King of Melody, Lord of Rhythm: Lydian Nadhaswaram's Musical Journey

Lydian NadhaswaramCredit: Varshan Sathish

 

Prelude

Music lies deep within his bones. It pulses in each of his cells, tingles down his nerves, races through his veins. It shapes his very breath, his heart, his soul, and it chimes and resounds in every syllable of his name.

 

Ebony and Ivory in Mumbai

September 10, 2016 marked Mumbai’s first ever National Piano Day at the Tata Theatre of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, arguably the most prestigious stage in India for an artist. Most performers were veterans but there was a first appearance, a 10-year-old from Chennai (Madras) with the improbable name of Lydian Nadhaswaram. The audience did not know what to expect; some crooked their eyebrows before a note had been played.

And then Lydian’s interpretations of Western classical music made them suck in their breath, and his jazz rendition of the evergreen "Autumn Leaves" (Les Feuilles Mortes) made them sway. He finished to a long, standing ovation.

Journalists covering the event faced a challenge: getting the wunderkind’s name right.

“My name is Lydian Nadhaswaram.”

 

Excerpt from Lydian Nadhaswaram’s recital at Mumbai Piano Day: "Autumn Leaves" (jazz version); Beethoven’s "Moonlight Sonata," Third Movement; Rimsky-Korsakov’s "The Flight of the Bumblebee."
 

A Highly Unusual Name

Music, like literature, was initially transmitted orally down the generations. The documentation of music in the West occurred in ancient Greece, where music was classified into seven modes. One was the Lydian Mode, so called because it originated from the empire of Lydia (contemporary western Turkey).

Greek philosophers held that music affected ethos, one’s ethical character or way of life. Plato objected to the Lydian Mode because it evoked intimacy (which bred weaklings) and Plato wanted strong and courageous leaders. Some musicologists say that nationalism, not Plato, suppressed the Lydian Mode in Western music. For crying out loud, it was birthed in Lydia, unlike the Dorian, the Ionian, and other modes which Mother Greece dandled on her lap.

 

 

The Lydian Mode demonstrated on a Celtic harp

 

But music is universal; no culture can monopolize it. The Lydian Mode independently developed in Carnatic music, the classical music system of southern India, where it is known as Kalyani raga. Indians also believed that music influenced ethos. Intimacy, joy, separation, melancholy were part of life; music had to express them all. Carnatic maestros such as Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar, and Syama Sastri used Kalyani raga extensively in their compositions.

Varshan Sathish, a Chennai musician, adored Kalyani. When he and his wife Jhansi were blessed with a son, they wished to name him after this melodic scale. Kalyani is a feminine term, so they picked its Western equivalent, Lydian. To this was added a second name, Nadhaswaram. The nadhaswaram is a South Indian wind instrument considered so auspicious it is used in temple ceremonies and at weddings. The etymology attracted Varshan: ‘swaram’ means a music note, ‘nadham,’ the feeling aroused by listening to it. Varshan and Jhansi could not have guessed how prophetic their choice of name would turn out to be.

    

Drums and Destiny

Varshan would sing to Lydian while rocking him in the cradle. The baby could not articulate the words but hummed to perfection the tunes he heard, knowing when to start and end, how to modulate the rising and falling rhythms. Then at a house party, Lydian astonished everybody by playing a beat on the floor with a couple of xylophone sticks. It wasn’t the random, petulant banging of a child; it was a steady tempo, what drummers call a 3/4 pattern. Lydian was only 23 months young. His dumbfounded father quickly converted a cardboard box into a makeshift drum and recorded Lydian’s feat.

 

Lydian Nadhaswaram’s musical journey officially begins at the age of 23 months

 

The next day Varshan bought a Rototoms set (drums tuned by rotating) which Lydian immensely enjoyed because of the various pitches they generated. Then Lydian displayed even more wonders on a kid’s drum kit – for instance, playing a cross-beat just by hearing a recorded one. This motivated Varshan to buy a full, standard-size drum kit for his two-year-old while others shook their heads and called it a folly. But Varshan’s faith in his son was justified when, in seemingly no time, Lydian belted out distinctive patterns though he could barely reach all the drums and cymbals.

Varshan taught Lydian a few beats, then songs from Indian movies that were heavy on percussion. At about age 4, Lydian became a student of the drummer and music educator, Maynard Grant. He would leave for the music school at 7.00 am, sometimes only returning home at 9.00 pm. He had lunch with Grant and breaks where they drank tea and Horlicks and chatted. Whenever they could, they would do something different, like visiting the museum. Grant guided Lydian to keep time with the basic drum patterns. From these unassuming beginnings, Lydian moved on to the Double Stroke and other drum rudiments, building up speed and complexity, and then mastering a variety of genres including three that he loves: Bossa Nova (adaptable to jazz), Songo, and Twist.

 

Lydian, on a full-size drum set with pedals, at approximately age 3 years.

 

Lydian’s sister Amirtha Varshini (henceforth referred to as Varshini) was learning the piano, and he now accompanied her on the drums. By the time he was eight, Lydian had drummed in something like 600 gigs led by his father, who usually played the keyboard and sang for these stage shows. Varshini was also part of the ensemble – Chennai’s homegrown edition of the Trapp Family Singers who entertained at public and private events. Each performance honed Lydian’s command over beat (the steady pulse in the tune, akin to a clock’s tick) and rhythm (the actual sound of the notes) – and helped in intangible ways. Stage-fright? Lydian is clueless as to what that might be. He admires Neil Armstrong’s fearlessness (a quality Armstrong was known for) that enabled him to step on the moon.

It was tough to remember the names of the various beats so Lydian coined his own, such as Booboodupadai. He knows their actual designations now, of course, but fondly remembers the nomenclature he devised during his pre-school years. He learned to balance time through sound (notes) and silence (rests), to measure music through semibreves, minims, crotchets, quavers, semiquavers, demisemiquavers, and hemidemisemiquavers.

As his drumming skills attracted attention, he was featured by POGO (Turner International India’s television division) in 2013 as the best and fastest child drummer in India. In February 2017, he performed a drum solo at Mumbai’s National Drums Day. Audiences tend to lose interest in drum solos after a couple of minutes but Lydian provided enough variation to retain their attention for a full 11. For such solos, Lydian starts with one pattern, then from his repertory pulls up a second pattern that matches the previous one, and then a third and so on, making each pattern segue from the one before it.

 

Artistry in percussion: Lydian’s drum solo, National Drums Day, Mumbai, 2017

 

At 8, Lydian started playing a variety of Indian percussion instruments – particularly, the tabla and the mridangam – and learned the percussion patterns of Carnatic music not only by playing instruments but also through a system called Konnakol where different percussion sounds are spoken aloud. Besides Carnatic percussion, he learned other Indian beats. He could now easily switch between Rock and Bhangra, play Indian beats on Western drum sets, and maintain two time signatures simultaneously.

And thus, when Lydian turned to the piano, he was more than prepared. He would stun everybody by playing Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt within a few months.

 

The Piano’s Siren Call

Watching his father on the keyboard at their gigs, an intrigued Lydian wanted to play it. Varshan taught him a few exercises which Lydian performed with alacrity. His sister at that time was a piano student; Lydian would listen to her, then play each piece. He discovered that he could learn through hearing and instinct, without sheet music. He wasn’t even aware of the terms for the keys: which was C or F or A, and what a sharp or a flat was.

Then his father showed him a YouTube video of the Hong Kong piano prodigy Tsung Tsung. It proved momentous. Lydian thought: If he can play the piano so well at so young an age, can’t I?  And his romance with the piano began. Within a few months he could perform a variety of complex pieces such as Beethoven’s "Moonlight Sonata" and Chopin’s "Grande Valse Brillante," learning them by ear. He was only nine.

He enrolled for piano lessons under two teachers: Augustine Paul, a veteran music educator and Music Director of the 124-year-old Madras Musical Association of Chennai; and Surojeet Chatterji, who uses Russian piano pedagogy, choreographing the score into a ballet for the keyboard.

“Lydian’s head is full of musical knowledge,” Paul elaborated. “It’s very difficult to impart certain things to students but he has imbibed those by himself. He doesn’t need instruction on how to do it – he has figured it himself. The sheet music is in front of us. We see the same notes. The tune is the same. But the way you play it makes the difference. A child will play it flat, without any color. But the shape of Lydian’s phrases are not of his age. The way he interprets a piece is much above what a child of ten can do. He is able to feel it. And it comes to him naturally.”

And Chatterji says: “He can play something just two or three times and then right away he can present it in a concert. That’s how fit he is, mentally, emotionally, and physically. He has deft fingers and plays with incredible accuracy. As little as he is – he is just ten – his strength at the piano, the sound that he produces, is quite phenomenal.”

 

Piano Sonata in G Major (K 283), third movement (Presto). Mozart composed it at age 18, Lydian plays it at age 10.

 

While Lydian loves to play Mozart, Beethoven, and Liszt, the composer for whom he has the greatest affinity is Chopin. “Chopin is such a soulful composer,” Lydian told me, an earnest expression etched on his face. The remark reminded me of a bitter sentence Chopin wrote in a letter to his confidant Tytus Wojciechowski: “I tell my piano the things I used to tell you.”

In The Chopin Companion, Arthur Hedley writes that the craving for perfection dominated Chopin’s life. “And when, in love and friendship, his exacting demands could not be met, in an imperfect world among imperfect people, Chopin would retreat, disillusioned, into himself and let his music receive what he had failed to give away.” In short, when people lied to, betrayed, or let Chopin down, he turned to his piano in his darkest hours and poured out his soul into his compositions. On some sublime level, Lydian senses this without knowing a thing about Chopin’s life – “Chopin is such a soulful composer.”

 

Music from the soul in the dark of night: Chopin’s ‘Fantaisie Impromptu’

 

Chopin devised his unique musical language by composing intuitively and his instincts, rather than the established “rules” of music, governed his revisions. Lydian has intuition and instinct too. In "Fantaisie Impromptu," Chopin uses polyrhythms: the right hand plays quadruplets, the left hand triplets – that is, the hands play against each other rather than together. This confuses many musicians, who take months to master the craft, Paul explained, but Lydian, without being taught, “got it.” Also, the tempo of the piece constantly changes: allegro agitato, largo, moderato cantabile, (and depending on the arrangement, either presto or back to allegro agitato) but Lydian’s sense of rhythm is exemplary. All those long years of drumming on Western and Indian percussion instruments are yielding dividends – they make Lydian scintillate on the piano (which, Paul commented, is but a stringed percussion instrument).

Lydian has begun exploring jazz on the piano, inspired by Indian jazz pianist Louiz Banks (who he has met in person) and by the late Canadian jazz mogul, Oscar Peterson (nicknamed by Duke Ellington as the “Maharaja of the Keyboard”). A traditional concert pianist he admires is Lang Lang. Among Indian composers, Ilaiyaraja is a favorite; another composer whose music he plays is AR Rahman. And the piano he loves most is the Steinway Grand. Though he plays on an upright now, the Novogratz family of New York, impressed with Lydian, are generously gifting him a Steinway.

 

A Tale of Six Musicians

Lydian’s sterling drumming accomplishments evoke inevitable comparisons to Tony Royster Jr. But when it comes to the piano, his life thus far has uncanny parallels to another child prodigy who lived two and a half centuries ago: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

 

Mozart had an older sister who was a musician par excellence; so does Lydian.

 

Wolfgang’s sister Maria Anna (better known by her nickname, Nannerl) was four years older than him; Varshini and Lydian are three years apart. Wolfgang and Nannerl were very close, inventing a secret language and the imaginary kingdom of Back which they ruled. Likewise, Lydian and Varshini are also very close. Not only do they work together as musicians but enact skits that they write themselves, go for a walk or jog in the local park, or play games--real and invented.

Varshini says of Lydian: “He’s my great supporter. The times when I felt hopeless, he was always there for me, coaxing me, ‘Come on, try again, you can do it.’ He inspires me a lot.” Lydian on Varshini:  “She guides me in so many ways. Like when I’m playing, she’ll correct me and say ‘That should be staccato’ if I play those notes legato.” Both affirm they are blessed to have each other. There are times when they lock horns as siblings do, but their umbrage never lasts for over a half-hour, if at all. Then they are the best of friends again.

As a performer Nannerl was first class, but her public appearances stopped at 18. A girl could perform in Europe those days but a woman risked her reputation by doing so. None of Nannerl’s compositions have survived; she eventually married, was forced to give up her music career for domesticity and hardly saw Wolfgang. But Varshini is set on becoming a composer and a conductor of a symphony orchestra, and continue her musical association with Lydian.

 

Mozart played multiple musical instruments; so does Lydian.

 

It is said that Mozart played all the principal instruments of his day except for the harp (though there is a harp section in one of his concertos, "K 299"). The drums and the piano are Lydian’s favorites but he is also proficient on the tabla, the mridangam, and adept at the guitar, the chromatic harmonica, the melodica, and the darbuka. He is learning other instruments: the violin, the ukulele, the marimba, and some used in Indian folk music such as the kanjira, the thappatai, and the morsing. Besides, he likes to sing; the human vocal cords, he reminded me, are by themselves a fine musical instrument. That adds up to 15. Whenever he gets his hands on a new instrument, be it the harp or the harmonium, he tries to coax out its musical secrets. Varshan once “invented” an instrument for Lydian, strapping rubber bands around parts of a chair; Lydian cut loose strumming it.

Mozart often played in concerts of his compositions, leading the orchestra usually from the piano but sometimes using the viola or the violin. He was supremely confident in playing three instruments to concert standard before the largest audiences of his time. Lydian has the gumption to match such feats. For example, in this video, he recorded himself playing the theme music of the Tamil movie "Mouna Ragam" (composed by Ilaiyaraja) on the piano, and then superimposed guitar rhythms on it, essentially playing a duet with himself.

 

Innovation by a master of many instruments

 

Mozart had the rare ability of Perfect Pitch; so does Lydian.

 

Perfect Pitch is an extremely rare auditory phenomenon. Simply expressed, it is the ability to identify any given musical note or chord without the benefit of a reference note or tone. We know Mozart had it because he demonstrated it in public. Beethoven almost certainly had it, judging by his letters and journal entries. Our knowledge of other European composers – for instance, Bach – is sketchy enough that we cannot say one way or the other whether they had it.

 

Perfect Pitch

 

Many with this ability can identify the principal notes, but Lydian’s capacity extends to the level of harmonics – he correctly identifies sharps, flats, even diminished or augmented chords. This, combined with a remarkable musical memory (he can memorize long sequences of notes) enables him to rapidly learn the most complex music compositions. Paul commented that musicians usually take two to three months to learn what Lydian learns in a week or two by ear, decoding the notes with his perfect pitch and internalizing them through his musical memory.

 

Mozart could play the piano blindfolded; so can Lydian.

 

Mozart’s playing the piano blindfolded was a stunt. The Mozarts toured Europe extensively when Wolfgang was a boy, and were received by royalty and nobility. The cherubic prodigy performing blindfolded invariably drew admiring cheers from monarchs and commoners alike.

Lydian’s foray into blindfolded recitals was serendipitous. He was clowning around with Varshini one day when she wrapped a towel around his face and challenged him to play “The Mad Professor” (a simple piece for beginner piano students). To her – and everybody else’s – shock, Lydian played, not “The Mad Professor” but Rimsky-Korsakov’s intricately complex “The Flight of the Bumble Bee.” His spatial awareness was astounding.

Since then, Lydian has occasionally donned the blindfold. Sometimes it is to showcase his talent, especially onstage before an audience. But he also uses the blindfold to test whether he has mastered a piece, whether he can play it without any visual aid whatsoever.

 

Beyond awesome: Liszt’s demanding “La Campanella” played while blindfolded
 

 

The Mozart siblings were home-schooled; so are Lydian and his sister.

 

Wolfgang and Nannerl did not go to school. When Leopold Mozart realized both his children were musically gifted, he taught them their lessons (reading, writing, mathematics) as well as music at home. Lydian and Varshini went to school for a few years; then their parents decided to home-school them. It was a daunting decision.

“We mulled it over long and hard, as children’s education is so important,” Jhansi said. “But our children were in school all day, and their evenings were consumed by the copious homework which schools load onto their students. They had no time for music. We couldn’t bear to witness their talent wither away. We pulled Lydian out of school first. The way his music took off, rocket-like – it was dramatic. Then we got Varshini out. Our relatives and friends were aghast, and it was futile to explain. We hope someday when they note our kids’ achievements, they’ll understand why we did what we did. But the principal of the school was supportive: ‘Most parents want their children to be doctors or engineers but that doesn’t happen. The majority end up in drudge jobs. You decided to home-school your children only after carefully assessing their talent and understanding their needs. We’ll back you up any way we can.’ And they have done just that. Whenever we wanted something, such as a letter of support or recommendation, they provided it.”

When Varshan was a boy, his family neither understood nor wholeheartedly supported his yearning for a music career. Only after turning 18 was he able to seriously pursue music. He was determined that his children should not end up the same way but get an early start.

    

Mozart and Lydian started composing original music from a young age.

 

By the time Mozart was five, he was improvising as he played, and produced his first composition. Lydian started composing from about a year ago but Varshan resists pushing him too hard in this direction. He would rather that Lydian first expand his repertoire and gain a better command of the vistas of music so that when he produces original music, he will have a deeper wellspring to draw upon than the average musician, find his voice and create melodies that tug at the heartstrings. Original composers are more than the sum of their influences; they speak in musical tongues not heard before.

Varshini started composing at 12. According to Varshan, her distinct views on music composition set her apart from others. Before they compose, the two siblings brainstorm intensively and then work on their pieces by themselves. Sometimes they collaborate on a joint composition. The video below is not their original work but offers a glimpse of the interplay between brother and sister. When Anton Diabelli composed his "Sonatina in F Major" amid the Austrian snows, he could not have imagined that one day two children in a hot, humid corner of the world would play it with the piano accompanied by – of all instruments – a darbuka (India’s goblet-shaped drum), not to mention a little pink rattler ball.

Like many creative artists, they often work late into the night. When the rest of India is fast asleep, Lydian and Varshini are busy whisking up new dreams for them.

 

 An unusual combination of instruments by unusual siblings

 

Both Mozart and Lydian had musician fathers who sacrificed for their children.

 

In his book Mozart: A Life, biographer Paul Johnson writes: “We have been taught to see Leopold Mozart as a bossy, over-possessive and tyrannical figure, eager to control every aspect of his son’s life down to the smallest detail. There is something to this, but in many ways he was an admirable father, who sacrificed his own promising career as a performer and a composer entirely in order to promote his son’s and who behaved in many ways with heroic unselfishness….he surrendered his own future as a musician for their (his children’s) sake, and their progress justified his sacrifice.”

Varshan told me in a matter-of-fact voice: “To get something in life, you have to give up something. I should be at least three or four levels above where I am now (as a music director in the Tamil film industry). Partly, this hasn’t happened because I’m not chasing opportunities. I use that time to bring up my children.” He emphasizes that beside their musical development, he tries hard to instill in them the right attitude to tackle life.

There is endless speculation whether Mozart could have become the composer he was without his father’s help. Likewise, could Lydian have progressed so much if he had been born into a family that lacked any musical appreciation whatsoever? The considerable influence that Leopold and Varshan have had on their children is hard to quantify.

The numerous accounts of tension and ill-will between Leopold and Wolfgang are based on the father trying to prevent the son from being his own musician, to control his son even in adulthood. In this respect, Varshan is less Leopold and more JS Bach. Bach’s composer-musician son Carl Philipp Emanuel’s style was more improvisational and personal than his father's; he certainly wasn’t emulating Dad. A colossus like Bach could have blown up at this, but Bach knew that the world – and music – was changing. The Baroque era was transiting into the Classical era, and Carl would make a mark if he was a gifted practitioner of the new musical form whilst it was in its infancy. So Bach encouraged his son to forge ahead. If Lydian wants to delve into jazz or other genres, Varshan encourages rather than obstructs.

Chess, athletics, mathematics, and other fields produce prodigies but music prodigies outnumber them. Not every prodigy’s childhood promise blossoms in their adulthood. Much revolves around how they were nurtured. In his book Musical Prodigies Claude Kenneson writes: “Nurturing a prodigy is a team effort. The protagonists include family and friends, teachers of all sorts, and patrons and concert managers in various guises…The family remains the supporting base of the team, since both teachers and managers are relatively transitory characters in this unfolding drama.” Lydian has a loving, supportive family: a musician father and sister, and a mother who drives him to all his music classes besides creating a good home and being there for him. And Varshan is father and teacher, Lydian’s staunch supporter as well as his fiercest critic (one who doesn’t mince his words), disciplinarian and cheerleader rolled into one.

 

The Lydian Smile

A characteristic feature of a Lydian Nadhaswaram performance is a sweet smile at the end. So much so that admirers who follow his musical journey often await it with almost as much anticipation as they do his music. A sample of comments:

“What an extraordinary child. And his disarming smiles at the end of his performances make him so endearing, even beyond his genius.”

“…a warm smile that communicates a childlike joy in music and a complete absence of arrogance.”

“His smile is the most melt-your-heart smile I've ever seen.”

“What amazes me is after all the incredible exertion he puts out, at the end he smiles at the camera and looks as cool as a cucumber!”

And about the occasional smile he flashes in mid-performance:

“I love it when he looks at the camera and smiles while his hands are going crazy!”  

 

J.S Bach’s ‘Minuet in G Major’ on the chromatic harmonica, ending with the signature Lydian Smile.

 

I recollected how particular habits of a composer often stuck in our memory. Liszt would grind his teeth when excited at the piano and ran through sets of dentures. Beethoven made a daily circuit of Vienna on foot after dinner, however sweltering or wet or freezing the day was, composing as he strode. Handel had a lusty appetite – it is said that he normally would order a meal for two; when hungry, for five. Might the Lydian Smile someday also fit into such a “memorable” category? I wondered.

I asked Lydian why he smiled after a recital.

“I don’t know,” he said, charming me with the selfsame smile. “It comes naturally.” He thought awhile and added, “Daddy always tells me that I should play without a single mistake, no matter how tough the piece. So whenever I do that, I feel really happy and smile.” A comment from a Facebook viewer was more direct: “He knows he’s hit it out of the park.”

I followed up asking if he has the audience in mind during a live performance.

“Not while I’m playing,” Lydian said, adding that he often mentally connects with the composer during that time: You composed this lovely piece. I hope I can do justice bringing it to life now. He becomes conscious of the audience at the end, when it applauds. “Then I feel glad they enjoyed the piece.”

 

Further Explorations in Music

Lydian is friendly and personable. He knows how to relate to adults as well as to his peer group. If you met him without knowing anything about him, he would come across as the most adorable kid in the neighborhood; you would be none the wiser about his musical abilities. He can debate the merits of a Lamborghini versus a Bugatti, get worked up discussing the emotions evoked by The Lion King, or split his sides watching the British comedy show Mr. Bean.

But as a musician, Lydian pushes the envelope. Liszt attracts him not only for the music (he delights in the bell-like sounds incorporated into "La Campanella," which, in Italian, means "The Little Bell,”) but also for the technical challenges "La Campanella" and other Liszt pieces like "Scherzo und Marsch" and "Hungarian Rhapsody No.2" present. Commenting on Lydian’s rapid progress, Paul said that as a student Lydian at first paid no attention to any instrument save the piano. He now follows orchestral classical music, and can identify members of the woodwinds family, the brass family – he knows the sounds of other instruments and delights in the intricacies of the concerto, the interweaving melodies of the symphony, the music of the spheres.

And Lydian constantly seeks to expand his knowledge. Paul’s students hail from a wide range: musicians interested in composing, singers wanting to learn theory. Paul says, “When all of us discuss something, Lydian contributes to it. He follows what the conversation is about.”

Then there’s Eric Thiman’s "Flood Time"; Lydian first played it at a tempo of 180 beats per minute (bpm). Varshan asked him to play at 190 and observe how the music changed. Musicians sweat when they approach 200 bpm, but Lydian raised the bar until he hit an unbelievable 252 bmp. Speed changes the interpretation. At 144 bpm (the pace suggested by Thiman), a somber mood associated with slow-flowing water is evoked. At 252, it is more like a tropical cyclone where wind and rain pummel the earth in fury.

 

Cyclone Lydian strikes! “Flood Time” at a staggering 252 bpm

 

Indeed, weeks after Lydian played this, his hometown Chennai was whiplashed by two cyclones a day apart, resulting in its worst flooding in a century!

Under Paul’s guidance, Lydian passed his Grade 5 examination in piano conducted by Trinity College, London, in 2015 (skipping Grades 1 to 4). In 2016, he aced his Grade 8 exam earning the Advanced Certificate in piano with Distinction. Candidates for this exam are usually of college age or older, Paul said, highlighting Lydian’s achievement. Indeed, Lydian also stood first in India, sweeping multiple awards: the Cicely Goschen Shield, the Amy De Rozario Cup, the P.P. John Memorial Prize, and the Rajagopal Menon Prize.

As Lydian’s talent gained attention, he was invited to shows such as those conducted by TEDxGateway and TED, both in Mumbai (the latter hosted by actor Shah Rukh Khan), and two appearances in the United States on NBC’s Spanish language television show Siempre Niños hosted by veteran anchor Don Francisco (Mario Kreutzberger). Besides presenting his talent to new audiences, such occasions helped Lydian gain confidence playing for international viewers.

After a performance at a private event in Bangalore, Lydian was taken aback when gushing admirers requested autographs. “I just wrote my name,” he said, somewhat abashed. Since then, he has devised a signature. He has always displayed showmanship, some of it picked from Michael Jackson, one of his favorite pop singers. As Chatterji says: “…the way he [Lydian] enters the stage, the way he departs from the stage, that’s all part of his charm.”

These kinds of growth experiences, including learning to handle exposure and performance and (eventually, if it comes) fame, are essential to the development of an artist, even a genius. Lydian’s future holds the promise of many such adventures, and he is still young enough for this to be exhilarating.

 

Coda

“Lydian, you play multiple instruments. Are there any you can’t play but would like to?” Curiosity had the better of me.

“The harp,” he replied. “The world’s sweetest instrument. Its tone is so nice, so sweet.”

“Anything else?”

“Oh, yes.” His eyes sparkled like fireworks. “Someday I’d love to play the nadhaswaram.”

 

Vishwas R. Gaitonde is a writer whose work has been published or is forthcoming in The Iowa Review, Mid-American Review, Hawaii Review, Verbatim - The Language Quarterly, Santa Monica Review, Gargoyle, and Bellevue Literary Review, among other publications. One of his short stories was cited as a "Distinguished Story" in the notable stories list in Best American Short Stories 2016. In 2017, he was awarded a Hawthornden literary fellowship from Scotland. You can find him on Twitter at: @weareji