It’s a two-way process


Life sometimes throws up surprises that help you see the world with a new insight One such incident that happened in well-known Carnatic vocalist Bombay Jayashri’s life made her intimate with autistic children.

“Autistic children are musically endowed, ” says Jayashri as she opens up about her experience. Recalling the incident that took place during a concert in Dubai 15 years ago, Jayashri, who will be performing in the city on March 10 at the Shriram Shankarlal Music Festival, says, “It’s still vivid in my memory. After the performance, an autistic boy Prakash came up to me and said that I had sung everything wrong. Used to adulation, I was taken aback. Later I learnt from his mother that he is an avid listener of my songs. Listening to the concert’s recording, I realised that I had indeed made a mistake. The fact that he cared so much and knew a lot about music, made me understand that autistic children deserve training in music. Along with my students, I started singing for them at special schools.”

Such performances made Jayashri know a lot more about these children.

“Many of them were musically inclined and would get up in the morning and listen to music instead of brushing teeth or drinking milk. They would hear one song hundred times, internalising and making it a part of their being, something I would love to do as a student.” For her, theirs was a beautiful world to explore and be a part of.

Unusual experience

Despite her hectic engagements as a performer, composer and teacher, for Jayashri teaching autistic children is an unusual experience. “It is specially delightful as these children are focussed and look so intently into my eyes, making me give my best. They are completely different kind of rasikas,” she exults.

The process of engaging these children is quite different from others. “With them, you have to be infinitely patient. In the first few classes, they don’t react at all. By the fifth session, they start responding, listening attentively and by 15th they hum along.”

Striking a personal rapport takes much more time. “It is only after 20 classes do they touch us. Later they may give me a hug or a kiss – very tentative gestures but full of love,” she explains

Bombay Jayashri at Velvi Art for Autism Festival in Bengaluru

Bombay Jayashri at Velvi Art for Autism Festival in Bengaluru  

All this triggered Jayashri to start a school called Hitam in Chennai for these children four years ago. “It has been amazing experience to engage with them through music. Many of them don’t speak otherwise, but they sing fluently in Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi among other languages, to the surprise of their parents.” Sometimes it is surprising for Jayashri as well. “For example, 13-year-old Samyukta sings in all languages. Earlier she used to be very quiet in her school but today she sings in daily assembly and in all school functions.”

Such sessions have had a therapeutic effect on children. “They look happier as someone is singing to them. Over a period of time they look forward to the classes, asking their parents repeatedly as to when it will take place. Many have calmed down with a perceptible change in their body movement and behaviour, making them more confident. Music has helped them to focus better on studies too,” observes Jayashri, who has worked with cancer patients as well.

Hitam has two initiatives to reach out to autistic children. While Manas is about musical stimulation, Swayam nurtures musical talent. “Of the 50 students, five are in Swayam. They include three who don’t speak at all.”

Being a well structured format, teaching Carnatic music to kids who don’t read or write has its own challenges. “Indeed it is. Depending on the individual, they listen to the songs for a long time. Later, we urge them to sing and ask them to repeat what they have heard. After gentle persuasion, they join in. Gradually gauzing their mood, I make them sing through half the session. At times, in order to revise, we ask them to sing compositions taught in the past.”

Interestingly, many times, such sessions become a learning curve for Jayashri too.

“On occasions, their rendering is so beautiful and aesthetic that I ask them to repeat. They would say make a change in the tone, tenor, sur and taal, making the original different and melodious. So there is a role reversal, from guru to student,” she quips.

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Printable version | Sep 14, 2021 5:52:07 PM |

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