Meet Pranav Bakhshi, India’s First Male Model with Autism
A graphic design student and model, obsessed with music and fitness, Pranav also has autism. Watch his story.
Camera Persons: Shivkumar Maurya, Mukul Bhandari
Editor: Puneet Bhatia
(On International Day of Disabled Persons 2019, FIT is reposting stories of exceptional people who are making a mark despite their disabilities)
A 19-year-old graphic design student and model, obsessed with music and fitness.
Also, he has autism.
India’s First Male Model with Autism
When he was younger, Pranav would pass by billboards peppered with faces of models and stars, all the while he dreamed of one day being there himself.
Pranav’s mother, Anupama Bakhshi, tells FIT,
He wants a career which requires social exposure, and autism comes with challenges in social interactions. But he has fought these challenges head on, bravely at each step.
Autism is a developmental disorder that exists on a spectrum. People with autism vary greatly depending on their position on the spectrum, from high to low functioning, and have different levels of dependence.
It is characterized mainly by challenges, with social, communication skills and repetitive behaviors.
People with autism also tend to be more obsessive, and “we use his obsessions positively,” says Anupama.
They can be channeled positively, like with his single-minded focus on modelling.
His Instagram has been blowing up with everyone enamored by the “fresh faced” boy.
Autism, Anxiety and Journaling
I wondered how a young man with autism could handle the loud noises, crowds and social demands of the job. When I asked him, Pranav said that he models because he “loves it and will be a model forever.” He did add though that he gets nervous before the ramp walk.
“I get anxiety, I feel hassled and hyper.”
Anxiety is one of the physical manifestations of autism. Like neutrotypical people, journaling, deep breathing and music therapy helps.
I write my anxieties in my anxiety journal. Before a ramp walk, I take a deep breath and calm down.
“We all have anxieties,” adds Anupama. “We can’t end it at saying okay, people with autism get anxiety. We have to deal with this. With Pranav, writing his anxieties down, deep breathing and telling himself that, ‘I need to be calm’ helps.”
Lights, Camera, Flashback!
While talking to Pranav, I noticed that in his unique way, he would mention the word flashback while talking to me.
“In flashback 2008, I went to Dubai.” “In flashback 2007, I ripped my sister’s Barbie.”
Earlier Pranav struggled to understand and communicate his memories, until he learnt of the term ‘flashback’ to talk about his past.
His flashbacks are a very important part of his life. Like his favourite Marvel characters go back and forth in time, so can he to talk about his memories.
And like that, the term flashback opened up the floodgates of his memories.
His mother told us how he used to keep his amazing memory hidden as he didn’t have the tools to express himself and once he learned of the tangible term flashback – out tumbled years and years of precise memories in a gush.
“He knew the exact dates and even days. He even knew the room number we stayed in during a vacation we took when Pranav was much younger.”
Pranav tells me things in precise ways –my sister is coming on 12 July, Sunday 2019 or “this song is In My Feelings by Drake released in 2018, it’s an old melody.”
His father told me that Pranav apparently also has memories from way younger, even from his birth, which his parents tell me was quite traumatic.
He kept these all inside until he learnt of flashbacks.
Similarly he had another tool to express his thoughts called a thinking cloud. Like how in a comic, every character has their own thought bubbles, you have your individual thoughts, Pranav’s mom taught him.
“This was important otherwise communication is restricted to basic needs. What about your thoughts and wants and desires?” said Anupama.
Clearly, people with autism can benefit greatly by someone who understands their needs and empowers them with the right tools to bridge any communication gaps.
‘Head-Banging is Calming’
Music is an omnipresent, all-encompassing presence in Pranav’s world.
Music has a calming effect on Pranav. It started as a coping mechanism but has evolved to be an integral part of his life.Anupama Bakhshi
People with autism often cannot handle excessive sounds and find it overwhelming, but Pranav found expression and a creative outlet in music. When I visited his house, there was always tunes floating around the space, and Pranav’s head-bobbing to accompany it.
This goes to negate some of my preconceived notions about autism, and reinforces that this developmental disorder affects each individual uniquely.
Even though we may have had to change our schedule to accommodate his love of music, I support it wholeheartedly.Anupama Bakhshi
Pranav’s life does really revolve around music, and since he was a child, he would instinctively head-bang along to any interesting music he heard anywhere – be it at home, in lifts and in the mall too.
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