My father joined the Indian Navy when he was a teenager and didn’t retire until I was in college. So I am a Navy brat – or rather since, in India, a soldier is a Fauji (faux-jees) – I am a Fauji kid. And here are some of the salient features of that kind of childhood.
- we didn’t own any piece of furniture in our house other than some wicker chairs and a trundle bed – furniture was provided by the MES* and included completely useless “peg” tables
- vacations were called “leave” and when my father had to travel for work, he went on “temporary duty” aka TY duty
- we always lived on a Naval base with armed guards at every gate,
- I went to school with other Naval children in a large ass combat truck called a Shaktiman,
- on “Bring your Family to Work” day I got to go on an aircraft carrier and be sailed 20 nautical miles out into the Arabian Sea,
- officers in white uniforms make me incredibly nostalgic,
- I know the difference between an Army, Navy and Air Force salute,
- I can tell the rank of an officer from the design of his/her epaulet,
- I changed ten schools from K-12,
- Saturday movie nights consisted of James Bond movies in an aircraft hanger where the screen was a white sheet strung between the noses of two military jets – my favorite was Moonraker when the guy with the metal teeth gets stuck to the giant magnet
- I moved every three years so I know what an “Uh-oh” trunk is (it’s the last piece of luggage you pack into which all the stuff you’ve forgotten goes – like “uh-oh, we forgot to pack the toaster and playing cards and the mosquito nets“)
- I have no problems making friends with complete strangers,
- an Indian Naval banquet, or Badaa Khaana as it’s known, always has mutton biryani and ends with a fruit salad in custard served in a fluted glass from which it’s impossible to eat with any dignity
- a favorite appetizer that Naval Mess halls serve is the “Angel on Horseback” – and I know that it’s a piece of fried toast, with a dab of scrambled egg, topped with a spot of ketchup
- I knew my parents were going to a fancy party when my dad donned his Red Sea Rig also known as 6As
- I’ve used the phrase…”oh yeah, well my dad has a sword so suck it“
- when someone asked me what my dad does for a living I’ve explained that he fixes Sea Harriers
- I’ve sat with other military kids behind a line of horses during parades and been finely sprayed by horse urine
- every weekend we went to the base canteen to get soaps and shampoo and cheese and juice
- base medical officers used to test children for filaria (like malaria but more awful) so I’ve awoken at 10 pm to find two massive soldiers in uniforms drawing my blood and gone back to sleep again [Note: the filaria parasite migrates to extremities of the body during the night so that’s how they have to test for it – very cool indeed]
- I went to military hospitals and a military dentist told my mother that if I didn’t have trouble breathing at night, I didn’t need braces – so me and my crooked smile thank him for that!
- and when they play the Last Post on the bugle, I get choked up [Note: the Last Post is equivalent to the American Taps, in the British Commonwealth countries this piece of music is called the Last Post]
It was a great childhood – there was no money at all – but I got to travel all over India, and live in beautiful places by the sea like Goa and Cochin, and make friends whom I didn’t have to see everyday to remain friends with, and learn valuable life skills like how to pack all my belongings into two bags and get the last grape from a fruit salad custard concoction served in a completely incongruous fluted glass on a moving aircraft carrier in the Arabian sea while simultaneously not succumbing to sea sickness – and that’s a unique talent that only us fauji kids have!
*MES: Military Engineering Service – the guys who used to come to fix the water seepage in the bathroom, or a busted piece of furniture, or a loose door handle on an aircraft carrier or your house. And they usually carry nothing but a screw driver and a wrench – the same tools for any task! Genius!!