Time and again, we have all heard the term “military brat” a million times over. It pertains to those children who grew up in military families. “Brats” wear the name like a badge of honour, often because of the moves, stressors and cultural experiences that make them more resilient than their civilian counterparts.
“I am an Army Brat!!” Proudly they remark. It may sound preposterous to some, but for them, BRAT is Born, Raised and Transferred. Roger That!
A good amount of Indians belong to this often misunderstood subculture known as “Military Brats.” I’m here to provide some insight into the unique lives these children of India’s soldiers lead and the interesting challenges and adventures they encounter.
You might think “Military Brat” is a coarse term to call the service members’ children. I know I thought so at first. But in time, I began to see it as a term of endearment. It’s a term that says so much about the military life.
Growing up a Fauji kid is an otherworldly experience.
You grow up with a ‘Hanikarak Bapu’ who thinks nothing of waking you up at 5.00 am for either a run or study till 6:30 am. (Never know what to study, just pull out any textbook and pretend to study and keep dozing off every few minutes till you get caught)….
Dad would monitor us and slowly pull away the books if we slept!! 😉
Shoes have to be polished till you can see your face in them. Walk and sit in such a way that no crease or folds mar your appearance. You learn dining etiquettes before you probably learn to walk. The all-round grooming you get as an army brat helps you hone your skills in various fields.
But there is more to the Fauji way of life than just discipline and rules! It’s not a regimented one. Yes, there is a certain discipline that is followed in terms of pursuing a sport, playing a game, study time and socialising time.
Home Is Where The Army Takes You
One thing we always hear about military brats is that they move around a lot, and that’s true. You just don’t belong to one place. On average, military families are assigned to a new installation every two to three years. And it’s usually not just a relocation down the street. No. Military families are assigned to fly to a new “home” all the way across the country with an entirely different culture. Indeed, a good chunk of military children are born at some place, raised at some other place and transferred all across the country. Apparently, change and transition don’t seem that intimidating anymore. In fact, you begin yearning for changes and every posting becomes a new chapter. Life is constantly dynamic, always in a constant flow of events. At times, you end up meeting your old friends in different cities!
Life On Cantonment/Peace Stations
A military cantt. is a community within a community. It’s fenced off from the civilian world around it- a sanctuary for military families. You play with the other kids in the community. The best part of growing up in the army campuses is that there is a lot of greenery around. A lot of trees, gardens and as most of the parents take an active interest in gardening thus passing the talent to their kids as well. You always look forward to festivals and holidays. You may not get to go to your hometown but you do get to celebrate with your own Military family. You will tuck into biryani on Eid with the same fervour as you celebrate Janamashtmi or Gurupurab or Christmas. There is no segregation, no differentiation. You bond over the lack of permanency in your lives. You revel in every fleeting moment, cherishing whatever comes your way.
The idea of living in a single place for more than a few years sends shivers down their spine. Being “stuck” in one place for a decade, in some Military Brats’ minds, means missing out on eye-opening, life-enriching experiences afforded by the rest of the world, reminding you that the world is big and beautiful and that there’s so much left to see. After their father retires and settles at one place, it becomes difficult to settle down in one particular place!
Fauji kids have their very own Shaktiman – the ungainly military trucks or jeeps or tanks or stallions that paraded as school buses. You troop into these rickety dark trucks with tarpaulin roofs and a wire mesh at the back, chickens in a mobile coop off to school! You fight for space on rudimentary wooden benches while the conductor keeps a wary eye out for paper planes or water fights. Consider yourself lucky if you get to sit in the front with the driver in the Shaktiman.
It isn’t comfortable but it sure is fun!
Making new friends becomes second nature. And one of your first friends is your ‘Bhaiya’ or ‘Sahayak’. He is friend, mentor, guide – all rolled into one.
Armed Forces have their own schools for the military kids– Army Public Schools, Kendriya Vidyalaya, Sainik Schools, Military Schools, Air Force Schools. These are the default options. It is only after entering different schools that are “civil” or a college (not the army variety) do you realise the “different” thought process existing outside. It was always assumed that people outside would share a similar worldview, but it isn’t always so.
While you do live in a secular, protected shell of a life within thriving green cantonments, it is in many ways the perfect environment to grow up in. Unlike other children, home is not a brick and mortar building or a lane or even a city. For Fauji kids, home is the Army and everything it stands for. Home is the sound of the early morning Bugle, the sight of soldiers marching past in unison, the smell of Brasso used to polish your father’s/mother’s medals, the feeling of pride you take in the life you have had.
While growing up, military kids didn’t fancy heroes from Marvel comics and DC universe characters but rather the people whose names they grew up hearing; for instance, Captain Vikram Batra and Captain Vijayant Thapar and so on. In fact, in military schools, the names of the house systems reflect the names of various Generals and Field Marshals, be it – Manekshaw or Cariappa.
There is a small story about a teacher who asks a class to give her an example of a Galaxy. A little kid replies Shoulders of my dad.” The surprised teacher asks ‘How?’, to which the little girl, filled with pride, replies “because this is where he wears his stars. His uniforms.”
If You’re on Time, You’re Late!!
Only military kids know that you show up to appointments at least fifteen minutes in advance. It’s actually a great habit to have; you’ll rarely be punished for showing up early, but you’ll almost always regret being late. It’s impolite to keep people waiting, especially doctors and administrative personnel who have dozens of other patients and/or customers to see that day.
Loved ones posted in war zones
It’s wonderful and heartbreaking both about having a parent in the military. One of the hardest parts about military life is dealing with deployments, separations, and losses. Having your loved ones posted in war zones, reading headlines about martyred soldiers. Getting news, it wasn’t your father and sighing with relief BUT knowing the fact He was somebody’s father, somebody’s son pushes you in low spirits from the loss. All this is a part of the growing-up life cycle. However, I don’t think any army kid will trade the life he/she gets as a Military BRAT.
Military kids exhibit pride in their parents’ service and often take on additional duties during deployments. In this way, they serve our country too, with strength and bravery. Growing up as a military brat is a unique and often rewarding experience. More often than not, looking back on life as a military brat will provide endless entertainment and laughter to anyone they share the stories with.
Growing up as a military brat is a unique and often rewarding experience. More often than not, looking back on life as a military brat will provide endless entertainment and laughter to anyone they share the stories with.