The Indian Whistlers’ Association is perfecting their art form
Vivek Sinha, a 20-something BPO executive with Convergys, had a hobby his family hated — whistling. “They thought I was on track to becoming a roadside Romeo,” he shakes his head. They tried to reform him, and would have succeeded had he not come across this organisation called the Indian Whistlers’ Association (IWA), which promotes whistling as an art form. Far from quitting whistling, Sinha is now trying to improve his scale and pitch to match the seniors in the group. His family is now shaking their head.
Don’t snigger. The IWA is serious about its art and has 38 main members while new faces such as C Suresh, a deputy general manager of NTPC, turn up to try out this music created by lips. Only the dedicated stay on — and they include housewives, businesspeople, doctors, students; from eight-year-olds to 78-year-olds. “When we meet next in June, every member will put up a performance and it will be scrutinised by the club,” says Sumit Singhal, the North Zone head who, when he doesn’t whistle, is a sales and marketing executive with Hughes Communication. The club provides karaoke backdrops and is planning to bring in performers for a session.
As the members dissect the form, whistling becomes complex. There are, if you didn’t know, various styles — from the common pucker (outward) and pucker inward to right side and left side — depending on which part of the mouth is used to release or suck in the air. And that is a rare whistler who can claim expertise in teeth whistling, and that’s what makes Dinesh Verma, an officer with Oriental Insurance who travels from Chandigarh for every meet, the star of the group. “Verma is a natural, he is crystal-clear and that’s a huge achievement since teeth whistling requires a tremendous control of air drawn in,” says V Ramgopal, a senior member who has whistled away all his youth.
The club, which quietly began three years ago, is strict about its public performances and restricts concerts to two a year. Their next performance is for the Indian Air Force in July. “Though individual members can perform classical pieces, we normally whistle to Hindi film songs which the audience relates best to,” says Singhal. The repertoire ranges from patriotic numbers like a Sandese aate hain to Helen’s cabaret pieces. Singhal is trying to perfect the sargam in Laaga Chunari Mein Daag. “I can’t capture the high notes,” he confesses. Bharat Bhushan, a PhD student, balances his studies with whistling everyday, while Singhal and Tata executive V Ramgopal whistle en route to work and back in their cars.
There’s no rulebook against alcohol and cigarettes but none of the members smokes or drinks. “We’re only as good as our lungpower,” says Sinha. One young member has kicked his chain-smoking habit for the very reason. “I can feel the difference, I can whistle louder and longer,” he says. The group entered the current edition of the Limca Book of Records when 48 whistlers from zones across India performed Sare jahaan se achha. “This year, we will try for the Guinness,” says Ramgopal, who represented the North Zone with Singhal and Verma.