Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Book Review and other things

I cannot believe that I haven't posted anything since July this year. Not that I have decided to neglect this blog, hell no, just that I'm too lazy and that laziness outweighs every opinion I have to share online.

Now, onto the reason I'm back to posting – a new book I read recently.

And it's in the category of books I've read in 5 hours – other books in this category include Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hitched by Nandini Krishnan, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and the topic of this blog post – Soldier and Spice, an army wife's life by Aditi Mathur Kumar.

Now, all of you know that I'm married to an army officer, so this book is of particular interest to me.

Let's begin, shall we?

The Army Wife's Learning Curve – A review of Soldier and Spice

The thing about the Indian Army is that it is never in the news for the right reasons – there's either a land scam, or an ex-chief who is making cryptic comments about government dealings, or the media pondering over the sustainability of one of the largest standing armies in the world. The other times the army is in the news, then we're either fighting a war or we're trying to stop incursions. There's a lot of mystery around the army and the only people who have a clue are officers and their families and frankly they are the last people who will talk about what goes on in the corridors of the many offices and conference rooms of regiments, brigades, corps commands, and HQ.

But that's a serious discussion, we're talking about army wives here, and army wives are a group who are known as the hep aunties in various small and big cities in the country or as the women who are the mothers of the most popular Miss India's since 1994. But what happens when a girl who is from a non-army background marries into this set-up of protocol and never set a wrong foot ever? 

Back when our mothers were getting married, minding your Ps and Qs was an inherent part of your education – both in school and at home – knowing how to cook was a given, and wearing a sari was the only clothing decision to make when one had to go to a party of any description.

Cut to the era of cable television and jeans and grunge and goth and rock music and you have a whole generation of women who didn't go to convents, studied all kinds of subjects and worked and are working across industries. What happens when these independent women are thrust into a life where moving is the norm, whipping up snacks at any given time is a given, and your career can take a long vacation because there's no scope for journalism to flourish in a little town in Arunachal Pradesh unless you're working for National Geographic? 

What happens is what is chronicled in Soldier and Spice.

Set aside a few hours of your weekend, grab a cuppa and let Pia Arjun Mehra take you into her world where you meet lots women who speak well, who dress well and who know what needs to be done and said at the right place and time, listen intently as they steer Pia towards being a better army spouse. And if you have the time, try out Pia's cheesy fries with red dip. She's not a gourmand, but that recipe is definitely worth your while. But Pia's is not an easy journey. She was in TV before this and the last thing she got called in TV was “aunty” and “memsaab”.

Her first encounter with anything army is the way her husband tells time (1700 hrs is 5pm, and so on) and then there are the giant men who walk in and offer to do her household chores, and frankly when you're an independent woman who is used to lugging around her own baggage this takes some getting used to! And then there is every young, cool woman's worst nightmare – being called “aunty” by some random child. That encounter is worth reading.

Pia doesn't mince words and every thought is articulated in a way that is completely Urban Dictionary and not at all some preachy manual on how to live your life. As an army wife, let me tell you, the first thing you'll learn is that life simply does not go to plan. Pia's strength as a character is that she's brutally honest and she does her best to cope with a whole new world. Everything she thought she knew is suddenly not what it was. She has to stop being a TV girl and be a wife, an army wife no less. Ladies meets, however boring, have to seem important. “Bloody” is no longer easily accessible. There's other women who are scrutinising every look and word and every fold in your sari, and if you're the kind that gets easily overwhelmed, then chances are you'll end up like Mrs.James.

This is a light and breezy book to read. And there's a lot here that fiancees of army men need to know, newly married wives of army officers need to know and once you've assimilated all the lists Pia has helpfully made for you, you can happily read on to know what happens next... because a LOT happens next!

If there was one small detail I would add to the book, it'd be more Arjun. Let's face it, us army wives have a lot to cope with, and you'll read all about it in the book, but the one thing that we don't talk about is our husbands. They wear a uniform to work every day and stand tall and proud and most importantly chivalry is an intrinsic part of who they are, not some idea they came by on BroTips! It's great being in this organisation and the life is not for everyone. Let's face it, not everyone can adjust to a life where being politically correct is an every second of every day thing and not a once in a social occasion thing.

But Pia sails through like a champ and with her pink lipstick intact, and that's the best part – there's chemistry, there's make-up, great clothes, great ideas, and a fun ride into the army world! There's also some great people, some not so great people, and nose hair! Read the book, enjoy it and laugh a little, Pia's adventures are just the dose of sunshine you need this rainy season!