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Spice of life | Of nightingales, croak fests, singing to their own tunes


Sep 22, 2022

There are trained vocal artistes and then there are casual bathroom singers. Sandwiched between these two ends of the musical spectrum are a motley group of retired and serving bureaucrats who think they can sing. If the likes of KL Saigal or Lata Mangeshkar ever heard them sing, they would probably turn in their graves! Their self-belief is fuelled by the plastic ‘wah-wahs’ and ‘bahut khoobs’ by indulgent juniors (whose annual performance appraisal reports are at stake), that makes them believe they possess the ability to set the stage on fire and that they are the star performers of every social gathering.

Unable to find space among the crème de la crème of the elite socialite circuit, they host parallel dinner parties at their plush sarkaari (government) bungalows where they find a captive audience in their batchmates, cadre mates and junior colleagues. The plight and mental agony that the attendees must endure is best described in Vikram Seth’s words from his masterpiece, The Frog and the Nightingale, “Once upon a time a frog, Croaked away in Bingle Bog, Every night from dusk to dawn, He croaked awn and awn and awn, Other creatures loathed his voice, But, alas, they had no choice.”

The choice of songs at such gatherings is roughly indicative of the mood and the mental state the babus find themselves in. While the recently retired bureaucrat, who is mentally still living the foundation course phase, could be heard singing “Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu?” it’s quite likely for another who is pulling through his ‘power couple’ marriage to croon: “Mera jeevan kora kagaaz, kora hi reh gaya?”

The last time my parents hosted a dinner party at our residence to bid farewell to a junior colleague, our RWA served us a notice. A guest couple turned up with their bespoke karaoke set and hijacked the entire evening to botched-up Kishore Kumar numbers with a blaring Bhojpuri twist! The couple has been struck off my parent’s guest list since. Some self-acclaimed singers have gone a step ahead and made live performances at leading cultural spaces.

Some of them have even forayed into the divine and sacred spaces singing bhajans and offering ‘bhaints’ to invoke the Gods at local temples a’ la Anup Jalota. They sing their hearts (and lungs) out, God bless the congregations! While some of them genuinely pass muster, most do not. Like the other day, during my Shatabdi journey from Chandigarh to New Delhi I overheard a senior lady officer, who seemed like a genuine singer, indulge her co-passenger about how her ‘bhakti sangeet’ performance was widely shared on social media. Some have even ended up as successful playback singers and others have released their music albums. But such officers are few and far between.

Most end up as the butt of private jokes, but this species doesn’t care a fig for their fault-finders. Unsurprisingly, the members of this species are dangerously on the rise. May their tribe flourish!

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The writer is a Delhi-based Indian Economic Service officer