Song of Surrender

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Taking heritage to the young

By Sarvalaghu

SPIC MACAY, in the words of Ramachandra Guha, has a wordy name embodying a weighty ambition. It stands for Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture amongst Youth. It has touched the lives of at least two generations of students in our schools and colleges. Whether it has achieved its ambition to any significant degree is another matter. Its founder Kiran Seth is not very upbeat on this and has been quoted saying:  “We are fighting a losing battle, but we cannot give up”.

Kiran Seth, an alumnus of IIT Delhi who later taught there, founded it in 1977. He was spurred on to this mission by his shocking discovery on foreign shores of the grandeur and beauty of Indian classical music--shocking because he would have remained unaware of this but for a chance and casual “dropping by” at a dhrupad concert on an evening with nothing else to do.

Deciding to work toward exposing the young of India to the best in our classical music and other aspects of Indian culture, he founded SPIC MACAY. It is in schools and colleges that young people are a captive audience and so SPIC MACAY’s chapters were opened in various schools and colleges and universities across India. SPIC MACAY seeks to expose school and college students to the richness of the Indian heritage by getting topnotch performers to interact with them through performances, talks, workshops and seminars.

It is run by volunteers, especially student volunteers, who take care of the various aspects of the logistics of having the country’s top performers perform such as booking the artistes, arranging for the funding, travel arrangements, hospitality, publicity, stage arrangements, sound and press. For some reason the Tamil Nadu chapter did not have a steady feed of such volunteers and for a good three and a half years, in the words of Dr. Bhaskar Ramamurthy, Director, IITM,“SPIC MACAY has been conspicuous by its absence”. Just recently however, the Tamil Nadu chapter of SPIC MACAY came back with a bang. Santoor maestro Shivkumar Sharma with Ramkumar Mishra on the tabla, engaged a young, bubbly crowd in the large Student’s Activity Centre at IIT Madras.

The santoor is synonymous with this man and when we hear him play it we know why.  When we hear anyone else play it we suspect that it might possibly remain so since nobody comes anywhere near his virtuosity. Vachaspati was the raga of the evening and this was followed by Misra Pahadi. Shivkumar Sharma is highly regarded not only for his virtuosity over the instrument but also his adherence to raga grammar. He is also a highly cultured man from all accounts. “Please don’t take offence at my stopping you from applauding in the middle of my exposition. I just think that when I am performing alap, applause in the middle is disruptive and defeats the purpose, which is to attain an inwardness.  Sure, when I am playing taans or the drut piece, if you cannot control your excitement, you may clap.”

The question that comes to the mind is why after a deep, meditative alap do we have a quickening of the exposition through jod-jhala and finally the sometimes noisy gat rendition with its tihais and sawal jawabs?

Sharma spoke about raga alap as meditative and capable of evoking a mood. I determinedly let go my trained ear and mind (which would unstoppably spell the notes that are being played) to just let the music soak in, to feel the mood – it was a happy mood, maybe gentle rains and a contented evening.  I asked a young school girl sitting next to me – what mood did it evoke-happy or sad? Happy, she said, happily. Some adults I asked frowned at my question and said they did not feel anything specific. “For me, Vachaspati means Paratpara sung by DKP” guffawed Dr. Bhaskar Ramamurthy when I asked him.

So what is this with raga-s and moods? All musicians claim that ragas evoke moods; in fact, the word raga means colour and emotion. There have been surveys and experiments conducted to determine whether there is any element of objectivity in such associations. Not surprisingly, the results are inconclusive.

The Tamil Nadu chapter seems to have gained fresh impetus from the determined efforts of volunteers like Chinmaya Arjun Raja (Alliance Francais), Milind Brahme (IITM), Sruti’s own Sadhana Rao and others. SPIC MACAY has lined up quite a few events under the VIRASAT (literally legacy, heritage) series for this year. Shubha Mudgal, Jayanthi Kumaresh, T.V. Sankaranarayanan, the Dhananjayans, Shashank, T.N. Krishnan, Priyadarsini Govind, Bombay Jayashri as well as the Norwegian Jazz trio and the Rajasthani Manganiyars are to perform at various educational institutions.

We may not lose the battle, Mr. Seth. What is at stake is too beautiful.

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