Saturday, May 21, 2016

Military Wife – “Asset” or “Liability” ...?

FAUJI MEMSAHIB – “ASSET” or “LIABILITY” ?

Do Wives Still Matter in the Defence Services (Army, Navy and Air Force)?
A Spoof
By
VIKRAM KARVE


IS A MILITARY WIFE AN “ASSET” TO HER HUSBAND’S CAREER PROSPECTS...?

We were all sitting in the wardroom discussing the recently arrived flag rank promotion signal.

It was a big surprise.

There was a Captain who we all admired.

He was a true Sea Dog who was universally acknowledged as an outstanding professional.

We were shocked to hear that this highly respected officer had been passed over for promotion to Rear Admiral.

And what was worse – a non-descript “armchair sailor” who had spent most of his time pushing files ashore had been promoted.

The quirk of fate was being hotly debated with emotions being fuelled by the intake of generous amounts of whisky.

“Never go to sea if you want to get promoted,” an officer said.

“What bloody injustice! They ignore a smart deserving officer and promote that stupid clueless dolt. Have you seen him?” another angry officer said loudly in disgust. 

“Have you seen his wife?” a voice was heard, from a dark corner of the wardroom.

I know what you are thinking.

You are probably imagining that she was a promiscuous sex bomb sleeping around and distributing sexual favours to get her husband promoted.

We thought the same thing too.

But a few days later, when we met the lady, we were in for a big surprise.

She was a most elegant, genteel, gracious and charming lady – an epitome of grace and poise.

She treated us with utmost courtesy and we were enchanted by her refinement, her polished manner and her dignified personality.

She was an embodiment of an ideal naval wife.

We normally say in naval jargon – ‘this sailor is an “asset” to the ship’.

In a similar way, this wife was an “asset” to her husband’s career prospects.

She embodied the saying: “Behind every successful man is a woman”.

We realized that, sometimes, wives do matter.

Of course, someone told me that wives matter more in the Army than in the Navy.

That a lifelong confirmed bachelor could become a Navy Chief (and many single officers rose to high naval rank) bears testimony to the fact that, at least in the navy, wives did not matter that much as far as an officer’s career prospects were concerned.

But my late father-in-law who was an army officer from the prestigious first course of the National Defence Academy (NDA) (or 1st JSW – as he liked to call it) once told me that one of his most distinguished coursemates, who was a true professional army officer, and who had won medals for valour in war, could not make it to the top, probably because he was a bachelor.

It appears that, in earlier days, as far as wives were concerned, there was a big difference between the navy and the army.

I really do not know whether things have changed now.


DO WIVES STILL MATTER IN THE MILITARY (ARMY NAVY AIR FORCE)...?

When you join the navy as a carefree bachelor, you don’t care, or you don’t even know, about these intricacies.

At least, in the 1970’s, when we were young officers on board ships, wives did not matter much.

Those days most of us were bachelors, and we were so busy sailing, that we hardly knew the wives of married officers.

Yes, if you were on board a ship, wives did not matter – what mattered most is how well you did your job.

I am sure it is the same in field jobs in the army and flying duties in the air force.

Wives start gaining importance in “peacetime soldiering” where professionalism takes a back seat and other aspects start predominating.   

As we grew senior we gradually realised that wives did matter, especially in shore appointments and tri-service establishments, where there was more social interaction.

Please don’t misunderstand me.

I am not saying that your career prospects depended upon your wife’s attributes.

Far from it.

You had to be good in your job and deliver the goods.

Let me put it this way.

Other things being equal, the officer with a “better” wife did stand a better chance of getting a good ACR.

Like beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, the term “better” was highly subjective too and depended on how you (and your wife) were perceived by your boss (and the “first lady”).

I think things must have changed now.

Nowadays, most navy wives pursue their own careers (it must be the same with most military wives too).

These modern career women, the “new age” military wives, have an identity of their own, distinct from their husband’s identity.

They do not require the crutches of their husband’s rank for giving them status.

In fact, many military wives earn more money than their fauji husbands and many wives have better career prospects too.

Long back, for the traditional homemaker military wife, her husband’s career was the “be all and end all” of her life and all her efforts were towards boosting her husband’s career prospects.

Now, for a career woman married to a military officer, it may no longer be so, as the wife has her own career ambitions.

Traditional equations have changed, and these modern career women may not be willing to kowtow before the so-called “senior ladies”.

An old sea dog once said: There is nothing like “senior lady” in the navy. Yes, there are ladies who are wives of senior officers and that’s it!

As far the world of military wives is concerned, another interesting thing has happened.

In the 1990’s the defence forces opened their doors to women.

The advent of women into the hitherto aggressively male world of the military has changed things drastically.

The opportunity for workplace intimacy within the cocooned military environment made it easy for male and female officers to fall in love with each other and have intimate relationships.

The result of these “office romances” was that many men and women officers get married to each other.

Now, we have a new kind of “fauji” wife – the “uniformed memsahib”.


THE CHANGING FACE OF THE MILITARY WIFE

Look how things have changed.

1. First  we had the “full time” military wife whose only identity was her husband’s rank.

2. Then  we had the working “career woman” military wife who had her own separate identity which had nothing to do with her husband’s military rank.

3. And now  we have the “uniformed memsahib” who has a military rank of her own (and if she prefers, she can flaunt her husband’s rank too).


ROLE AMBIGUITY OF THE UNIFORMED MEMSAHIB 

As far as the “uniformed memsahib” is concerned, is there a confusing role ambiguity?

What is her relationship with the so-called “senior ladies”?

If you go by actual facts, the official status of a woman officer is higher than that of a “senior lady” whose only claim to fame is her husband’s military rank.

Does the “uniformed memsahib” attend AWWA (Army Wives Welfare Association) and NWWA (Navy Wives Welfare Association) meets?

You may not believe this, but these wives welfare organisations, AWWA, NWWA and AFWWA, have a rather “feudal” hierarchy where a wife’s “appointment” depends on husband’s rank.

What happens when a young lady army officer (say  a Captain) gets married to her boss, a Lieutenant Colonel, who is commanding the unit...?

Does she become the “first lady” – or does she remain an ordinary officer serving in that unit?

Like I said, is there a confusing role ambiguity when a female officer gets married to a male officer and becomes a “uniformed memsahib”?

I do not think it is true, but someone once told me long back that he had heard that a lady officer was appointed as an “ADC” to a Senior Officer’s Wife in her capacity as President of the Wives Welfare Association.

I do not believe this, but if such things are happening, it is indeed shocking, and in such cases the women officers have themselves to blame for not maintaining the dignity of their rank.

The moot question remains:

In the “new age” military (army navy air force) – do wives still matter...?

VIKRAM KARVE
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2. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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