You never know how weird your life has been until someone else breaks it down for you.
As a child, I never questioned the way we lived. Be it in the ever-changing friends in the Air Force and Kendriya Vidyalaya schools, or the incomplete crockery sets. If one was asked to move cities, one moved. If one was asked to change schools, one did. The younger me never felt the need to look around and gauge how such changes could have monumental changes for a child.
The cliches I hear every-now-and-then are something on the lines of:
It’s a good laugh. Sometimes.
There are deeper truths that lay underneath the well-intentioned coaxing of an outsider to the complicated situation in which kids of the forces grow. I have attempted to uncover those that I have faced during my childhood.
I realised very early on that everyone is on their own. We move to a different place every three or five years. At the beginning of each posting, we make friends at the new school and the new Station/Base/Cantonment. We would chat and play with these friends for a couple of years, and then say proper goodbyes to them, and leave for another place, where we do the same thing until we move yet again.
The thing is, at fifteen, it gets difficult to remember or keep in touch with the friends you made when you were six. It all happens so fast and enough times for you to understand early on, that you can write all the letters in the world to those you left behind, but it’s just not the same.
Then there is also the prickling realisation that you have in the first six months of your move–you see your old friends get on with their lives. And once more, you find yourself sitting amongst strangers and working towards new friendships.
Friends and community tend to play a transitory role in your upbringing. By the time you are a teenager, you get quite comfortable sitting at the library or cycling in the neighborhood by yourself. Sure, you talk to the other kids and eventually, you do make friends. But you know now that these relationships are most likely short-lived. Memories fade, letters rust, and you make do with new people as you meet them. You learn to go with the flow.
As children, we spent many years without dad whenever he was posted in ‘forward’ areas. During the good postings, dad would still be away for several months at a time on some temporary duties or the other. I have tried to remember how mom dealt with my father being away for several months at a time, but how can I? I had no idea how she felt raising two kids on her own in a Separated Families accommodation.
As a 10-year-old, I was not perceptive enough to see through her relentless banter and coaxing through treats. We spent many birthdays and anniversaries without dad by our side. Gradually, we stopped feeling about this too.
I wonder how other kids of the armed forces felt about this constantly changing places and faces. Having thought about it, I have a feeling that many of them did feel uncomfortable in their present circles, or left out when they read emails from their old friends.
Life in the defense world makes you unintentionally self-reliant at a young age. You become independent relatively early on in life. You also begin to understand and adapt a little too quickly. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. But then, if I have learned one thing growing up as an Air Force kid, it is to take everything with a pinch of salt.