JAILHOUSE ROCK These fans donate their Elvis memorabilia as an emotional corpus
In this series we cover unusual groups formed by a common passion. This week, Ketan Tanna profiles the Elvis Presley fan club of Mumbai
Acruelty of time, or maybe culture, is that Himesh Reshammiya is more popular in India today than Elvis Presley. But you must not say that to a small zealous band of Presley fans in Mumbai. They may turn violent. Almost 30 years after his death, the spirit of the rock and roll king is fervently celebrated and even guarded by this fan club though not all its members have sideburns. They are pleasant, amicable folks, harmless until some taboo words are mentioned. Like, this late evening when the fans are looking in anger and disgust.
â€œHow can you even talk of them in the same breath? I am astonished that one can talk of whatâ€™s his nameâ€¦Resmiyaâ€¦and Elvis as if the two can be compared,â€ says singer Gary Lawyer. Thirty-oneyear-old sound engineer Ahit
Dasgupta, one of the most ardent young fans, says, â€œYou can never compare Elvis with Britney or Himesh. Please donâ€™t make me swear in the morning.â€
â€œElvis is evergreen. He is a legend. Please donâ€™t compare the two,â€ warns 56-year-old Rashna Chiniwala, a Parsi designer, whose first boyfriend looked like Presley (â€œThatâ€™s the only reason I dated him,â€ she says). When she was in school, she was so obsessed with Elvis that she had a whole scrapbook filled with his images and her thoughts about him. She had carefully hidden the scrapbook from her parents because Elvis Presley reminded them of her boyfriend. Chiniwala eventually donated her scrapbook to the fan club. Thatâ€™s what the 50-odd members of Mumbai Elvis Presley fan club do â€” donate the memorabilia they painfully created, old records that they collected and even intangible factoids they know about the singer.
They interact chiefly through telephone and the internet. They also have a dedicated portal in his memory. They meet with no fixed frequency and might have formally met just about three times since the club was formed eight years ago.
The Mumbai chapter was ordained by radio jockey, Fali Singara of All India Radio (AIR), when he was just 17. In 1997, two years before the club would actually be formed, he decided to commemorate the 20th death anniversary of Presley by announcing on AIR that fans of Elvis could mail him their thoughts for a club. He added that those who had any kind of Elvis memorabilia could donate them as an emotional corpus.
Among the first to respond was Mahesh Punwani, now a 62-year-old retired engineer from Colaba. â€œI had a good collection of Elvis Presley Long Playing records which I would religiously listen
to till the player gave way and the records started gathering dust. When Singara made the announcement about the club I contacted him and donated my entire Elvis collection along with other records,â€ says Punwani. Incidentally, Punwani is one of the few Indian fans who has attended an Elvis concert live. Punwani had that fortune sometime in the â€™60s, in Arizona â€œThe concert was heady. There was a mass hysteria. Elvis in his traditional attire came a little late. He arrived in a limousine which drove straight to the stage. Then for the next two hours, without a single break, he performed to a rapturous crowd. And after the performance, he took a bow, went back in his limo and drove away,â€ recalls Punwani who spent about $ 20 to attend the concert, an enormous amount then for a student.
â€œWhat do you mean he drove away? You did not even try to meet him, shake his hand or make contact?â€ asks Chiniwala, shaking her head in disbelief. â€œI would have rushed to see him, security or no security,â€ she says. Her daughter, 26-year-old fashion designer Shazneen Chiniwala, is also a big Elvis fan. A fascinating nature of Mumbaiâ€™s Elvis club is that it is not essentially the proclivity of the old. According to Singara who heads the club, nearly 30 members who make up 60 percent of them, are in the age group of 24 to 30. â€œItâ€™s not a fuddy-duddy group,â€ says Singara who, despite being born after the death of Elvis, is an encyclopedia on the singer and has even visited Graceland, home of Elvis in Memphis, Tennessee.
The representation of the young could have been stronger if a scam were not detected. A lot of young boys were joining the club pretending to be Elvis fans with the intention of flirting with the girls, something that Presley himself may have condoned. But the encroachment of the false devouts disturbed the more religious. â€œNow, I screen anyone who wants to join the club,â€ says Singara. Love for Presley is accepted but there will be some sort of a quiz before entry is granted. Now, the surviving members are those who are intensely devoted to Presley. Like 64-year-old Jangoo Siganporia who, for the last six years, has been writing to AIR requesting Elvis songs. He used to write every week till recently. Now, Siganporia, a grandfather from Kandivali, has cut down the frequency to a month.
The fans, needless to say, look beyond Elvis, the showman. They want the future generations to remember that Presley brought about a whole cultural revolution. Gary Lawyer says that the impact of Elvis on the minds of urban Indians in the late â€™50s and â€™60s was tremendous. He says that it is a mistake to regard the Presley devotion in India elitist. â€œIf Elvisâ€™ music is played for some weeks on radio stations and television, believe me, even the ordinary man on the street will understand and appreciate the genius of Elvis.â€ TNN