The British colonisers assembled the Mumbai Police’s band in 1936 when they felt a need for the force to march in a disciplined manner. Even after they have left, the tradition continues.
The 80-year-old band now performs at all state functions in the city, and is called upon to play when dignitaries visit the governor’s residence, Raj Bhavan.
With their striking red uniform, the band has become a popular fixture in Mumbai, regularly playing in public spaces, including Bandra’s Bandstand Revival Project in 2012.
Over the decades it has been a boys only club, but that will change in 2017 when the police will invite policewomen to join. Often, sons have followed in the footsteps of fathers into the police and eventually into the band.
One of the current band’s oldest members, Jamil Shaikh, signed up in 1996, just three years before his father Shafiuddin Shaikh retired from it.
The senior Shaikh had played in the band between 1956 and 1999. “For us the band is a matter of prestige and pride,” said Jamil Shaikh.
The next vacancy will open in 2017 and selectors will look for musical knowledge. Candidates will be asked to sing to see if their notes match the song being played on the keyboard.
“Taal match hona chahiye (notes much match),” inspector S Singh, who is in charge of the band. Priority will be given to those candidates well versed in western notations.
None of the 60 strong band, which is split into two identical teams, ever plays at the same time. One group is always set aside for escort and bandobast duties.
The Mumbai Police’s band uses majorly brass and pipe instruments like the Bb Clarinet (11 members), G Bass Trombone, the French Horn, side and bass drums, the Bb Euphonium among others.
Their repertoire consists of covers of Marathi, Hindi and English film songs, although they have also expanded to playing national anthems of several countries.
It is for these that they receive several calls to play at weddings of both civilians (Rs 21,000 a gig) and fellow police personnel.
Their charges vary from rank, charging Rs 11,000 to play at weddings of officers ranging from police sub inspector to Deputy Commissioner of Police, and 6,000 for junior personnel.
For now, the band is deep in practice for Maharashtra Day parade and 18th All India Police Band Competition which will be staged in Pune next year.
The band won the bronze medal in the 2011 and 2013 editions of the competition, said Singh.
The band generally comes in for a lot of praise when it performs at the parade for retiring police officials.
Most recently, it performed select songs earlier this year at the retirement ceremony of former Mumbai Police Commissioner Ahmed Javed. Singh recalled that the band had very little time to prepare for and perform ‘jolly good fellow’ and ‘sayonara.’
In keeping with the mood of the morning, the band launched into ‘kabhi alvida na kehna’ as the departing commissioner waved to assembled officers.