When you ask a little girl not to cry every time her papa picks up his bags and guns and goes to war, the nation is extracting a huge sacrifice from the family. I chanced upon this gem of a memoir, 'A Soldier's Daughter', by Aarti Pathak through a post shared by a Facebook friend.
The daughter of a retired infantry officer, Maj Gen Dhruv Katoch, the now-married Aarti rewinds to write: "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."
While Army kids are outgoing and display confidence as they are exposed to varied milieus, an Army officer friend of mine while playing golf at Chandimandir last week noted with a soft glint in his eye, "My son never had the chance to stay at one place long enough and make a best friend who would last a lifetime."
His words took me back to my stints in Kashmir earlier as a war correspondent covering the Army's operations. Whenever the firing would lull, these hardened soldiers would pine for their families and they would narrate endearing tales of their kids.
All these thoughts and emotions crystallised in my mind when I dusted a copy of Maj Gen (retd) Ian Cardozo's book, 'The Sinking of INS Khukri: Survivors' stories', which had stood stiff, silent and forlorn in a library's corner.
One is regaled with umpteen stories of heroic soldiers and the neglect they face but Maj Gen Cardozo's pen prises open the morgued memories of widows and children.
He may not be a war historian in the tradition of the great scholars but he retrieves emotional treasures by diving deep into the souls of forgotten survivors.
Of that grief these survivors face for a lifetime, denied as they are of the relief and martyrdom of a bullet's instant death. These INS Khukri widows, wives and fatherless daughters tell their stories with such dignity that their pain sears the reader.
A book that would jolt us Indians out of our cocooned lives and give us a feel of how gallant men and their more-than-heroic families embrace the abundance of sorrows that come with defending hostile borders.
For all that is bitter and gets worse, it is verse that most deeply sings the soul's lament. I composed a few lines after reading Aarti's memoir and titled it, 'To Dote & Die': Our's is not to ask, Our's is to say bye, To dote and die, At every bell, That may toll, At the odd hour.
I weep, Into the pillow, As the world sleeps. My papa, too, is wide-eyed, Hiding from the moon, In an ambush, Behind a Kashmir willow.