“The guiding principle is recall value. She must always cherish that first brush with our way of life,” Namita remembered her husband’s company commander laying out this informal social policy at one of their regular gatherings. “What if she gets turned off for good with this nonsense?” Namita was new enough at that time to express concern. The response had been confident, “Oh, these escapades become the stuff of service legend and most often they are evoked by the wives themselves.”
“I am telling you Mum, there is no better mother-in-law than the Indian Armed Forces!” she had excitedly told her mother on the phone that evening. “You have to see how wife after wife slips into the social stream, conforming and converting sooner than later to her adopted family,” it had bemused her mother to hear this from her once fiercely independent daughter.
But this was odd. Without so much as a briefing, let alone a brain storming, the unit was trooping into the “Station Run” to welcome the new couple. “What is the prank?” someone voiced the dominant thought as the welcome bus checked out of the guard room. There was silence and it crossed Namita’s mind “Perhaps we are finally toning down the circus.”
The vehicle trundled busily along the deserted city link road. At the height of terrorist activity in Punjab, you would be lucky to spot even a tractor chugging home at dusk from the farms. But true to their disciplined and time bound fibre, business done some three hours later, the merry gang was heading back, charged up on the somewhat shy magic between the bride and the groom. As they hit the half way milestone, the bus unexpectedly swerved. Stunned at the violent jolt, the occupants sat up, a frisson metastasizing in the aisle at the shouts and sounds of vigorous scuffles. The front door of the vehicle banged open and five turbaned men charged up the steps, their guns aimed at the dark interior. “Give us the bridal gold, quick,” they growled from behind blankets slung around their torsos in the winter air.
They waved a chunky flashlight on the blanching faces. It didn’t take them long to spot Kitty, the bride. Everyone turned to Vikas seated alongside her, willing him to stand up for his wife. He remained rooted to his seat, poker faced, as the men dragged his brand new spouse off the bus. A community paralysis had taken hold of the unit. The men had turned to stone and the women had entered into the most abject of survival modes. Mitali was holding out her mangalasutra beseechingly. Sophie was plonked on her pudgy toddler, desperate to keep him out of harm’s way. Shalini had achieved an acrobatic feat by folding her frame into half under her own seat.
Kitty’s piteous cries made them cringe. As the awful wailing grew weaker, the sound of a siren took over, swelling exponentially. It was the police, advancing at a clip! Someone had called the 181. All heads turned to Goofy, the commanding officer. The confusion was confounded at the ruckus near the front door all over again. A huddle was force entering the bus, Kitty in the lead! The bus resounded with a collective gasp at the sight of five of the unit bachelors, minus their turbans and blankets now. “Quick Goofy sir, back to base, the police will complicate things” they were entreating even as they threw their squash racquets into the back seat over stunned heads. The memorable welcome to be had just disbanded officially.
Goofy sir barked the order to move, reaching for the phone vibrating urgently in his shirt pocket. Startled out of incredulity, the bus collected itself and powered up hurriedly. Having finished listening to the guardroom duty officer at the other end, Goofy sir replaced the instrument slowly and turned to fix Vikas with a glare, “There is a lady at our main gate….she says she is the real new bride of Major Vikas Gupta! You double crossing, wife ridden rat!!”