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I agree with author Robert A. Heinlein who wrote: "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly." Now, that is too much to ask from one person, you'll say, but then I was raised in the Army!
The Army expects every officer it selects to have some 'Officer Like Qualities'. In alphabetical order, he has to be Alert, Considerate, Courageous, Determined, Enthusiastic, Fair... Well you get the idea. Every single officer in India has had to undergo a stringent four/ five day interview process. There are tests--psychometric, physical, medical--to make sure he has it in him to lead from the front, in battle and in peace.
To cut a long story short, when the Army is done producing an officer, it has created just that red hot item who makes the angels in matchmaking heaven break into a thousand paeans of delight!
It was no different with my mother.
I was 22 (Oh Horror!) and my mom had been trying really hard to get me started on the path to matrimony. I was a busy working woman, but she would forever waste my time arranging "get-togethers" with eligible bachelors. I successfully evaded any change in my marital status for the longest possible time, and then I met S.
Here I was, face-to-face with this confident, intelligent, well spoken, well dressed man and, yup, I was smitten! But there was one glitch. He was my father's "brother officer".
In the Army, there is a strict social hierarchy. Your father’s colleague is an Uncle and his wife an Aunty. In the olden days, this was usually regardless of relative age. Children of the aforementioned Uncles & Aunties, if older than you, were always Didi or Bhaiya, depending on gender. A Bhaiya could remain a Bhaiya if he didn’t join the Army; he could still remain a Bhaiya if he did join the Army but that depended on how familiar you were with him. If not on friendly terms, he graduated to being an Uncle. With a Didi, it was not so complicated. The rules said it was not so much about her profession but her marital status. She could remain your Didi if she married outside the Forces but converted into an Aunty as soon as she married an Uncle.
Coming back to my story, my immediate problem was what to call S. I know it sounds very dumb now, but remember I was operating under the influence of 22 years of social conditioning. I was bred in an environment where carriage, grooming, and etiquette were given utmost importance. I was expected to be on my best behaviour in all situations at all given times. Plus, the Army is a really tight-knit community. News travels fast, especially of impropriety. Exactly the reason I had always taken care to maintain a safe distance from any young officers I met.
So, mine was a bonafide dharam sankat. What if I called him by his name, and then we didn't get married? That, in my mind, would not just be awkward, but also such a breach of protocol!
Anyway, I avoided calling him anything for a few months. Ours was a long-distance relationship, conducted mainly via telephone. I braced myself till I had mustered the courage to call S by his first name. The day it happened, I felt such a sense of freedom that I ended up being bound to him for life.