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Discovery of India

Delegates at the SPIC MACAY National Convention tell Nita Sathyendranthat they are revelling in the rhythms of India

Photo: S. Mahinsha

Broadening horizons Delegates learn the basics of Prahlad Natak

The enthusiasm with which the 650-plus delegates from across the country participate in the ongoing National Convention of the Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture amongst the Youth (SPIC MACAY) at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Patt om, contradicts claims that young Indians these days are not in tune with the rhythms of Indian culture or its classical/folk heritage. Sure enough they are dressed casual in jeans and T’s and have Ipods peeking out of their pockets, but their erudite conversations about the traditions and the culture of the land and how avidly they imbibe every word of wisdom from maestros who have come to teach them, is something seen to be believed.

Changing perceptions

“Indian art forms are like an agarbati, soothing, pleasurable and all pervading. Western music and dance are like firecrackers that excite for a while but quickly fade,” say Sandeep Chauhan from Dehradun and his friends Anshul Joshi and Saksham Papreja from Panipat, school students, attending their first SPIC MACAY convention.

“Its not as if we do not enjoy hip hop and Iron Maiden, we do. But there is something magical about Indian music and dance,” add the trio as they launch into an impromptu aalap of raga Behag.

Prithweesh Khandwi from Dehradun, who has been coming to conventions since 1991 adds: “Your whole perception about India changes. At the most you would have known about the traditions in your own State. Once here you realise that the real wealth of India lies in its diversity, its art forms and traditions.”

And this new-found respect is exactly what SPIC MACAY and its founder, IIT-Delhi professor, Kiran Seth, has been trying to promote since it began introducing young Indians to various aspects of Indian culture back in 1977. Throughout the year the organisation takes top Indian artistes to academic institutions across the country and organises inter-cultural dialogues on a regular basis. At the national convention, however, members from the 300 chapters of SPIC MACAY nationwide gather for five days of roughing-it-out cultural bliss. Delegates appear to thrive in the down-to-earth way of life insisted upon by Dr. Seth. This includes sleeping on mattresses, 20 to a dorm room (the women are housed at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Pangode) and eating simple food.

As 13-year-old Gargi Joshi from Jaipur puts it, “Here all of us are equals. We are here for the experience, so sleeping and food are our last priorities. Although I must say, the monsoon has been so amazing.”

Her new-found buddy Anenta Gaur from Delhi adds: “It has been an incredible experience. I have made friends with a lot of people who share my interest in Indian culture.”

But it’s not all fun and play for the delegates. Each day starts at 4 a.m. with yoga and meditation under the guidance of the yoga acharyas of Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari. Three hours of intensive yoga later, it’s off to lectures by stalwarts such as Kavalam Narayana Panicker (who gave insights into the folklore of Kerala), social activist Aruna Roy and artist Anjolie Ela Menon. ‘Intensives’ or workshops follow. Here the delegates can sign up for one of the 14 workshops taught by legends such as Kathakali maestro Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan- the 101-year old Hindustani vocalist, Dhrupad maestro Ustad Fahimuddin Dagar, flautist Pandit Ronu Majumdar, Kathak maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj and Carnatic vocalist T.V. Sankaranarayanan, to name a few. Classes on Pattachitra/Patwa painting, Kalamkari art, Prahlad Natak dance from Orissa, tabla, rudra veena, are also in the offing. Today, on the penultimate day of the convention, delegates have to give performances on what they learnt at the intensives.

Extraordinary classes

“Studying under such venerable gurus is quite extraordinary to say the least,” says college student Shraddha Mohan from the Chennai chapter. G. Selva Ganapathy from Madurai chips in: “It’s a great opportunity for us because we in the South rarely get to learn things such as Hindustani vocals, Dhrupad, or even Kalamkari from the true masters. Mostly we have to wait until the Chennai music season to even hear one of them, let alone learn.”

It is the same feeling echoed by Srinath from Chandigarh who has enrolled for Kathakali and Surpreeth from Delhi who is learning Prahlad Natak under Krushna Chandra Sahu. Both agree that they would have never thought to see art forms such as Koodiyattam and Karagattam had it not been for SPIC MACAY. In the afternoons there are screenings and talks on classic films such as ‘Elipatthayam’ with the filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan himself leading the discussions. The evenings are filled with performances by artistes such as Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, N. Ramani and Kapila Venu. “One of the best performances was Ottanthullal. It was hilarious,” reminisces Sandeep Chauhan and Co. “We did not understand what he was saying but he put in a few English words and cracked us all up with his expressions. Shows one that art truly is universal, isn’t it?"


SPIC MACAY strives to promote awareness of India’s cultural heritage amongst the youth, through focus on the classical arts. “Coordinating the National Convention is a Herculean task,” says Dr. Kiran Seth. “Integrating people of different cultures, psychologies, languages, backgrounds and of different social strata, all into one cohesive unit is not without its challenges. But for us, the organisers, crossing each hurdle is a discovery of who we are. The challenge often turns out to be a reward,” he adds.

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