Itti Si hasi; Itti si khushi
Itta sa tukda chand ka
Khwabon ke, tinko se
Chal banayein Aashiyaan
-Lyrics by Swanand Kirkire from the movie Barfi
(one of Benzy’s favourite songs)
“Music is in itself healing”, said Billy Joel, the famous American pianist, songwriter and composer. And Benzy Kumar proved it. Truly special, Benzy made music her world, drawing strength from the notes and trying to strike a cord with others like her.
The Princess of Melodies
When Benzy was two years old, her parents, Kavita and Praveen Kumar, realized their child was suffering from a neurodevelopmental disorder, autism. They were told that Benzy would always lead a dependent life and their world crashed with the news. The most difficult part was to accept the fact that they had a special child. “But once you accept, half the battle is won”, she says, because then the next thing was to concentrate of what Benzy could do rather than what she could not.
They approached many doctors and tried many different things. Referred by a doctor, the Kumars approached the Bombay Spastics Society in Bandra, Mumbai, which had then just introduced a new Stimulation therapy. At the advice of another, they tried to introduce Benzy to some kind of sport. Unfortunately, most of them did not yield the expected results.
While they were still experimenting, Kavita noticed a very distinctive reaction in Benzy while playing with her favourite musical toy. She noticed how her daughter’s eyes followed the toy, a response and attention she did not show for any other toy or activity. Encouraged, Kavita, decided to introduce Benzy to music. “When we awaken Benzy with ragas in the morning, she is cool and calm the entire day. And if the same happened without music, she is a completely different person, irritated with everyone around her and also her own self”, says kavita.
For the first two years, till Benzy turned four, Kavita, played the role of a music teacher. Later, they searched for a music teacher but did not meet many who believed in the potential of the child. Many told them that they were just wasting time and money. But Kavita was not discouraged. She believed in the potential of her child and had faith in her doctor who said that children like Benzy are like computers with a very sharp memory. She believed that if she continued to provide the input of music, her daughter would one day also respond to give an output. Her search for a music teacher led her to Late Mr. M.M Rafi, who came and sang for baby Benzy everyday. Kavita ensured that baby Benzy was always around to hear when he sang. And so, began, Benzy’s musical journey.
“I have observed that when she sings even two songs properly, she is relaxed throughout the day. But if for some reason she is unable to do that, then her nature becomes completely different and the next two days I have to work really hard to bring Benzy back to normal self” – Kavita Kumar to Times of India.
By the age of seven, Benzy had already given her first stage performance. She even made recordings and her proud parents started sharing her work with significant people in the field. One of India’s most revered Hindustani classical singer, Subha Mudgal, was one of the first to appreciate and encourage Benzy’s talent and nation soon joined in.
Karmayuga Child Ambassador, Benzy, with Karmaveer Puraskar awardee, Kavita Kumar
“Benzy has enriched her life with Indian classical music. My compliments to her parents and guru, who have been encouraging her with great passion to find a special meaning in life”- Subha Mudgal to The Hindu
Benzy loves Bollywood, but everytime they went out to watch a movie, Kavita recollects, Benzy would only sit for 15 minutes and then become restless. However, with the Hrittik Roshan starrer, Kaho na Pyaar Hai, she watched the entire movie in silence. Surprised, Kavita wrote to the actor, sending him a copy of Benzy’s recording. Impressed, Hrittik agreed to meet the truly special girl. “You won’t believe how happy Benzy was after that day”, says Kavita.
Appreciations for Benzy’s songs were not just limited to Subha Mudgal or Hrittik Roshan or Bollywood. Soon the world joined in. She won the National Award Citation by the President of India, National Special award certificate by the then Union Minister and even earned a place in the Limca Book of records. She gave various stage performances including those at the International auditorium Performance/Achievements/Accolades, at Triveni Kala Mandir Auditorium, India International Center for Performance and All India Radio. She was the only artist from India whose work was selected to be featured in the international audio CD titled ‘Songs of the disabled, Underground Vol 3’. She produced an audio cassette named ‘Basic ragas’ in 2002. It was based on the same ragas which at one point of time helped heal her. Benzy’s ragas has also been recognized by the Rehabilitation Council of India, as part of music therapy for special kids. In an interview to Times of India, Praveen Kumar mentioned how Benzy recorded all nine ragas in one go, because she could not understand the concept of takes and retakes. And she did it with ease. Her contribution toward healing and empowering other children with special needs, also earned her the Kids for Change Karmaveer Puraskaar award in 2007. Now a young adult, Benzy has been bestowed the title of best Creative Adult of India, by President Pranab Mukherjee in 2014.
Benzy has been featured in many news and media reports including Times of India, the Hindu, Zee News, Icongo, Punjab Kesri, NTPC News magazine, DD-1 News, Rashtriya Sahara, Karalamban manazine, DD-metro, Voice magazine, Hindustan and so on. But Benzy does not rest at that. She has started a foundation for under privileged children living with autism, called Dhoon, in 2007, with her mother as the founder general secretary. It is an association of young people in the field of art and culture, who are working with special children on some unique methodology. It is an association promoting music for therapy and enrichment. It is an association that aims to search, nurture, develop and promote art and music talent in differently abled children, so as to empower them and make them independent. The association organizes Sangeet Mahutsavs, to launch and showcase their special talents, thereby boosting their confidence.
Karmaveer recipients, Benzy Kumar and Kavita Kumar with Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam at a REX & Ctrls partnered event to launch Benzy’s music CD
We in our country are attempting to play our proud role towards creating more awareness and sensitizing the people by doing a presentation of the nurtured talents. People can acclaim through their self motivating skills and bring forth the upcoming unheard talented artist from different parts of the country by recognizing the hidden and unrealized potential of the hidden talent- Dhoon Foundation.
In addition to Benzy, her mother, Kavita Kumar, has also been instrumental in setting up the foundation. With the success of music therapy for her daughter, Kavita Kumar, has been encouraged to reach out to other Specially abled children and their parents. She has donated her house to start a learning center for special children at Greater Noida and is also attempting to establish a Home for special girls to ensure their shelter and care, after their parents. Her contributions toward improving the life of Special children, has been appreciated by many. She has received many awards including the Zee Astitva Award for Rare Achievement and Yami Award on International Women’s Day (by the Music Today Group) for the best and true dedicated mother of the country. She has also received the Civil Society Karmaveer Puruskaar-Disability, 2011 given by International Confederation of NGOs (iCONGO). Her life has also been presented as a documentary by the International Association of Women in radio and television, to inspire others, by showcasing her uniqueness as a change maker.
Benzy (center) and Kavita Kumar, encouraging Hyder Khan, another child with special abilities to sing along at a music therapy session at Steps Rehabilitation Center (photo- K. Ananthan)
Benzy is special, not because of her neurodevelopmental problems but because of her determination to heal and empower other children who are also differently abled as her. She is special because of her talent. She is special because she makes a difference. She attempts to heal the world with per special healing powers, her music and in her journey, her mother, Kavita Kumar, has been a pillar of support. The mother-daughter duo, are a personification of love, dedication, faith, belief, confidence and courage. They are fighters, unwilling to give in and always ready to find a way out.
“My message to parents who have children living with autism is tha they should not consider autism to be a disease which needs to be cured. They should understand it and give their children the best quality of life. Treat them as the most beautiful and special children. Teach them with love and accept them. Keep the children happy. We have raised Benzy as a princess all her life. When a child is happy, he/she will succeed. Just try and find the one thing that makes your child happy, and help them grow in it”- Kavita Kumar
Images credited to: thehindu.com, jerrylearns2learn.com/713-2/, tennews.in/apeejay-karmayuga/, thebetterindia.com