Usha Bharadwaj has been training over 10 visually impaired children in music since 2006
A post-graduate in music and economics, a gold medal winner in the three-year Sangeetha Vidwan title course, and a topper in the pedagogy course at the Tamilnadu Government Music College, Usha Bharadwaj has been working with Dr. Sunder since 1999, taking care of all the activities of his Freedom Trust.
A practising doctor and performing musician, Sunder, incidentally, is also the convenor of the Chennai chapter of Music Forum, which is set up to spread music appreciation culture among the listeners. The Freedom Trust reaches out to physically-challenged persons, who come from economically backward segment of the society, and helps them with mobility aids and appliances.
Another major activity of the Trust is the Sishupunarjanmam project, which identifies and extends training to exceptionally talented and differently-abled kids in music, drawing and dance. "I have been training over 10 visually impaired children in music since 2006, and I have immensely enjoyed the experience. The children are loving, dedicated and hard working. We always look forward to our Saturday and Sunday classes, which run to over two-to-three hours," says Usha.
Having started from the basics, the children are now at a stage where they can render kritis with perfection, and are being introduced to the creative aspects of music. Usha has two children – flautist Sruthi Sagar and Keerthana, both are disciples of Dr. Sunder. The two are coming up fast in the field of Carnatic music. It is interesting to catch up with Usha. In this interaction, she reveals her passion for Carnatic music, and also the compassionate person in her. Excerpts:
What is the name of your music school?
Sruthi Layam School of Music
Why do you do this?
I have always had a great passion to teach music. It all started when I began assisting my guru Smt. Shanthi Jayaraman, who later became my mother-in-law. I found myself very interested and committed that I spent all my day time in learning and imparting music.
How long have you been doing this?
What do you teach them?
It is proper and systematic teaching - from the basics. But I manage to do in batches of different age groups. I was also teaching Veena, and quite a few of my students have come up to concert level.
How many kids are studying?
Currently, there are about 20 students. Out of whom, 10 are visually impaired children. Over the years, I think nothing less than 500 to 600 students would have come and got themselves introduced to our music. I am happy that most of them have come up to kriti level singing, and they continue to sing and teach from wherever they are.
Where is it being run?
The school functions in Kodambakkam.
What has been the response?
The response has been great, I would say. My classes are only on week-ends. I always insist that even during examination times, students should not miss out on their classes. I feel music energises and enlightens them. And, it also enhances their concentration skills.
What is your experience in doing this?
My experience in teaching especially the visually impaired kids has been enthralling. It has been a pleasure teaching them because their aptitude to music is very high. I should mention here that they understand music in a much better way when compared to normal children. An "apaswaram" has never occurred to them!
What are the difficulties in teaching these kids?
Taking down notes is a challenge for them, especially when it comes to notation. Learning a varnam is a challenge for them because of the "karvais" and "swarams" involved. They manage to learn a varnam by sheer memory, and their memory retention is also very good.
What is the support system for you?
As far as teaching the visually impaired children goes, it is being funded by Freedom Trust. The trust was founded by Dr.Sunder in 1997 with an aim to reach out to the physically challenged community. In 2004, we thought that the talents of special children should be tapped and nurtured so that they earn a living for themselves based on their skills.
Thus was born the "Sishupunarjanmam" scheme, which has been spotting talents amongst the differently-abled children, catching them young, and giving them intense training and monthly scholarships as an incentive to learn. Many of our children under this scheme have taken it up as their profession. Sathyanarayana, who was spotted by us in 2004, is now a full time musician who is capable of singing both Carnatic and film songs. He topped his class at The Music Academy where he did his advanced training course.