The Cancel Culture strikes out Abide with Me

For most of my remembered life, every last weekend in January, meant watching the Beating of the Retreat in New Delhi, when the massed bands of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, “beat the retreat” of the defence forces from Delhi to their various stations scattered around India.

But this year, it fell victim to the Cancel Culture.

Once upon a time we would listen to it on the radio and then live TV and now Live Youtube. The massed bands are a spectacle of colour, martial music and impeccable marching, and after the bugles and the bands have fallen silent, all the bands form up for one grand finale.

Does it Matter?

For 74 years, this was “Abide with Me”, a  hymn, much beloved by Mahatma Gandhi. Unfortunately, this year, in a rash of pseudo-nationalistic fervour, and as Gandhian values fade away into the sunset of value driven politics, Abide with me was removed from the iconic parade. On the grounds that a Christian hymn was not “Indian” enough. This seems plausible – except when you realise that there have be Indian Christians since approximately 40 A.D, when Thomas, an apostle, arrived in Kerala to spread the good news. 2000+ years ago.

How sad is it that a religion and a culture that has survived and thrived for thousands of years, felt the need to brand an innocuous and universal hymn, on the grounds of “colonialism”. Really, after 75 years of independence? And in an Army that was formed in 1776, it is the longest surviving institution in India’s more modern history. This was a pre- British Raj East India company  legacy, at a time when with the collapse of both the Mughal empire, and the decline of the Marathas, the Indian sub-continent was spiralling into chaos.

Music is the Soul of a Culture

Music is the soul of a culture, and when politics interferes with the soul, bad things start happening. The rendition of Abide with Me by the massed bands of the Indian defence services is one that is my absolute favourite. It still sends chills down my spine, and for a long time, I had no idea it was a “colonial” hymn, I thought it was as Indian as the song that used to follow it, as the bands marched out into the sunset on Rajpath, and disappeared into the gloaming.

That song of course, is another favourite, Sare Jahan se Accha, ye Hindustan hamara. That song could be under threat too, as it was composed by a Muslim, who later moved to Pakistan, and rejected the universal message of Hindustan for Pakistan and Exclusive Islam.

What does this have to do with me and Identity

Of course, I am not as famous as this song – but I worry that at some time, someone will think that Susan is not Indian name, and that my books should not be identified with India. What do you think?


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