Monday, November 12, 2007

Gangtok welcomes Prashant Tamang, Indian Idol 3

M onday was a dry day in Gangtok.
But alcohol was hardly required to buoy the local spirits.
There was a gigantic buzz in this prosperous hill station, the capital of Sikkim located at about 4,700 ft, up in the Himalayas.
Indian Idol Prashant Tamang was paying his very first visit to the Darjeeling-Sikkim area since winning his national title.
It was an enormous moment of Nepali pride.
Tamang may hail from Darjeeling, but is a Nepali like much of the population of the mountainous state of Sikkim and massive Indian Idol voting -- organised with fierce regional loyalty -- in every town and hamlet in Sikkim, in part by Sikkim's Nepali chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, (in the pic with Tamang) helped propel Tamang towards the crown.
Tamang had now come to say dhanyavad.
The newly-minted star had not yet been to Darjeeling and could not go on this trip because his organisers anticipated problems there after the flare-up post his win.
All of Gangtok's picturesque, winding, up-and-down roads led to Paljor Stadium where Tamang was to perform at 5 pm under the shadow of the snowy Mount Kangchenjunga.
Stylishly dressed youth from all income groups and lots of middle-aged and elderly people -- even a few monks -- poured down the roads towards the stadium. Posters welcoming Tamang dangled from every electricity pole. Tickets -- for Rs 150 -- were being sold at each street corner.
Hundreds gathered, from hours before, outside the gates of Gangtok's best hotel Nor-Khill, where he was staying. Once a royal lodge belonging to Sikkim's King, and now people were waiting for a glimpse of new royalty -- a simple Nepali police constable, now turned a singing hero.
Inside the hotel and outside his room, aunties, uncles, cousins, wee kids, students, friends, reporters from Darjeeling's Nepali papers, acquaintances (some of them as distant as you can get), hotel guests, including a few foreign tourists, hung around waiting for even the smallest glimpse of Tamang as he bounced energetically between rooms, being extremely polite and accommodating allowing photos, hugs and handshakes by the score, much to the exasperation of his handlers.

Tamang is a gentle, shy, and modest young man; very likeable. He is soft-spoken and extremely courteous to his fans and admirers and repeatedly acknowledges their support that got him his win.
One sari-clad auntie-type character, staying in the hotel, having come from Mumbai, sat on a sofa nearby declaring over and over again loudly and excitedly like a child, "Kabhi humaare naseeb mein nahin tha ki hum Indian Idol se mile. Aur idhar aake humko ye mauka mila!" (We never thought we'd have the luck to meet the Indian Idol, and got the chance after coming here) She gushingly praised her good luck about 50 times, while she waited to get a picture of Tamang.
A young man, accompanied by a female friend, who had studied with Tamang patiently waited outside his door to meet him. He said he had always gone to hear Tamang sing when he gave concerts in Darjeeling, and loved his voice. An English tourist -- and mum to a few brats -- delightedly chuckled at the fact that her boys had infiltrated Tamang's room.
Loads of his relatives, dressed in the finest saris and Nepali outfits, had journeyed from Darjeeling, 94 km away, to congratulate him. Tamang (pictured with his parents) was meeting his mom Rupa and pretty sister Archana for the first time since his win. And it was an emotional moment.

As it edged beyond 5 pm, and the crowds of friends and well-wishers outside his door swelled, the atmosphere got a bit more electric as thousands of fans waiting for him across the road at the stadium began chanting "Pra-shaaant, Pra-shaaant!"
It began to rain and the energetic bellowing only grew louder. Tamang was bundled across the road to the stadium at lightning speed by his minders and an exuberant bunch of police officers, as eager crowds chased him. A deafening roar went up in the air as he made his entry. A ceremonial white silk scarf was wrapped around his shoulders, a Nepali hat propped on his head and the chief minister personally welcomed him. Together they released his thank you album, Dhanyavad.
Tamang quickly launched into a Nepali song. The surging, ecstatic crowd of about 20,000 went hysterical with glee. Tamang has a very folksy, lilting voice. You can almost visualise the countryside -- green fields, tea gardens and mountains of Darjeeling -- in the happy Nepali song he croons.
Hot cups of coffee were passed around. Bikas, minding the coffee machine, a Bengali hailing from Sikkim, said, "I must have voted for him on SMS at least 1,000 times! I wanted him to win because he is from here." Bikas is very happy to be here and hear his hero sing.
Young Kuber, a local restaurant owner, explained that he had minded an SMS-stall during the Indian Idol campaign. "I manned about 15 cellphones. I must have voted myself over 50 times! Every one from 5-year-old children and up voted for him. We had booths set up in 200 places in Gangtok alone, and then in every village. Grass-root people as well as the wealthy all turned out to vote for him. A poor man even sold his cow so he could vote!"
Tamang, who shared the stage with Charu, a fellow Indian Idol contestant who had accompanied him to Gangtok, sang for 3 hours through bouts of cold rain, cheerfully, playing to the crowd and belting out top Hindi numbers as well as local songs. The crowd lapped it up the cheers, never diminishing till the end. The evening was probably Gangtok's proudest moment since footballer Bhaichung Bhutia returned home.