May God abide with us as we charge forward…

As we beat a retreat from our nation’s past glories, or gores (mind your language – read in English!) as some see them today – we must sing the hymn, ‘Abide with me’, the first verse of which goes like this

“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.”

and the sixth

“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.”

The Scottish hymn, said to be Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite, was dropped from India’s Beating Retreat Ceremony (he himself is no longer the favourite, so, naturally) held on the third day after the Republic Day at India’s annual Republic Day celebrations. This year’s celebrations coincided with the 75th anniversary of India’s independence from British rule.

The Beating Retreat Ceremony evolved from a centuries-old military tradition where the sounding of drums after the day’s battle indicated a halt in fighting and withdrawal of the forces.  As soon as the buglers sounded the Retreat, the troops ceased fighting, sheathed their arms, and withdrew from the battlefield. The British trace this practice to 1694 A.D. when King William III ordered his drummers to march down the streets of various towns post a battle.

The Indian present tradition of Beating Retreat after Republic Day Parade was choreographed and adapted from the British pattern in 1952. Since the beginning of the Beating Retreat ceremony, British tunes have been played, until they were progressively replaced by Indian tunes of patriotic songs.

This year, the tune of the hymn, ‘Abide with me’, was replaced by the tune of a famous Lata Mangeshkar song “Aye Mere Vatan Ke Logon” composed by Music Director-C Ramchandra. Its lyrics, penned by Kavi Pradeep, commemorate the supreme sacrifice made by Indian soldiers during the 1962 Indo-China war. The effort was to make the event more Indian. Other Indian patriotic tunes too were added as part of what the government says is an “ongoing process of decolonising India”. “This song is more connected to the mass population because it honours all those who laid down their lives. It’s more appropriate,” the military spokesperson said, according to the BBC.

“Abide with Me” is a Christian hymn by Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte. A prayer for God to stay with the writer / singer throughout life and in death, it was written by Lyte in 1847 as he was dying from tuberculosis. Lyte died on 20 November 1847 in Nice, then in the Kingdom of Sardinia. The hymn was sung for the very first time at Lyte’s funeral. While he wrote a tune for the hymn, the most usual tune for the hymn is “Eventide” by William Henry Monk.

The decision to stop playing the Christian hymn ‘Abide with Me’ at the Beating Retreat ceremony, which honours the country’s armed forces, has divided opinion in the country. The divide has played out across social media and Television channels and WhatsApp groups.

Passions run high because the tune is portrayed, or is, Christian, British (Scottish actually, but who cares but the Scottish) and is a legacy of India’s dominion by a foreign regime. But do we stop wearing a suit because it is part of the same legacy? Well, the answer lies in the Full sleeved / Half sleeved Nehru Jacket! We have Modified it to suit the times.

According to a BBC report, for many Indian armed forces veterans, ‘Abide with Me’ is a defining moment of the Ceremony. “Cutting it out seems like cutting out a piece of tradition and throwing it into the dustbin,” Pavan Nair, a retired army colonel who served for 30 years, told the BBC. Col Nair remembers watching the ceremony as a child and in later years attending in person. “The highlight of it was listening to Abide with Me and hearing the chimes from the ramparts. It was a beautiful, soulful thing.”

There is no doubt that the flavours of our beautiful nation are changing – from its political, Business and Social Leadership (though dynastic, a post-independence generation), to themes, to food, to politics, to traditions which now go back further beyond the Mughal Era. Are we truly independent or are we still ruled by British in Ethnic Wear is a debate that the Government seeks to settle, with a number of strategic moves of this nature…

Change is good, if it’s for good. That again is a matter of opinion and your opinion, if it differs – does it matter? Evidence is, it does not. By the time it does, if ever again, it will be too late.  

Maybe we should not be cynical about change – haven’t we moved from the grinding stone to the Mixie? From an old education policy to a New Education Policy? From an Old India to a New India?

We did so, sometimes out of compulsion, sometimes out of hope and often out of a combination of the two. We cannot beat a retreat now – it’s not an option anymore. But as we charge forward, let’s pray that God does not abandon us as we have, his hymn!

Let’s sing together the last two verses:

“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…”

About the Author

Brian Fernandes is Director, Spearhead Media Pvt. Ltd and Managing Editor, Karnataka Today. He writes a weekly satirical column, “Brian’s Subtle Humour” on which appears every Tuesday.

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Brian Fernandes

Brian is VO artist, Content Writer, Ad Copy Writer, a very productive author with a wide and varied output, an EQ and Leadership Trainer, a life skills Coach, a manager and a leader, with a visible track record. Brian is currently a Director of the Spearhead Media Pvt. Ltd, a Media Company that owns and runs media brands,, Karnataka Today, NK+ and NKTv a web based video channel, Verdevice - a Branding powerhouse and Spearhead Academy - a digital platform that offers short term learning solutions for personal growth Brian is an alumnus of Roshni Nilaya’s Post Graduate School of Social Work, HR Department and has 35 years of local and international HR and General Management experience. He is NET Certified for lectureship and has recently qualified as MEPSC Level 5 Trainer. Journalism , poetry, and Fiction and Feature writing is a passion which he is now able to pursue at will. Additionally, he loves compering and hosting talk shows. Its all in a day’s work for him. He loves learning and imparting it; so, when time permits, he provides leadership facilitation and soft skills training to Postgraduate students and Corporates in Mangalore and Bangalore. He is an accomplished Toastmaster under the aegis of the and is a designated Distinguished Toast Master. He is also the Internal Quality council member of his Alma Mater Roshni Nilaya and a member of the Board of Studies of the English Department, St. Agnes College for PG studies, Mangalore.

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