Discipline, valour and integrity are some of the many virtues you inadvertently imbibe while growing up in a defence family. However, how many of these traits you practically retain and practise once you grow up is rather intentional. Being daughter of an ex-air force officer is my only claim to fame here without accentuating the inherit merits. But some experiences of a defence upbringing have been quite impressionable and formative to the development of a secular and multicultural personality.
As a child my entire world was confined within the boundary walls of the air force station and the residential colony. And this confinement was not restrictive, but nurturing to our growth, as pulsating within those walls was a mini-India with its myriad hues of multiregional folks, languages, costumes, cuisines and customs.
Be it Maharashtra, Assam, Punjab or any other state my father was posted at, we continued to flourish in our miniature India. The regional influence of the place of posting was never overwhelming as it was balanced out by the potpourri of many slight but significant ethnic influences within our kaleidoscopic world. For us, Diwali, Eid, Onum, Christmas and Gurpurb were not just school holidays but a celebration of faith, humanity and cultural diversity. We kids were encouraged to be an integral part of these festivities and we enthusiastically planned and executed the stage presentations, be it makhan chor Krishna stealing hearts on Janamashtami, bhangra beats beckoning Baisakhi, carols ushering in Christmas or a qawwali celebrating Eid.
It was fun espousing the nuances of various dialects, donning their colourful attires and broadening the horizons of our receptivity. There was no regional or religious fanaticism, only camaraderie, permissiveness and sharing. Our socio-cultural identity was not an impediment and we never tagged ourselves as Punjabi, Gujarati, Maratha and so on. We were only Indians, our inimitable identity.
Exposure to the scrumptious world of gastronomic medley is yet another blessing of a defence rearing. In almost all states, the regional cuisine dictates the routine eating pattern of a family without the exception of weekend 'pav-bhaji or 'masala dosa' outing. But my home was always a foodie's haven with culinary delights of various states vying for our attention. Love thy neighbour, especially their cooking skills, was the dictum in our air force colony.
Exchange of recipes and feasting during family picnics, mess outings and festivals transformed my mother into a master chef sans any professional training. And thanks to mom, my lunch box was much sought after, not only by schoolmates but office colleagues also.
I believe the experiences gained, lessons learnt and the moments cherished within those secure walls are deeply entrenched and instrumental in moulding a better human being and a worthy citizen. All this is not about glorifying the life style of a defence family, but an insight to a culturally and geographically diverse yet secular and integrated society, the Indian Defence Forces, the true spirit of a proud nation.