Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Lady Wives

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This piece appears in the August 2014 issue of Herald

Many years ago, I was at a military function where I heard an army wife, and the wife of a senior officer at that, say to some less fortunate wives, ‘When we were commanding the Gujranwala Corps ...’ That was when I lost her, being too open-mouthed (unable to hear anything when my mouth gapes) and trying to hide my stare, her words were simply lost in space.

Obviously, she was referring to herself and her husband as the joint commanders of the unfortunate corps. This was a true, one hundred percent marriage where the spouses had accomplished what the Bollywood number says: tum mujh mein sama jao, mein tum mein sama jaon. I wondered what would have happened in the event of actual war.

Would Begum Corps Commander Lieutenant General Tutpoonjiya Chaudri – as these ladies are referred to in the press – have moved with her husband to the forward defended localities? And would she have taken over command of the cleaning and cooking staff of the corps headquaters? I have no answer for that but I suspect I know why we’ve not been winning any wars!

Shortly after this I read in the papers a notice of transition that went, ‘Begum Abdul Tafanguddin Khadpainch Khan widow of late General Abdul Tafanguddin Khadpainch Khan, ex-ambassador to Tombuctu and Flambooistan, ex-Chairman Public Disservice Commission, ex-Chairman WTF, passed away after a prolonged illness.’ Now, before you run off with obscene ideas, the now defunct WTF is only Water and Transportation Facility, an organisation meant to provide salary to retired generals who had lived way past all the damage done by Messer Alzheimer and Parkinson.

Well, it took me several minutes to work out who had passed away. If it was a man or a woman was not immediately comprehensible. Equally unknowable was what this passer-away did in his/her life. Were all the fancy ex-appointments held by the passer-away to make a hash of them or was it her late husband? It took two readings to finally establish that the widow of a dead man (we know of several widows of living men too) who had actually been a simple housewife all her life had died. She had lived anonymously and died without anyone, even her own children, knowing her name.

Confession: I spent seven years in uniform and I was the classic rotter who would have been drummed out if I hadn’t had the good sense of leaving just as the drummers were being prepared. So, my course-mates being the gentlemen that they are, always invite me to the annual reunion. In the beginning, my wife, Begum Captain Rotter, also accompanied me. But not anymore. And here’s why.

Army functions are not mixed. Lady wives (yes, they have lady wives in the army) on one side and husbands at a safe distance on the far side of the lawns. Things being the way they are, it seems there are no gentlemen husbands even though the army insists on referring to officers as gentlemen. I say this because, one, we don’t call them gentlemen husbands and, secondly, we site them at a safe distance from lady wives.

At the function there were few women, sorry, ladies, who knew my wife. Naturally, others wanted to know her and asked who she was. She gave them her first name. The women, oops, ladies, were aghast! Just a single first name? Very pointedly my wife was asked ‘Mrs Who?’ The pecking order had to be established before banter began.

She being what she is, Frau said, ‘Bugger my husband! What do you have to do with him?’ Eventually, the wife of a friend who knew both of us came to Frau’s rescue and made matters worse by explaining who and what the two of us were. Why, this plebeian did not even have a rank to go with her husband’s name. They looked at my wife as if she had the biblical disease of poor old Job.

From Frau, I learned that even though some army wives were mutually quite friendly, they referred to each other as ‘Bhabi Khalid’ or ‘Bhabi Rafiq’ after the husbands’ names, sometimes even using Mrs. No one called the other by her first name for fear the other would turn into a pillar of salt.

But now, sadly my lady wife does not accompany me to these functions and I no longer get to hear fun things from the other side of the lawn.

Odysseus Lahori one year ago: A Summer Sojourn in Upper Sindh

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 13 August 2014 at 19:52, Blogger pilgrim said...

Brings peels of laughter !!! Very lucid pen you have ,Sir

At 13 August 2014 at 22:09, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...


At 14 August 2014 at 07:23, Anonymous Beena Sarwar said...

Brilliant as ever. I can imagine she would never want to go to these functions. Btw, you need to add sharing buttons to your posts - twitter, fb etc.

At 14 August 2014 at 09:36, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

There is no need to hide what we are and what rank the husband had, course mates are course mate , they may reach to any rank.

At 14 August 2014 at 23:33, Blogger Rehan Afzal said...

So True Sir....I have had similar luck with my course mates as well. The Frau had exactly the same thoughts.

At 16 August 2014 at 23:20, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please write more on a military functions where officers are suppose to sit according to their ranks (class distinction) with the prominent sign posting saying, "Lieutenant-Colonels and below" (lower class) or "Colonels and above" (The red tapers).

Similarly, the vehicles and its parking is again classified as better and not so better cars and jeeps. The sign posting has "Star Car Park" and (ordinary) "Car Park" as if the motor transport has its own creed classification.

By the way there is another point to ponder, where it says "Officer's Car Park". What does that mean?

The British started soldier's classification for recruitment purposes. Pakistan Army has gone further with classification within the officer cadre and their transport.

At 18 August 2014 at 06:00, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Anonymous. The above is in light mood and good faith. If I write what you suggest, I'll offend my friends in the army Do you think it needs be done?

At 28 August 2014 at 19:27, Blogger The Reticent said...

Sir, that was Epic!!! too gooooooood to read :D

At 29 August 2014 at 10:29, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Reticent.

At 20 July 2015 at 18:07, Blogger Tariq Amir said...

I have heard a little different about the ranks of the wives. A relative of mine, a solider in the army, told me that wife of an officer is considered one rank above the officer. So if the gentleman Fakhruddin Khan is a major general her wife Fakhrunissa Begum is a lieutenant general.


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