‘It is an untested hunch of mine that the Gulmohar Tree (also known as the Flame Tree) is very popular within the Army Cantonment areas and it is very unlikely that one can even walk for 10 minutes without spotting one set in the lush green environs.’
My father used to work in the Controller of Defence Accounts (CDA) office and so I was able to study in a Kendriya Vidyalaya school that was a cultural melting pot that melded kids of the Defence personnel from all part of the country. Indeed a typical posting would mean that the families kept moving every three years to different cities. A standard syllabus and the use to English and Hindi as medium of instruction was a key element that enabled one to do smooth transits.
But beyond this was what could also be regarded as the Defence culture, that was something most civilians cannot relate to very easily. Very often the families used to be housed in ‘SFA’ (Separated Family Accommodation), as the men would be serving on ‘field postings’. The ladies would have to step up to the plate and manage the family.
They would also lead very active lives – many of them worked as our Teachers as well in the school and quite a few would be involved in social and community activities. Discipline was a byword for them and the children would get a sense of the same early on. In many families it was a tradition to serve the nation and most kids grew up dreaming of joining the NDA. In those days for some funny reason the written exam centre was only in Mumbai, so a batch of kids would merrily troop every year on a train trip on the Deccan Queen to simply appear for the exams.
Life was not all work, if I made it sound it like that. We got a run of recreation options as well – Command Library had a good collection of books, there was no dearth of grounds to play our ‘gully Cricket matches’, a few could even manage to wrangle their way into the swimming pools and even learnt Horse riding for fun. The eternal favourite for a school picnic has been a quick trip to the Empress Garden.The Annual ‘Army Ball and May Queen’ was a much awaited event.
The Camp area was the most happening place for social life as well and was far more developed – the IT revolution was nowhere on the scene and the suburbs offered a far muted scene in the Pensioner’s paradise. From the quaint Irani cafes of ‘Naaz’ and ‘Maha Naaz’ where you grabbed some veg samosas and a cuppa of chai to the famous sandwiches at ‘Marz-O-Rin’ to Shrewsbury biscuits from the Kayani bakery – it was chic and yet quite affordable. West End was were one could catch some of the best English flicks and ‘Dorabjees’ was our version of a shopper’s paradise. The Cantonment area was surely not out-of-bounds for civilians but the scene was nevertheless dominated by the Force. No wonder the USP offered to a young man to join the Force was its ‘Quality of Life’.
The Gulmohar Tree is my metaphor for such a life – imagine the chosen road to success, with its carefully pruned hedge and the flamboyant flourish of the colours in one’s life.