OFFBEAT They love to whistle. They love to sing. Members of the Indian Whistlers’Association combine the two to create engaging melodies

When Shwetha and Venkatraman perform the Sivaji Ganesan hit Kettukodi urumi melam , whistles fly — on and off the stage. They whistle the entire song to the accompaniment of music. More Sivaji songs follow, each of them rendered as whistles! It is a concert with a difference. Titled ‘Chevalier Shivajiku Whistle Anjali’, it was organised by the Indian Whistlers’ Association - South Zone as a tribute to Sivaji Ganesan. Singers whistle the actor’s songs — tunes are born out of streams of air controlled with lips.

Whistling is often seen as loutish behaviour. But here is a group of men and women who consider it an art-form. They want to dispel the “taboo” that whistling is associated with. It all began with Rigveda Deshpande from Pune who liked to whistle. He came up with the idea of starting an association for whistling in 2004. Jagat Tarkas from Chennai, also a whistler, heard of this man who shared his passion. The two would whistle to each other over phone.

More people joined them on their whistling pursuit. Today, the Indian Whistlers’ Association has over 300 members in the country of which 35 are from Chennai. The members are from various backgrounds — businessmen, college lecturers, students, Government employees… The youngest is eight-year-old Andrea, while at 67, Venkatraman is the oldest.

The team meets once a month over tea and whistles. “We have a competition among us where we whistle songs based on themes such as rain, flowers and so on,” explains Kapil, a member. These meetings help them fine-tune their whistling skills. Andrea picked-up the habit from her father William Emmanuel who took her to their whistle-meets. William has mastered the pucker whistle done by inserting two fingers into the mouth — he suppresses the loud whistle into something similar to the call of the koel.

So, why do these people like whistling so much? For Srikanth, it is a stress-reliever. Whistling makes him happy. It’s a fun way to entertain oneself, he feels. “Also, whistling improves your lung capacity,” adds Chaitanya. There are several types of whistles including the inward, outward, and pucker whistles. Most members of the association are outward whistlers, where air is blown out through a miniscule opening between the lips. “Whistle is an instrument on its own,” says M.R. Subramaniam. As a musician with an experience of 25 years, Subramaniam says that he prefers whistling to singing.

From being censured by the police to being looked down upon by indifferent spouses, the members have had their share of disapproval for their hobby. But their yearly concerts have earned them recognition. For most of them, whistling is their identity. “I’m known as the whistler in office,” says Srikanth. “I keep whistling at my workstation.” Chaitanya says that women whistling is often “unexpected”. “But there are about six women whistlers amongst us,” she says.

The Indian Whistlers’ Association is growing by the day. N. Raju from the team says that they want this practice to be “recognised as an art-form”. They welcome those interested to join them. But, there is a prerequisite. They should know to whistle!