A musical potpourri was on offer on Friday evening at the Beating Retreat ceremony that brings the curtain down on the annual Republic Day celebrations. But the jury is still out on whether it worked or not.
For instance, the individual elements of some of the compositions were brilliant in their own right but extremely out of place. Especially, since the Beating Retreat is essentially a military ceremony that dates back hundreds of years when opposing armies laid down their arms at sunset to regroup on the morrow.
Change has been constant at the ceremony over the last few decades with western marches fading away to be replaced by Indian compositions but never has the transition been as drastic as this time.
Two full-fledged Indian-style orchestras - complete with sitars, flutes and tablas, as well as the western double bass attempted to blend with bass brands for an output that didn’t gel most of the time.
There were, of course, exceptions such as Taaqat Watan Ki Humse Hai which burst on the scene midway through the hour-long ceremony, interspersed with snatches of Vande Mataram and Ai Mere Watan Ke Logon that actually brought the house down.
The traditional roll on the kettle drums was also given an Indian touch which would have worked in a concert hall but not at the grand Vijay Chowk venue of the Beating Retreat ceremony.
Thankfully, certain things didn’t change. Abide with Me, Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite hymn, brought the proceedings to an end before the Retreat was sounded.
The tricolour was lowered and the massed bands marched up Raisina Hill to the strains of Sare Jahan Se Aachha. And thousands of light bulbs came alight on Rashtrapati Bhavan, extracting “oohs and aahs” from the spectators.
Over the years, a variety of other instruments have been used, including the electronic variety, and this had often ended in making a mish-mash of things but thankfully, the bells were back this time.
Even so, the transition to the gentle and soothing Abide with Me from the martial music was usually through a cradle song, generally the Ladakhi Seiki Aamo Le.
There was even more from the past: Kadam Kadam Badaye Ja that marked the entry of the massed bands for the ceremony and enduring marches like Jai Bharati, Galaxy Raiders, Radetzky March, Marching Through The Georgia, and Admiral Ensign-II.
To set the record straight, 20 of the 26 performances this year were composed by Indians. Fifteen Indian Army brass bands, 18 pipes and drums bands from various regimental centres and battalions participated in the ceremony, besides one band each from the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force.
The ceremony began with the arrival in state of President Pranab Mukherjee in coach and six, who was welcomed by Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and other senior officials. The President departed in similar fashion at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, union ministers, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and a host of dignitaries were also present at the ceremony.
As the crowds headed home, one thought remained-undoubtedly it’s necessary to experiment but if it didn’t work, would the old order, if nothing else, partially, be restored next year? One sincerely hopes so.