Finally, things changed and we moved in together in a peace station. I gave up my ‘Activa’ and now I had the luxury of a chauffer husband driving the car. It was no longer a life off the suitcase in a PG and my things had a decent parking in the cupboards. For the first time in five years, I was starting to know what Fauj and Faujis do? Some episodes which mutated me from a Civilian to a Fauji and transformed my dislikes to likes were:
That Phone Call
It was a weekend and we had just returned from a party. I had not even changed when he got a call from his brother who was then posted at the Line of Control (LOC). He spoke to him in a muffled tone for some 10 minutes and got back to hangering his dress. I asked him if everything was ok and he said, “Yes. Till now”.
“Till now? What do you mean?” I was distracted.
“Yaa.. Allz well. He is going for an operation,” his reply was stone cold and later he went off to sleep comfortably. I knew something was serious as I had seen it on his face. The whole night I surfed the internet to find out what he meant by an ‘Operation’. I realised Bhaiya (Brother in-law) was going to face the militants. I shook him hard and got him to his senses from the deep slumber.
“Listen! You call Bhaiya and tell him not to go. Tell him not to go for any operation and come back,” I ordered him like a Fauji.
“What! What operation? Soo jaao please”, he dropped back dead.
“Sunno.. I know he is going for some dangerous work. Please stop him. Why is he going there?” I again tried to persuade him to take the thing seriously.
“Ohh ho! Don’t worry. He is going because that’s his duty,” he said heartlessly and dozed off again.
2nd January 2016 : Pathankot Attack
He was keenly following the event on a news channel and I was in the kitchen. Suddenly I heard him shout, “WTF”. I saw him calling some friend and he slipped into a coma of silence after the call. The annoying news channel was relentlessly flashing – “Pathankot Attack : Lt Col Niranjan dead”.
“What happened”, I asked him.
“Nothing. My friend has died in the Pathankot attacks. We did a course together,” it was an effortless announcement.
“Kya! Who?” I had slipped a beat and a rainbow of stars just passed by.
“Ninja.. Arrey Niranjan,” he just said three words and started watching the news. I had no idea who was Ninja, but he was his friend. I was into tears but he was a emotionless deadpan.
Sobbingly, I asked him, “Why did he go there? Didn’t he know it was dangerous out there?”
He looked up, looked at my tears and said, “He bloody well knew, it was dangerous, but that’s his duty”.
29th November 2016 : Nagrota Attack
He was reading his Watsapp and once again I heard the familiar, “WTF”.
“Ab kya hua?” I knew it was some bad news. Those days every now and then we had attacks somewhere – Pathankot, Pampore, Uri, Baramulla, Handwara.
He was benumbed and said, “Akshay has died in Nagrota”.
I didn’t know him and asked, “Who is Akshay? Do you know him?”
“Major Aksahy. He had called me a few days back for some guidance to appear in an exam. He is martyred in Nagrota today,” he said silently, but soon regained his composure and moved on to read the other forwards on his Watsapp.
After a few days I read a blog by Akshay’s mother and learnt that he volunteered to go for the operation, even though he could have avoided. Another officer who died that day, Major Gosavi Kunal Mannadir, had also volunteered to lead the operation in spite of being off duty that time. That night I asked my husband, “Do you know both Major Akshay and Maj Gosavi volunteered to go for the operation, knowing that there was a lot of danger, and surprisingly both could have easily avoided it? Then why did they go?”
He just said three words, “That’s their duty”.
For many nights I couldn’t sleep and kept wondering what this “Duty” was, and why these men intentionally treaded the perils of martyrdom, when they could have easily dodged it. Didn’t they have anyone waiting at home? Didn’t they wanna grow old with their soul mates and see their children grow? Didn’t they have parents waiting for their son?
The next few days I spent hours on the computer, reading about these heroes, and crying. While I was crying for those who could not make it, I was happy that many of them had made it.
As a Civilian I never had any emotions for the Country, definitely all of you may not be like me. Even ‘Shahrukh’s Swades’ could not sow the seeds of allegiance and nationalism in my heart. But now this casual Civilian in me was transformed into an ardent Fauji. I realised that these men were resolute Patriots for whom ‘Duty’ meant protecting the Nation, even if it was asking for the ultimate sacrifice. ‘Duty was a call from the mother land to repay the debt. The definition of their bravery comes from this ‘Duty’. Simply to say, it was their love for the Country.
It took me five years to realise I was married to a Patriot; realise that my in-laws were Patriots; realise that those Jawans who come to my house were Patriots; realise that all those who I met in parties, ate and danced with were Patriots; In fact all of them in the Uniforms were Patriots, but they never say it. They just do it because “That’s Their Duty.”