Saturday, January 29, 2022

'Abide With Me' at Beating Retreat

Beating Retreat is a 17th century British military tradition wherein bands perform as a signal for the troops to return to their castles, and end military operations for the day.

India's Republic Day, celebrated on the 26th of January, marks the final severing of British administrative control over the nation in 1950. 

The event formally concludes three days later, on the 29th, with the Beating Retreat ceremony at the expansive boulevard of Vijay Chowk. Bands from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Central Armed Police Forces, besides buglers, and pipes and drum bands feature on the occasion.

It's a spectacular musical extravaganza which I think everyone must see it at least once in their lifetime. I went to New Delhi to see it in 2014. Unfortunately, I don't have photos of the ceremony since mobile phones were banned because of security reasons.

(You will find at the end of the post, the recording of the live telecast of the entire one-and-a-half-hour long ceremony of last year. Every year, the pattern is more or less the same. This year's event begins today at 5 p.m. IST. It will be telecast by all news channels and streamed live on Doordarshan, the national broadcaster.) 


Abide With Me is a hymn written by an Anglican poet, the Rev. Henry Francis Lyte in the 19th century. It's a prayer to God to be present all through life and its trials. 

Every year, the Beating Retreat ceremony ends with the bands playing Abide With Me. But, this year, the world famous tune has been dropped.

The hymn is said to be a favourite of Mahatma Gandhi, and its exclusion instantly became controversial and hit international headlines. 

There were no official explanations, but spin doctors attributed it to the government's decision to play only Indian tunes at the function, this time. There are periodic changes to the ceremony to make the traditionally British Army practice, more Indian.

Incidentally, last year too, Abide With Me was initially dropped. But after protests, the government included it.

Though the government can rightly take credit for executing many constructive, development-oriented policies and projects, it has also been equally proactive in junking many traditional practices, sometimes not in a very complimentary manner.

So, I am not surprised Abide With Me won't be heard today evening. But, I think it could have stayed.


Here's a recording of the live telecast of last year's Beating the Retreat. The commentary is alternately in English and Hindi. 

Abide With Me comes at 1:11:42 (Perhaps, the last time it's played at this event.)

Since it's such a long event, I have given below the timestamp of some of the significant moments.

04:10 - Introduction

11:10 - Arrival of the Prime Minister

14:19 - President arrives at Vijay Chowk

20:40 - National Salute - the National Anthem

22:40 - Various bands start marching in.

25:32 - Tunes by the Pipes and Drums Band

31:20 - Tunes by the CAPF Band

38:15 - Tunes by the Air Force Band

47:28 - Tunes by the Naval Band

56:20 - Tunes by the Army Band

1:06:55 - Tunes by the Massed Band

1:07:45 - Drummers Call by Massed Band

1:11:42 - Abide With Me played by Massed Band

1:15:03 - Retreat by buglers; lowering of the National Flag

1:17:10 - Bands retreat to the tunes of Sare Jahan Se Accha

1:20:10 - Buildings light up

1:21:08 - President's Body Guard arrives to escort the President to Rashtrapati Bhavan. 


Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;

The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.

When other helpers fail and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;

Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;

Change and decay in all around I see;

O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,

But as Thou dwell'st with Thy disciples, Lord,

Familiar, condescending, patient, free.

Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terror, as the King of kings,

But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings;

Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea.

Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,

And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,

Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.

On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?

Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;

Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.

Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?

I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.

Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Covidified world

Every time we hear of more infections, hospitalisations and deaths owing to Covid, there is an involuntary exclamation of resignation: how long will this agony last?

When I say it's going to be around for some time, I am branded as a pessimist, and sometimes worse, a doomsayer! I am neither. I only wonder how the virus can just vanish in a few weeks or even months from the face of the earth. 

We have seen how the pandemic has broken national and state borders that segregate the over 7.5 billion people of the world. The coronavirus has permeated through even the most well-fortified barriers.

We have also learnt that it's not just the marvels of telecommunication that have made this world a global village, it's also the travellers, mainly the international ones.


There is now a new world order (not economic but social), dictated by Mask, Sanitiser and Social Distance. 

It's okay if friends aren't invited for social occasions. It's also okay if we aren't invited.

It's okay if friends don't call on us when they are in our city. It's also okay if we don't call on them when we are in their city.  

Looks like we are beginning to make peace with the microscopic parasite. The villainous ring around it seems to be gradually dissipating.

Lockdowns are giving way to self-isolation.

Government-mandated testing procedures are giving way to testing in the comforts of our homes with home-kits.

Results of self-testing at home are also being considered official. That's, obviously, if people volunteer to inform the government.


No one wants to take a chance these days. Some aren't even testing if they have symptoms or have been a close contact. They immediately self-isolate. When there are symptoms, how does it matter if it's Covid or not: better to isolate, is the refrain.

But if someone hasn't been seen in public for a few days, does it automatically mean s/he was self-isolating, with or without Covid? 

Or it's just because s/he had an injury in her/his leg, and was confining to indoors?

Welcome to the Covidified world!

Thursday, January 6, 2022

A mom's concern

I was passing by a school. The classes for the day had just got over and the children -- mostly in the 7 to 10 age group -- were streaming out of the main gate.

There were parents or guardians waiting to pick up the kids. A small boy, may be around 7 or 8 years old, on seeing his mom (or may be his guardian), ran towards her, and hugged her.

The first thing she did was to adjust her son's mask to the correct position. 

Just as she was doing that, the boy sneezed, twice.

The next instinctive reaction of the mom was to anxiously touch his son's forehead and neck, obviously, to check if he had fever.


Omicron has arrived in India, it looks like, as indicated by the breakneck speed at which the daily positive cases is increasing. Virologists are expecting this 3rd wave in India to peak next month.