With me posted as FCE commander in Mhow. Jeet my wife was still in Delhi with the children, Kalpana in JNU doing her final MA in French and Ranjit in Eleventh at Army Public School. I had managed to retain the accommodation at the SP Marg officer’s enclave Block 12/ 474 with some difficulty. To add to our mutual worry and problem she was also not well. Both of us were in mental trauma, she had been advised surgery for a suspected tumour in the abdomen I can still not forget the adjective used 'Tennis ball Size' to describe the tumour by the Doctor who had examined her at MH Delhi Cant. I had in desperation called her to Mhow to discuss the future course of action.
Jeet never failed to remind me that I had abandoned her way back in 1959 though it was true her grudge genuine, yet I have often wondered if she ever realised the trauma that even I had to suffer leaving them behind. Possibly the plethora of letters she did receive from me during the periods of separation were not poignant enough to convey my feelings or did the contents made the separation just a bit more unbearable for her. I do know however that waiting for her infrequent letters was a torture enough which was lessened only when I was handed over the then so familiar an envelop which contained her letter even though the euphoria lasted for a short time it is what sustained me during that difficult period at Tawang where I had been moved as the Sparrow of 7 Infantry Brigade from the Regimental HQ at Tezpur.
Family station sans family
Even later I left her many times due to the exigencies of service to fend for on her own and bring up the two growing children who needed the love and care of both the parents. At times we had to live separated by choice due to the children's education when we could visit each other only for short periods also at times it was she who abandoned me leaving me distraught and brooding in my bachelor’s quarters while posted in a family station sans the family. Now she was returning back to Delhi both of us having mutually agreed that she should face the ordeal of the operation albeit alone due to the urgency and the fact that I could not be away from the college at that time. I do wonder now as to what could have been more important to me at that time than her well being and the need of moral support of my presence at the time of the operation.
Heading to Indore
On the drive from Mhow to Indore airport she in the back with another lady who had taken a lift with me in the front with the driver both of us in silence buried deep in our own thoughts; my helplessness and her apprehensions. The seating arrangement in the car and the presence of another person precluded any exchange of last minute words of consolation.
There was another reason for the deafening silence between the two of us as she had been waiting, in my room in the bachelor’s quarters, sitting with this uninvited guest, for me to pick her up. She with her own worries, I was no where in sight the time for her flight to Delhi approaching naturally she was getting tense and justifiably upset with me. I was all this time stuck in the Commandant's office who was interviewing the foreign students of the faculty with me in attendance. The Commandant though aware of the fact that I was to see- off my wife was in an expansive mood enjoying his interaction with the students from Africa, Iran and Afghanistan in the process honing his already considerable diplomatic skills. I was all the time on tenterhooks covertly looking at my wrist watch, calculating by the minute diminishing gap in the travelling time from Mhow and the Checking- in at the airport. I desperate for an opportunity to get away and having reached the cut- off stage ultimately asked to be excused which he graciously granted. I rushed to the waiting wife to be greeted with frozen looks that made me quickly sink way down in my ammunition boots.
On my prodding the skilled driver kept the accelerator pedal pressed to its maximum travel and made the Ambassador fly onwards, we did make it to the Airport in time for check- in but only with a whisker. Once at the Airport and with her realising that the time to leave me behind had finally arrived I did notice a thaw in her till now rather sour expression. Waiting for the Aircraft coming from Bombay to land, both of us distraught she held to my hand as a desperate gesture, eyes brimming with tears. I equally emotionally charged with a turmoil brewing inside, yet presenting a brave face to keep her morale up added to the fact that I was in uniform and as such had to keep a brave face for the benefit of the public at large.
The Public Address system came to life crackling and in a tinny voice announced the arrival of the flight from Bombay. Soon the Boeing 737 landed with the characteristic roar of its twin jet raced the full length of the tarmac stopped with an effort at the very end of the short runway took a U turn and slowly taxied to the parking bay a short distance away from the terminal. Once again the PA came to life this time announcing the departure of the flight to Delhi and advising the passengers to board. The terminal came alive with the passengers rushing to line-up carrying the in-cabin baggage in both the hands all in a hurry to reach Delhi before others.
With tears streaming down her cheeks Jeet bid me a silent farewell no words exchanged the hand slowly and reluctantly withdrawn from the comfort of my grip and joined the line to face the daunting prospect of facing a major operation alone. Leaving me she slowly walked out of the terminal and trudged towards the plane and to an uncertain future. My eyes followed her each step desperate but unable to do any thing to mitigate our mutual apprehensions. I was still tied to her with an invisible elastic band which was getting stretched as she approached the Aircraft to finally break once she entered the door and disappeared from my view. Possibly she was the last to embark and soon the door shut with a bang breaking my contact with her.
As the staff car with me drove out of the Airport the Boeing also took off, flying low overhead with the two turbines whining at full power. I watched in a pensive mood from the window of the car its steep climb the visible effort to break from the shekels of the gravity pulling it towards the ground and become a free bird once again. Soon it took a sharp turn and headed towards Delhi, taking all that mattered to me with it leaving me forlorn worried and with an empty feeling inside. On my way back to Mhow I did take a sane decision and rang her up at the earliest to defer the operation till I could be with her at Delhi.
Brig Lakshman Singh, VSM (Retd)