16 Apr Rock Your Quarantine The Army Way
Honestly, it was only COVID 19 that brought ‘quarantine’ in my vocabulary. out of simple curiosity I approached my favourite friend Google aunty and I discovered that it is ‘a state, period, or place of isolation….
“Have I quarantined all my life?” I asked myself.
In the 60 years beginning 1961 when I joined Sainik School at the age of 10, till now when I am 69 years young, I find I have been quarantined all the way with isolation’ and limited resources, opportunities and constrained freedom most of the time.
In school, we lived in a campus bounded by a 6-feet wall. The watchmen at the gate looked like prison guards. We followed a strict routine. We ate whatever was served with no choice. There were no in-between meals. Our pocket money hardly sufficed for anything other than a rare samosa once in a while from the tuck shop.
Life in the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Indian Military Academy (IMA) was certainly better. A sense of achievement reinforced with a feeling of progress gave us more tolerance to isolation, lack of facilities and limited ‘liberties’ (a name given to a Sunday out-pass, granted as a reward once in a while.)
34 years in the Indian Army helped me savour a variety of flavours of ‘quarantine.’ My first posting took me to YakhLa (near the well-known NathuLa) pass. Gaping endlessly at the snow-clad mountain peaks was all one could do for entertainment. We lived on a ‘picket’ with the soldiers. Ate the food from their langar (cook-house). We occasionally came down to the officers’ mess to exercise our taste-buds. There was no electricity. We managed with a lantern. We did ‘enjoy’ the bright light of the ‘petromax’ in the officers’ mess.
Poonch, in Jammu & Kashmir, was a different flavour of quarantine. I was the only officer in the unit. There is a certain formality in the socialization among ranks in the army culture. I utilized my time in visiting pickets to check if jawans were getting their entitlement and the quality of rations. I could occasionally socialize with one or two junior officers on the picket. We could share a beer with them sometimes. Such were our luxuries!
The experience of deserts was altogether a different ‘cup of sand.’ It left an indelible mark on me. It was January 1984. I had just passed out from Defence Services Staff College, a feather that every officer likes to have on his cap. I was posted as the logistic officer, popularly called DQ. The brigade was on a desert exercise for 90 days. I joined them in Phalsund, a small village having a population of about 250, located 150 km or so from Jodhpur. I was put up in a nice, cosy tent, called a 180 pounder. The tents were distanced (not social distancing, for sure) not to give away our position to the enemy. We lived on a bucket of water a day. Experience soon taught us to use half the bucket, avoiding dipping the mug more than halfway into the water to avoid disturbing the fine sedimented sand at the bottom. We had limited rations (part of the exercise) and no in-between meals. One ingredient we learned to expect in everything we ate was ‘sand.’ It found its way everywhere no matter what we did. Gradually, it became a part of our taste-culture. When we came back to our base in Bhuj, a small unknown town (more unknown before the earthquake of Jan 2001), it felt like heaven. My childlike excitement at the sight of a tap with running water made my wife laugh. Having a shower after 3 months was both exciting and luxurious. Electricity and gadgets like fridge or fans (we didn’t have air-conditioners back then) after three months under the sun and petromax, surely was luxury.
Besides Bhuj, I also enjoyed ‘peace stations’ like Dinjan, Ramgarh, Dinapore, and Faizabad that are just a name to most people but are an integral part of our beloved motherland. I have no complaint. The Army also posted me to Jalandhar, Bangalore, Jodhpur, Bareilly and Delhi.
Today, in this lockdown I hear people cribbing and complaining. They say they can’t pass time. They are bored. Thanks to our military training we never get bored. I realize that people in metros have taken malls and clubs for granted. Now you are compensated with family time, self-development opportunities, catching up on all you wanted to do and could not find time for. I have been at it with a vengeance. Believe me, the last 10 days have been the busiest days of my life. I have so much to do.
Did we ever breathe such clean air in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore in the last 20 years? I can hear birds chirping outside my house which I was deprived of in the last 15 years in Mumbai. Dolphins found on the coast of Mumbai, Neelgai in a mall in NOIDA and deers sitting on a road in Delhi are signs of nature reminding us of their entitled space.
We have a lot to learn from COVID19. Mother Nature is asking us to slow down, declutter and stop taking our comforts, our privileges and the people in our life for granted. We are being asked to respect and be grateful for what we have. In the Army, they say ‘Leave is a privilege, Not a birthright.’ Let us take the spirit of this quote to our hearts and understand that malls, clubs, Uber, and Metro rail are all privileges, not a birthright. Have gratitude for the electricity that gives you most of the comforts of your gadgets, fans and air conditioners and even the Internet. Even your lifeline, your mobile phone, depends on electricity. Let us focus on all we continue to have and enjoy and not on what we don’t.
This wisdom is at the very heart of the art of living.