A mild breeze, a distant ravine flowing meditatively, punctuated by the melodious chirping of the birds – this eargasmic experience is maybe what welcomes you to the state of Sikkim. However, as the night falls, that ambient music transforms into something entirely different. From the boardwalk of MG Marg to the rundown streets of a suburb, a tune emanates. If you follow the sound, you will end up in a place stuck out of time, where a wondrous cacophony blares from the speakers. While radio died a gentle death in the streets of globalizing Sikkim, the ‘hits’ have been carefully preserved in the lips of the elders and the young alike. Here, Bappi Lahiri is still cool; Kumar Sanu, a novelty. Pore over a dilapidated booklet and select your numbers, and wait for your turn or rather fight for it – the mic contention. The stage is yours, sing your heart out. Karaoke in Sikkim is a cultural phenomenon; no one is untouched.
There is a fair share of singing stars – some brazenly forward, usually the legendary mic-bearers, and some tight-lipped, who are shy in the beginning but after a few cold ones can channel their inner Kishore Kumars. At the end, there is no one who doesn’t partake. It doesn’t matter if you are tone-deaf, no one is judging except the score meter on the machine, about which I’ll let you in on a secret: sing louder and closer to the mic for the ego-boosting par 90s score. However, remember that singing while looking on the screen is frowned upon by the legends, usually, middle-aged men who are ambi-voxterous – the ones who sing the duet all by themselves.
For some, it has even become a hobby. They frequent these joints regularly just to sing! Ordinarily, you can identify one by watching their hands: one hand constantly holding the holy songbook, while the other carrying either a mic or a half full (or half empty?) glass of whatever pretend drink. Furthermore, they know the code number of almost all the songs, often sentimental Hindi songs (Bollywood) of the yesteryear (Kishore, Rafi). When their score flashes on the large screen (with the added clapping track), it is often close to the perfect 100. He or she (usually he) is the pièce de résistance – the hero – the SRK – of the joint. Only if there was a title of official karaoke singer; but guess gratification is the greatest gift one can get. It takes the diligence of a “Hunger Artist‟ to pursue a hobby to such an extent.
Anyway, besides the pros, there are those who haven’t reached that level yet, the semi-pros, who can’t remember the codes, so they store the number of their songs in their mobile. Not even in their wildest fancy, the inventors of cell phones would have imagined that one day one of the greatest pieces of technology would be used to store temporarily the code numbers of karaoke tracks. Nevertheless, those scientists would also probably sing “Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh”, the anthem for most women out here. Ajeeb Dastan – ‘strange tale’ indeed, literally!
Maybe it’s the weather – the relentless rain or the cold or the heat driving people indoor – or maybe the lack of creativity, or maybe the DNA, just speculations. Hope one day, researchers can explain the underlying reason for this craze. Whatever it maybe, it is a harmless hobby which entertains and brings people together. Strangers sharing a song on a cold evening in a pub in this remote corner, which can be heard from far away (though not anymore in M.G. Marg as the police have decided that the pedestrians had enough songs).
So, it’s all well, until and unless one hyperactive, overconfident, over-cared kid, whose parents consider him or her as the best-est child in the universe, takes the mic and starts screeching. Only at that point karaoke is uncool. Other than that, it’s the best fad in Sikkim at the moment. So that’s all, enough writing – “Fin” as shown in black and white in the New Wave films – time to stop reading, let’s put our favourite track and start singing.
Photo contributed by Kunga Tashi