Dubai teen is a star in his own right
Karthik Kumar has a passion for music and is a regular at stage shows in Dubai. Freelance Writer - Mathew Litty meets the talented and autistic 15-year-old.
The first time I met Karthik Kumar was a couple of Fridays ago at a haircutting salon in Karama, Dubai. He was with his father and was waiting his turn but instead of flipping through a magazine, he was singing a popular Hindi film number by Atif Aslam called Woh Lamhe. He had clenched his right fist and was holding it to his mouth, pretending it was a microphone and, unaware of the customers in the salon, was belting out the hit.
He had a lovely voice and had everyone in the salon entralled with his performance.
"He's a regular here,'' the barber told me, "and whenever he comes, he sings a few songs. We all love listening to him.''
Keen to know more, I introduced myself to his father and congratulated him on his son's talent.
"Oh yes, Karthik loves music,'' Krishna Murthy said. Karthik, I soon learnt, is autistic. He finds it difficult to interact and has a limited range of activities and interests, said Krishna, who came to Dubai from Chennai, India, 25 years ago.
Karthik has difficulty communicating his thoughts but one thing he loves is music. A student of the Al Noor Training Center For Special Needs Children Dubai, he is proficient in a few daily household chores such as making a sandwich, cutting vegetables; he knows how to groom himself, is a good swimmer and has a basic knowledge of mathematics, English and science. He is currently undergoing vocational training for baking and screen printing.
Music is his passion
"Karthik was diagnosed with autism at the age of three,'' said Krishna. "Initially, we were shocked and upset and but soon came to terms with it and visited several doctors and psychologists for a proper evaluation and treatment.''
Though the disorder has restricted his communication skills, comprehension and social interaction with people, it has not sapped Karthik's passion for music.
"Music has been his passion since childhood,'' Krishna says. "In fact, I think he started singing before he could talk.''
Thanks to the support of his loving parents and his twin brother Vignesh (who doesn't have this condition), and the nurturing by his teachers at Al Noor, Karthik has been able to come into his own, says his father. Initially, he would listen to songs on the radio and practise them to perfection. But as he grew older, he began surfing the internet and learnt to download lyrics and songs as well.
He also learnt to play the guitar and electronic keyboard and can play almost any tune by ear. He has taken part in many school functions, concerts and get-togethers for special needs children, says Krishna.
A keen performer
A regular at functions organised by the Society For Advocacy and Awareness towards holistic Inclusion (SAATHI), he performed at its anniversary programme and at programmes organised by Special Needs Family Group and All Kerala College Alumni Forum (AKCAF) and at the spring festival of the American College Dubai.
Krishna remembers the first performance at SAATHI when the audience listened in rapt attention as Karthik rendered a hugely popular Hindi song by Sonu Nigam titled Shukran Allah.
He has also sung live on a Hindi radio station in the UAE.
According to Krishna, Karthik knows almost 2,000 songs by heart and can also identify the name of the album, movie, musician and composer of the song after listening to it for just a few minutes.
Karthik has a huge fan following in Delhi Private School Sharjah, and The Modern High School, where he has performed.
One of his prized possessions is a collection of around 3,000 CDS and audio cassettes, which he has arranged in a systematic manner based on genre. The collection includes his own creations too where he sings favourite numbers facing a webcam, records them and burns them on a CD.
Karthik is also very good at designing and enjoys sketching popular logos and brand names of products, matching the colours and fonts perfectly.
He can do the same on the PC and has a very good typing speed by using only his left hand looking at the screen.
Krishna is looking forward to the day when his son will sing on stage with a Bollywood singer. "I'm sure he will be able to some day,'' he says.