[ The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 24, 2000

When a soldier retires
By Roshni Johar

WILLIAM Shakespeare probably forgot to mention the stage of retirement in his "Seven Ages of Man" (As You Like It).

When army officers retire, they are left without orderlies, houses, and facilities. How do they cope with such a situation?

Their olive green uniforms, the ribbons’ and medals are just put away,to be occasionally aired and fondly remembered on some regimental dinners, bada khanas or army get-togethers. The orderlies and the retinue of servants are no longer there. The chhokra takes their place. He’s the khansama, bearer, orderly, ayah — all rolled into one. And when the Sahib comes home from his daily walk with his alsation at his heels and tapping his walking stick asks in a commanding tone, koi hai?— there are no replies like the smart Yes, Sir or the humble Ji, Sahib.


The habit of having everything spotlessly clean and sparkling still remains. On an occasional Sunday, one may find the Sahib, Memsahib, their Baba Log and the chhokra boy neck-deep in "Operation Cleanliness" — cleaning furniture, shining brassware, washing the car — spit, polish, et al!

Taking one of walk down the cantonments, you will find Captaan Sahibs, Majors, Colonels and Brigadiers riding on their cycles and scooters with absolutely no hang-ups or one may even see them jogging in their starched shorts. some with their handle-bar moustaches, prim and propah, very Brit mannered.... these are their trademarks.

Often old friends meet over a peg or two, and talk about camps and battles in Basra... Cairo...Congo...Indo-China....sometimes nimbupani takes the place of drinks. And then they see their old glory over their dusty albums, with a glint of nostalgic shine in their eyes.

Essentially country trotters, they feel cemented to one place, as their era of army postings is over. Gone are the days of living in stately furnished bungalows with huge lawns and kitchen gardens. Barring a few, the rest are crammed into mini houses or flats. Being smaller, they are definitely easy to maintain.

What happens when army officers retire? Their memsahibs go on active service! They bemoan the loss of orderlies. "I keep parading the whole day doing household chores" is the common cry. She has a hard time, but there is little she can do about the changed circumstances.

How does theSahib fit in all this? It is the respect given to them by the public and their way of addressing the military officers as Colonel Sahib, a sense of still belonging to the Army, a faith in themselves and the many silent salutes of admiration — that’s what keeps them going.