My parents were quite against my taking up a career in the armed forces. Besides scores of other reasons, the most intriguing was that it is a difficult task for an army officer to adjust to the civil environs after retirement. I could have fallen prey to the other arguments to desist my choice of career but for this outrageous one, I dug my heels and went on to serve the unmatchable Indian Army.
As we progressed, almost all the reasons to dissuade me from joining the forces were proved beyond doubt. A soldier has no time for his family, especially parents back home; education of children suffers due to the gypsy like shiftings; yet another interesting one was that a career in the defence meant no savings, an affluent life with no extra income besides the meager pay.
It was my mother who again remarked during her visit to us during my command assignment. The clockwork life, perks of the appointment, vibrant social bonhomie and an orderly curriculum, I thought will make her proud of her son.
On the contrary, it was the same old apprehension of a tough transition post retirement: “Tuhada retirement to baad civil wich guzaara mushkil hai,” was what she reminded us for the umpteenth time. The quirk of destiny had me hang my spurs much before envisaged and how my mother’s conviction hit us head on! Having spent close to three decades in the insulated environment, like the fish used to protected confines of the glass aquarium shifted to a free flowing stream, we tried to learn the ropes with an open mind. It was not easy indeed!
The biggest challenge, however, remained adjusting to the burgeoning traffic conditions. Having had the pleasure of stress-free driving in the military cantonments or unhindered tank manoeuvres in the deserts, negotiating distance on the city roads was a bug bear.
Having earned a dubious record for almost all traffic infringements, we often jocularly discussed the vision of my mother’s statement. Unending waits at traffic snarls, irate swearing at undisciplined drivers or anger at haphazard parking started telling on my nature and health.
Till one rainy day while stuck in an unending queue of vehicles at one such traffic jam, I observed a fellow driver on the lane to the right, cheerfully lost in bliss of his own. Nod of his head seemed to be in perfect sync with the orchestrated tap of fingers on the steering wheel.
He seemed to have switched off from the ignominy of a slow crawl of his vehicle and a possible long haul before the traffic jam would ease. He was oblivious to the honking of horns around him. I could not take my eyes off this gentleman in deep meditation of sorts.
“Sir, you seemed unperplexed with all this chaos around you. How come?” I asked catching up with him at a parking lot. “See that gizmo?” he said pointing at the FM radio installed at the deck of his small car. “Whenever I get into such impossible situations , the songs on the radio provide me bliss and happiness. I simply switch off from the helpless situations. Try it; it works beautifully.” I looked at the one in my car, so far neglected for its healing power; it was on and singing, “aha rimjhim ke ye pyare pyare geet liye… ayi sham suhani dekho preet liye…”
I started humming as I drove off. It seemed like an ultimate transition.
(The writer is a retired armoured corps officer based in Chandigarh)