Of colours and sunset


Kamal Baruah
Hoisting of National Flag represents the hopes and aspirations of the people of India. I pondered two flags of what logic to fly for that occasion. In defence, it contains the national flag in the first quadrant along with its ensign at the other side. Now Jammu-Kashmir-Ladakh valley integrated to mainstream India. In primary days, the real joy was having soaked kabuli-chana dal after proudly singing National Anthem. I had a strong desire of raising a flag someday. That didn’t happen as early as there was only two occasions in a year. Indian citizens can now fly the National Flag even at night after industrialist Naveen Jindal won a court battle in 2009 for flying the Tricolour as a fundamental right for every citizen. The Flag Code 1950 has been amended after the historic and landmark decision of the Union Cabinet subject to the condition that the flagpole is really tall and the flag is kept well-illuminated. But in other cases, the hoisting Colours (flag) have to be lowered down with respect at sunset.
Flag hoisting is also called the Colour Raising Parade in defence. As an Aircraftmen Under-Trainee in IAF, I felt proud of doing one of the highest orders of duty and observed it very closely.  In military, flag has to be lowered down daily in the sunset come what may. It’s to be given equal importance to raising Colour as well as lowering Colour. A précised direction for parade is conducted for the same. I had profound feeling of disquiet at colours lowering of my early days at Jalahalli as it is conducted in the dusk while my memories reminisce with Republic/Independence Day at school in the early morning with flowers around the podium.  There wasn’t any charm of doing colour lowering in the sunset as soldiers generally get tired after hectic work schedule during training.
A civilian may not give much importance of colour lowering. What’s the fuss about that? One must visit Wagah Border beating retreat to experience the blustering parade by infantryman on the both side of the border gate and perfectly coordinated lowering of the two nation’s flags. The traditional purpose of a flag is to identify a troop HQ or a Ship for a battle.  Battles are usually not done at night. However lowering the flag in the evening told soldiers to take rest after the work day. I had to wait a decade for that great day. It was early 2K at AF Station Tezpur. Being a senior in that evening ceremony, I became Flag Commander. My Orderly Officer briefed me to follow the procedure. The sunset timing was issued by ATC Met section.  I still remember the saying that goes “the Flag shouldn’t be allowed to touch the ground”. That’s offence under military law. The ceremony has to be completed on time.
Parade goes close order formation to maximise their combat effectiveness. It requires strict discipline in ranks and files. Unlike flag hoisting where band and troops participated in a ceremony, retreat ceremony i.e. colour lowering event is simplified. The troops marched to the flagpole and halted in front of me after the command PARADE-REST by the senior. I instantly took over the parade and waited for the local sunset time for retreat after command PARADE-DRESS-REST. Rest is no Ease position, their feet shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind back but with upper body half still in position of attention, chest out and shoulders back.
Shortly after the recorded music played over PA system, I was experiencing a degree of nervousness. Being a soldier, it was manageable how to squash nerves and ace to feel the pressure at the podium.  The flag security arranged the halyards for proper lowering of the flag. After retreat, I faced to the front and the command went on louder and stronger - SQUADRON-ATTENTION-PRESENT ARMS. I saw a big darken window looking towards us where our AOC sits in his office. It was dusk and windy evening. I felt conducting “Beating the Retreat” at the Attari-Wagah Border.
The band plays the national anthem at the border.
In a little while I loosened the knot; I felt the heat of the pulling of rope by the strong wind. I was reminded one popular proverb “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going”. The flag security detail instantly helped me and lowered the flag slowly and with dignity. When the last note of the music was played, the flag had been securely grasped and folded the flag as per procedure. The senior saluted and reported to me “Sir, the flag is secured.” A salute is a gesture  used to display respect associated with armed forces. I returned salute; the troops were then marched away to their areas and dismissed for billet.
That all happened quickly in a span of few minutes but I felt of struggling an hour. That experience just can’t be shared in ease and quiet. Only through experience one can feel the heat of the day.
Every year, I eagerly wait for Independence Day at Red Fort, where PM walked over the podium and unfurl the Tiranga and his address to the countrymen. Also I keenly observe the ceremonial parade at Wagah in the same day evening. We must speak loudly and feed proud of the nation, the sacrifices of the Armies to protect Mother India. We’ve to move with resolution to be vigilant for our country. Jai Hind, Vande Mataram!
The writer is a former Air Warrior and currently working for SBI Dispur and can be reached at [email protected]