Lying in the dark, I forced my breath through pouted lips. All I could produce was a dull ‘phooh’. I blew again. And again. Phew! I nearly got it, but not quite. During my sixteenth vain attempt I was struck by a cruel object and I cried in anguish. When the lights came on, I saw my elder brother, a cane in hand raring to smite again.
"I thought I heard a snake hiss,” he said apologetically. “I was merely brushing up my whistling skills,” I howled amid sobs. He consoled me with a promise to teach me the ropes of whistling.
As a kid, learning to whistle was one of my unfulfilled dreams. Therefore, when my brother taught me to whistle through the lips, I began showing off to all and sundry, giving unsolicited solo whistling concerts gratis. I even whistled ‘bhajans’ at family prayers. I was mostly off-key and at best I sounded like a whistling kettle. Nevertheless, for the first time in my life, I felt like a man. But not a 'complete man' that a present-day suiting ad exhorts every man to be.
For, in my opinion, whistling through the fingers (under the tongue) was the hallmark of a 'maestro' and my repertoire lacked such a faculty. Besides, it was the possession of this art form at their fingertips which gave the tough cookies watching the roadside acrobatics or the tumultuous mobs at the town hall recitals their rightful place in the sun,
Therefore, I wrung my hands at my inability to emulate those worthies who whistled merrily through their fingers. After a bit of cajoling, my brother helped me fill this glaring flaw in my character.
My whistling ‘Arangetram’ came when I went to see one or those black and white South Indian films in which the actors fought most of the time and mouthed a few lines between the bouts to get their breath back. During each outbreak of fighting I whistled through my fingers with wild abandon out-whistling all my co-revelers in the eight-anna seats.
During the interval, a bloke with a shock of oily hair who sat next to me, himself a great exponent of whistling wizardry, paid rich tributes to the resonance of my whistle, predicting me a place in the "Whistler’s Hall of Fame." I hung on his lips as he offered a few tips on improving the pitch. “Keep it up” he said patting me on the back. And he gave me a toffee.
It was a toffee that I never ate. For I kept it as a trophy for a long time after my 'resounding' triumph.
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