AWWA: MEMOIR AND LESSONS
It was 1985. I was a Captain’s wife, joining the battalion in peace station for the first time. We had a six-month old daughter. I remember being received warmly and being made to feel instantly at home in the battalion, which became an integral part of our life and it remains so till date.
Back then, it had begun with the CO’s wife conducting a ladies’ conference for organizing the welfare of the wives of our JCOs and Jawans, asking us to take on the responsibilities which we could handle the best. Being a teacher by profession, I chose to teach the ladies. I still remember my first day with the ladies, and it was the most heartwarming. They held my daughter, blessed her and took her to a crib. I enjoyed their dusky looks with orangish sindoor, charming smiles, blushes, colorful sarees and lots of jewelry. Some had appeared feeble and weak which led me to enquire about their diet. And I was in for a surprise! So, from the next week onwards, I made a diet chart for each one of them and told them that I will personally visit their houses. In those days, the ladies were just class 6 or 8 pass-outs from local village schools. They had no knowledge of personal hygiene nor did they know about Sanitary Napkins. I remember having to give them demonstrations, like an air hostess does for flight safety. And they had giggled behind their ‘pallus’ with corners tucked in their mouth. We had later organized a salad dressing competition in which the ladies got so excited that they created an entire ‘village scene’ using pieces of cut and whole vegetables. And on their demand, we also started organizing flower decorations, petticoat making, knitting, rangoli and folk-dance competitions. And in the process of doing so, I learned a lot and picked up dancing to the lilting folk music and the drums of Adivasis!
The second time I joined my husband in his unit was when he was the Second-in-Command. And “Family Welfare” became my portfolio. We taught the ladies embroidery and candle making. This time they learnt knitting on machines and they learnt to make cardigans and leggings. Technology had started making its presence felt. The Adivasi ladies usually lived with a care-free abandon. But once they became more aware, the ladies started decorating their homes with crochet and beads. They made extremely innovative nail and thread artifacts, wall mounts with sea-shells, macramé, laces with threads etc. We visited them in hospitals and they were asked to freely come to our homes in case of any distress. And the more we interacted, the more we learnt about interpersonal relationship from them. We indeed were one family and were instrumental in settling personal issues and family discords.
Post which, I joined my husband when he was a Brigadier and a Sub Area Commander. Most of the veer naris were looked after by the Sub Area. I was more pre-occupied then, in getting them employed, managing higher education for their children and ensuring that they get their dues from the government. With respect to the families of the serving soldiers, we helped in resolving MES repairs, sanitation and health checkups, computer classes, getting crèche made in hospitals etc.
Although later as the wife of a Divisional commander, I saw a perceptible change in what the ladies of our Jawans wanted to learn. We graduated to Nursery Teaching training, Car Driving, Baking, Computer and Beautician’s courses. The ladies were graduates and some were post graduates as well. It was so satisfying to see the improvement in their outlook and attitude. They could teach their children and were an asset in all-station activities.
The quality of education in Army Schools was always my priority. We nurtured a school for special children. We dotted every ‘i’ and crossed every ‘t’ to ensure that our next generation took a bigger leap into the future.
My last tryst with AWWA was in Jalandhar where my husband was a Corps Commander. I spent a substantial amount of time mapping the veer naris, evolving a system by which we could be in regular touch with them, resolving their problems, running health camps, improving facilities in Military Hospitals, Army Schools, primary schools , scholarships and recognition of distinguished students, opening a Girls Hostel for those coming to Jalandhar for higher education, training the teachers of Asha Schools in the Corps, establishing hobby classes, organizing guest lectures / workshops of eminent people and scheduling cultural programs. Over a period of time in our Army life, I saw a substantial increase in marital discord cases amongst officers and even the Jawans. Though not so pleasant a duty yet it was very satisfying to resolve many of these cases by involving parents and sometimes children of the Army Men and get families back together.
As I look back, being part of AWWA has had a great impact in my life. It has been a meaningful and satisfying experience through which I’ve learnt much more than I have imparted. I learnt about interpersonal relationships and bonding from the families of jawans, the ones who had undertaken the oath to fight along with my husband and make supreme sacrifices, if required. Brothers-in–arms, indeed. And I still miss the sway and the rhythmic steps of the Adivasi dance i.e. women huddling with their arms around the petite waists of their young sisters; sisters-in -arms indeed.