‘There you see, not one step out of place. Not one beat that scurries along lost,’ said Specky as she watched the Beating Retreat on the TV at home, ‘These people in uniform have no sense of indiscipline.’

‘Indiscipline,’ I said in a low voice, not taking my eyes off the screen even for a moment, and then went on, ‘is not important. What is important is that they hardly get to experiment with innovations. They’re too submerged in tradition and systems and protocols.’

Well, this is one observation that was to be proved wrong. The beating retreat had all the marching, the precision of movements, and all the wonderful tunes that the bands in uniforms are so famed for. But this year I saw that the spirit of innovation and the urge to step into a new modernistic format has probably begun. The musical beats had a lilt that wasn’t there in previous years… they made me tap my feet.

I was surprised to see the normally sedate Air Force and Navy bands move their torsos in a dance-like fashion… now this was something that the Gurkha pipers had so often done and won our hearts. Here were all these wonderful bandsmen swaying merrily… and I read in the papers today that the spectators there were rowdy and noisy.

‘Thank God we were not at Vijay Chowk,’ I told Specky, ‘or we’d have missed all these sways and the mesmerising tunes.’

And then came an even bigger surprise when the generally stiff marching columns of the army bands began their swaying and dance-like motions… yes, this included the men from Sikh LI too. ‘This is so unlike what we have been watching all these years,’ I said, ‘yes, the compositions were fantastic each year… but all this swaying seems like professional choreography has finally entered the portals of the Indian Army too.’

For those who may not be familiar with the history of beating retreat, it was in the early 1950s that a display of bands was conceived by Major Roberts and the name ‘beating retreat’ was given to mark ‘a centuries old military tradition, when the troops ceased fighting, sheathed their arms and withdrew from the battlefield and returned to the camps at sunset at the sounding of the Retreat. Colours and Standards are cased and flags lowered.’

So even today this ceremony has the power to take you back into the closed chapters of history and you simply close your eyes, listen to the compositions and think about the Unknown Soldier… but not this year. This year I had my eyes wide open as I began expecting new introductions after watching the flexi-displays of the marching columns. And sure enough, there were more surprises. Look at the ‘Tum Tum’, a set of four small drums carried by just one bandsman and yes, the pair of them got their own few seconds of glory. The music too wasn’t just the old fashioned pulsating ones where emotions were roused… this year witnessed a few new compositions that had modernity written all over them. The 10 new compositions introduced for the first time include four by Army (‘Jahan Daal Daal Pe Sone ki Chidiya’, ‘Swarnim Desh’, ‘Blessing of the God’ and ‘Dhruv’) and six by Navy and Air Force (‘Skylord’, ‘Brave Warriors’, ‘Stride’, ‘The Western Seas’, ‘Rejoice in Raisina’ and ‘Fidos’) besides ‘Gagan Damama Bajio’, a quick march tune… and as I said, these were all other than ‘Abide with Me’ and ‘Sare Jahan Se Accha’. The remaining were also being played after a gap of six or more years.

So yes sir, I loved the 14 Military Bands, 17 Pipes and Drums Bands, 85 Buglers and 14 Trumpeters from various Regiments of Army in this year’s Beating the Retreat Ceremony. The principal conductor of the Beating Retreat ceremony was Sqn Ldr G Jayachandran while military bands conductor was Subedar Major (Musician) Ramesh Singh and Navy and Air Force bands commander was Master Chief Petty Officer (Musician) Ramesh Chand. Buglers performed under the leadership of Subedar Major (Musician) Hem Raj and pipes and drums bands played under the instructions of Subedar Major (Musician) Vijayan TV. I thank the Rashtrapati Bhavan press release for this information.

I must admit that I have been wishing for a pass to the Beating the Retreat ceremoy and I still dream of the year I’ll manage one… but this year I’m sure I was better off at home and watching this great display in HD on DD.

Beating Retreat 2014... picture from Google

Beating Retreat 2014… picture from Google


Arvind Passey
30 January 2014