My earliest memories as a defence kid was hanging out near the fences of Air force runways in Srinagar in 1998. Looking at the fighter jets and small planes take off and land left me starry-eyed.
Since my birth, I have had the privilege of staying in defence campuses and to move all over India with my family. So far, I have lived in Adampur (Punjab), Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir), Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh), Jaisalmer (Rajasthan) and Chennai (Tamil Nadu), courtesy my father who was an Airman (Sergeant).
I remember seeing Yankee and Powder blue uniform-clad airmen going to work, day in and out. It was always wonderful to see how the civilians always took a second look at battalion of men the passing by. Such is the charm of the Uniform, be in Indian Air Force, Navy or Army, everyone is drawn to it.
Fridays were even special because on those days, the 'Camouflage Uniform' is worn by the IAF personnel. This trend-setting outfit is a gift from the armed forces to the world.
The life of a defence kid is very different from that of a civilian. We are always on the move --- we get to learn new languages, meet new people, mostly study in Kendriya Vidyalayas (KV) which were basically instituted for the children of defence personnel to provide them with quality education.
Continuously moving from one part of the country to another made me crib and cry a lot because by the time I was comfortable at one place and made some friends, we would again be packing and moving. But that taught me valuable lessons. I got to know my country better --- I got to experience what I studied in textbooks first hand. From the mountains of Srinagar to the plains of Tamil Nadu, I witnessed diverse cultures and met different people.
While I had a whale of a time, it was rather tough for my parents. The endless amount of dedication and labour put in by the air warriors to keep air frontiers safe is something we all know. However, the 'thankless' lifetime service put in by the families of the air heroes goes unnoticed and deserves praise.
Though I was very young when the Kargil War happened (1999), I have faint memories of the officers preparing for battle. 'Fly in, fly out....suddenly, the siren would go off during a mock drill, and the airmen would scramble to reach the air headquarters.
One day, my father had just came back from work and as we were all about to sit down for lunch, the siren went off and he just got up, put on his uniform and left for duty immediately.
The most important lesson all of us fauji brats had to learn was this - the nation comes first. My father never complained about missing out on family functions or festivals. The pride of being able to serve your country is the prize of all the hustle.
Our kind of festivals were airshows, something we all looked forward to as a family. My father used to patiently explain the names of all the defence aircraft and their capabilities. I even got the chance to visit the Air traffic control room once.
I vividly remember the majestic 'Gajraj' Illyushin 76MD, which I used to believe was the biggest aircraft we had but I was wrong. The 'C-17 Globemaster', procured on March 13, 2018, is currently the biggest in size we own.
Life on defence campuses is an example of secularism. All the families, irrespective of their faith, celebrated Diwali, Eid or Christmas together with much joy.
Today when I find a lack of safe spaces for children, I miss the large, open play spaces we played in.
The discipline, patriotism and values I learnt from communal living --- these are my takeaways for life.
This Air force anniversary, I on the behalf of my fellow countrymen would like to thank Indian Air Force for their sacrifice. We salute you.