“Abide with me…”

“Abide with me…”

2 years ago almost to the day, I wrote a blog post about the dropping of the Christian hymn “Abide with Me” from the annual Beating Retreat ceremony that marks the end of India’s Republic Day celebrations.

Here’s the link, and could I please ask you to take a few moments to read the original post, so you will understand where I’m coming from today?

Thanks.

After a lot of criticism and comment, the decision was reversed, and the hymn was not dropped in 2020.

It was played during Beating Retreat in 2021.

But today we learn that it will not be played at next week’s Beating Retreat.

The musical programme has been shared online, like so:

I am every bit as saddened as I was 2 years ago, but who knows, perhaps there will be yet another outpouring of disapproval and the decision will yet again be changed?

But the mere fact that the powers that be have decided, yet again, to drop this hymn speaks volumes. Reputed to be a particular favourite of Mahatma Gandhi, playing this hymn at the closing of what is always a spectacular ceremony, moved many of us to tears.

The hymn is deeply emotional in its own right, but played by the massed bands of the Indian services, against a wintery Delhi sky, it was a spine-tingling moment, and one which – for an outsider like me – made me feel included.

(Damn, I’m tearing up just writing this, the way I did when I wrote the original post, 2 years ago…)

I have absolutely no illusions about myself.

I am an unimportant outsider in this country, despite decades of connection.

I will always be perceived as an outsider because I look like one, not (I hope) because I think like one.

I’m at the stage of life where I have lived 2/3 of my life outside the UK, most of them in India, so even though yes, of course I look different, I very often “feel” totally Indian inside.

And every year, at that gloriously moving “Abide with Me” moment, I felt very proud.

Proud that such a magnificent country was so inclusive and so tolerant and so confident, that it could end one of its most important ceremonies with music from another religion.

And to further stir up emotional waters, yesterday the “eternal flame” under India Gate was merged with another flame at the nearby War Memorial.

Today we learned that whilst a statue of the nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose is being readied to fill the empty canopy at India Gate, we will have a holographic image.

All of these changes, hastily announced in the days leading up to Republic Day, point at a repositioning of India’s ceremonial heritage.

So one imagines there is no longer a place for Gandhi-ji’s favourite hymn.

3 Comments

  1. Rehana Fazli

    Christine, I feel your hurt. As you say, you look like a ‘foreigner’ but, I know how wholeheartedly you have embraced India and everything about its culture. The changes you mention are sad indeed.
    With our parents, Farhana and I spent five happy years in New Delhi, and, every year, we looked forward (sitting in the front rows, us children on the lawn/ground) to the Republic Day parade and the Beating the Retreat ceremony.
    I, too, see the significance of, and sadness in, the changes.
    Love always, Christine, for you, Himmat and the kids

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