Aditi Mathur Kumar is the author of Soldier & Spice: An Army Wife’s Life. The book deals with Pia’s story, a young woman who leaves her past life behind, when she becomes an army wife. Read her interview here. Below you can read an excerpt from her book, Soldier & Spice: An Army Wife’s Life. Courtesy: Aditi Mathur Kumar.
Happily Ever After. In a Theoretical
Way, Of Course
‘Are we there yet?’ I ask for the millionth time, clutching my seat belt.
‘We’ll be there by eighteen hundred hours,’ Arjun replies with a smile. His hands rest casually on the steering wheel and his eyes are steady on the road. He even has a relaxed smile on his face that immediately annoys me.
‘But it’s only—’ I begin impatiently and look at my watch: it’s 5.20 p.m. I start to calculate this into Arjun’s preferred time format.
‘Seventeen o’clock plus twenty minutes!’ I wail, after doing the calculation twice, just to be sure. ‘I have to pee!’
There’s a slight twitch at the corners of his mouth which he attempts to hide by frowning at a truck dawdling ahead of us. So I made a mistake, I roll my eyes. Who cares? I mean, no
normal person tells time in this prehistoric ‘hundred’ hours way anyway.
Except for Army officers, of course, and that’s what Arjun— my husband—is.
Yes, I fell in love with and married an Army officer. Yaay me!
He sees me do the eye roll, laughs and pulls me to him. I stretch my stiff-from-travelling bones with some effort and rest my head on his arm uncomfortably. It’s been one full month since our wedding, but we still crave every possible touch, the slightest brush of a hand and all quick cuddles.
Maybe a year-and-a-half of super-secret dating before tying the knot is responsible for this. Arjun, being in the Army and everything, was always posted away from Delhi; we met only when he was on leave, which, let me tell you, was never enough.
We were nothing like the couples I saw around me, who were constantly together; we were that crazy pair who was working on a ‘long-distance relationship’ and my friends either oohed and aahed over it, or thought it was the worst idea ever. Being subjected to crazy questions and gloomy predictions is not a fun thing, let me tell you.
‘So. How does the only-talking-on-the-phone thing work?’
‘Is there *giggle-giggle* phone sex involved?’
‘Don’t get too into it; you don’t really know what’s going on when he’s a hundred miles away.’
‘Erm, have you ever met him? Like, in real life?’
Annoying, I know.
Hence, the secrecy. The fewer people who knew, the fewer questions I had to answer. Also, I didn’t need anyone telling me how Army men are unfaithful bastards who are always cheating
behind their girlfriend’s or wife’s back—because, believe me, they do. I mean people. People do say things like that. So keeping it a secret worked fine for me. And then we got married.
And now, here we are—married for a month. And on the road for the past two days.
Despite the need to touch, I wriggle out of his arms. I wonder how people make out in cars. Even if you set aside the fear of someone pounding on the window while you’re at it, it’s just plain uncomfortable. Besides, it’s tacky. Every time I see a couple make out in a mall parking lot or even in my society in Delhi (and you’ll be surprised how often that happens), I give them my best ‘Get a room’ look. They never notice, though, obviously. But whatever.
I check my watch once again—still another fifteen minutes to go.
I can’t wait any longer. First, I have to pee really badly, and Arjun says there is absolutely no place for that except home. And second, I am going to my own house for the first time ever!
My very own home.
Exciting, isn’t it? I am about to clap my hands at the thought, for the hundredth time, but I stop in time. Clapping for no apparent reason seems to freak Arjun out. So I pretend to say a prayer with joined hands and he grins. Whatever, I’m not going to let him dampen my excitement.
Honestly, I never thought getting married would be such a thrill—even after the extravagant wedding shopping was over. I know, I know—there’s the togetherness part and the always with-Arjun part, but I thought that would be it—and mind you, I was very happy with that. But turns out there is a lot more buzz to a marriage than one imagines. For example, the honeymoon was awesome. A-W-E-S-O-M-E. The dinners with numerous friends and relatives were pretty cool too—you get to dress up, put on a lot of makeup and just keep smiling.
The month after the wedding went by quickly and suddenly it was time to leave for Pathankot—that’s where Arjun is posted.
Our home—our own home! Yaay! Maybe I’ll daydream about it for the next fifteen bloody minutes.
The house is perfect.
Just perrrr-fect. Fifteen minutes in the house and I am still dumbstruck. It is overwhelming.
In a block of four houses, ours is the one on the left, ground floor. It has two bedrooms, an outhouse and a huge garden that lines the house on three sides. The garden is so awesome that I can already picture myself sitting on a comfortable chair, sipping hot coffee and reading some glossy magazine about smart gardening techniques.
Mesmerized, I walk through the house, running my hand over the stark white walls. Apart from the fact that my hands become all white and dry, it’s a fulfilling gesture—caressing my house with love. Trying to get the paint off my hands, I float spellbound into the garden.
Honestly, I must have a natural knack for gardening or something, because I feel inspired; I’m already visualizing pretty trees and rows of lovely flowers.
Oh god, maybe I can get into bonsai, now that I have this huge space.
‘Here you are!’
Arjun breaks my trance, and as I turn around to face him, my heart leaps. Arjun, all handsome and stunning, is smiling at me against the backdrop of our house. Oh, the scene is gorgeous.
I smile back at him. He leads me to the kitchen and asks if it is okay. I nod sweetly. What do I know about kitchens? I have never cooked anything in my life, except for boiling an egg and burning some Maggi for my little sister, Anya. I have a passion for not cooking. Tell me your favourite dish and I’ll burn it for you. I’ve told Arjun about this a thousand times, but he is still going on and on about how the drawers are state-of-the-art and how the chimney (yes, those things actually exist) has been closed for safety purposes. I have a feeling he thinks I’ve been downplaying my cooking skills. Boy, is he in for a shock. But no problem—I’ve already married him, he can’t change his mind.
The house has a few pieces of fauji furniture already—a couple of single couches in red, a few tables in every possible size, a small and sturdy olive-green almirah, and something I thought was a bedside table or a small wall-mountable mandir but is actually a shoe rack of some kind. The furniture is already arranged in the house and all we need to do is store our clothes in the wardrobes, put sheets on the mattresses and start living our lives. Wonderful.
After checking out every corner of the house and every tap in the bathroom, both of us settle on the couch and sit in happy silence. It’s time to reach out and kiss him passionately, according
to the plan that I carefully formulated on our two-day drive from Delhi to Pathankot.
I had decided that our first make-out session in our first house should blow his mind, in a good I-can’t-get-enough-of-it way, you know? So I’d bought the latest Cosmopolitan from Jalandhar, where we had stopped for grub, and I can now recite the How To Touch A Naked Man—16 Naughty Strokes That Will Send Him Over The Edge article. By the way, did you know there are various erogenous spots in men’s bodies as well—like the TSpot and the R-Spot? Like the G-Spot mystery wasn’t enough. Weird.
So anyway, here I am, quickly applying a fresh coat of my raspberry-flavoured lip gloss, about to grab his collar and start with a steamy kiss in the first ever living room of our life together, when a deafening scream pierces the silence, making me jump back in shock.
‘Jai Hind Saaaaaaaab!’
It’s coming from the front porch.
This can’t be good, right? I feel a surge of panic. Arjun is being called for an emergency operation against terrorists right away! On our first day in our first bloody house!
‘Don’t go!’ I whisper, my voice half-strangled by nerves.
‘What?’ Arjun says distractedly, getting up and running his hands over his barely-creased shirt.
‘Don’t go for the operation. Please,’ I whisper, now clutching his arm.
‘Huh?’ He isn’t even looking at me, just retying his shoelace in a hurry. Avoiding eye contact is definitely a sign that something is dreadfully wrong, isn’t it?
‘The voices . . . outside . . . who . . .?’ I manage, nearly out of breath by now.
‘Oh,’ he says. ‘They are my men.’ He shrugs casually. ‘They are here to meet me. Us, I mean.’
They are my men?
His MEN? That doesn’t sound right, does it? What does he mean, his men? I look at him, uncomprehending, but he isn’t paying any attention to me. Instead, he scoots over to the door.
So much for first-time-in-house plan, I sigh.
A minute later, Arjun re-enters the room, and behind him are five tall, sturdy men in uniforms—and beat this—all have big furry moustaches. I giggle. FYI, I giggle a lot. A lot, really. Which is a good thing, I think. I mean, being happy is a good thing, right? And since Arjun has never said anything about it till now, I assumed he likes it. But apparently he does not, because this time Arjun shoots me a stern behave-yourself look. Maybe he’s tired after all the driving, I think. He introduces all five men to me and each one greets me with a, ‘Namaste Memsaab.’
Me? Can you believe it? Maybe it’s a joke. I want to giggle again, but Arjun is giving me that look, so I just nod and smile brightly. Doesn’t Arjun get it? I’ve just been called ‘memsaab’, and there isn’t a hint of a grin on his face.
I just have to share this with someone normal and get the reaction it deserves, so while Arjun gets busy talking to ‘his men’ about some strange stuff like BPET, falling in, papa battery, I grab my cell phone and text my sister.
Attention earthlings, I am now a MEMSAAB.
Anya replies promptly, within seconds, just the response I wished for.
OMG MEMSAAB? Where are you—16th century?
See? This is a normal reaction from a normal person. Stupid Arjun! I’ll deal with him later. For now, let me revel in the glory of being a memsaab. No one has ever called me that, ever— okay, to be honest, no one has ever addressed to me as madam or ma’am either. I come from a completely civil family—civil, as in non-Army—and who in normal non-Army life uses words like this anymore? I’ve only heard it in old black and white movies. And now, suddenly I’m not just Pia, I’m something more—something magnificent.
By now Anya must have told Mom and Dad, I’m sure. I know that no one in my family will ever believe it, ha! I suddenly feel very pleased with myself and very memsaab-like. I like the Army already. Smiling in what I think is true memsaab-like fashion, I get up gracefully to do some memsaab-like thing—maybe throw a sheet on the bed? I glide towards my huge red suitcase to fish for the lovely green and white bed sheet set my aunt gifted us. I’ve barely unlocked the suitcase, though, when two of Arjun’s men come running towards me.
‘I’m sorry!’ I yell and back away from the suitcase.
‘I’ll do it, Memsaab,’ the taller one says. Arjun had introduced him as Ganga Singh earlier, but I’m not sure how to address him. Ganga ji?
I just shake my head and say, ‘Nahi, I’ll do it. Thank you.’
But he has already bent down and is now holding the suitcase open for me.
‘Oh. Okay,’ I mutter and dive in. It takes me some time but I successfully retrieve the bed sheets, along with a few clothes.
‘Thank you,’ I say to him, and he promptly reaches for the sheet.
‘I’ll do it, Memsaab.’
I have to admit, this is really intimidating for me. Never in my life has anyone wanted to do stuff for me so badly. It is so touching, I think I might cry. I am already warming up to this Ganga Singh person, in spite of his six-foot two frame and his moustache. I hand over the bed sheet and walk over to the couch smiling. I feel particularly celebrated. Arjun is still talking about some boring office stuff with the other men, and when he looks over at me, I beam beautifully.
‘You want something?’ he asks and immediately decides I am about to say something totally stupid like ‘You!’ so quickly adds, ‘Coffee? Juice?’
It’s annoying how he just assumes the wrong thing all the time. I so wasn’t going to say ‘You’. Honest.
Okay, maybe I wanted to, but I wouldn’t have said it in front of these men.
‘Coffee would be great,’ I say.
One of the men scoots out of the house as if on cue.
‘Wassup with him?’ I ask Arjun. ‘Did he just walk off?’
‘He didn’t “walk off”, Pia. He’s getting you coffee from the Mess.’
‘Oh,’ I say, and shrug as if someone rushing to get me coffee before I’ve fully articulated the desire for it is perfectly normal.
After our coffee and what seems like hours, Arjun’s men finally leave after wishing me again. By now I’m totally exhausted. I just want to fall on the bed and sleep for two days, but Arjun -who is surprisingly upbeat now and not at all tired in spite of driving for so long—tells me that we have to go to the Officers’ Mess for dinner at twenty-one hundred hours. I count; that’s 9
‘Oh no!’ I cry. ‘I don’t want to eat! I just want to sleep.’
‘I know you’re tired, baby,’ he sits next to me and tousles my hair—finally!—‘but the Bachelors will be waiting for us. It’ll be quick, I promise.’ Bachelors are the unmarried officers who eat
in the Officers’ Mess every day. It’s one of the things I know about the Army already, thanks to one-and-a-half years of dating Arjun.
But I’m really worn out, and it’s not fair to drag me somewhere just because some people I’ve never met are waiting for us. I immediately want to throw a tantrum, or at least get out of the
dinner somehow, but then I remember—I’m his wife now. I should be supportive and reasonable. Yes, this is the right time to make that important transition from a difficult girlfriend to a considerate wife. It’s only dinner, I tell myself. No big deal.
‘Okay,’ I say.
‘That’s my girl,’ he says, smiling happily.
‘It’s only eight o’clock now, though. What do you suppose we can do in the meantime?’ I ask, in what I think is a seductive way, and a slow smile spreads across Arjun’s face.
‘I do have a few interesting things in mind,’ he says, unbuttoning his shirt and walking towards me.
This is perfect. Maybe not exactly what I had planned—
Actually, this is better than anything I could have planned.