Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Service before Self

I recently visited Canberra, our nation's capital for the first time in 8 years that I have been living in Australia. I went there for my brother's Army Graduation Ceremony  He has been a part of the Australian Reserves and has been training to become an Officer in the Army. We are both from India and we moved to Australia to study/work many years ago.

The visit itself was a very interesting and inspiring experience for me. We do not have a family background in the military in India and for him to be a part of the Army in another country was quite an achievement. My husband and I arrived late morning in Canberra and we went to see the Australian War Memorial. The building itself with its beautiful domed elevated structure was breath taking. But what was inside was even more compelling.

The interior walls were full of names of all the soldiers who have fought for Australia. This roll of honour etched in the walls has a beautiful tradition, anyone related to the fallen can come and add a poppy to the side of the name. The wall is beautifully adorned with poppies signifying both the solemnity and respect given to the fallen but also the red signifies the blood shed in the wars. The internal chamber with the eternal flame and the beautiful murals and stain glass windows depict the heroes of World War I and II.

I just got thinking what it would feel like to have been a part of the war, or to have your father, brother or husband lost to the war. That just made me think of an incident that took place a few weeks before we arrived in Canberra. My brother was away for the final training and assessment program for three weeks in the bush around Canberra. It was during this time that I received a phone call from him  asking me if I could send him some food, specifically an Indian flat bread that I make, called thepla. How could I ignore a request for food from my brother from the back of beyond. Not to mention I have a general tendency to show my love through food as do most Indians. So I got my mixing bowl and rolling pin out and got to work.

I made the theplas and wrapped them nicely in glad wrap and then sealed it in a zip lock bag. I then set out to the post office to send this little parcel. All through this process I felt like he was a contestant in the hunger games ( yes I am a fan of the series) and I am his mentor trying to get him sponsors to send him gifts. It was impossible not to be excited and emotional for me considering he's the first in our family to be a part of the Defence force. I then bought him some more goodies from the supermarket; brownies and lollies, wrote him an encouraging note and sent the parcel off to him. I wouldn't know whether he received it or not till much later.

 A few days later I received a letter from him. The letter was written on two scraps of paper that he may have found or foraged. The scraps themselves were full of words and in no way insignificant. It said that he was fine and that the training was difficult as the weather was very hot and harsh. He said he received the food and that it was a great morale boost and how sick he was of the ration packs. It was such a great feeling knowing that he felt so happy with the food.

It just made me wonder about the conditions during war time and what sort of environment did the soldiers have to endure. I come from a country that had to struggle for its freedom. My parents and grandparents have grown up during different wars be it the freedom struggle against the British or the Indo-Pak and Indo-China wars. I am very anti-war but I am very pro military. I suppose I understand the sacrifice the soldiers make, and the danger they put themselves in to protect the country. My brother's girl friend is very anti military and does not seem to think that Australia has to spend so much on their Armed forces. I suppose it is a valid point as Australia has never had to fight its own war, it has only been an ally in the Western world and continues to do so. The role of the military here is very different to a country like India where terrorist attacks and acts of violence are only too common.

Life couldn't have been easy for these soldiers, I suppose I honour their sacrifice and the spirit with which they put service before self and marched on into the arms of danger.

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