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Abide with me’ – Gandhiji’s favourite tune stays

Published On : 26 Feb 2020

- Mathew C. Ninan Director, Little Rock Indian School, Udupi. Email:

The Defence Ministry finally volte-faced and played the tune of the hymn ‘Abide with me’ at the Beating Retreat ceremony held on January 29 this year too. Beating retreat marked the glorious culmination of the four-day-long Republic Day celebrations.

The ceremony showcases spectacular performances by the bands of the Indian Armed Forces which includes tunes like "Abide with me", "Sare Jahan se Achha", "Kadam Kadam Badhaye Jaa" etc including various other tunes replete with patriotic fervour.

There was widespread criticism about the move to drop the tune of a Christian hymn ‘Abide with me’, much loved by Gandhiji. It’s merely incidental that it happened to be a Christian hymn. Gandhi obviously liked it because of its lyrics, its poignancy and depth, not to forget its moving tune. Others too loved it for the same reason.

Wasn’t it a cruel irony that the removal was contemplated on the 150th birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation? Was this a mere coincidence or a deliberate move?

It is a fact that the soldiers who play the tune every year do it with great aplomb. Our veterans doubtlessly would have lamented the removal of this tune, if it had happened. People who listened to this tune always felt a certain calm and serenity. It had stood the test of time for seven long decades. If one reads the lyrics closely, one would understand why the hymn has become Gandhiji’s favourite, much the same way as it appeals to us ordinary mortals even to this day.

Reading it without preconceptions will convince anyone that the hymn is a heart-rending prayer to God. It doesn’t invoke any particular God. There lies its universal appeal and enduring value. Suffice it to look at a few stanzas to convince anyone that it transcends religious boundaries.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

The hymn says there is many a vicissitude and difficulty in life’s journey. Please help, Lord. The refrain ‘Lord, abide with me’ is the quintessence of the hymn.

It is a prayer that can raise the morale of every soldier who guards the borders of our country. It’s as if this prayer would strengthen their resolve, trusting on God. This hymn has yet another significance. It was sung at the funeral of Nobel Prize winner Mother Teresa in Kolkata in 1997.

The Victorian Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson on reading 'Abide with me' was deeply impressed by its solemn beauty and remarked that “it could rank among the really perfect poems of our language".

Was not the decision to scrap the tune a wee-bit abrupt? The impression has already been gaining ground that Gandhiji’s legacy is being stymied lately. Obviously this aborted move lent further credence to that impression. This was avoidable.

Traditions have great value, especially when they are associated with noble thoughts and selfless service. When a deeply embedded custom or practice is summarily removed, it is bound to hurt the feelings of all those who nursed a certain sentimental attachment with it.

The government did the right thing to have sensed the pulse of the nation and decided to continue the time-honoured practice. This is exactly how the government should respond to every situation when faced with public resistance for a good reason. That’s the finest aspect of democracy - responsive and responsible. The Defence ministry deserves applause for this bold and timely decision.

We are a democracy. It is a misconception that democracy is only about elections. In fact democracy does not end with elections. Actually it starts with elections. And it must go on based on the fundamental sacred tenets of the constitution.

Democracy is about matching the genuine aspirations of the electorate. A reasonable approach would be to sense these aspirations and take decisions after due deliberation in the larger interest of the people. It’s also about being just and fair. It’s about being considerate to the needy and the marginalised. It’s also about lending an ear to the cries of the desperate and deprived. It shall not be just to appease some sections for the sake of it, whether they form the majority or the minority. Every decision should be anchored in sound reasoning and the litmus test must be the welfare of the nation as a whole, without prejudice to any section of society. Sabka sath, sabka vikas should be a reality, not just a catchy slogan.

As a nation we are facing huge challenges, be it the shape of the economy, the plight of the farmers, growing unemployment, widespread poverty, stagnation in the industrial sector, the tottering public sector undertakings, rampant corruption, desperate need to upgrade our infrastructure, crime against women and children et al. The list can be pretty long and formidable. A government should strain every nerve to address these issues, rather than create new islands of despondency.

It’s all about priorities. First things first is a worthy dictum to follow.

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