In this association of engineers, software professionals and doctors, whistling is a group activity.
Milind Dhavle made an amateur mistake. He held the mike in front of his mouth. So his perfect pitch was distorted by a whoosh of air coming out. That’s how he learnt the first lesson of professional whistling: always hold the mike to the side of the mouth. Never in the front; in the business, they call it the air path.
Manoj Karam and his associates are a difficult audience to impress. Their expertise in professional whistling has been honed over years of practice. Having said that, Dhavle’s five-minute whistle-rendition of Kajra Mohabbatwala from the movie Kismat managed to impress. The mike error was the only hiccup during an almost perfect audition before the members of the Indian Whistlers’ Association (IWA). He even managed to keep his mouth moist throughout—a dry mouth is the enemy of a good whistler. “It was very good. Were you fluttering your tongue?” asked Karam, west zone head of the IWA. “I’m sure I heard a wharble.”
A wharble whistle is a two-toned whistle that sounds almost like a flute. The texture is produced by moving the tongue inside the mouth while whistling. Then there’s teeth whistling, finger whistling, and the most popular—wolf whistling. Most of the 25-odd active members of the Mumbai chapter of the IWA are pucker whistlers, who blow out. Blow-in whistling is also a legitimate form. The IWA was formed in 2004 as a Yahoo Group by two Pune residents. The association now has almost 500 members across the country, divided into zonal chapters.
These men and women are engineers, software professionals, doctors, all between the ages of 14 to 75. Membership requires an audition. “The audition is to whistle a song, not just make a sound,” says Karam.
All the members of the Mumbai chapter of IWA are professional stage performers and by happenstance, several are also good singers. The group recently took part in the city’s Kala Ghoda arts festival, and this year they will send participants to the International Whistling Convention in China in May. “There’s an international mailing list with more than 900 members, and lots of professional whistlers who only release CDs with whistle renditions of songs,” says Karam. Hindi film music directors have always had a penchant for whistling in their songs, especially if the hero was Dev Anand, the uncrowned pucker king.
The essential attribute for being a good whistler is good lung power. “When you sing, because you’re speaking the words, not much air goes out, but when you’re whistling, 10 times more air is thrown out,” says Karam. Folks who can do both blow-in and blow-out whistling have an advantage because there’s better air flow. There are several such ambidextrous folks in the IWA’s Mumbai chapter. Milind Dhavle’s hoping to be one more.