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The Art of bringing Hitham to special kids
CHENNAI: It was a beautiful name given for an evening congregation. It was an event to tell a special story to a kind audience by a courteous team comprising talented artistes. Sanmathi - the special evening - was indeed a rendezvous with Carnatic vocalist Bombay Jayashri and others who are engaged in the service of bringing the special features of the special children to limelight.

Sanmathi was all about understanding the need for an inclusive approach. It was also about understanding the rights and responsibilities of people in the society. More than anything else, it is a revelation on the impacting role that the art could play in fostering a sense of inclusiveness and bringing about comfort to special kids who require an understanding environment.

To begin with, there was a short film, showing the special children singing kritis or songs of eminent musicians efficiently. There was melody and dedication in singing. A child sang “Kanden Sithayay”. And another kid recited an Hindolam piece. They sang the same way as they listened and loved the versions of their favourite singers. It was touching. In a normal way, it is difficult to make these children do things. But art could be used a effective tool to make them laugh and sing and also goad them into action. As Shalu Sharma put it, "we have to move with the flow of the river". "Be with these children, mingle with them and merge into their own world," she said. This is, however, easier said than done.

Usually, we talk of the normal persons wearing masks. They think one thing but talk differently. "This is not the case with a special child who speaks only the truth. They are not afraid of anyone and don’t wear a mask," a speaker said.

Bombay Jayashri experienced this several years ago when a child with autism disorder told her that she sang it wrong. Her version of the song in the concert that was different from the one in the compact disk. She then realised that music could soothe these children and wanted to do something for them.

This had resulted in the foundation of the Hitham Trust. Bombay Jayshri and her students - Abhinaya shenbagaraj, Amrit Ramnath,Tanvi Kamat, Anjana Muruganandam, among others -train these children with great dedication. On the evening of July 29,2017, cine actor Raja Krishnamoorthy compered the programme. Dr. Parasuram Ramamurthy, Director of Velvi, an institute in Madurai, pointed out how theatre helped the children with ASD (Autism Spectrum disorder). Unlike the normal people, these special children wore a real mask but spoke the truth without inhibition.

Shalu Sharma of Pallavanjali said that the visual arts helped these kids, who had poor communication skill. She said that the art was a wholesome experience. "Art has no language. It has no right or wrong and is non-biased. Art helps to track the growth of a child," she said. And, art helped to bring out the other skills of these children, she added.

Zill Botadkar of the Lighthouse, who is engaged in the art therapy, admitted that the word therapy sounded scary and confused the parents. The whole exercise, she said, should be made enjoyable. In this context, she pointed out how she worked her way by painting with a child and playing drums. This brought laughter and helped the child do the job.

Kavitha Krishnamoorthy, who is associated with the Hitham Trust, said art in one form or the other appealed to special kids. For her son, music clicked. Stating that her son merged with any form of the sound, she pointed out how that had brought changes to his whole being. She said that every special child had a right to an aesthetic experience. She felt that the society had a responsibility to see that this was duly fulfilled. "They (autistic children) have a tremendous potential. Art can show a way," she said. In this context, she pointed out how the programmes and teachings at Hitham in Manas and Swayam nurtured their talents.

Prof. Srikanth of IIT, Bengaluru, said that the information technology could do the work of many a teacher for special children spread across the globe. His institution was keen to do its bit in addressing the need of these special kids, he added.