I felt heartbroken this morning when the first post I read said ‘Abide with me’, a very famous Christian hymn, which used to be the penultimate performance by the Military Bands at ‘Beating the Retreat’ (BTR) ceremony, will not be played this year. The coordination and matching of timings between the bands playing in front of the President and the tubular bells played under the first dome of the North block was mind blowing. It required practice and precision.

Military is a synonym of traditions & dastoor’s and hence this tradition of playing Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite Hymn at the culmination of ceremonies of the Republic Day. I am sure someone sane decides what has to be played and what has to be discarded from the ‘Band Menu’. Hope there is no political interference in it.

If traditions have to be changed then why have a March Past? Why that loud shouting of a word of command by the Parade Commander? Why this turra, safa, kamarband and display of medals? Why send so much of fire power yielding machinery down the Rajpath? Why should little children dance in front of the President on a cold winter morning? Why should there be a fly past of aircrafts? Why is the national flag folded the way it is folded with such precision at BTR? The horses and buggies for various ceremonies, all need to stop then.

The answer to all this is ‘tradition’. It is all of ‘India’ showcased in that one hour plus show on Republic day parade followed by BTR a few days later. Then why can’t one hymn of one minute be played for the sake of tradition. Once bands finish playing that soothing hymn, is the flag lowered and Armed forces retreat to barracks to rest.

Except for ‘Sare jahan se achha’, 99 percent crowd won’t know what are the lyrics of various tunes being played by the bands. Yes, people would understand, if it is AR Rehmans ‘Ma tujhe salam’. Rest is all Greek and Latin.

For me this hymn has a very special place in my heart. I remember the day, when we came back home having laid my father to rest; Capt Noel Ellis was crying inconsolably. My aunt asked me, Noel, lets sing your Dad’s favourite hymn and without blinking an eyelid I said “Abide with me’. It gave me so much of solace and comfort, words cannot express. My throat gets a lump and eyes swell up with tears even today when I start to sing this hymn or even listen to it. Every beating the retreat, I wait eagerly for it to be played. Each word in every stanza has to be understood to know its deep meaning.

For a military man it is faith in his God, irrespective of the religion, which gives him raw courage to take on the enemy head on because he knows God abides with him. It is also the same faith and belief in God which comforts his family, in case he comes back draped in the tri-colour. This hymn has a very profound meaning, provided one understands each word, the rhythm & the tune.

I hope for traditions sake ‘Abide with me’ continues to be played on every beating the retreat. Will the selectors of tunes for BTR understand sentiments before breaking traditions? I wonder!

Lt Colonel Noel Ellis is retired from the Indian Army