As a former commentator of the Republic Day Parade on radio it is indeed nostalgic and a matter of habit to watch its live coverage on television. It has always been exclusive on Doordarshan and some of the other channels just relay it. Till the advent of Doordarshan, it was All India Radio which was giving the live commentary, which provided the listeners all over India an audio feast to enjoy the thrill of the fantastic annual spectacle that show-cased the country’s military might, development and cultural diversity. Unlike the television coverage radio had only the radio commentator to give a sound picture of the Parade, which was no easy task. Old timers and pioneers like late Melville de Mellow in English and the late Jasdev Singh in Hindi were role models and gave the listeners the feeling of ‘being there’ in the Rajpath, earlier, the Kings Way. Listeners could close their eyes and experience the thrill and the patriotic fervor of the annual festival of democracy. Their baritone voices and choice delivery of words added to the dramatic impact of the coverage.
Times changed and both De Mellow and Singh moved over to Doordarshan and facilitated the viewers to understand what is happening. Radio continues to use the narration of the commentators and the sounds at the event. It needs plenty of preparations, home work and thorough understanding of the event to do a commentary which would mean visiting the location in advance. That is why commentators for the Republic Day Parade attend a few rehearsals, especially the full dress rehearsal two days before the 26th.
The commentator both on radio and television need a rich and varied vocabulary, ability to speak extempore, tremendous presence of mind and alertness. Our Guru De Mellow used to tell us to speak with proper oral punctuation, clarity, cohesion and not to use difficult, unfamiliar words and avoid verbosity and hyperbole. The commentators on radio and television, particularly radio, have to keep in mind that what is spoken is understood in one hearing; the listener does not have a second chance to hear. He also cautioned that as far as possible reading out from a script needs to be avoided and should always concentrate on what is happening. When you listen to a running commentary, think of the hard work and preparation behind it. Well this is all theory which is fundamental for a live event like the annual Republic Day Parade.
This year’s Republic Day Parade had many novelties. It was for the first time since its inception that the Prime Minister’s tribute to the unknown eternal soldier or “Amar Jawan” was not at the Amar Jawan Jyoti in India Gate. Instead it was at the newly built National War Memorial near India Gate. The actual coverage of the Republic Day celebration commences with the Prime minister offering floral tribute at the National War Memorial, which is one of the most solemn ceremonies with the Union Defense Minister and the three Service Chiefs in attendance. The traditional bugle call by six soldiers actually is the first sound of military music at the Parade. Bugle is always used by armies of countries around the world as commands and for ceremonial occasions- for Rouse, Reveille etc.
The scene then shifted to the Rajpath with the arrival of the President of India, the Supreme Commander of our Armed Forces with the chief guest at the Parade Brazilian President His Excellency Jair Bolsonaro . While they arrived escorted by the President’s Body Guard or the President’s Cavalry on their magnificent horses, one could hear the strains of the lilting welcome melody, ‘’Swagtam Shubha Swagatam”. The song was written by Pandit Narendra Sharma and was set to tune by sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar for the 1982 Asian Games in Delhi. Since 1983 the song welcomes the President and the year’s guest, invariably the Head of the State of a foreign country at the Republic Day Parade. Incidentally, there is also an army marching tune based on this song composed by L B Gurung who has many marching tunes to his credit.
Republic Day is marked by band music of our armed and para-military forces. For many of those who attend the Parade in Rajpath experience an emotion of patriotic fervor with the marching tunes haunting them. But don’t most of us fail to recognize or just ignore the dedication and hard work put in by the members of the bands of our fighting forces performing with precision to give us that emotion? Think of the social and economic background of the soldiers who play a host of western instruments for their respective bands. Most of them come from rural areas and may neither have any initiation nay taste for music. Learning western musical notation to play the tunes itself is a difficult task and is like learning a new language and script. Similarly, most of them would never have seen those western musical instruments, except probably of the brass bands playing at the “Baraats” of Indian weddings.
Well, the Indian, essentially north Indian band music played at weddings are played by neither musically inclined nor even literate to use notations. They use their ears and learn. But when it comes to martial music, they have to learn the notations and that is the first hazard they face once chosen for a band. It is like a drill they are used to and they go through hours of rigorous training and practice to finally play for their unit’s or regiment’s band.
It was during my preparations for the Republic Day Parade commentary I met one of the directors of music from the army who briefed me thoroughly and gave me a small 79 page book “Know Your Bands” published by the Military Music Wing of the Army Educational Corps[AEC] Training College and Centre, Panchmarhi in Madhya Pradesh. It was established in October 1950 ‘’under the patronage of the then Commander- in -Chief General[late Field Marshal] K. M.Kariappa, OBE….” [www.indianarmy.nic.in].The Army Educational Corps develops soldiers and officers of all ranks in a variety of disciplines and the Military Music Wing trains bandsmen and potential bandmasters. “However, a really high standard of band playing is only possible by rigorous and continuous training, day in and day out, in the Units. It is the result of exacting hard work spread over months and years”.[Know Your Bands].
It is interesting that, ”music in the armed forces of the world does have some striking resemblances and common factors. ….the instruments that are in use by the bands of different countries are very similar. Also the kind of music that is played by these bands have a great deal of similarity since it is largely Western in its origin….” During last Sunday’s Republic Day Parade, most of the tunes played by different bands were Indian tunes, though most of the instruments are Western. The military band has woodwind, brass and percussion instruments combined together according to certain internationally accepted conventions. The brass band and percussion instruments comprise Flute, Piccolo, Clarinets, Oboe, Saxophones, Bassoon, French Horn, Cornet, Trombones, Euphonium and Drums.
It was Harold Joseph, a former director of Indian Army’s Military Music Wing who did pioneering work in developing indigenous tunes for the armed forces. Most of the tunes played by our bands today at the Parades are composed by Indians. Joseph himself, among others, composed ‘Hanste Lushai”, an ode to the beauty of the Lushai Hills or Mizoram. There are plenty of tunes dedicated to former chiefs of our army like the one on Field Marshal K.M .Kariappa. “Sam Bahadur” on another former Army chief Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, the hero of the 1971 War is by L B Gurung, a Gorkha. Manekshaw had commanded the Gorkha Regiment. Ganesh Gurung, a band master of the Kumaon Regiment composed “General Tappy”, on former Chief of Army Staff General Tapishwar Narain Raina who was from the Kumaon Regiment.
When I saw at this year’s Parade the NCC Boys marching to the tune ”Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja”, a quick march, I was reminded of its composer Captain Ram Singh of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army [INA]. Captain Ram Singh later joined the Provincial Armed Constabulary [PAC] of the Uttar Pradesh Police as Band Master. Similarly, the band of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police [ITBP] played Muhammad Iqbal’s immortal composition “Sare Jahan Se Achha”.
As this column has been dedicated to the bands of the Indian Armed Forces, one would only say how I enjoyed the display of our military might , thrilling motor cycle performance of the women soldiers of the CRPF, the breath taking display of the Indian Air Force , the Tableaus by various states and other organizations and the cultural performances by enthusiastic school children. Let us wait for another feast of wonderful band music by our Armed Forces tomorrow[29th January ] at the Beating Retreat Ceremony at the Vijay Chowk which would conclude this year’s Republic Day celebrations.