‘And the black boxes of tin and wood with white letters inscribed on them spelling out the name of the soldier to whom they belong matter big for me!’
‘These are the boxes which contain many memories of the years spent in olive greens, some great remembrances of the past, uniforms and clothes one wore has in the days got accumulated, clothes and toys of the children who have grown up, props that decorated the living rooms, kitchen utensils , glass ware, crystal ware that were fondly purchased wives for the kitchen and drawing rooms, electronic gadgetry that got accumulated but then got out of trend, shoes that were trendy but with each passing day got out of fashion, photo albums from black and white to more colorful ones, music albums from gramophone records to cassettes now more digitised versions etc..etc!
‘This is a story of a lady police officer Arshi Jamwal who is a daughter of an army officer Ranjeet Singh Jamwal and married an Army officer Anshul Pathania! They happen to be my relatives though I’m staying far away now!’
‘Arshi lost her father when she was in Class Ten. Her younger sister at that time was in Class five and their mother Shakun Jamwal was a lecturer. Obviously the family had a great educational background but a thunderbolt from nowhere was to strike!’
‘Ranjeet was not to live for long as he died of gunshot wounds while he was serving in North East, Nagaland to be precise. It was a heart break for the family but that is what destiny is all about’!
“Being my close cousins the mother and the two sisters Arshi and Varsha stayed with us for a few years till they made their own house in Palampur but we are a very close knit family!’
It was on a visit to their house that I came to know about this story from Anshul who was posted in Kashmir valley then but was on leave and Arshi was posted in Kalka, Himachal Pradesh! It was their marriage anniversary that day and thus a family reunion when I learnt about this nostalgic story!’
‘Obviously every soldier has nostalgic memoirs and all of them are carried in those black boxes of tin and wood which the soldiers get manufactured as they move from one place to another during their service tenures! The boxes that are the history of a soldier’s life!
As usual it was over a drink session when Anshul was to relate to me this story but it was Arshi who gave all the tear jerks. Though I’m a stone heart and a hard face, my eyes too went moist!’
‘This was all about a sentimental and nostalgic journey of a daughter who had not forgotten her father though she is a mother now of two daughters herself now, Kaajal and Naina’!
These were Arshi’s opening lines, Bhai, ‘once you embrace your value, talents and strengths, it neutralizes when others think less of you.’ This is what my Dad and your Tau (My Dad was her father’s younger brother and he too was in the Indian Army but no more now)
Then she came up with another line, ‘I love how summer just wraps it’s arms around you like a warm blanket.’ I saw my Dad for ten years and never realized that I will not see him in the eleventh!’ The memories of the ten years with him are like a warm blanket and all of them are in the boxes which I fondly open year after to revive those nostalgic moments which are enclosed in them!’
Then she picked up a cocker spaniel pup and a kitten and solemnly said, ‘for those memories are now just like these little animals/pets I hold in my hands, those can be kissed and treasured, but not held too tightly.’
-‘She went silent for a few moments’! I knew that an hour before the dinner was going to be an emotional affair! It indeed was!
‘Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?……Unknown soldier!’
Some stories are rooted in adventure, some in strife. Others are born of the heart, and the horrors and the joys locked therein are often immeasurable, and make us truly wonder what became of those children we once were. Was what Arshi said after breaking her momentary silence.
Growing up, I always had a soldier mentality. As a kid I wanted to be a soldier, a fighter pilot, a covert agent, professions that require a great deal of bravery and risk and putting oneself in grave danger in order to complete the mission. Even though I did not become all those things, and unless my predisposition, in its youngest years, already had me leaning towards them, the interest that was there still shaped my philosophies. To this day I honor risk and sacrifice for the good of others – my views on life and love are heavily influenced by this. And it was my father, the brave soldier who taught me all this! I ultimately did wear a uniform but it was Khaki!
But I was destined to be a soldier’s wife and this too had a story in fact a huge one! One day I coaxed my mom to open up Dad’s box! I knew that mom would get emotional because she had never opened it ever since it had been packed and I also knew that I would get more! It had almost been a year and half when my Dad had left for his heavenly abode! My mother finally opened the box, she went mum and silent and I distinctly saw tears rolling down her eyes! Obviously it was natural because all the things were intact but the man who was her own had gone invisible. I found that places like this are so packed with memories (in this case a massive wooden black painted box). Visiting them can be like opening a memory jar. You take off the lid and the smells and sounds of a place hit you, unlocking things folded away deep in your brain! For that moment I too had gone mum!
It was a small pouch which caught my eyes! I asked my mom, what could be in this ! My mother had no clue! But opened it up and say papers on which something else was written but the headliners were the same, ‘Of time scribblings in solitude and loneliness’! Every soldier has something or the other in mind which he/she loves to scribble! I took away the pouch and took it to my room and on one of the papers he had written ‘I want my daughter Arshi Jamwal to be in Army, the other one (Varsha) is a bit of a book worm so she is on her mother’s side! Education is the best profession for her! The paper was written for my mother.
But destiny had something else written for her. She joined the Indian Army as a Doctor in the Armed Forces Medical Corps! Yes she was a book worm but was destined to wear the Olive Greens and a blue cap!’
Arshi did wear the uniform but the color was different nevertheless the head gear was still blue! Another thing written was that Anshul Pathania is a great child and he has a great future! I have had a talk with his father (again an Army officer) Arshi and he will be a nice couple! No doubt they are! Two decades of happy married life and two lovely daughters means a happy family!
‘But Arshi was not over as yet, and one more paper she read and then handed it oover to on which it was written, We were together. I forgot the rest, Ajeet (my father)! Suddenly my memory flashed backwards into the past! I had never dared to enter the store house where boxes in black were in plenty! Arshi my sister had given me the cue and this is what Anshul was to say, water flows from high places to low places. That is the nature of gravity. Emotions also seem to act according to gravity. When in the presence of someone with whom you have a bond, and to whom you have entrusted your feelings, it is hard to lie and get away with it. The truth just wants to come flowing out.’
My Tai (elder aunt entered the fray), it’s time for soup, get up boys and Arshi you too, ‘These Faujis are an emotional lot, Purani Baat Hai Ho Gayi So Ho Gayi’! Varsha had to add on, Bhai, ‘ You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. Be the change that you wish to see in the world. In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on. If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals. But for us the boxes matter, I mean the black boxes! I have eleven sisters and thus at eleven places I have to be at each and everyone’s place! On this Raksha Bandhan I was at eleven Post Meridiem (PM)! That was at Arshi’s and the reason was that it was Rakhi! These are coincidences in life……. Every soldier has a story, a moment tha strikes at heart and it is heart that matters! Brain comes in later! For me heart matters!