I guess I was destined to be an Army brat – I was born in Kashmir in a pretty little mission hospital surrounded by cherry trees, in a beautiful little town nestled in the Himalayas, called Anantnag. My first home was a houseboat on the Dal Lake, and my second was a tent on the banks of the beautiful Basanta River. My dad was in the Army, and posted in Kashmir at the time of my birth.
The camp where we lived was surrounded by cherry orchards, and according to my mum, was as pretty as a picture. My mother told me stories about how clear the water was, teeming with trout which they used to enjoy just cooked in butter with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. There was always a basket of plump, sweet, red cherries on our makeshift dining table.
Growing up the daughter of an Army Officer is something only another army brat will understand – an Army Cantonment is a world unto itself – complete with schools, hospitals, canteens, temples, mosques, churches and gurudwaras. We learnt from a very early age to respect all religions, celebrate all festivals, and speak many languages. We shared a deep bond with all the other families, meeting often in the Officer’s Mess to celebrate Holi, Diwali and Christmas. Thinking back on those days fills me with nostalgia.
Of course, the uncertainty and constant state of flux is something that an army brat has to contend with. I knew what it was like to constantly move schools, to have to make new friends, to pack and move like nomads every few years, not to have your dad with you at crucial junctures of your life, and all the other stuff which is part and parcel of life in the Armed Forces.
Having known no other life, it seemed only natural then that I ended up marrying an Army Officer! My father was thrilled when I announced that I wanted to marry an Army pilot – in his eyes a helicopter pilot was the crème de la crème of the Army! All within the space of three months, I was engaged, married and on my way to Devlali to face life as the wife of an Air OP (now Army Aviation) pilot.
Initially, it was like being thrown into the deep end of the pool without knowing how to swim – life as the Commandant’s daughter was as different from life as a Captain’s wife, as chalk is different from cheese! I had to learn very quickly how to swim – the alternative was to sink like a stone! However, my resilience and adaptability kicked in, and soon enough I learnt how to cope with both the joys and rigours of being a soldier’s wife.
For the next thirty years my life was a continuous circle of joy, adventure, fear, loneliness, and the ever pervading feeling of never being able to put down roots. Our homes consisted of tents, bashas,(thatched huts) old dhobi’s lines with ‘FOR DEMOLITION’ painted on the walls, and of course the good old MES Inspection Bungalows and Army Messes, where we spent many a night waiting for our temporary accommodation. I always found that amusing – by the time we were eventually allotted permanent accommodation, within a matter of months came the transfer orders! So we had to pack up and move again……………to a new city/town, the mess, temporary accommodation, permanent accommodation and another transfer – in that order!
Looking back on my life however, I realize I wouldn’t have had it any other way – my life was filled with adventure and excitement few others would have experienced. I have the blood of a warrior flowing in my veins, and I am proud to call myself an Army brat!
Valerie Lamoury (nee Suares)
English Literature Class of 1978