There’s something endearing about Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma’s excitement about a particular reality TV show. He has admitted to voting 99 times to help the Shillong Chamber Choir enter the semi-finals of India’s Got Talent Khoj 2. And for the finals on 2 October, he has made sure the Meghalaya government leaves no stone unturned to nudge the choir closer towards a victory.
Since the winner is decided by a public voting system via SMSes, the CM has issued a written appeal to people of the state, its diaspora and music lovers in general to vote for the choir. The state government has also asked cellular service providers to upgrade their services to avoid a repetition of the glitches that occurred at the semi-finals, when lines got jammed and many couldn’t vote.
Mukul Sangma’s campaign has the support of colleagues in the Union Government as well. Both Union Minister of State for Rural Development Agatha Sangma and her counterpart in the Water Resources Ministry, Vincent Pala, have issued similar appeals.
The 16-member Shillong Chamber Choir, it seems, is on a roll. In July this year, it won three golds at the 6th World Choir Championships held in China. Founded by Neil Nongkynrih in 2001, it has performed across the globe, recently also partnering with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra to stage some stellar performances.
Nongkynrih, who trained at the London School of Music and performed as a concert pianist for 12 years before returning to Shillong, runs a free boarding school for destitute, troubled and disabled children. All choir members are drawn from this school. The lead singer, 19-year-old Johanan Lyngdoh, is a former drug addict whose family left him in Nongkynrih’s school. The choir’s repertoire includes a blend of Bach, Mozart, Nongkynrih compositions, Queen, Abba and Hindi numbers.
The choir’s entry to the finals of the TV show has caused huge excitement in the hill state. Since voting began on 25 September, thousands of people across Meghalaya have already cast their votes. Civil society has also joined in to mobilise support and many businessmen have started sponsoring SMSes through pre-paid connections. A huge car rally was also held in Shillong to drum up support for the choir.