Military & Aerospace

A Soldier's Daughter
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A Soldier's Daughter, 5.1 out of 5 based on 53 ratings
Issue Net Edition | Date : 07 Feb , 2015

My earliest childhood memories are of travelling on the pillion seat of a scooter, safely ensconced in my mother’s arms. I still remember the whiff of Mom’s perfume and the soothing comfort of snuggling in the soft contours of her arms. Dad got married when he was a young Captain, doing an instructional tenure in Mhow. I was born two years later, just before he rejoined his unit in a field area in the Kashmir Valley.

Luckily for all of us, families were permitted there and a small one room shack became home to us till we moved on posting just before my third birthday. I did not know it then, but those were the most stable years for us as a family. My recollections of the next five years are replete with constant movement, changing houses and schools every year with monotonous regularity.

It was not easy growing up as the daughter of an Army officer in the combat zone. It must have been harder facing up to the rigours of being his wife.

When Dad got posted to the Northeast, Mom had had enough. She moved to Delhi and we put up in hired accommodation. I joined the Army Public School in class three, that being the sixth school that I was attending. Growing up as the daughter of an Infantry officer was not easy. But in a sense, the challenges had only just begun, for Dad was destined to spend most of his service life away from us in some operational area or the other. For him, it was a continuous saga of missed birthdays, PTA meetings, annual functions and Sports days at school.

We missed growing up with Dad. He too, must have missed seeing his children grow during their most formative years.

During the winter of 1987, Dad’s unit moved from the Northeast to Sri Lanka as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). My sister was four and I was eight years old. For the next two years, Dad fought a long and harsh war in a faraway land; we kids never realised how each day of that bitterly fought war was fraught with risk to life and limb.

Mom always carried a cheerful facade and never gave us a whiff of how worried she was. She not only bore the stress of her own separation but also by her vivacity and cheerfulness, insulated me and my sister from what could have been a very traumatic experience.

Yes, we missed Dad, but we never felt broken up by his absence.

Mom made sure of that by implying Dad’s presence in the house either while conversing with us or through regular letter writing. Every week we would write long descriptive letters to Dad; Our successes and foibles in school, our friends, our toys and the myriad other things which form part of a young girl’s life and which mean a great deal to a child. Dad’s letters were always awaited with a keen sense of anticipation, the postman’s footsteps sending us into fits of excitement.

We’d take the letter in our hand and run all over the house and scream “Papa’s letter is here!” and Mom would smile.

Dad’s letters never mentioned the war. In the world he created for us there were no landmines, no bullets whizzing at you from dark jungle hides, no horrors of death and maiming, or any talk of fatigue and hunger after marching days on end, searching for an elusive enemy.

What he did create was a world of immense beauty, of shimmering clear blue oceans and golden coastlines dotted with a million palm trees and beautiful shells that washed up at your feet. A world of majestic jungles where they would often come in touch with herds of wild elephants, flocks of spotted deer and the occasional leopard. He wrote with a great deal of compassion about the wonderful Tamil people in his part of the Island and with each letter he made the beautiful Island Nation come alive.

“Brave girls dont cry” Mom would tell us. So we would hold back our tears and smilingly bid Dad adieu.

That collection of letters from Dad we stored safely right next to our Enid Blytons.

We never got to see what Dad wrote to Mom. She would regularly listen to the news on Doordarshan, out of concern for what was happening in Sri Lanka and dreaded the arrival of a telegram or a phone call at an odd hour. A friend had told her that bad news was generally conveyed through such media.

The news carried by DD or by the daily papers sometimes gave details of casualties suffered by our soldiers in the ongoing war. When news trickled in of a loved one lost by someone known to us, the war would become more personal for Mom, but she continued to face the situation stoically and carried on as if everything was normal. It was not easy growing up as the daughter of an Army officer in the combat zone. It must have been harder facing up to the rigours of being his wife.

One day Mom came to us excitedly and said that it was now possible to speak to Dad on phone. This was our wildest dream come true! We got down to dialling the number of the connecting army exchange. After being routed through four more exchanges, the telephone in Dad’s room rang. We held our breaths. Would he be there or would he be out on an operation! Our hearts skipped manya beat, but then dad picked up the phone. “Papa!” we screamed in unison. That day was easily one of the most exciting days of our life. The call dropped after some time, but Dad was never too far away after that. He was just a phone call away.

Dad’s arrival on leave used to be preceded by fervent excitement. The three of us would tick off days in eager anticipation. Mom would plan various menus featuring his favourite dishes. My sister and I would purchase big chart papers and make colourful “Welcome Home Papa” posters which we pasted all over the house. On arrival, Dad would appreciate and compliment us on each of them. We’d be delighted.

Once Dad was home, life took on a different hue altogether. We were a family again, all together, albeit for a short time, and learned to value what was really important in life. There was a sense of satisfaction in doing the small things, the meals taken together, watching television, doing homework where Dad would help out in our studies, especially maths. And the simple joy of going to bed at night knowing Dad was home. Sometimes we would go out to see the various attractions offered by the city, Appu Ghar being the favourite or we’d simply just visit friends and family. It was fun all the way till it was time for Dad to leave again.

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“Brave girls don’t cry” Mom would tell us. So we would hold back our tears and smilingly bid Dad adieu. From our first floor window, we would lean out and watch him leave. There would be a flurry of arm waving as we would scream “Papa see you very soon”, but our hearts were being ripped by the pain of yet another separation. Each time he left, a small part of our childhood was lost forever. We learnt to mask our aching hearts with a smile on our face, as we knew that crying would not make Dad stay back but only aggravate his pain. So we held back our tears. That was part of growing up too.

Fortunately Dad came back safe from Sri Lanka; there were many whose fathers didn’t. However, the saga of separation would continue with Dad going back to operational areas after short respites in peace postings. But as we were growing up we learned to accept the rough with the smooth. Today, many years down the line, I am married to an executive with a hectic lifestyle and long work hours, stretching at times from fourteen to sixteen hours per day.

I realize that like my father who fought his nation’s wars my husband is a soldier too, fighting for his nation’s cause, though the context is different. In a sense, aren’t we all soldiers too when we do our duty, whether as homemakers, teachers, executives or as part of our security forces?

Life might not have been easy for this daughter of an Army officer. But I am now conscious that life is not a journey. The journey is life.

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53 votes cast
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Aarti Pathak

Mrs Aarti Pathak, daughter of Maj Gen Dhruv Katoch.

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    27 thoughts on “A Soldier’s Daughter

    1. When I started reading the article- i was praying that I should not read unpleasant Lines-Thank God All well and General Sb came back safe n sound.
      At the same time thought comes to mind for all those angels-who lost their Fathers/Brothers in wars and unrest.Politically motivated but mostly suffered by families of services and Uniform bearers.Some say part of job…actually part of fate,a soldier understands the best.

    2. After one year of marriage I went on a Field posting, then to another fd area with my battalion and then moved to Sri Lanka. That was 5 years of seperation. 15 years of seperation out of 32 years I served. By the time I dusted my boots and hung them up my kids were gone – they were working by then.My daughter was born when I was in Fd and by the time I got back she started to go to school. Sometimes life seems so incomplete.

    3. As an old IAF veteran, I must admit I have to yet meet a fauji brat who fails to impress. This article is proof of that, if ever proof were needed. They do indeed make us proud.

      As I just tweeted – the one fact that is overlooked regarding fauji’s, is that they have brought up and instilled values in their children that cannot be faulted. A lot of the credit goes to the home-makers, spouses and the environment that Service life provides.

      For that alone I am grateful to the Service.

      Dara Cooper

    4. IAM A RETIRED NAVAL OFFICER WHO PERHAPS NEVER UNDERWENT THE HARDSHIPS WHICH A ARMY MAN GOES THROUGH DURING HIS CAREER IN ARMY . IN THE NAVY EXCEPT FOR THE SEPERATION DURING SAILING AND POOR AVAILABILTY OF ACCOMMDATION BEING A CITY BASED SERVICE YOUNG OFFICERS AND FAMILIES STAY AND ENJOY THE MESS , CLUB AND SERVICE LIFE . IT ONLY IN SUBMARINES WHERE LIFE IS TOUGH AND THOSE FLYING FIGHTERS AND CHOPPERS . AFTER LEAVING NAVY IJOINED THE MERCHANT MARINE AND WAS RETURNING FROM GOA BY BUS WHEN TWO YOUNG LADIES AND THEIR BROTHER APPROACHED ME IF I COULD HELP AND ESCORT THEM TILL PUNE . THE BROTHER HAD COME TO SEE OFF THE SISTER AND HER FRIEND AND WAS CONFIDENT THAT ILOOKED LIKE A SERVICE OFFICER AND WOULD LOOK AFTER THEIR SAFETY . DURING THE JOURNEY THE LADIES INTRODUCED THEMSELVES AS DAUGHTERS OF A COL AND JCOAND WERE DOING MBA FRO PUNE AND HAD COME TO MEET THE BROTHER WHO WORKED IN GOA . BOTH WERE UNHAPPY AS THE MOTHERS WERE ALONE IN JAMMU AND LUDHIANA WHILST THE FATHERS AFTER RETIREMENT WERE WORKING IN VARANASI AND FARIDABAD . THE GIRLS THOUGH GROWN UP WERE SAD AND UNHAPPY AS THEY HAD MISSED THEIR THEIR FATHERS WHO WERE ALWAYS IN THE FIELD ON CHINA OR PAKISTAN BORDER AND EVEN AFTER RETIREMENT THE PARENTS WERE SEPERATED . THE GIRLS CRIED AS THEY KNEW SOON THEY WOULD BE GETTING MARRIED AND LEAVING THEIR PARENTS ALONE . I REALISE D THEN HOW MUCH MY DAUGHTER AND SON MISS ME WHEN IAM AWAY SAILING 6 TO 8 MONTHS AND TRY MAKING UP BY SPENDING ALL MY TIME WITH THEM . IT WAS A SAD OCCASION TO FEEL THAT SOLDERS OFFICERS AND MEN THEIR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES SUFFER SOMUCH AND EVEN AFTER RETIREMENT THE MEAGRE PENSIONS FORCE THEM TO LIVE SEPERATLY. A VISIT TO ARICH RELATIVES HOUSE IN PANCHKULA BROKE MY HEART WHERE I FOUND MY VETRAN JCO WHO TRAINED ME IN NDA A HERO
      FROM PARA REGIMENT WOUNDED AND HIGHLY DECORATED LIVING IN STIFFLING HEAT IN THE FAMILY GARRAGE WHEN OUTSIDE TEMPERATURE WAS OVER 46DEGREES AND HE HIS PROUD SON AND GRANDCHILD TORCHED IN THE STUFFY STIFFLING HEAT CRYING FROM D

    5. The description was elagant and outstanding ..made my eyes watered as i was going through .Nothing compares to the sacrifices made by our servants to serve our motherland despite the fact they miss their family members for years.Rightly articulated your feelings and proud moments as a daughter..daughter of an Indian and infact gave me such an inspiration to serve my land ..my country
      JAI HIND

    6. The article brought tears in my eyes & lump in my throat, may be for the reason that i am reading this article sitting almost 2000 km away from my wife, two loving daughters & old parents. There is also the feeling of happiness that it will be tomorrow evening that i am going to give surprise to all of them by reaching my home in delhi without telling anybody. The shock & surprise that i will see in all of them will be just awesome. It was great to know of you as the daughter of one of the most gentleman of an officer. It was in Bathinda that i happen to serve when Gen Katoch was the COS of Chetak Corps. Many congratulations on writing such touching article. Please convey regards to respected Sir & Maám.

    7. A very nicely written and beautifully arranged words to ignite the nostalgia. I do not belong to the background of army or any other armed forces but with some real-time experiences in my life, I can completely understand a soldier’s life.
      This passage showed a very truthful insight of a soldier’s family. For one, it takes to be ethically & emotionally strong enough to tackle the adverse circumstances. For rest we have almighty to take care of. In defence, it is not only a soldier who fights for nation. It is a whole of a family, a whole lot of relationships who are fighting & serving for peace of our country. Nature of fight may be different but this is exactly the situation when a man is out of his home, guarding the fences to protect his nation. Like-: The battle of emotions fought by the writer’s mother. Battle of expectations fought by the writer herself as a child.
      Since, world outside defence does not demand for the crucial trainings to survive the hardships of a war, still there are many a things, which are common to exert lot of mental and physical pressure. Even, when a corporate fellow misses out on a PTM of his child or if he is not able to be present while his parents suffer health issues or when his wife waits over a dinner table to celebrate a festive night, it is just an absence only because he is on duty. Of course, duty places must be having ACs instead of bad weather, comfortable chairs instead of hard and burning sun at a rocky terrain.

      Well, this narration brings a very well-drawn picturesque, in regard to memories. Commendable.

    8. This story, not only brought out the painful hardships of defence officers and their families, but also rekindled the idea of how life isn’t about being able to live comfortably and safely, but is about serving the people that you love in any possible way. I liked the story because of the innocent and moving narrative.

    9. A very succinct and realistic narration providing glimpses of life in Defence Forces.The canvas is painted with vivid colors of sobs,sniffles and smiles.A man in uniform fights a war at the Front while his wife & children fight their own battles of life to be worthy of belonging to the illustrious clan of Indian Armed Forces.Thanks for a beautiful and enriching composition.

    10. Sir,
      Aarti Katoch Pathak is an accomplished writer. She narrates her stories in an effortless manner. Also, since she sticks to the truth, with no exaggeration, the impact on the reader is immense.
      Married to a successful corporate executive, her roots are in the military (Her husband is also the son of a general) So, in the military parlance, she is ‘double barrelled’ !
      I see a bright future for her, in the world of letters.
      Surjit

    11. Thanks Arti for this touching story. Your story is the story of numerous other children who have grown up under similar circumstances. Your story is also the story of numerous other mothers who have braved similar or sometimes worse circumstances and at the end have not been so lucky.
      Thanks once again.
      May God be with you always.

    12. Dear Aarti,

      You have enlivened the cherished memories of a soldier so intricately woven so delightful to read.. Probably our civil brethren would never know or learn to balance life and death.

      I salute you Aarti for bringing out the emotions of the Defence fraternity the fear, the hopes, the joys , and the tears of a family man.
      God bless you .
      Warm regards,
      Pratip

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