Prefer whistling to singing? There's an association comprising around 300 whistlers from across the country, with a Chennai chapter too.
I try to whistle the popular ‘Happy Birthday' song, but succeed only in letting out a gush of air. Jagat Tarkas encourages me to keep trying: “Initially, it is common for you to blow air instead of tunes.” He proceeds to explain how to practise whistling. No wonder Tarkas is called ‘mentor' by the members of the Indian Whistlers' Association (IWA), a group of around 300 whistlers from across the country.
How it began
IWA, founded by Rigveda Deshpandey (known as The Maverick Whistler) in September 2004, has been successful in bringing bathroom whistlers out into the open. One of their success stories is M. Sathyanarayana, who enthusiastically gives performances on stage after smothered whistling in the bathroom for 20 years. A newspaper article about the IWA led this youngster to Tarkas and the mentor took him under his wing, as readily as he has taken many others in Chennai.
“There are around 20 whistlers in the Chennai chapter and we meet every third Sunday at my house in Purasaiwalkam,” says 63-year-old Tarkas, who runs a showroom for trophies on Wallajah Road. Actually, the IWA is broadly divided into three zones — West (managed directly by Rigveda because he lives in Mumbai), North and South. As zonal meets can't be organised regularly, informal groups of whistlers in cities and towns have local chapters that stroke the enthusiasm for this rare and unrecognised art.
“At least eight whistlers in the Chennai chapter turn up for the monthly meeting,” says Tarkas. With an annual subscription of Rs.1,800 per head, the chapter runs these meetings, a competition in a rented hall and a free public show, provided there is surplus money.
“The challenge is to have this hobby gain wider acceptance. We spice up our whistling events by providing additional entertainment such as dance and mimicry. It's an uphill task, because whistling is considered uncivil and equated with delinquent youngsters out to woo girls,” says Tarkas. “Decades ago, whistling was popular because it surfaced often in film songs.”
He cites the examples of ‘Vetri Petra Manithar Ellam', a Chandrababu song, and ‘Yeh Shaam Mastani' (from a Rajesh Khanna-starrer), where the key lines are whistled before they are sung.
“Another barrier is the absence of a sizeable number of card-carrying members. Out of the 300 whistlers who are part of the IWA, only around 50 are committed to honing their skill and winning people to the hobby. When photos of an event are posted on the official website (whistleindia.org), the others respond with a burst of enthusiasm but soon lapse into inactivity.” The IWA is working towards getting this vast majority more active so that they could be attractive ambassadors of the art.
The great commitment shown by whistlers in Chennai is a sign of encouragement. M. S. Subramaniam, who runs the Lalith Geethanjali Orchestra and is capable of singing in 18 voices, including those of famous women playback singers, devotes a lot of time to whistling and is an important member of the group. Among the women, Pooja Chandramohan, Shweta Suresh and Dhivya Soundari have whistled to notice. Pooja, a school student, is adept at whistling Tamil classical songs.
“Whistlers can take tips but have to ultimately go it alone. Unlike singers and musicians, they can't measure their performances against scales and notes. Good whistlers are the ones who evolve their own methods,” says Tarkas, who began to whistle the soft songs of Talat Mahmood before graduating to those of Mohammed Rafi, which are more difficult.
“Rafi is my idol and I used to sing his songs before my voice deteriorated for want of care,” says Tarkas. Is whistling only for those who can sing? “No, not at all. We find singers whistling songs because they have to have the confidence to attempt singing them,” explains Tarkas. “While everyone can't sing, everyone can whistle. I'm not saying this to encourage anyone, this is simply the truth.”
For details about the IWA, call Tarkas on 99625 79936/ 044-26610774 or log on to whistleindia.org.
* Jagat Tarkas, mentor of the Indian Whistlers' Association, is besotted with Mohammed Rafi's voice and has paid his tribute to the legendary singer by making an album of 15 whistled Rafi hits. Tarkas got Patrick Rozario to set up the orchestra for this album, titled ‘A Whistling Tribute to Mohd.' Tarkas has not attempted to market the CD and copies are sold mostly to acquaintances. Proceeds from their sale are donated to charities, including the Cancer Institute.
* Founder of light music troupe Musiano and playback singer, A.V. Ramanan — who is in touch with members of the IWA and hopes to associate with the group in the future — has, together with the keyboard notes from young sound engineer Shahjahan, whistled 13 compositions that mimic the sounds of birds and reflect the human condition. This allegorical album, ‘Whistles Of The Syrinx', is in the final stages of production.