In a heartfelt tribute to AR Rahman, the Indian Whistlers Association (IWA) has released a video on YouTube featuring its founder, Rigveda Deshpandey, spokesperson Lakshmi Iyer, and member Ganesh Dhuri.
They skilfully whistle Rahman’s melodies, displaying the finesse of flute virtuosos. Their mouths transform into musical instruments as they seamlessly transition from one song to another, rendering tunes from ‘Khwaja Mere Khwaja’ to ‘Dil Se Re’. Their faces, immersed in the melodies, exemplify the essence of IWA: a deep passion for whistling.
Established on September 19, 2004, by Deshpandey, affectionately known as the ‘Maverick Whistler’, the Indian Whistlers’ Association (IWA) is dedicated to promoting musical whistling as an art form.
Originating from humble beginnings in Pune, this organisation, driven by music and whistling enthusiasts, has achieved remarkable milestones, including participation in the World Whistlers Convention in Japan, setting multiple records such as the Limca Book of Records, and nurturing numerous professional whistlers.
Lakshmi, the spokesperson of IWA, emphasises their primary objective, “We continually strive to promote whistling as a fine art. It’s not about monetary gain for us; rather, we aim to elevate whistling’s importance. It’s a beautiful medium, and many people are still unaware of its potential.”
Lakshmi joined IWA in 2017, initially a casual whistler despite her background as a trained Carnatic singer. She remarks, “Discovering IWA was a turning point for me. I realised my potential and decided to pursue whistling seriously.”
IWA’s sessions, which started offline and are now predominantly conducted online, encompass a wide array of themes.
Exposure to the members
Aparna Naik, a committee member of IWA, explains, “We expose our members to various music genres, not just old Hindi songs, although those are popular for whistling. We also explore foreign songs because music transcends language barriers.”
Members record videos of themselves whistling songs based on the monthly theme provided by senior members, sharing these recordings in a WhatsApp group. Senior members provide feedback, and the best performances are uploaded on YouTube and Facebook.
Aparna highlights the collaborative spirit within IWA.
“It’s a self-learning journey, and we’re here to support one another. For instance, I improved my whistling by learning to control my breath at specific points, enabling me to reach certain scales. This progress was possible through feedback from senior members,” she says.
In 2016, IWA introduced a whistling course led by experienced members. This comprehensive course covered a range of topics, including the history of whistling, various whistling styles, the anatomical aspects of whistling, sound production mechanics, dietary guidelines, microphone handling, live performance techniques, and, notably, the art of listening to music to gain a deeper understanding.
Describing the IWA members as “flutes without bamboos” and quoting their motto, Aparna says, “Hum seeti maarte nahin, bajate re! (We don’t merely blow whistles; we sing through them).”
Comprising dedicated whistlers proficient in both Indian and Western classical music, IWA laments the misconception that their craft is associated with undesirable stereotypes like eve-teasing and cat-calling.
Aparna passionately asserts, “We aim to dispel this stigma linked to this beautiful art form. Whistling is no less an art than dance, music, or any other form of performance. It demands the same dedication, discipline, and practice. You can’t become a musical whistler overnight; it requires rigorous practice.”
According to IWA members, whistling offers numerous styles and techniques, similar to other art forms. Lakshmi explains, “There are various styles of whistling, including the common pucker style, palatal whistling, teeth whistling, and blow-in-and-out whistling. Each style can be intrinsic to an individual.”
For instance, Nikhil Rane, an ex-IWA member, is known for whistling while smiling, a unique ability that sets him apart.
Lakshmi adds, “Many aspects of whistling are about individual abilities.”
Nearly all the members interviewed express their love for whistling and gratitude for being part of this unique organisation.
For Debesh Goswami, a resident of Hari Nagar in Southwest Delhi, joining IWA opened a whole new realm of music world. A casual whistler, he joined the organization in 2019 and learned the various techniques of whistling there.
“I have been whistling since childhood. It was intrinsic to my personality; my family would know I have come home by the sound of whistling they would hear from the stairs,” he says. “But joining IWA taught me about sur, taal, and emotions associated with it.”
Debesh adds that he had never given importance to lyrics of the songs he used to whistle. “But I learnt here the different technicalities to say a word while whistling. For some words, you need to blow out softly and for others, you may not,” he says.
For him, more than a professional career, whistling is more of a stress buster. “You just feel good when you whistle; it’s relaxing,” he says as he passionately whistles Je Raate Mor Duar Guli from Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhak Tara, the song that he also whistled in IWA’s audition in 2019.
Madhav Sarda recalls travelling from Delhi to Chennai as an IWA member, demonstrating the dedication of its members.
“Imagine travelling all the way from Delhi to Chennai for a convention that might not seem significant to some. This shows the passion our members bring to the table,” he told Patriot.
The organisation now boasts members from across the country, as well as Indian expatriates abroad.
Although Madhav is less active in IWA’s WhatsApp group nowadays, his love for whistling remains undiminished. He whistles passionately throughout his daily life, a testament to his enduring affection for old Hindi songs and whistling.
Reflecting on the past, he shares, “I used to include CDs of my musical whistling in tea packets exported by my company.”
“Things have changed,” he concludes, “but whistling remains an integral part of my life.”