Sunil Tondwalkar strains to match the high notes of the SRK-starrer Om Shanti Om’s hit number Aankhon Mein Teri. It’s a struggle, and the talented singer switches back to Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar, his long-time muses.
As the lyrics of Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhana starts rolling on the television screen to which his karaoke machine is cranked up, Tondwalkar is clearly in his element. Microphone in one hand, he exhorts an invisible crowd to sway along with him with his other hand. For a moment, he seems to be Rajesh Khanna. Only, he’s not yodelling, seated on a motorbike. Tondwalkar is seated on the chair of senior inspector of Bandra Government Railway Police (GRP). Instead of picturesque locales, in his backdrop are the names of criminals and court dates scrawled on a board.
Tondwalkar, 57, has been carrying this karaoke machine from his days at the Mumbai police control room through his tenure as senior inspector of Bhoiwada police station and now at his current posting as senior inspector at the Bandra GRP. “Given the stressful nature of our jobs, I cannot think of a better stress buster,” Tondwalkar says about his love for singing songs that are on his karaoke machine. “In fact after seeing me sing in my spare time, 12 more police officers have purchased the machine,” says the senior inspector, adding that he has not faced any major health complication, thanks to his love for music.
Tondwalkar was always a bathroom singer but there were two things holding him back – confidence to sing in public and inability to memorise lyrics. All that changed on a visit to a Mulund mall in 2009. “I was passing by a music shop when I heard someone sing a song on a mike. Curious, I peeped in to see the person reading the lyrics from a TV screen that was also playing the background music. I was amazed after coming across the karaoke machine for the first time,” said the 57-year-old. Tondwalkar would soon purchase the machine that cost him Rs 9,000. His family, comprising his two sons and wife, turned ardent singers overnight.
At that point, Tondwalkar was posted at the police control room. “Whenever there was any function in the family or a get-together of friends, everyone would request me to bring my karaoke machine along. Soon there was not a single function where I went without the machine,” he said. After he was transferred to the Bhoiwada police station as a senior inspector, he started taking the machine to the police station. “I would sing songs for my officers when we had free time, like after Diwali bandobast duty. I would encourage them to sing as well but most of them were shy and would say they can’t sing well. I would still encourage them to try,” the senior inspector said.
There have been occasions when visitors to the police station got a ‘song on demand’ offer from Tondwalkar, provided the song was among the 1,200 songs stored in the Casio karaoke machine. “Normally people get into habits like consuming alcohol or visiting bars to relieve stress. Here is one activity which helps you to get peace of mind without any bad effects. I am glad that looking at me, 12 more of my brother officers have also purchased karaoke machines and got into the habit of singing,” he said. With over two years left before retirement, Tondwalkar plans to pursue singing professionally once he retires.