While the serenity and warmth of Malleswaram have mesmerised a few poets, the beauty in its rustic simplicity has turned it into an abode of cultural milieu. As you take a walk down the far end of a boulevard on 17th cross, a well-crafted garden house echoes with strains of melodies. And, as the sweet fluid texture of the song blends in with the surroundings, 28-year-old Sudhindra Rao pauses to soak up the sounds. The rugged and edgy tones then take a playful turn to bring out the earthiness of the blues number he's playing on the harmonica.
Sipping on their evening coffee, his parents cannot help but smile with pride. For Ranganath Rao and Udaya Kumari, their son Sudhindra was a gift from God. Like all parents, they too rejoiced on his birth and wished to provide him with everything they could ever hope for. But, fate had some other plans. His blindness was diagnosed only at the age of three and soon, the world stopped spinning for the Rao family.
"When we first discovered that our son was blind, our world turned dark. We were devastated. But soon, gathering all remnants of courage, we decided to give him everything he wanted and make all his dreams come true. It has been a difficult journey so far but we never gave up," said an emotional Ranganath Rao.
Thus, began their journey of self-discovery and triumph. Today, Sudhindra is an accomplished musician, poet and an employee of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). "I was born blind but my world is filled with colour. Never did I let my condition hamper me from achieving what I wanted. I have no regrets whatsoever. And, I have one person to thank for who I am today -- my father. I cannot begin to imagine the amount of sacrifices he has made in order to ensure that I get anything and everything I ever hoped for," said Sudhindra with a smile.
He was taken to Chennai as a toddler to undergo an operation at Shankar Nethralaya. However, it didn't turn out to be a success. Once again, his parents were shattered. Soon, they began to accept that destiny had other plans for them.
Unlike other parents with visually-impaired children, the Rao family decided to enroll Sudhindra into a normal school. A chance encounter with a woman who had a visually-impaired child led them to making this decision. "She advised us against blind schools as she felt that such children get segregated and later find it extremely difficult to mingle with normal children. So, we enrolled him at Tunbridge High School on Infantry Road. They were very supportive and even had a Braille instructor to teach visually-impaired children," said Ranganath who further added that initially he would record all classes or lessons on cassettes so that it was easy for Sudhindra to learn. Only later, he discovered that Braille textbooks were also printed in the city.
After seventh grade, Sudhindra joined Hymamshu Jyothi Kala Peetha, an ICSE school, located close to his house. However, he found it difficult to cope with studies, especially mathematics. "My dad tried his level best to teach me maths, but it became close to impossible for me to learn. I completely lost patience and confidence in myself. Later, I decided to join a state syllabus school where I opted for music and Economics instead. Soon, things started to look bright again and I regained my confidence," said Sudhindra who later went on to do his BA and MA.
Sudhindra was never brought up to believe that he was handicapped. He was always in the company of supportive friends and family. They never lost hope and learnt to live through all joy, anguish and adversities that life had to offer.
Tryst with literature
Apart from acknowledging the fact that mankind is capable of creating something beautiful, Sudhindra feels that poetry opens the window to our soul. Seeking solace in the magnificent verses penned down by poets like Oscar Wilde, William Wordsworth, Walter De la Mare and H W Longfellow, Sudhindra felt that he no longer had to hide to reveal his true emotions, for hidden in the smiles and metaphors was the true face of humankind.
"Poetry has so much depth; it can get a little overwhelming at times. I used to listen to BBC growing up and they had a show that would compare Indian and Western literature and poetry all the time. In fact, once they drew similarities between Shakespeare and Kalidas. I found that extremely interesting and soon decided to explore literature and poetry on my own," said Sudhindra who has written more than 600 poems till date and wishes to publish a book in the near future. In fact, recently, he conducted a quiz contest in Presidency College and was also invited by the All India Radio for a quiz programme.
The light from Music
Life without music would be no life at all for Sudhindra. He truly believes that it is a shining beacon of light that allows him to live, breathe and desire every single day.
"Music is like a ray of hope. It has played a big role in defining my identity over the years. Through music, I find the innate connection that we all share as human beings. If I did not have music in my life, I think I would have turned out to be a very depressed individual," said Sudhindra as he picked up the recorder and played Nammoora Mandara Huve. Punctuated with bold tones, his renditions bring to life the harmonic tapestry wrapped around floating melodies.
According to him, if you are gifted with music, you must make the best possible use of it and explore different dimensions of sound to a great extent. While Sudhindra expresses his emotions through melody and rhythm, the fluidity of his trills on harmonica often illuminates the complex musical structure of jazz and blue numbers. Apart from letting notes flow dreamily into one another, he manages to merge the soundscape of rhythmic mazes and groovy harmonies.
Amongst his prized possessions are the recorder, harmonica, melodeon and panpipe that he cherishes the most. Taking inspiration from Kenny G, contemporary Jazz saxophonist, John Denver, singer, and several eccentric musicians including Billy Joel, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Michael Learns to Rock, John Coltrane and Lenny Marlin; Sudhindra is trying to define his own sound through extensive experimentation.
"I listen to anything and everything. I am a big fan of artistes like P B Srinivas, B R Chaaya and Mysore Ananthaswamy too. Some of these musicians have given us pure and honest pieces of music. For instance, John Denver always sang with his heart. I still have a huge collection of cassettes that have immortalised some of the greatest pieces of music ever composed by mankind. I used to be able to identify the name of the album and artiste just by touching these cassettes. But, now with the advent of technology, I no longer need them," he said and further added that he longed to be a DJ in the future as electronic dance music has always fascinated him.
For this young man, his disability never proved to be a hindrance. Instead, he decided to rise above all and experience the various joys and sorrows that life threw at him with great ease. This is the story of a man with a dream; a man who refused to let adversity overcome him; a man who faced the harsh realities of life with a smile.
This is the story of Sudhindra Rao.