Mike – ji – mania
By Ranjit Butani
No, no….. please excuse me…I have a bad throat…come on yaar I can hardly sing” or something along these lines was what one usually heard, at parties and get togethers, during my college days; even later - from the person who was being cajoled by a few from the group to render some popular filmy song or ghazal. This was inspite of the fact that the person was recognized as a fairly talented singer with a reasonably good voice. It was only on a few rare occasions that one actually got to hear someone sing, and the singer was usually someone undergoing serious training and having genuine inclination and devotion towards music.
The first time this oft witnessed scene didn't play out according to the usual script was many years back at a “CHONKI” held at home. My parents, both spiritually inclined and fond of Sufi “Kalaams” started this practice of holding “CHONKIS” at home, once every 2 or 3 months, after my father retired. These were proper affairs with known singers and professional musicians participating. The house would be abuzz with activity from the afternoon – clearing the hall of furniture, spreading sheets on the carpet, photographs of our Guru brought forth form the prayer room and placed on satin sheets at a prominent location in the hall; incense sticks lit and the Prasad placed in a covered vessel besides the Guru's photograph. At another fixed location thin mattresses would be spread for the musicians and singers who arrived by about 6:30 in the evening and went about their tasks of tuning their instruments, connecting the microphones and adjusting the sound.
Guests would start trickling in by 7:00 and after the usual greetings and pleasantries take their seats and await the commencement of the evenings' proceedings with apparent devotion.
The “Chonki” usually began by 7:30 with a short prayer and went on till about 9:30 p.m. when, with the traditional “dua”, the proceedings came to an end, signaling time for distribution of Prasad.
Now, coming back to the incident which for the first time in my life introduced me to 'Mike – ji – Mania'. At one of the “Chonkis” one lady, who I had never met earlier, slipped through the guests and confidently seated herself in front of the mike, where the singer usually sat. Now at these “Chonkis” there was usually one main singer and a couple of moderately talented singers who filled in from time to time when the main singer needed a breather. I presumed her to be one of these singers.
Without much ado or fuss she recited a short prayer, expressed her happiness at being present at the occasion and broke out with gusto and zeal into a ……….? 'Was it prose at random pitches, bad recitation of a poem…… it can't be singing' – was my immediate reaction. Forget the voice which was bad enough; there was absolutely no sense of melody or rhythm. The 'Tabla' and 'Harmonium' players looking heavenward, were desperately trying to give suitable accompaniment to the singer, who deceived them continuously on the rhythm, the pitch, the melody and 'sur.' They literally had tears in their eyes and it was probably decorum that prevented them from pulling their hair.
I thought to myself this can't be! The audacity; the presumption and to top it all so much confidence! I consoled myself with the hope that after one 'kalaam' the usual singer will take over. My hopes were shattered. She refused to budge and kept on singing without a break and without creating an opportunity for the actual singer to take over. Finally after 40 harrowing minutes my father loudly addressed the main singer and diplomatically said, “My cousin here, has come from London and wants to especially hear you sing 'jeeyare lahe zanjeer”. At last the ordeal came to an end; or so I thought.
This lady once again took possession of the mike at the time of 'dua' and what usually took 5 minutes went on for 25. I was reminded of one irritating actor, while watching OSCAR AWARDS on TV a few weeks earlier, who while accepting the award went on and on expressing thanks to what seemed like everyone on this planet. He thanked his family, his friends, their families, his neighbours – including their pets, his producer & his family, his director & his family, his music director & his family, his co-stars & their families, the film technicians & their families……………………………. When finally she concluded her ‘dua’ it was time for me to offer my 'dua' and thank GOD for his small mercies.
The parting statement “I'm here in India for a couple of months. Today I was a little unwell so I could sing only a few 'kalaams' for you, but I promise you at the next 'Chonki' I will certainly regale all of you with many more!”
I MADE SURE I WAS ABSENT AT THE NEXT 2 CHONKIS AT HOME and felt safe only after I learnt she'd gone back to the U.S. I later gleaned from my parents that she was merely an acquaintance of a friend in the US, of one of my relations, and somehow got wind about the 'Chonki' at home during her visit to India and invited herself, even though this relative of ours herself was not present!
After launching SINDHISHAAN I have encountered this Mike – ji – Mania quite often. I have attended several community functions and cultural programmes and have witnessed this trait amongst my community brethren. The person is totally transformed the moment the mike comes to his/her hands. Starting with “I shall speak only 2 words………” the speaker eventually ends up not with 2 sentences, 2 paras, 2 pages, but literally 2 thick chapters, before he/she reluctantly relinquishes the mike. Here, I must add that I have also heard excellent dissertations and thought provoking addresses presented by a few enlightened souls of our community; which have been truly impressive and visionary and have had a tremendous impact on my life. But usually it is a free for all at the “grab the mike” contest.
SO MY SINCERE ADVISE IS, at any gathering or social event, don't even jokingly ask someone to sing. Because instead of a “No. No.” you will hear “Oh you know I sing.......” and right on you'll be subjected to one hour of non-stop non-singing. Not only that, you will be told by the person that he/she has recorded an exclusive audio cassette and before you know it he/she will thrust 3 cassettes into your hands saying “it actually sells for Rs.30/- each, but for you one is free, just pay for 2”
Is this a characteristic typical of only the Sindhi Community or a common human failing encompassing all communities?
Relax dear readers, after all its only in jest!