For some strange, strange reason and don’t scoff at my twisted sense of drawing bizarre conclusions, Aditi Mathur Kumar’s Soldier & Spice reminds me about the film Gippi. You know the film about the happy go-lucky, clumsy and plump Gippi? Yes, that one. And how she competes with the ‘taken-for-granted-always-winning’ girl Shamira? Yes, yes that one.
Now let me explain why. As a civilian (according to Aditi’s book), I have an outside view of the Army life…err, wife. And quite like Pia and then Gippy (who realizes that even a winner has to make sacrifices), I realize that there is indeed much worth in it. Not that I undermined the army life in any way, but like any civilian outside the army cantt, one wouldn’t have imagined that being a wife would be tougher. And Pia (Aditi’s lead character and the principal narrator of her book) convinces you about it in many ways.
Here are some choicest quotes from the book as teasers:
“The situations we Army wives have to deal with are not normal ones at all. The nomadic life we lead, moving from station to station, being separated from our husbands for long stretches of time, and the constant fear that we live with if our husbands are anywhere near the sensitive areas in the country…”
“We are all regular people, Pia,’ she laughs. ‘But we are not regular wives.”
“She oozes the kind of over-confidence that only comes to people who wear deep red lipstick and sparkly tissue sarees in bright daylight.”
So before I get into why you should read this book, let’s put the basic plot straight. This is the book blurb from Goodreads:
“For Pia, regular life is a thing of the past. She is now an Army wife. From ‘just Pia’ to an Aunty, a memsaab and – her favourite words in the whole wide world – Mrs Pia Arjun Mehra. At twenty six, Pia finds herself having to suddenly be more ‘lady-like’; focus on themed ladies’ meets, high teas and welfare functions; and deal with long (unexpected) separations from her husband, extraordinary challenges, a little heartache, and, well, growing up.
In the mysterious and grand world of Army wives, Pia learns that walking in high heels is okay as long as you don’t trip on combat boots. She learns that ‘civil’ is also a noun, that JCO and GOC are (very!) different, that snacks are ‘shown’ and WTF is better explained as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Yes, it really is a new world!
Let this quirky, hilarious story of the first year of Pia’s Army-wife life show you that the spice to a soldier’s life is most definitely his better, very strong, bloody extremely elegant, never-cussing, witty, warm and passionate half, his Army wife.”
Back to the review now:
Pia is the quintessential Dilli girl. High on drama. Conscious of herself. Madly in love with her man. Loves shopping. Finds comfort in gossiping. I don’t particularly identify with her past as a television person (because I am one myself), but it’s a passing reference in her narrative and it doesn’t matter.
What matters is the story of Pia and trials as an army wife.
So replace the conventional ‘society-community’ life with a life in the army cantonment. You have neighbours all right, but they aren’t the kinds who you can walk up to and ask for a cup of sugar when yours has run out. Or neither is it a life where you can sit with your feet up and boss around someone to do your job. Unlike what we civilians may imagine, your husband’s sewak / bhaiyya is not your own. So yes, it is disconcerting and a potential field of war when the sewak claims to know your husband more than you do!
Replace the ‘kitty parties’ with Ladies Meet, and it is pretty much the same routine, except that there are some very dictatorial rules here. The Army is driven by fierce protocol and as Pia describes it, it is pretty much the same in the women’s’ quarters. There is a definitive hierarchy and anyone seen deviating from the norms is given a severe stern, if not an ‘etiquette class’. There is a fair amount of back-biting of course. And quite like high-school there is someone who wants to be Miss Popular and wants to show you as the loser by winning your friends. Then there is the case of being a deserving wife to a deserving husband. You never know the pressure on a wife who is told her behavior may affect her husband’s promotion. Wicked, isn’t it? Well, that’s the life of an army wife.
Soldier & Spice is also a delectable tale of love. After all it is the story of a newly married couple, so between the travails of a wife lost in the army life, it is also the story of a girl growing up to be a wife. The couple doesn’t fight. He treats her to pizzas to save the wife the trouble of cooking. She learns to cook, to find her way into his heart. And when the time comes right, she matches up to her soldier husband to support him.
An army wife needs grit. She needs certain fortitude. We all face perils at our workplace. But to know that your husband has one of the most vulnerable professions in the world is no sweet solace. In Pia’s world, a freak accident leaves her Arjun on a wheelchair and home-ridden. While she learns to deal with her husband in a vulnerable state, she also grows up in the process and in just in that Soldier & Spice becomes a coming of age tale of Pia.
Pia is a drama queen, a little too sweet, a little too unsuspecting. She is trampled upon and she doesn’t give back. I suspect she would have carried on with herself just as she did until she realized her husband shares the same thoughts of her. Unfortunately, from the moment she decides to change things about herself and to the moment she has it all is all too quick and rushed. I wish the climax had lasted longer.
What good is an army story that doesn’t touch upon a good combat sequence? As a reader I would have liked a fair action sequence, but the maybe for the large readership that Aditi seeks to entice, I am not sure that would have been a good idea. So the author leaves out the details of the sole action-packed moment in her story, tsk…tsk.
Soldier & Spice is a pacy read. It is colloquial, a little too much for my liking, but then it is meant to be an easy read. It is funny, because Aditi sure has her own of way adding humorous tones to her writing. Her language is not pretentious and I have a feeling that Aditi can write more than just chic lit.
Will she try her hand at it, is another story. J
They say the first book is mostly autobiographical. I wonder if this is. Perhaps it is. Maybe not! Aditi on her blog says that Pia is not her. And I believe it. But does that mean that Pia’s adventures aren’t Aditi’s? I am not so sure.