Book Review : Nation First by Shikha Akhilesh Saxena

Most books/ articles by military spouses are never focused on the impact of the military partner’s deployment on their spouse’s psychological health. Nation First dwells into mental and physical well-being, depression and issues arising out of family relationships, especially daughter-in-law Vs mother-in-law. My salute to Shikha for being candid and straight faced – which many military spouses will bury in deep sand.

Shikha has narrated her experiences with a poker face.  She has brought out the shock of the first combat deployment of her spouse, that too soon after the wedding. She has explained well as to how she coped with separation though the mother-in-law finds fault with her and blames her for all the ordeals her son had to undergo.

Kudos to Shikha for taking it on and forgiving her mother-in-law for all her taunts.  That takes a lot of courage, magnanimity, and commitment to her spouse.

The life of a military spouse, the duties she is expected to carryout and her role in a Regimental life is all truthfully narrated.  A military spouse spends nearly the entire time at the current duty station speculating about where you will go next.

The book rolls out the metamorphosis of a young girl with no military exposure into a military spouse.  To be a military spouse, it is all about imbibing the Regimental spirit, learning acronyms and abbreviations, hearing about the escapades of her spouse while at the National Defence Academy and as a Lieutenant in the Regiment – it is endless. 

The author brings out the difficulties a military spouse faces to remain unemployed after being an entrepreneur prior to wedding.  Shikha has listed out the tasks a military spouse can execute, especially during intense combat like the Kargil War.

For Shikha, homecoming was like being on a blind date. First comes the honeymoon phase, and then it just gets awkward, especially when the soldier receives his posting order to nowhere.  She explains the loneliness she felt and the turmoil in her mind as to what in the world she was doing with her life.

True to the indomitable spirit of a military spouse, she too went through the highest of highs and lowest of lows emotionally. She deftly handled tough situations and rose exponentially.

Whatever a military spouse narrates, it is difficult to understand her mind, the turmoil she underwent and the support she gave to her husband.  Resilience, strength, and courage are the core of a military spouse. 

The book covers in detail the planning and conduct of tactical battles with a micro perspective. The accounts of the operations for the capture of Tololing and Three Pimples and many other such battles, told the story of human endeavour, perseverance, grit and determination. Shikha has described in detail the anatomy of a herculean challenge, the nuances of fighting in extreme rugged high-altitude terrain, inclement weather and an entrenched enemy. 

Shikha has codified the emotions of her husband who was stepping into an arduous task knowing very well that there may be no return. It tells the story of fortitude, of agony and ecstasy, of raw courage and exemplary leadership, particularly as a Forward Observation Officer with attacking Infantry Battalions.

The only aspect the book does not dwell into is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)Akhilesh suffered many injuries – both physical and psychological – but there is no mention about PTSD in the book.  May that the Indian Army is yet to recognise the existence of PTSD amongst the soldiers.

The military marriage always grows apart, back together over and over and it will turn the two into a strong couple.

The Book is available on Kindle and Amazon @Nation First eBook : Saxena, Shikha Akhilesh: Kindle Store

Canadian Immigration Woes

Negotiating the immigration process starting from filing of application, interview, preparing for transplantation into an unknown country and the actual process of moving and settling down  is often a difficult one. It involves many difficulties and unforeseen variables, such as delays, frustrations, and  expenditure. Most immigrants go through a period of turmoil at home and work as they settle in their new country. 

Recently I have been receiving calls from my military friends in India about their children or the children of their friends facing many immigration difficulties.  It is mostly about spousal ill-treatment or domestic violence.

Like many immigrants, we went through three stages: Pre-migration, Transition to Canada and amalgamating with the Canadian society & culture (Acculturation) and Settling down.

Acculturation issues many immigrant families undergo are: –

1. Adjusting to a new climate, especially the Canadian winter.

2. Biological changes associated with changes in diet.

3. Social changes associated with disruption of social networks, sudden changes to the political, economic and religious contexts of the immigrants,

4. Psychological changes such as the need to adapt to Canadian values and attitudes, especially in parenting.

Traversing through the stages of immigration and acculturation brings with it stresses and tensions in family life.  I’ve observed that women find jobs faster, mostly better paying than their husbands and this is very difficult for the patriarchal and egoistic Indian male to accept.  Not many will accept this Canadian reality.  That is why I quit my job as a supervisor at a call-center after six months as our children demanded that I be home when they were there.  They did not want to live in an empty home.   I quit my job to be a house husband. My wife who was doing a four-day week took to a five-day week as her 10 hours of extra work made up much more than what I earned in my 40-hour week and expenditure came down as I did not have to drive to work.

With the wife in a better position than the husband, the situation often  leads to fights ending in domestic violence or abuse.  The husband starts finding fault in trivial issues such as the dresses worn by the wife, her hair style, her spending too much money on pedicure & manicure, not taking adequate care of the husband & children – it’s an endless list. In such relationships the woman is capable of and often does walk out of such relationships to lead an independent life, sometimes with new partners. 

There is also an entirely different situation where the plight of the immigrant woman is a whole lot worse. Some women move into the household of her husband after marriage (Mail Order Brides – Please click here.)  These patriarchal households  often have a  strict hierarchy based on chronological age, and  predefined traditional Indian gender roles.   It is common for three or more generations to be living  together in such households with the family income being contributed to primarily by the young male members. Typical of the Indian joint family, more often than not, the parents of the husband   take many decisions concerning the married couple. Under such circumstances  the girl’s life becomes miserable and intolerable.

In such households, the bride is expected to cook, clean, and take care of many people other than her husband.  The hapless bride with a low language proficiency, inadequate knowledge about Canada and of her rights as a permanent resident/ immigrant, and lack of financial independence is forced to  continue the relationship however unsatisfactory.  The family never allows  her to go out alone or even speak to her friends and acquaintances in Canada.  She is denied access to the car and not allowed to drive – a need in Canada to be independent. She is sometimes denied a cellphone  and even access to the internet.  

The  wife’s dependence on the husband and his family increases her vulnerability. She is unaware of Canadian immigration laws and policies  that  make it possible for abused immigrant women to leave their sponsors and apply to the state for financial help.

The birth of a child adds to her woes and often puts her into a state of bonded labour.  If it is a girl child, her perils become multi-fold. Please click here to read my post on 4472 Missing Girls. She becomes enslaved to the household.  Fear of the husband claiming custody of the child by declaring that she is unfit to take care of the child instills further fear.  She is unaware of the support system that the Canadian Government provides for the single mother and for the children.

She feels helpless and powerless based on fear of losing custody of children to her husband if she  leaves the abusive home, and later the fear of state intervention and apprehension of her children by Children’s Aid Society.  Many Indian movies and TV debates have succeeded in implanting this fear in  the immigrant woman’s mind.

Abuse and violence aimed at Indian immigrant women is a complex social problem in Canada determined by a wide range of contributory factors such as Indian culture and the immigration process. Several characteristics of Indian society, including the position of women, arranged marriage, and family arrangements, influence the risk of domestic violence. The sources of incompatibility between husband and wife in immigrant families include disparities in age and attractiveness, sexual difficulties, and differences in caste and religion.  Continued existence under such conditions may well  lead to tremendous psychological stress and serious mental illness

So what’s the way out of this rat-trap? The only way is for the woman concerned to take the bull by its horns.  She needs to be aware of all the help that she can get from the state. She should preferably be made aware of these before the immigration takes place. If not, her friends in Canada and loved ones back in India somehow need to make her aware of these. She then has no option but to develop the courage to walk out of these abusive relationships, seek the State’s help in either returning to India or finding an alternative life in Canada.

In case you are aware of someone in an abusive or toxic relationship in Canada, this webpage of the Government of Canada will be useful.

Help for spouses or partners who are victims of abuse –

Spring Tulips 2023

April rains bring in May flowers’ is a common saying in Canada. This year, tulips sprouted as the days warmed up in March to above 25o C, but the weather played truant like typical Canadian weather that come April – it was a winter blast – it was freezing. 

The trees bear flowers even before the leaves sprout. It is all because of a short summer available for them to grow fruits.

Tulips are spring flowers and it signals arrival of the coming of a new season. Most tulips have six petals, but some can have many more.

Tulips Originated in Persia and Turkey and were brought to Europe in the 16th century.

Cultivated varieties, referred to as ‘Dutch tulips,’ originated in the Netherlands.

They got their common name from the Turkish word for gauze (with which turbans were wrapped) – reflecting the turban-like appearance of a tulip in full bloom.

Yellow tulips symbolise cheerful thoughts.

The brightly colored, upright flowers may be single or double, and vary in shape from simple cups, bowls, and goblets to more complex forms.

Tulips typically bear cup-shaped flowers in almost every shade but true blue. They can be double or single, fringed or twisted, perfumed or non-scented.

Purple symbolises royalty.

Orange is a color that’s symbolic of friendship and appreciation.

The eleventh wedding anniversary flower is also tulip. It conveys forgiveness.

These are different shades of Red Tulips in our garden. Red tulips are most strongly associated with true love.

Red tulips are the hue of choice to express that you are deeply in love. The red colour tulips evoke passion and romance.

There are no Black Tulips.   It is very dark Red.  This is the blackest we got.

Pink tulips symbolise congratulations and the wish for good luck.

White tulips are a symbol of saying you’re sorry about something,

Some of the Tulips are still blooming – may be due to the strong variation in temperature this spring.

They are gone in two weeks – and that’s the saddest part.

Mental Health Education

The Ontario government announced that they will introduce a new mandatory education curriculum for elementary and high school students that aims to increase mental health literacy, in the wake of continued challenges that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.  It will help students to recognise signs of being overwhelmed or struggling, as well as where to find help. Ontario’s current health and physical education curriculum, updated in 2019, already includes learning on mental-health literacy in every grade.

The program was ushered in due to the advocacy of Progressive Conservative MPP Natalie Pierre, who put forward a motion in December around mental health literacy. She took up the case for mental health education after her 17-year-old son took his life by suicide six years ago.  After her son died, Pierre made it her personal mission to advocate for mental health education in classrooms.

She said that her son was like any other student. The day before he died, he took a university campus tour. The night before, he went to a school dance. He worked a few hours at his part time job, and he got together with friends. Everyone observed him to be a normal, healthy teenager, but that wasn’t the truth.  In the months and years that followed; others contacted her to share their experiences with mental illness.

This propelled her to advocate for mental health education in schools the same way math and science are taught.

The proposed curriculum aims to create a personal toolbox of skills that a student could utilise in their life and their jobs and in the classroom.  It will include learning materials for Grades 7 and 8 in the form of activities, videos, and information to help students learn how to manage stress, determine the relationship between mental health and mental illness, recognise signs, symptoms and how to find support.

A survey released in February 2023 found about 91% of school principals reported needing some or a lot of support for students’ mental health and well-being.  The report also suggested that there is a lack of resources to respond to the mental health crisis in the classroom.

The curriculum is proactive, practical, and evidence based. It reaches students where they are at and at a time in their lives when mental health issues often emerge. It is aimed to prevent tragedies like the one experienced by Pierre.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government will also spend $26 million over the next two years to provide mental-health resources to students over the summer, so their support isn’t interrupted by the school break.

Mental health disorders among teenagers are highly prevalent yet undertreated. Reasons for not seeking help is due to limited awareness about mental health issues, social stigma and embarrassment, teenagers’ perceptions about confidentiality and the ability to trust an unknown person. Lack of professional help, inability of parents to identify mental health issues of their children and accept the same further adds to the problem.

The need for mental health education at high school must be about being honest regarding our mental health, pain, anger.  By pretending that such issues do not exist in the teens and do not have to be taught about it at school is a disservice to the students.  Introduction of mandatory mental health education in grade 10 will go a long way addressing the issues faced by the students.

Mental health…is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive, not where you’re going.” — Noam Shpancer, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.