A week of festivities, starting 26th January, with the Republic Day parade, ends with the Beating the Retreat ceremony. I follow my yearly tradition too, of prodding the kids into waking up and sitting in front of the television to watch the parade, and again goading them to watch the retreat on the 29th.
There were a few changes in both the ceremonies, some appreciated, some not. I loved everything in its entirety, except the Doordarshan coverage and will talk about each subsequently.
Most traditions have a history and many still serve a purpose. However, over a period of time, some traditions are adapted to map the socio-economic changes or the generational changes. All changes may or may not be good, but every change can initiate a debate.
One constant in the parade and retreat coverage was Doordarshan and their unprofessional cameramen. I am not sure if these are the political or official directives, but their camera angles are either completely wrong or focussed on the politicians and the crowds at the most inopportune times. Each time I sit with anticipation to watch, I end up cursing the cameramen. This deliberate faux pas is unchanging since the last decade or two. Why cannot they use technology and spilt windows with multiple camera angles, when they have all the money and the resources at their disposal? Maybe, high time that they hired professionals for the most important festival of India. However, a political will is lacking. Or, is it too much politics in this state-run station?
Moving on, let me discuss the ceremonies. This Republic Day parade had marching dogs with their trainers, vexing the services that could not find a place in the parade. In spite the unobtrusive dissent, the novelty was appreciated by the viewers and the contingent received rave reviews.
Many other issues were alluded to by the revered people of the armed forces in different forums. Here is my take. Wars are no longer fought on battlefields. The face of war has changed for decades or even a century. None of the existing generals, in service or retired, have seen the Battle of Haldighati or Panipat. Now, terrorists enter through the unguarded borders with the politically protected drug mafia and give us a Pathankot or a Malda. My mother narrates her experiences of the 1965 invasion. Even then, no bugles were sounded in the evenings for retreat. Instead, sirens would be sounded for blackouts because enemy warships would fly overhead, bombing our cities at night. A battle of Kurukshetra does talk of armies retreating to their camps at night. Even in Kargil, the firing went day and night.
I term Republic Day and its end, with the marching bands Beating the Retreat, as great Indian festivals. These festivals are no longer for only solemnising the Indian armed forces, but also to celebrate the Indian prowess in military, achievements in the public sector, states, and schools. It is the celebration of the entire nation and it requires the participation and ownership of everyone for it to become more than a symbol. I believe that this was one of the intents this year.
The Beating the Retreat is my favourite ceremony. The evening started with a great cheer from me when I saw the return of President’s buggy (Presidential six-horse coach) after two decades. Hon’ble President Pranab Mukherjee brought back the lovely tradition, riding in the buggy towards Vijay Chowk. The retreat had an orchestra of Indian instruments, with santoor, sitar, table et.al. placed in one corner. Indian instruments cannot be used with the marching. There was a jugalbandi between two groups playing Indian and European instruments respectively. The Air Force band played ‘Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram…’ on flutes, clarinet, and trombone. The Navy band drummers showed their swag and were the highlight of the ceremony.
Many purists and some friends from the armed forces felt that these changes, like the Indian orchestra and drummers’ swag, were not traditional enough, as the solemnity of the occasion warranted. My answer to these 50+ gentlemen, some of them really dear to me, is that snap out of the British mind set. Even British are snapping out of this stiffness. Having being an insider for a short span, I know that most traditions followed in the armed forces are very British and we have not been able to shake-off our colonial thought process in military life, as in civil life. I would congratulate the three chiefs of the Indian armed forces to allow the Indianisation of the ceremony, and with what aplomb. If Indian instruments and the jugalbandis, along with more and more Indian tunes were adding the Indian sanskriti (culture) into the age-old colonial-inherited traditions, then the drummers’ swag was accepting the youthfulness of the forces. This, I believe, was the second intent of this year.
To reiterate, I know that it was not a music festival. But then, look up our history and traditions and know that music, songs, ballads, and folklore have been Indian traditions in times of wars when the battles were fought on the battlefields and ballads were sung alongside. The same tradition was followed in this Beating the Retreat. Or, if you may, battles have changed, and it is time to change the representation of those traditions too. This Beating the Retreat not only reaffirmed the age-old traditions but according to me, added fun and glory to it. So, here is my final word. I ENJOYED EVERY BIT OF IT.
||Sarvam Sri Krishna Arpanamastu||