We all love seeing the images and videos of a surprise homecoming on YouTube, especially of US/ Canadian soldiers. Our eyes fill with tears when we watch those videos featuring service members being welcomed home by their loved ones. A picture of a dad in uniform holding his baby for the very first time, how can you not be emotional? Yet only those of us who have actually been on the other side of the camera know that while homecomings are fabulous in their own right, they can also present some unique, and often many surprising challenges.
For all those watching those soldiers’ homecoming videos, it will raise your feeling of patriotism and respect for those in uniform, who sacrifice a lot and how these soldiers and their families miss each other.
Have you ever tried to fathom the stress of these soldiers and their families?
It was more like a deep-sea divers’ decompression chamber when I suddenly appeared in front of our home’s porch, a journey which had commenced 72 hours earlier from a bunker at 12,000 feet above sea level in Kashmir or Sikkim, ending at Kottayam, merely 10 feet above sea level. It took me time to accept that I was safely home, to be with my loved ones, breathing that air I breathed in my childhood.
It took some time to accept the new reality, that I was not in an intense and life-threatening combat zone, but in the protective nest of my mother. It did cause its own share of stress, anxiety, and fear – both to my family members and to me.
The extent of my stress was related to the dangers I faced while deployed, the length of time I was away from home, and was worsened if I had lost any soldiers or any of them were injured – both due to enemy action or due to vagaries of weather. The other fear was of being unaware of the changes in family dynamics, the neighbours, close relatives and so on. Being unaware of the increase or decrease of animals and fowls at home too added to the stress.
It was always a sigh of relief for the entire family, especially my mother as she always heaved a long sigh of relief and rushed to thank God for bringing her son home safely. Her first sentence often was “Why did you write home that you will be home next week? I always knew you will come before.” All these while our father kept a stoic silence to break it to say, “Welcome home.”
It all commenced when I joined Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathi Nagar in Thamizh Nadu. Travel home on vacation was a one day ordeal owing to poor rail/ road connectivity of India in 1970’s. I wrote a letter home a fortnight before about my impending travel plans and reached home safely as we friends travelled in a group. While in grade 8, my eldest brother said, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later as Amma gets very stressed, thinking that you are on a train, you may miss a connection, you may not get good food and so on.”
I followed his advice sincerely till my last homecoming from Canada. I never gave the exact date of my arrival and in many cases never informed anyone about my travel plans.
In 2015, I flew into Kochi Airport and took a taxi home. While in the taxi, I called my eldest brother and he said, “How far away from home are you?” “Will be home in 45 minutes,” I replied.
My brother announced “Reji will be home in 45 minutes. Get lunch ready for him.”
My mother totally surprised and thrilled exclaimed “Which Reji? Our Reji, I spoke to him in Canada yesterday. How can he be home in 45 minutes?”
After lunch, I asked my brother as to how he made out that I have landed at Kochi and was on my way home, even before I could say anything. “It was because of the blaring traffic horns. I know that in Canada you can never hear it. So I guessed you were in a taxi home.”
Our nephew is a Captain serving with the Corps of Engineers, had returned home after a gruelling six month long Young Officers’ Course at Pune. On culmination of the course, he with his friends vacationed in Goa for a week. On reaching home, he rang me up to say “Now I realised why you never disclosed your travel plans. There were many calls from my mother and she wanted me to come home immediately.“
My eldest brother, now the head of the family, advised his nephew, “Never write the correct date of your arrival; always give a date a few days or a week later.”