Thursday, October 3, 2013

Book Review: Soldier and Spice - An Army Wife's Life by Aditi Mathur Kumar

On the jacket:

For Pia, regular life is a thing of the past. She is now an Army wife. From ‘just Pia’ to an Aunty, a memsaab and – her favourite words in the whole wide world – Mrs Pia Arjun Mehra. 

At twenty six, Pia finds herself having to suddenly be more ‘lady-like’; focus on themed ladies’ meets, high teas and welfare functions; and deal with long (unexpected) separations from her husband, extraordinary challenges, a little heartache, and, well, growing up. 

In the mysterious and grand world of Army wives, Pia learns that walking in high heels is okay as long as you don’t trip on combat boots. She learns that ‘civil’ is also a noun, that JCO and GOC are (very!) different, that snacks are ‘shown’ and WTF is better explained as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Yes, it really is a new world! 

Let this quirky, hilarious story of the first year of Pia’s Army-wife life show you that the spice to a soldier’s life is most definitely his better, very strong, bloody extremely elegant, never-cussing, witty, warm and passionate half, his Army wife.


I finished Soldier and Spice in one go yesterday evening and identified with it at so many levels. No, I am not related to the Army and I am not a newly-wed. But I am a wife, we are still in the honeymoon mode of our lives, and we are still falling in love with each other every day, adjusting to the people in each other's lives. And Aditi is the kind of writer I love to read. Honest writing, witty, entertaining - Aditi is a natural writer.

Soldier and Spice is about Pia, who has married an Army man, Arjun Mehra. The story begins a month after their wedding, when they reach Pathankot, where Arjun is posted. Every scene depicted is so life like, as if Aditi is sitting across the table, her feet up on the couch and narrating me an incident that just happened.

To tell you the truth, I had expected the book to be all about how awesome life in the Army is, and how poor the lives we civilians lead. Or, how tragic life of an Army wife is. Well yes, both are true but what I got in the book is a witty account of Pia coming from a non-Army life and adjusting into the role of an Army wife. All of twenty-six, Pia is one of us - used to being herself, and not used to minding her Ps and Qs at every step. Aditi has so smoothly and cleverly portrayed the goods and the not so goods about being an Army wife.

When our mothers had got married, even if not to the Army, they have had a decorum to follow. We have been spared all that, well, most of us. But the Army runs on schedules and etiquette. How did Pia, a girl from a non-fauji family, manage?

From being appalled at being called memsahab and aunty, to being in a cold war with Arjun's helper, to hating to cook, to making a fool of herself initially in front of the other wives of the unit, and so on, Pia had one roller coaster ride of a time. She made friends with Naina, her next door neighbour, who was just like her but sadly they belonged to different units - so their social lives were different. Socially, she befriended (Mrs) Sengupta, Singh and James.

In the plot, Aditi very smoothly added the angle of how Army daughters marry Army men, mostly and the pros and cons of both, in a friendly altercation between Mrs Singh, an Army daughter & wife, and Mrs Sengupta  Mrs James has a troubled marriage and confides a lot in Pia. Mrs Sengupta is sarcastic and funny. Amongst themselves, the girls gel well and Arjun has to listen to all the gossip from Pia.

Arjun gets sent away for a month and it was thirty days of misery for Pia. In between, friendships are strengthened, misconceptions formed, Naina stands up to her husband's CO's wife, a new Army wife brainwashes Mrs James against Pia and their friendship suffers. The girls end up attending an 'etiquette class' after Pia made a fiasco, When Arjun and his team is to return home after a month, there is an accident.

Arjun has a back injury and is restricted to bed for two months. It was so horrible, I could feel Pia's pain and shed a few involuntary tears. Probably the wife syndrome, but it is horrible to have to see your partner in pain. Arjun's career graph takes a dip after this, when his boss starts considering him a liability even after he has recovered.

From here, one sees Pia grow as a person. She becomes Arjun's strength and even learns to stand up for herself. I can go on and write a gyst of the entire book, but I would want you to read it. One kickass story and Aditi is one good story-teller!

Soldier and Spice is a refreshing read. Not to put a lot of pressure on the author, but I hope she maintains the high expectations she has built in her first book! The author blogs here.

Rating: ****.5/5

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