There is no life to a political meeting without the sound systems provider. Akila Kannadasan meets the invisible men who work day and night to ensure that the leader’s voice reaches the masses

Sweltering heat. Sweat-drenched shirt. Rajesh sits alone in front of the mixer box with its countless knobs and switches. White veshti-clad party supporters mill about him by the thousands, and then it begins. The thalaivar (leader) steps on the dais, nears the mike, clears his throat, and speaks. That’s when Rajesh’s heart will beat faster. What if there’s a loose connection and the mike stops working? Have the boys set that speaker at the far end of the ground? His mind will go from one box to another — as the person responsible for the audio system at the political meeting, he will be blamed if there are any glitches. “All eyes will turn towards me,” he says, as he recalls this scene from a gathering.

M. Rajesh has been in the business since 1998 — his father owns Mathan Sound and Light, a company in Ayanavaram that regularly does audio arrangements for political gatherings. Sound is a crucial component of such events. Be it a small street corner gathering or a campaign attended by lakhs of people, it’s a small group of invisible men who nurture the event’s soul. Without them, a leader’s stirring talk could fall flat; his/her voice will not reach the hundreds of thousands of men and women who jostle for space in a gathering that can electrify the passionate listener.

“The mike is everything,” says Rajesh. He set up the audio system for a meeting in which a Union Minister spoke recently. “If its cable is faulty, everything will come to a standstill.” Rajesh knows which leader’s voice requires scaling-up and whose needs to be toned down. “Some senior leaders know how to speak so that their voice is carried well. This comes from their vast experience on stage.” Animated party supporters who are keen to impress the audience pose trouble. “They could grab the mike and shake it in excitement. Imagine our state of mind then!” he laughs.

Rajesh and his colleague S. Devaraj have listened to all kinds of political speeches. There have been meetings when they’ve mounted as many as 50 speakers. “The numbers depend on the size of the gathering,” explains Devaraj. Rajesh finds talks by film actors who campaign for political parties amusing. Competition is big in the world of sound systems. Rajesh says that Chennai has several such companies. “All it takes is a couple of speakers and a few tubelights for one to start a company,” he smiles.

Some young men are busy setting-up speakers along a bridge in Otteri on a hot afternoon. A speaker or two will also be mounted on an auto for election campaigns. The narrow bylanes of this area have plenty of such sound service providers. While not all of them cater to political meetings, there are a lot of companies in the city that make a living out of political conventions.

E. Jayaseelan of Hema Sound Service is among them. He vividly remembers a meeting that was held in Purasaiwalkam. “Five companies came together to set up the sound system. There were thousands of people,” he recalls. Jayaseelan’s company also provides services for light music troupes.

But all is not well with sound providers. R. Madurai, the State president of Tamil Nadu Electrical Contractors Central Wiremen Association, says that the business has slowed down due to restrictions by the Election Commission. Also, the use of cone speakers is banned within city limits. Furthermore, the unpredictability of the profession is fuelling its downslide. “If it rains, our speakers get damaged,” says Jayaseelan. And if there are flaws, they would lose the customer’s trust.