Call me an idealistic old fool, but the sight and sound of the massed bands of the Indian military playing “Abide with me” at the annual Beating Retreat used to move me to tears.
For over 30 years, I’ve wept at this moment.
Not because I am a Christian, but because it was a moment that spoke to the inclusivity of India.
Of India’s ability to accept ideas and moments and music and traditions from other cultures and interpret them and weave them into an Indian context.
Apparently Mahatma Gandhi particularly loved this Christian hymn, and that love was honoured, decade after decade, by Indian soldiers playing it to mark the end of what is always an emotional military ceremony.
The sound of the glockenspiel ringing out over Raisina Hill, the sight of the mixed service brass band playing such a poignant hymn, the outline of the camels against the wintery sky, the knowledge that, at the closing moment of “Abide with me” we will all go “Aaaaah” when the Rashtrapati Bhavan lights are turned on (even though we all know it’s going to happen)…I’m getting emotional just writing this…
But, we learn, that Gandhi-ji/Christian connect is no more.
In Gandhi-ji’s 150th birth anniversary year, his favourite hymn from another religion has been axed.