The accomplished composer and bamboo flautist talks about giving back to the community while living with Hidradenitis Suppurativa.

“It’s called Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS). Yes, that’s how you pronounce it – somewhat. [Laughs] It’s basically a skin condition where your hair follicles go into self-destruction mode. It causes painful lumps in your skin. There’s inflammation and deep layers of cyst.

I’ve had this condition since puberty. In the beginning, I thought it was just acne and a natural part of growing up; but, the boils got bigger and angrier. HS is chronic, progressive and worsens with age; but, it’s supposed to get better when you hit your forties. I’m 29 now.

The doctor prescribed doxycycline, but that impacted my internal system, so I stopped taking the antibiotics. Antimicrobial creams don’t work either. I’m currently on homoeopathy, which is a more traditional form of medicine. I’m not sure if it’ll work, but I do carry hope.

Suffering from HS has affected how I live. I have so many pockmarks and scars on my skin, and I keep thinking about how many more will appear in the future. I make a conscious effort to cover them up, especially when I’m meeting new or important people for work.

It gets very awkward and stressful when the boils randomly burst and start bleeding through my clothes. So now, before I leave home, I’ll wear patches underneath my clothes to soak up any blood. I have no choice; I have to be proactive.

Apart from the physical scars, the battle is largely in the mind. There’s been many sleepless nights. I overthink the future a lot, and I console myself by saying it’s all part of the ageing process. It’s a push and pull. Some days I’m fine and motivated; other days I’m not.

There are two things that can take me away from this back and forth between hope and despair – this constant state of pendulum – and they are music and family. I’m happily married with a daughter who is 16-months-old. I’m close to my sister, parents and in-laws as well.

My family has definitely seen my growth over the years. My condition can be triggered by food, and they’ve played a huge role in controlling my diet. I’ve lost 10kg with their support. They empathise and sympathise, and come for my medical appointments as well.

Beyond family, music has provided a great distraction from my worries. When I play the flute on stage, I’m not the same Niranjan that people know. My personality changes. I’m not great at talking or making conversation, but I can convey much more with the flute.

Music has always been a great source of comfort. As a kid, I was bullied a lot in school for being different. I grew up with a lot of anxiety and insecurities. Discovering music at a young age really helped build my confidence. It helped me discover my identity as well.

Being an artist is who I am, and that’s why it didn’t feel right when I was studying accountancy in university. The Singapore system trains you to work hard, earn money and contribute to the economy. Next thing you know, 30 years of your life just passed you by.

I couldn’t do that. I need to wake up every day and be driven by projects that feed my soul. I need to be part of a community; to be around like-minded individuals. For me, that’s through music. But I’m also more than just a bamboo flautist or composer.

I wear many different hats within the arts, and I’m now working on the second season of a documentary called My Identity – Beyond Artistry. It features individuals who have built their identities through the creative arts, while giving back to the community.

It’s not easy. I’m always preoccupied with proposals, pitch meetings and funding before I can even compose my own music and travel the world to perform. There have been some turbulent times, but at the end of the day, I’m doing it for the next generation.

Why? Well, it’s very difficult for youths, especially those within the local Indian community, to see beyond themselves. I completely understand, because I was one of them too. I grew up not thinking too highly of myself, but I found my confidence and identity through the arts. 

Everyone was born for a reason, and mine is to help the next generation discover themselves through music. Identity is the safeguard against low self-esteem, and everything I’m doing now is to help the youths find their voice.

If I have any advice for the youths out there, it’s to work on who you are as a person. Learn to empathise with yourself before others can empathise with you. It sounds corny, but I discovered this along the way. You’ll meet people along the way who’ll want to support you.

Also find your conviction, and be set on being great at something you’re passionate about, be it music, law or food. Once you’ve mastered that, you can separate yourself from your own limiting self-beliefs, and be more than what you or others thought you could be.”

Interview by Arman Shah

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