WHEN WE LEFT THEM BEHIND
The other day, while surfing, the channels my attention got arrested on the scene of the 70s movie VAJETE where the son, Angad (Kunal Kapoor), a flight cadet is leaving for his advance training. The scene has the first class compartment in the back ground with the parents, Shashi Kapoor, the father and Rekha the mother are facing the son. All professionals and masters at emoting. the father, composed with a stoical continence hiding the turmoil inside, the mother has her face depicting the whole gamut, overwhelmed with a plethora of diverse emotions: pride in her son, her affection for him, pain of looming separation also apprehension and uncertainty of the future, while the son is torn between feelings of leaving the parents and the excitement of joining his comrades soon.
The scene then cuts away to the sitting room of the parents in Bombay. Both a bit distraught: as Kapoor hands over a coffee mug to Rekha who breaks down in a flood of tears with the gates of pent-up emotions opening wide. ‘Let me Cry, Let me Cry,’ she wails, between her uncontrolled sobs as Kapoor tries to comfort her unsuccessfully.
The scene did hit some emotional cord deep inside reminding once again that the fate of the servicemen is that they have to leave the loved ones behind more often than not for the frequent calls of duty.
On such occasions, overwhelmed and preoccupied with my own feelings, emotions, excitements and apprehensions, I was only mildly conscious of the turmoil going on inside of those whom I was left behind over and over again many times over a span of 30 years of service in the Army...
Possibly the first time such a situation arose was when I left along with my brother for Lucknow. I do not recall the occasion but I must have been too excited of the prospects ahead of me of joining the university, to notice the feelings or emotions of my parents.
Things started becoming clear and more specific beginning with my receiving call for training at the erstwhile NDA now known as IMA in 1954.
`Today I have sold my son!’ exclaimed my mother with tears in her eyes; a simple, affectionate and loving lady from a village. My father had just signed the bond required before a cadet could report at IMA. The truth of what my mother had said dawned on me now and I realised that one has to pay a heavy price for wearing ‘OG’.
I could only wave half heartedly at my father that day. Unaware as to his feelings at that time and on my way to Kathgodam from Naniatal from where I was to catch the train to Dehradun. He was too busy controlling an incipient riot-like situation on the road down with the ongoing strike by the roadways employees and waved me on to push ahead quickly without stopping.
Every time I left my parents behind to report for duty, I would look back, at the threshold of the house, to notice a melancholy demeanour and a faraway look in my mother’s eyes as if she was trying to discern what lay in future albeit a “matter of fact” demeanour on my father’s as he came to see me off on the bus stand or the railway station as the case may be.
Later another set of those being “left behind” were formed when I met my future wife Rosy. She along with the family had come to see me off at the Dehradun bus stand. As the bus started off towards Saharanpur Rosy was hidden from my eyes but not from my mind. I was in a dream, lost in my thoughts of the short time spent with her, totally bereft of any awareness or knowledge of her feeling at that time; those that I was to learn much later, post her demise, from her jottings in my diary.
The picture of hurt in Jeet’s eyes, Jeet as I called her post marriage, and her pained expression accompanied me all the way back to Pathankot to join duty, when I had to leave immediately after the delivery of our daughter and also later when, like a good soldier, I abandoned my wife of less than two years and the child of nine months or so to join the unit by 29th October 1959 in far away Assam. ‘Abandoned’ was the word she used then and again many times later to remind me of her mental state on being left behind. What she was feeling at that moment of separation, of being torn from the father’s lap, in her child’s mind and limited experience of world is more difficult to describe or visualise.
The sad lament of the engine's whistle more so as heard in summer nights while sleeping on the terrace of our village home, had a lot more to do with both Jeet and me in later life. It would be reminding us night after night of my impending departure, causing so much pain, by the same train till one late night I would leave her behind tearing my-self from the last embrace, words unsaid to answer the call of Army. I can only visualize her feelings at that juncture. However, I was utterly miserable walking in that dark night, each step taking me farther and farther away from her, silent and lost in my own thoughts with no words being exchanged with the person accompanying me to the station to see me off.
The tenure in Armament Research and Development (ARDE) was immensely enjoyable and satisfying and of a settled life. Then I took the risk of changing track once again; changing from a scientist to a soldier once again. I left for the long journey from Poona, in the last week of December 1970, to the far east of India, this time to Kalimpong in West Bengal. By this time the children were of an age that they would have experienced their own feelings on the parting.
These partings and reunions happen off and on at varying intervals during the service career. A fate ordained for those who serve and their families, so others can sleep in peace and in the comfort of the feeling of security, unaware of the traumatic experience at every of one of those frequent partings.
Brig Lakshman Singh (Retd)
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