Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Staying anchored with the sailor

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn

Letha Sushil talks about what it is to be married to Vice Admiral KN Sushil, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command

By Shevlin Sebastian

Letha Sushil remembers the first sight of her husband, Vice Admiral KN Sushil, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command. It was February, 1984. He was coming to see Letha, in a typical arranged marriage scenario, at her parents’ home in Thiruvananthapuram.

“Sushil wore sunglasses and a striped T-shirt, and looked physically fit,” she says. “He reminded me of [West Indian cricketer] Viv Richards.” Letha was impressed. It also helped that Sushil's sister had been Letha's classmate at the Trivandrum's Women's College. So Letha said yes, but not before asking Sushil this question: “Hope you are doing this out of your free will?” Sushil laughed, and said, “Yes.”

The marriage took place on August 17, 1984. “It has been a beautiful innings, so far,” she says, at Navy House in Katari Bagh, Kochi. “I have two wonderful daughters, a grandson, and a good husband. The Navy life is nice. There is security, we have nice friends, and a strong support system.”

So, does she get overwhelmed that Sushil is the boss of the Southern Command, and the second senior-most Navy person in the country? Letha smiles, and says, “My husband is holding a big post and I am happy about that. But I don't wear the Navy stripes on my shoulders. I try to be a down-to-earth person.”

Of course, there are the unavoidable duties of being the wife of the Commanding-in-Chief. “I have to attend many official functions,” Letha says. “Even if I am not well, I can rarely skip these events. But I enjoy the responsibility of being the president of the Navy Wives Welfare Association. We do a lot of social work.”

The Navy life is hard for a wife because the husband spends several weeks at a stretch at sea. “We have to tackle difficult situations alone,” she says. “In some ways, I had to bring up the children all by myself. Those days were not easy. But, later on, when everything worked out well, it made me more a stronger person.”

Of course, in the Navy, service always comes before family. “Even if the wife is ill, and has to be hospitalised, the husband would still have to go out to sea if duty beckons,” says Letha. “That is the way it is. These men are defending our country.”

Letha remembers the case of an officer who accidentally dropped his child from a height. She suffered a head injury and had to be rushed to the intensive care unit of a hospital. “But the father still had to go sailing,” says Letha. “These kinds of situations will be there in every Navy wife’s life.”

She remembers one such instance from her own life. “Sushil was commanding a submarine and had been gone for 45 days,” she says. “We were very happy when he came back.” But before the family could celebrate, within an hour of his return, Sushil received orders to sail again. “I was very upset, and felt depressed and helpless,” says Letha. “To regain my composure, I went for a long walk around the campus in Mumbai. When I returned, I told Sushil, 'All right, if you have to go, please go.'” Her husband was gone for a further 25 days.

In person, Letha looks trim and fit. She credits her super-fit spouse for introducing her to exercise. They go for long walks, either in the morning or the evening, with their two Labrador dogs, a mother-daughter team of 'Dee Dee' and 'Cleo'. “I used to go for swimming earlier,” she says. “But now I am an avid golfer, along with Sushil.”

Asked for tips on making a marriage last, in these days of rising divorce rates, Letha says, “You need patience. People have less of it these days. Avoid blowing up small issues. Finally, instead of taking rash decisions, wait one or two weeks. You will cool down, and be more forgiving.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Trivandrum)