Recently I have had the good fortune of meeting the wives of the highest echelons of the Indian Army at various levels at various places. With some, I worked in close association as part of one team and with some, I had the great honour of meeting and presenting my book ‘The Force Behind The Forces.’ I also had the great privilege of attending lectures/speeches by some of them. I am talking about wives of Army Commanders, Corps Commanders, Commandants of best military establishments, and Colonel of the regiments. I even had the honour of meeting two of the Chief’s wives and many other highly accomplished and influential ladies who have not only contributed greatly to the military fraternity but also hold the power to change an entire generation of upcoming military folks. These women are doing a tremendous job by influencing the next lot of military which will take over in the near future and decide the safety and security of our nation. Their vision is the present essence of the fauji fraternity.
The average age of soldiers and officers today is much less compared to personnel of yesteryear times but I also realized that the age of Officers at the highest of decision-making panels has also reduced. We now have military leaders with upfront, reforming and progressive approaches who are flexible to ‘change’ and are more approachable. They don’t mind sharing a good-hearted laugh with Captain-level officers or being readily available to them. This vision is flowing down the line to the lowest rank, a foot soldier of modern times when war is mostly heading towards man-less, drone-power-based hybrid warfare with weapons based on electromagnetic waves, modern tech and equipment or even information. Even the recent induction of Agniveer is a sign of times to come and how change is an inevitable trait.
To meet this lot and learn from their vision was an absolute privilege which provided me with a glimpse into their minds about their vision, ideologies.’ These ladies have survived various decades in the Indian Army to have seen many wars, and reformative phases, to eventually reach the top of the ladder beside their gallant husbands. They are a treasure trunk of knowledge but while we see articles on popular military culture in the most masculine manner we forget women and children also make a large part of this fraternity and their well-being has also been a major concern for the organisation. Be it various welfare programs or field visits by ladies to furthermost family stations away from cities to take a peek into mental and physical well-being of the ‘force behind the forces’ or rehabilitation of Veer Naris Army had been concerned more than any other organisation in India for its families, women and children who are often left behind during war or crisis or even flood or drought. These ladies at the highest of positions in AWWA with whom I had the privilege to talk, universally emphasized how the role of a COW (the popular light-hearted name given to a Commanding Officer’s Wife) is important for the flow of military ethos, the conduct of AWWA Activities in the right manner and flow of right military spirits in today’s world. You influence one Co’s wife and you have a chance of improving hundreds of lives.
It was absolutely humble on her part to provide so much credit to the existence of young Army Wives from her own position of absolute responsibility and authority.
I have learnt all accomplished people are humble and supremely down to earth. Again, an important trait to learn. It is been a long since I have written anything on Army life as my books don’t leave me time to write as much as I wish I could. Trust me being a writer is an exhaustive job but then I thought these great pearls of wisdom must be shared with everyone to help women with some crucial responsibilities with complete awareness of their roles. While we teach cadets to become officers and run various competitive courses at various stages of their service life we don’t have many materials regarding roles or contributions of the families which is important to maintain peace and harmony even in the smallest of cantonments at secluded locations with the basic minimum facilities. The soldier needs to be stress-free and it starts from his home.
So, here comes some pearls of wisdom to guide young Commanding Officer’s wives of modern times who like anyone else at a new job might be clueless and searching for some answers. Some of the ladies might be wondering about whether the path taken with utmost sincerity for the betterment of families is right or not, some might be struggling to keep their families together while the men from their units might be deployed at Siachen or a forward post leaving behind hundreds of families.
I hope it helps and even if I am able to provide a vision, or an idea to even one of you I would find writing this blog totally worth my time. Take it as my personal view and it is totally up to you to take it or leave it and find your path your way. These are in no way official guidelines for a CO’s wife but just a humble attempt to help those who might find vision in my views. So let’s just start with the top ten tips for modern CO’s wives.
We all have our favourites as parents, teachers as bosses, it is human nature but when you are in the military I feel favouritism is the plague. A CO’s wife is a figure in the unit to whom all the women in the unit look up with great respect and expect support in times of war or crisis. It is her job to keep the environment of the unit right and keep the families together as one unit. Favouritism can come as a real obstacle to that. When someone is doing good there are a million ways to encourage them but favouritism is certainly not one of them.
Understand your position
Fauj is an organization where a 21-year-old boy commands a 50-year-old man and the same goes for the wives of these young leaders. Today the average age of a Commanding Officer has decreased which means the wives are even younger but if you are a COW you have to understand you are a mother figure to your families. And as revered a mother is considered in Indian families because of her role in nurturing the family even at her own cost, the CO’s wife is the same for fauji families from far off lands finding their feet in a unit. Earn that respect and don’t indulge in any activity or conduct that shatters their trust or respect in you.
Don’t sideline the working women
A great lady at the highest of positions recently shared how one must not sideline or ignore the working women. A career woman is a role model who contributes to society; we must also accept it in our lives. Everyone has a value and as great leaders, one must find a middle way to extract work out of them which must excite them and push them to participate voluntarily. Though with changing times there is already great respect for working women in the military fraternity. I myself had been working at various positions throughout the14 years of my induction into the Army family and I never came across a single senior lady who did not understand my time constraints or problems as a career-oriented woman. And I hope you see I have flourished because of this kind of support from within the fraternity. This idea should flow to each one of us today.
Keep in touch with your families
Visit your families houses in their thick and thin. Be part of their celebrations birthday anniversaries newborn babies and more. let them know that you care. Your small gestures would make them smile if nothing. If the unit is deployed in field areas this little gesture of yours is of utmost importance keeping the spirit of the soldiers deployed at LOC / LAC high knowing their families can easily approach you even if they won’t be available.
Be kind and warm-hearted
We all have different personalities. Someone might be an introvert someone might be an extrovert but if you are the first lady of your unit kindness and warmth should essentially be part of your persona. Be forgiving be kind like any guardian/ eldest of the family. Your ego and anger should certainly take the backseat. Be the nicest person in the unit. Be nice to people around you and think twice before assigning any task. Indulge in activities which do not make life difficult for people around you. I hope you just decoded the secret behind the ever-smiling kind faces of most senior ladies. If not read this para again.
Follow Military tradition
It is important more than ever that our generation carry forward the military culture and tradition in a most glorious manner. It is on our onus to pass on our culture our heritage as one military fraternity to the next generation of military personnel and families in exactly the manner our mothers have tried hard to pass on the family values. If we ourselves don’t learn and behave and believe in our culture be it wearing saree or attending mandir parades they will lose value in some years. Don’t allow them to dilute and pass these military values with great pride. These values are what set us apart as one creed of ‘Fauji families’
Be useful to the organization
You as a CO’s wife can create a lot of difference in hundreds of people’s lives easily if you take little effort than sticking to your comfort zone. Take risks for the betterment of your families. Be interested in schools, canteens, libraries and more such facilities given to your unit and think of ways how you can contribute. This is your home. If nothing teach youngsters to use the facilities primarily than availing same facilities outside at a cost.
Take interest in Appointment House
The Appointment House is less about a person and more about a legacy. The involvement of units in those houses makes them special. Try to build something to that house in whichever manner possible to leave it to the next CO who would take the reins from your husband’s hands with an aim to take it forward ahead aiding the work you have done for the unit and organization. Make life easier for them. You reflect the vision and essence of your unit. Ensure to reflect the best of it and your house is part of it. Your house is also a source of inspiration to the young Army wives to push them to be more involved in their lives as well.
Don’t indulge in gossiping
This is the worst you can do as a CO’s wife, understand your position and don’t pay heed to bad words against any member of your family from other members. It is impossible to get along with everyone. To some, you will gel more to some you won’t be able to but if you are in such a position understand you cant seclude a member from your own family or demean him/her in any sense even if you don’t like them in your heart. As I mentioned earlier, for you everyone should be equal. Your parents loved all their children equally. Right?
Reduce your husband’s stress
All faujis be it a jawan or an officer are eternally gripped with an unimaginable workload which is the reason behind the perfection of the work that the military delivers. If you are angry or upset about something, don’t ring your husband immediately wait for him to come home and share your thoughts once you are calm down. As is with the world your mood is certainly capable of ruining his mood which might add up to his stress and might flow down the line. Be mature and sensitive in such a position.
There is so much you can do. We all have a tendency to be useful and do good for people around us as good human beings. In childhood we wanted to be superheroes saving the world, trust me if you are a Commanding Officer’s wife this is your moment. But also remember that tenure is temporary and people are not. Your impression as a lady will last forever. Be the star in your families eyes, earn their respect never demand, ensure to keep your ego in the backseat and forget for the entire tenure. Your ego should not take centre stage but only the best of what’s inside you in their most positive form should take the centre stage. It is a role of immense importance to make sure you play your part and make our small world even better as one creed n in complete alignment from top to bottom.
I wish you all a great tenure and happier times. I also apologise for any mistake in my perception but everything had been written in the best of spirits to help those who are new, confused or overwhelmed searching for answers. These are not official guidelines but I hope my perceptions find a place in your hearts. Loads of love and gratitude to each one of you my soul sisters.
Some of the fascinating books I have written on women in relationships with soldiers are must-read by Army wives. You might just find your story flowing through the pages and warm your heart.