Blown away: Indian Whistlers' Association turns 12

Updated: Oct 09, 2016, 19:14 IST | Joanna Lobo |

From being bathroom whistlers to winning on the world stage, in it's 12th year, India's whistling community is a sound success

Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

Iris Joseph was six years old when she heard the song Chanda Chamke (Fanaa). She was so fascinated by the whistling in it that she asked her mother to teach her how to whistle.

She began practising by looking in the mirror and could finally whistle the whole song. "I can now whistle to entire songs, both English and Hindi. One day, I want to represent India on the world stage, as a whistler," says the 10-year old.

Rigveda Deshpandey
Rigveda Deshpandey

Joseph is the youngest member of the Indian Whistlers' Association (IWA), the country's whistling community that will complete 12 years on September 19. It's a dream that can easily come true. This July, a 13-member delegation from India attended the World Whistlers Convention in Kawasaki, Japan and came back with four prizes.

"The dream is to make whistling a government-recognised art for people to take it seriously," says Rigveda Deshpandey, 30, founder and president of IWA.

Nikhil Rane
Nikhil Rane

It is Deshpandey has been instrumental in building the whistling community. IWA has 400 registered members (40 of whom are in Mumbai), and two new members get added every week.

"I've been whistling since I was in class two. I learned it from my father," he says. He started performing at his father's office functions and peaked at a freshers' party at his college in Lucknow in 2003. "The great response inspired me to build a community," he adds.

Iris Joseph
Iris Joseph

Since Facebook and Twitter didn't exist in 2004, he formed a Yahoo Group. Through it, he came across a gentleman from Chennai, Jagat Tarkas; they did their first show the same year in Chennai.

It was in April this year that IWA landed a whistling course — taught by some of the senior members — that covers the history of whistling, different styles, human anatomy, how a whistle sound is produced, the diet to be followed, how to hold the mic and perform live and most importantly, how to listen to music and understand it.

Members of the IWA performed a skit called Shoot animals with Cameras Not Guns, at the World Whistlers Convention in July
Members of the IWA performed a skit called Shoot animals with Cameras Not Guns, at the World Whistlers Convention in July

The first course ended last week; the second course begins in October; there will be video conference classes for those in other cities. "Back then, the idea was Utopia, we would hold hands and whistle Kumbaya. But after interacting with whistlers from different countries online, I realised that we were directionless — we could pick people who were good on stage but we weren't offering anything new to the others. So I started this whistling course," says Deshpandey.

Deshpandey's whistling journey also helped him decide on a career. "Today, I am a sound engineer because of whistling — it taught me to appreciate sound," says Deshpandey, who teaches sound engineering at SoundideaZ Academy in Andheri.

For other members too, whistling has played a part in changing their lives. "I went from being a bathroom whistler to a stage whistler," says Dr Shashank Inamdar, 59, secretary of IWA and a member of seven years. "Initially, I would whistle for myself. When I joined the group, I realised that I can do it for others too, and on stage."

The group usually works with old Bollywood numbers and Marathi songs, but is graduating to English and Western Classical music.

In fact, at the World Whistlers Convention, Swetha Suresh, 24, resident of Chennai, won the first place at in the Recorded Accompaniment category. She whistled Mozart's Queen of the Night Aria. Suresh is learning Carnatic and Western Classical music.

She also won the first place in the Allied Arts category for whistling while doing a Bharatnatyam dance. "This is a beautiful musical art form, you realise once you learn it. I want to make a mark in the field and one, day, hopefully teach others," adds Suresh, who has been with IWA for ten years.

Another winner in Japan is Nikhil Rane, who played the Djembe and whistled Humma Humma.

Then there's Aparna Naik, 48, a housewife who was part of the delegation to Japan. She credits the IWA course with helping her extend her vocal range. "There's a stigma attached to it and whistling is considered bad behaviour but we want to propagate it as an art form," she says.


> In Japan, the competition had three categories — Recorded Accompaniment (with background music); Hikifuki (whistling and playing an instrument) and Allied Arts (whistling with a dance, skit or any other performance)

> Dheere dheere, aare badal dheere (Kismet, 1943) is the first Hindi film song that featured whistling

> The different types of whistling are Pucker, Roof or palatal, Finger, Bottom-lip, Hand, Teeth and Fingerless

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