India’s exclusive circles of competitive whistling

01 March 2017
Local outfits of the Indian Whistlers’ Association hold meetings in which members practise whistling various types of music, from semi-classical pieces to popular songs from films.
indranil mukherjee / afp / getty images

As a child, Kartik Kullar was always drawn to whistling. “When he was young, he used to watch me whistle, and wouldn’t let me go until I taught him how to do it too,” his mother, Seema Kullar, told me. Kartik picked up the skill so well that he won a school talent competition by whistling the patriotic song “Saare jahaan se achchha.” That victory, he told me, even prompted his school to exempt him from a strict ban on whistling in its corridors.

In January, I met Kartik and Seema in their flat in north Delhi. Seema told me that in 2010, when Kartik was 11 years old, she saw a newspaper advertisement about the Indian Whistlers’ Association. She contacted the IWA, and soon afterwards, took Kartik to an audition with the organisation’s Delhi cell. The audition took place in a dusty room in west Delhi, in front of eight old men. Kartik impressed them, and by the end of the day had become the IWA’s youngest member. “They were very impressed because I was able to whistle both blowing out and in,” he remembered. “Jagat sir especially congratulated me.”

Jagat Tarkas is a giant in India’s world of competitive whistling. In the early 2000s, a group of Pune-based friends in their late teens and early twenties—led by Rigveda Deshpandey, then a 19-year-old sound engineer—started a small club to practise whistling. They got more ambitious in 2004, when Tarkas, then a 57-year-old owner of a modest sports-equipment business in Chennai, contacted them and encouraged them to found an official club: the IWA.

Abhay Regi is an independent journalist based in Tamil Nadu.

Keywords: music society competition