In a dimly-lit Western-style diner in north Mumbai, Manoj, Aditya,
Chetan, Sharad and Uday were having a bite to eat when a Celine Dion
song began drifting over the tables.
the first bars of "My Heart Will Go On" from the hit film "Titanic,"
the men pushed their grilled sandwiches and French fries to one side
and began whistling in unison.
Such displays are not unusual for
these members of the Indian Whistlers' Association. In fact, they see
it as an essential part of their mission to raise the profile of a
"The most important thing is that
whistling should be recognized as a performing art," said Manoj Karam,
a 44-year-old IT professional who acts as the group's co-ordinator in
"Right now it's not taken too seriously. Some
people think we're just joking or just doing it for fun. But we're
doing it to portray it as an art form all over India."
The IWA bills itself on its website as "the first, truly Indian whistling community."
up by Rigveda "The Maverick Whistler" Deshpandey in 2004, it now has
nearly 400 members across the country, of all ages and from every walk
Potential new recruits are put through their paces in a
telephone audition to show they can whistle both in tune and with a
"polished" sound. They are then quizzed about whether they are prepared
to spread the word of whistling.
If a person makes the grade, they are given suggested songs to practice and breathing control exercises.
At this point many realize that you don't just put your lips together and blow.
not as easy as it sounds, whistling the tune, breathing at the right
point," said Sharad Karnad, 44, a civil engineer in the energy sector.
whistling" through pursed lips - the most common form and the easiest
way to carry a tune - requires as much work to perfect as singing in a
choir, he said.
No one in the group can say exactly when they took up whistling.
don't know for the simple reason that you didn't recognize it as an art
form," said 30-year-old Aditya Kothari, a founder member of IWA who
works in retail marketing. "Practically everybody just started from
In the universal language of whistling, language and
culture are no barriers. Kothari's mobile phone ring-tone is of him
whistling the jingle from a television coffee advertisement.
long as it has a tune, you listen to it, feel it and try to replicate
it," said 31-year-old lawyer Chetan Bhide, another founder member.
five men are big fans of Bollywood, particularly songs by Kishore Kumar
and Mohammed Rafi, legendary "playback" singers whose songs are
lip-synched by actors in Hindi-language movies.
Around the country, Hindustani classical and southern Carnatic compositions are popular, as is Western pop.
Uday Shirur, 44, cites Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called To Say I Love You" as a long-time favorite.
say the likes of "Careless Whisper" by Wham!, Phil Collins' "Another
Day In Paradise" and "Take My Breath Away," soft rockers Berlin's theme
from the Tom Cruise blockbuster "Top Gun," are top tunes to whistle.
Women and snakes
well as popularizing their brand of music-making through live concerts,
workshops and media appearances, the IWA also aims to shatter myths
about whistling - and boost its female membership.
there are only about 15 women in the association, something Karam
blames on the taboo of women whistling in India and the negative
connotations of wolf-whistling.
"People have that idea in mind,"
he said. "The first impression is he's whistling, so he's doing
something bad, he's eve-teasing (sexually harassing women).
was the case for men, so if a woman whistles it's extraordinary,
something is wrong. That's why we're promoting exclusively women's
Kothari offers another reason for whistling's bad press:
"If you whistle at night it's assumed you're calling for snakes. It's a
The IWA this year entered the Limca Book of Records -
India's equivalent of the Guinness World Records - for the highest
number of whistlers whistling a tune in unison.
whistlers puckered up for a rendition of India's unofficial national
anthem, the patriotic "Sare Jahan Se Accha," one of several tunes to be
found on their dedicated YouTube site.
They are now gunning for
the Guinness title with 100 whistlers and want to bring the
International Whistlers Convention to India.
whistling is as good as yogic breathing exercises and a perfect stress
reliever. Kothari calls whistling "lung fu" as it builds lung capacity.
"If I'm not talking, I'm whistling," he said.