“Memoirs of An Army Officer’s Wife” ( Neeta chamola).
MY DINING IN INTO THE ROYALS’ FAMILY (ARMY OFFICERS’ MESS). After completing M.Sc. from D.A.V. P.G. College, Dehradun I got married to captain Lalit chamola from 5 MARATHA LIGHT lNFANTRY in October 1983. He was posted in DBN(Dera Baba Nanak) Punjab. It was a field station, families could stay there only for a short duration. After getting married we stayed with my in-laws for a few days in Nashik. My father-in-law Colonel K.P. Chamola was posted there in Arty Centre during that time. We boarded The Punjab Mail(train) from Nasik and reached Amritsar. We wanted to begin our marital journey with the blessings of Harminder sahab (Golden Temple),so early in the morning, we reached Golden Temple. I was mesmerized to see the Splendor of Golden Temple” The Abode of God “in the morning light of sun. Reflection of temple in pristine water of Sarovar was golden, casting pure magic. Its serene, calm, and pious vibes along with the holy eco of shabad kirtan were soothing our nerves and transported us to a tranquil spiritual world. After having
darshan and delicious langar food,we went to Hall bazar to buy a few house hold items . There was so much of excitement to do first shopping for our house.
Our unit officer Maj Surjeet Dhillon invited us to stay in his beautiful, grand house in Amritsar .His family alongwith his graceful mother and his brother’s family made our two days stay very comfortable. We were touched by their warm hospitality. The next day we started our journey in a one ton ( a mini Army truck) to DBN,going through Fatehgarh Churiyan.l was overjoyed to see lush green fields with rich crops and bright yellow blooms of mustard( sarson )all over.The most interesting part was to see water tanks in different shapes and sizes of football,eagle,aircrafts,trucks etc on top of almost every house,which l had never ever seen anywhere during those days. lt was amusing sight to see the buses overflowing with travellers and some were sitting on top of it with their goats and bundles of green grass. With lots of dreams for our new beginning we reached DBN.We were warmly welcomed by Maj P. V. Natrajan, Maj P.Kumar and young officers namely Capt Melvil D souza, Capt Ajoy Bakshi,Capt N.Muaralidharan,Lt Raman, 2/Lt K Nandakumaran, Capt A.B.Khare(RMO) .We were taken to the Officers’ mess for a warm cup of tea and some snacks.
One of the officers pointed to a hut, from the mess itself and said to me , “Ma’am, that is your house.” l was slightly taken aback to see a hut across the sarkanda(bulrush) fencing partition.They said that it was called Basha . Basha was actually a mud hut with thatched roof. l was delighted to enter the basha,our dream house for the next few weeks.lt was a small hut partitioned by a tarpaulin into a small bedroom and a sitting room which could barely accommodate two chairs and a settee made out of two boxes ( faujis can’t do without box settees).Our kitchen was a long aluminium table and and an almirah to keep kitchen items. That all was our cute little basha ,our first house. Till date we fondly remember that cute little thatched abode of ours after staying in so many spacious flats and bungalows all over the country. It was a week end and next day i.e. Sunday was my dining in party. Families of Maj Surjeet Dhillon from Amritsar,Maj P.R.Batra and Maj P.G. Eapan from Gurdaspur too joined for the dining in party . Families of Lt Col Arun Bajpai (the Commanding Officer),Maj P.V.Natrajan and Maj P. Kumar who were staying temporarily in the station also joined.
Time of dining in party was 8 PM. Lots of butterflies were fluttering inside my stomach due to excitement and nervousness. The first lesson taught to me by my husband was to be punctual for any meet/ parties. Sharp at 8 PM we were at the gate of the Officers’ mess. We were greeted by the melodious tune of a pipe band in the nice ambience of low lying lamps on both sides of the path with perforated lights creating a beautiful ambience of gold and amber .All the officers and the lady wives were standing on both the sides of main path way.We were greeted very warmly and ushered into the mess. l was in a dream land , everything was new to me,the sound of the band ,attiquets of
mess ,officers much seniors in rank and ladies much older in age were showering love and respect. The drinks and snacks were first offered to me as I was the guest of honour. Everybody was a stranger yet they made me so comfortable that I felt the part of the Royal family instantly.
Sharp at 9:30 PM a smartly turned out soldier in uniform in a thunderous voice saluted and informed, ” Bhojan taiyar hai Shriman”(The food is ready). This was a cultural shock and surprise to me.Later on my husband told me that this was the mess Havaldar in his fineries reporting to the PMC (president Mess Committee,the second in command). The Mess havaldar is responsible for following the protocol and procedures of the Mess when the food is laid out.I was the first to be seated on the dining table . The layout and the splendor of the majestic dining table made of Burmese Rosewood and the delicately carved Royal Maratha crest on the back of the chairs, silverware, and the trophies displayed gave the feeling of royal spectacle.
The moment I sat down, I noticed that there were three forks onto my left and three types of knives on to the right and three spoons placed in front. I had already been briefed by my husband as to how to use these for different meals. Then on the instructions of the mess Havaldar the battery of the waiters started serving the soup. I was the first to be offered followed by others in a clockwise direction. After that six-course meal was finished and then the Piper moved as he went round the table thrice,he kept playing the pipes melodiously before exiting the dining hall . This was a new thrilling experience for me. Now it was the time for the toast to be raised.The toast was raised in honour of the President of India and the batalion. For the toast, two beautiful cut glass decanters, one containing wine and the other water were simultaneously passed in a clockwise direction from the President (PMC)towards the Vice President(normally a junior officer) and vice versa. Each person took the wine oblique water and passed it on. The toast was raised and all the officers got up . The ladies remained seated with wine oblique water goblets. I raised the toast with water as I did not consume alcoholic drinks. This tradition is deeply etched in my memory till date.
After that, the Commanding Officer formally welcomed me into the Royal family through a short speech. Now I was a member of the great 5 MARATHA LIGHT INFANTRY(Royals). As we moved out of the mess, the band started playing. All the officers went near the bandstand. The band played many melodious tunes one after another and the final tune was the Regimental song in which all the officers came to savdhan(attention) position. The band was presented with a case of rum and thereafter we thanked all the officers
and wives and left for our basha just across the fence.
ln the years that followed I welcomed and taught many young ladies about the traditions, customs and etiquettes of the paltan and the Indian Army as I had been groomed by my senior ladies. These classic and memorable experiences and customs are the glue which binds the people of the Indian Army.
LONG LIVE THE TRADITION, CUSTOMS, AND BONHOMIE OF THE INDIAN ARMY.