Where does courage begin? Does it begin in the heart? Does it begin in the brain? Does it begin in the gut? Where does courage take you? What are the paths courage travels on? What are the paths one walks on, with courage holding one’s hand, or carrying one on its back? What are the paths where courage deserts one, and one is inextricably alone?

These were the questions that gnawed at me as I woke yesterday to the news of the Mirage jets doing what they set out to do, and returning with no casualties. What if there were casualties? What if lives were lost? That is what the forces are for, they say, to defend the country, to guard our borders, to keep us safe in our beds at night while they play sentinel. That is their job. They know what they sign up for when they sign up to be part of the armed forces, these brave men and women, who put country, nation and its people before their selves and their families, for whom death is always just a whisper away, breathing down their necks, following them with its sticky, miasmal stench, their valour its fodder.

They know what they sign up for when they sign up to be part of the armed forces, these brave men and women, who put country, nation and its people before their selves and their families.

Would I have this courage if I was a forces wife, I wondered? Would I be able to spend nights, weeks, months living with the uncertainty, the grimness, the internal chaos that comes from waiting, from not knowing? What steel, what mettle are these women made of?

army wives speak

How do they wait, and wait, and wait, not knowing what news might arrive, via a sterile phone call or a personal visit from a senior personnel, or worse, news that comes from the news channels, as they update their viewers with news of casualties or worse, fatalities. How do you define courage when you flirt with death every single day, death not your own, but that of the one you love? How do you live with the uncertainty of waving him goodbye, and imprinting every detail of his face on your mind, not knowing if this would be the last time you ever saw him alive? What calliper could measure this courage, what metric could encompass the gift of this love, that gives of a loved one, over and over again, to the nation.

How do you define courage when you flirt with death every single day, death not your own, but that of the one you love?

How do you gather your courage to yourself, knowing that at any point you would have to pick yourself up, and get on with living without your spouse, manage the home and hearth, raise your children all on your own. The intrusive glare of the media would be an unwelcome spotlight for a few days, after which life would go on as normal for everyone, except you. What is the emotional toll these wives deal with? How do they cope? What is the price their minds and bodies pay for this constant pressure? We will never understand this as civilians, we know nothing of the kind of dread that is part and parcel of their day to day. Is it enough, the pension, the dues that they get, to live out a life without a spouse, to raise their kids without a father? A recent demand by a politician that the wives of martyrs must be given government jobs has merit, living is expensive, bringing up children and educating them is expensive. A pension barely stretches itself across the blanket of the day to day, and they have a lifetime to live out.

We will never understand this as civilians, we know nothing of the kind of dread that is part and parcel of their day to day.

We don’t hear their stories enough. We don’t appreciate their sacrifices enough. The deaths are names in the newspapers to us, casualties that are mourned and forgotten as quickly. Behind those names, the faces, the lives, the wives, the children, the aged parents are stories that move off the pages of the newspapers in a day or two, if they were there at all. The stoicism of the young girl who yelled out her father’s unit’s battle cry at his funeral, the young widow who put a tender hand on the face of her dead spouse, as he lay in the coffin, the rows on rows of coffins, draped with the Indian flag, waiting to be transported to where the sorrow awaited them, the loss of a son, a brother, a father, a husband. A loss that we, as a people, can never repay the bereaved. This is a salute to these brave wives, it is their courage that is humbling. It is a courage that we take for granted in our entitlement as citizens. It is their courage that helps keep us safe.

This is a salute to these brave wives, it is their courage that is humbling. It is a courage that we take for granted in our entitlement as citizens. It is their courage that helps keep us safe.

Kiran Manral is Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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