CHENNAI: For Krishna Kumar, music is the only that makes sense. He is not aware of what happens around him, but at a performance of Rama Natakam on Sunday, he belts out song after song for two hours without hesitation. He has no memory of what happened yesterday, but the songs are etched in his mind. The accompanists too play with enthusiasm as their teacher Lakshmi Mohan gently gives the cues.
“It is only with music that these kids are happy, relaxed, obsessed or energised, their brains are musically wired. With the help of their teacher, they have got new meaning in life,” says Meera Balachander, mother of 40-year-old Krishna, whose life changed after an onset of depression in his teens.
And like the performers, Lakshmi too has found new meaning in her life. Everyday, her flat is abuzz with children and adults with autism and hyperactivity — they’re all there for music classes. She welcomes the children with a kiss and seats them on her lap. They are at home in the room, some talking to themselves and some silent, but every word she sings gets imprinted in their minds. “They cannot repeat after me or understand the details. Most children never sing in class. But parents tell me they sing songs from the last class when they are at home,” she beams.
Lakshmi has been singing all her life but her journey with music therapy began around 10 years ago, with the internet allowing her to learn more about raagas. “At that time, I read online that certain raagas like Shankarabharanam help children with autism. It was the first time I heard of autism. I had so many questions that I could not sleep,” she says.
Lakshmi realised the potential of music therapy when a child had gone back to school and had showed many improvements, after taking music lessons with her during summer vacation. While music therapy is common abroad, it is not so in India despite the rich musical heritage. In today’s digital age with several distractions, music needs to be tapped for its therapeutic value.
Unlike regular music classes, Lakshmi uses music not to teach songs but to calm and control their behaviour. Through her journey, she has devised techniques to do this. Repetitive and rhyming words in bhajans that she specially composes, a few seonsd of pause after every song and maintaining eye contact throughout the song are some of the factors that keep them engaged.
Music, she says, is already ingrained in their minds and for many children like the ghatam player, who never had to be taught the rhythms, it came to him as soon as he picked up the instrument. “Even Krishna Kumar would have sung without me. The only thing I have helped him with is the behaviour,” she says. But training him for the performance, for a year, where he learnt solely by listening was no mean feat.
With albums by special children and novels inspired by her work in autism and daily classes, Lakshmi’s saily schedule is packed but she says, “I am where I am only because of the children.”
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