Lieut-Gen (retd) Baljit Singh
Twelve generations of Independent India have witnessed, may be without a conscious thought, what is perhaps among the world's few very sombre and yet flamboyant performances, namely "Beating Retreat" by the massed bands, pipes and drums of the armed forces, which brings to end the Republic Day celebrations. The audience of several thousand Indians drawn from the lowly aam aadmi, right up the scale to the heads of the country's legislature, the executive, the judiciary and the diplomatic missions is usually seated, twenty minutes before the commencement and it is therefore natural that the specially created, vast open amphitheatre centred on the Vijay Chowk, would hum like the beehive.
That was the setting a few days ago, when President Pranab Mukherjee alighted in the six-horse-drawn state coach, in itself a work of art and antiquity of over ninety years! In clock-work precision, two posses of eight trumpeters sounded the fanfare and intuitively, the spectators fell silent and searched for the source of the music score, "Herald The Chief"! The trumpeters played their hearts out, from beneath the domes surmounting the two towers of the North and South Blocks, directly above Vijay Chowk, bringing the spectators on the edges of their seats as they watched the President take his seat.
Further enhancing this ceremonial ambience was a troop from the President's Mounted Body Guard, attired in scarlet tunics with intricate gold lace-work and white mole-skin breeches, astride well groomed and manicured horses, a heritage stretching to the Madras Governor General's Guard, raised way back in 1778. The guard salutes, and the massed bands strike the national anthem exuberantly as the national flag is hoisted, at the venue. The audience bursts in vigorous clapping, every face having misted eyes and wreathed in a smile! Now, that indeed is symbolic of the enduring spirit of India and let no one tamper with it.
Over the next 45 minutes the spectators cannot avoid tapping their feet to the rhythm of martial music. The under lying theme of every tune is focused on patriotism and glory of the Republic, such as "Kadam kadam budhaye chall, khooshi kay geet gaey chaall, yeh zindgi hay kaumn ki too kaumn par lootaye chall….!" As though to fortify this resolve, they next play out the rousing "Dhawaj Kay Rakshak", leaving nothing to chance that the fortress is under trustworthy and unfaltering vigil. The "Drums Roll" which follows, creates the auditory crescendo of the thunder and volley on the battle field.
The "Last Post" played by massed buglers, the national flag lowered and some 400 battle-inoculated, soldier-bandsmen wearing immaculate ceremonial uniforms, symbolising time-tested loyalty to the country and heritage of valour, march up the Raj Path playing to perfection "Sare jahaan say achha…!" As though to underline that resolve, Rashtrapati Bhavan, the North and South Blocks, and Parliament are flood-lit, signifying the eternal light even amidst darkness. And the lotus fountains of Vijay Chowk cascade water in the colours of the national flag. That too is the enduring idea of India and let every Indian mount vigil against those who may dare to mess with it, ever.