The initial first meeting between us, which had taken place at Nita’s house on the day of Deepavali of 1986, was followed by an interesting corollary. After both of us were more or less agreeable to the proposal, our families too seemed keen for it to fructify into marriage, but strangely, neither side gave a clear confirmation, or positive or negative indication to take the discussion forward, leaving the matter in suspended animation, as it were. While they, that is, the girl’s family, thought we would get back to them, we, on our part, thought that they would inform us of their decision. Soon thereafter, my parents returned to Nepal and I went back to Udaipur in this environment of uncertainty, with both sides adopting a “wait and watch” attitude.
After a lull of about one and a half months, I returned to the village on leave in December, where my uncle was unwell and had to be taken for treatment to a nearby town. When I was on an errand purchasing medicines for him, I providentially ran into the car of Nita’s Mamaji while crossing the road to enter a pharmacy. Her uncle, who was on his way to Chandigarh, stopped the car, and I wished him. After acknowledging my greetings, he politely inquired why we had not responded to the proposal. Taken aback, I said that we were fine with the match but were waiting for their response. Nonplussed, he said that they were also agreeable to our proposal but were anticipating that the boy’s side would take the initiative in finalising the match.
Thus, just as a random newspaper notification in a bus had decided my career, this chance meeting on the road with Nita’s uncle led to my marriage – I couldn’t help but think that destiny is indeed an all-powerful force, or at least proved to be so in both my personal and professional life.
Immediately after our encounter on the road, her uncle changed track and instead of Chandigarh drove to Nita’s parents’ house to rekindle the discussion on the proposal. Things started moving at lightning speed after this encounter, and just a few hours later, Nita’s family visited our farmhouse to “seal the deal”. The slight recalcitrance on the part of Nita, who was mentally not fully prepared for marriage, had been neutralised by persuasion from her parents, who, by the way, were suitably impressed with my credentials, and also her two elder sisters, both of whom were married to officers in the defence forces, one to a Naval officer and the other to an Army officer. The crowning stroke was the fact that her grandfather and father’s elder brother had participated in the First and Second World Wars, respectively, and the family thus respected and preferred their daughters to settle down with men in uniform. This thus proved the age-old adage that marriages are made in heaven, as through our long marital life, we have been blessed with love and commitment to each other. On a lighter note, in our case, the “heaven” that decided our marriage was actually a beautiful countryside road in Punjab!
Here, I must point out that Nita’s reluctance also stemmed from another issue, which initially ran like an undercurrent in our impending relationship; the fact that her future mother-in-law would be not her husband’s biological mother but his stepmother. She discussed this issue with her parents, but they convinced her to shed her inhibitions and not use this as a flimsy reason for refusal.
Moreover, the emotional succour that the two families derived from the fact they had roots and antecedents in the same region of Punjab was a strong influential factor in favour of the marriage. Thus, our next meeting on December 17, 1986, was for our engagement, with the date being a red-letter day in my life, as the date of my commissioning into the Army too had been December 17, three
years earlier. Thereafter, marriage followed in just two months, on February 1, 1987, which is again a special date, as it happens to be my birthday.
The date was decided arbitrarily, as the bride’s family sought time of about six weeks for the wedding preparations, and in keeping with the Sikh tradition of Anand Karaj or “act towards a happy life”, wherein a marriage is solemnised generally on a Sunday morning in the Gurdwara Saheb, we chose the first Sunday falling after about six weeks of the betrothal ceremony for the wedding, which was incidentally February 1, 1987.
With regard to fixing the date for the marriage, I would like to narrate another very important coincidence. There is an Army ruling, probably from the British era, which authorises an Army officer to apply for the married officers’ accommodation only after he has attained the age of 25. I really don’t know the origin and logic of this ruling, but by design or destiny, I too decided to get married on the very day I was to turn 25, which meant that my birthday and wedding anniversary would fall on the same day every year. This, in fact, resulted in a very interesting combination 35 years later on the day of my superannuation, when my 60th birthday, 35 years of marriage and retirement, all fell on the same day!
On the day of the engagement, my Naniji, who had come specially to attend the ceremony, was in for a unique treat as Nita prepared her trademark coffee for my grandmother. When Bijee expressed her appreciation for the coffee, Nita’s demure but candid response was, “Bijee, I can make good coffee but I know nothing about cooking regular meals!” This tête-à-tête between my Naniji and my fiancée set the tone for my wife’s subsequent indoctrination into the kitchen, where she fulfilled her aspirations to become an enviable cook, learning the ropes the hard way!
Coming back to my Army responsibilities, since my marriage was fixed for February 1, I had taken leave from January 26 (Republic Day) onwards, to ensure sufficient time for travel to be able to reach home well in advance of the wedding. However, though my leave had been sanctioned, two days before it was to kick in, the Indian Army got mobilised for “Operation Brasstacks”, when India and Pakistan were almost on the brink of a war in January 1987. The tension was eventually defused when the then Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq visited Jaipur to watch a cricket match. But the days preceding this happy outcome were laced with tension on the border between the two nations. While on one hand, I was completing all my responsibilities before proceeding on leave, on the other hand, my unit was being mobilised to move towards the border.
In this backdrop, when prior to the departure of the unit, an “All OK” and “Ready to March” report was submitted to my commanding officer, Colonel (later Brigadier) Trigunesh Mukherjee, I was convinced in my mind that my wedding would have to be deferred and I would depart for the border along with my unit members. But Colonel Mukherjee did not seem to think so. I was quite shocked when he said almost matter-of-factly, “OK, Tiny, see you after your marriage.” I averred that I would prefer to go with the unit but he asserted, “There is no need for that, you go and get married, and in case you hear the news of war breaking out, just pack your bags and come straight to the border.” As I was all packed and ready to move to the border, I handed over my trunk and bistarband (bedding) to my Company Havildar Major (CHM) and left for my home with a small handbag, expecting to join my unit in action very soon. The excitement of being with the troops and the unit during combat causes an indefinable exhilaration and rush of adrenaline, a feeling I was destined to experience through most of my Army career later.
Excerpted with permission from Kitne Ghazi Aye Kitne Ghazi Gaye: My Life Story, Lt Gen KJS ‘Tiny’ Dhillon, Penguin.