2nd International Convention of SPIC MACAY at Chennai
- Lalitha Venkat
e-mail: lalvenkat@yahoo.com

June 18, 2014

SPIC MACAY (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth) held its 2nd International Convention from June 8 to 13 in the lush campus of IIT Chennai. In a mammoth undertaking, there were more than 1300 participants taking part in various intensives in classical music, dance and crafts. Most of the participants were young and came from all over India. A few of them were from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Srilanka, UK, Australia, Bangaladesh and Mauritius. There were quite a few elders too who teamed with the youngsters to master the intensives. The classes were held at different venues in the sylvan surroundings of IIT and the searing summer heat fortunately was less severe through the week giving everyone a respite.

The craft section was highly popular and featured master craftsmen imparting training in terracotta pottery of Tamilnadu, cloth weaving and Chettinad basket weaving of Tamilnadu, Patua painting of West Bengal, Mughal wood carving of Uttar Pradesh, tie and dye of Gujarat, paper mache with Madhubani painting of Bihar, Pattachitra painting of Odisha, Gond painting of Madhya Pradesh, Phad painting of Rajasthan,  Warli tribal painting of Dadra Nagar Haveli, Kalamkari painting of Andhra Pradesh, Chittara painting of Karnataka, and Sanganer block printing of Rajasthan. It was very interesting to visit the classes on day one and again a few days later to see the wonderful art pieces made by the participants, quite unbelievable since all this had to take shape in 5 days! Contemporary art classes by Anjolie Ela Menon saw some interesting art works by her students at the end of the intensive. There was even an old bike that was made over into a work of art. Menon gifted a painting of hers to SPIC MACAY to much cheer from the audience.

The charka spinning class conducted by VR Devika seemed popular with many participants, including 2 young men - one from Afghanistan (who turned out to be the best student) and one from Pakistan (who had mistaken ‘charka’ for ‘chakra’ when he applied but enjoyed the class all the same!). The participants of the choral singing class presented a wonderful performance on the last day. Kolam class seemed to inspire some boys also to enroll and they were happy trying out patterns. Kalari classes by Shaji were held in the spacious SAC auditorium where all performances were held from afternoon onwards.

Intensives in music ranged from Carnatic music by Vedavalli, Trichur Ramachandran and Charumathi Ramachandran, veena by RS Jayalakshmi, mridangam by Thiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam, Hindustani vocal by Pt Vinayak Torvi, Dhrupad by Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar and Pt Falguni Mitra. Dance intensives included Bharatanatyam by CV Chandrasekhar, Mohiniattam by Gopika Varma, Odissi by Sangeeta Dash, Kathak by Malabika Mitra, Koodiyattam by Margi Madhu and Kuchipudi by Vyjayanthi Kashi. There were also Therukoothu classes by Purisai Sambandam Thambiran group, Qawwali by Warsi brothers and Bhagavatamela by S Natarajan. 

Slide show of Intensives in crafts, music and dance
Photos: Lalitha Venkat

Each day’s program schedule was tight with not much breathing space. While classes finished by noon, there was just an hour to have lunch and rush to the SAC auditorium for afternoon performances and lec-dems from 1pm onwards that stretched mostly past 5pm and with the evening performances starting by 6pm, tea break was another rushed affair.  There were many interesting programs during the afternoon sessions – a spirited Ottanthullal performance of an episode from ‘Kalyana Sowgandhikam’ by Kalamandalam Mohana Krishnan whose sometimes direct interaction with the young members had them in splits, vibrant Therukoothu by Purisai Sambandam Thambiran’s group, dramatic ‘Mohini Bhasmasura’ Bhagavatamela by S Natarajan and group, Qawwali by the Warsi brothers Nazeer Ahmed Khan Warsi and Naseer Ahmed Khan Warsi with their group ending with the popular “mast kalandar” that had the young audience clapping along happily, Chancel Choir from Nagaland clad in bright colors and eye catching costumes, original Madras Youth Choir led by theatre person PC Ramakrishna (whose members now were well into middle age!), and lec-dems by the various gurus conducting the intensives. On the last day, all the students of the various dance and music intensives presented what they had learnt and they really amazed us with their newly acquired skills. Students of Gopika Varma surprised us by all of them turning up in off white saris with maroon blouses. The 3 Pakistani girls in the group were seen later happily taking photos of themselves in their finery. However, a couple of gurus did share with us that the students were put under pressure as they had to do a presentation on the last day and this in turn also pressurized the gurus.

We saw a Malayalam film ‘Mathilukkal’ (meaning ‘Walls’) followed by a brief interaction with its director Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who felt the serious subject of a prison story and intricacies of human relationships may not appeal too much to youngsters. Despite it being a true story of writer Vaikkom Mohammed Basheer’s stint in a prison, the treatment of the story showed no violence or unpleasantness usually associated with prison stories. Adoor Gopalakrishnan said he did wonder how people would receive a film with no heroine - in the film she is a charming female voice flirting across the prison wall that divides male and female prisoners. He also chose Mammootty as the hero since Vaikkom Mohammed Basheer was supposed to have been a very handsome man.
IGNCA (Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts) had teamed with Spic Macay for this convention and they presented a documentary on Drupad maestro Ustad Rahim Fahimuddin Khan Dagar. It was interesting to see Dr. Saxena ask him probing questions and though he was a bit impatient sometimes to be so prodded, some of his answers were so beautiful and poetic. Spokesperson Irfan Zuberi from Delhi said IGNCA’s academic resources are available to scholars and its extensive library of 200,000 books is available to all. It has audio-visual recordings of music and dance, documentation of lifestyles, performances and photographs that is available to research scholars through the Media Centre. In the foyer of SAC, IGNCA had arranged a black and white photo exhibition of photos by Raja Deen Dayal, who was court photographer to the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad in the late 1800s. The Deen Dayal studio’s collection of 2,857 glass plate negatives was bought by the IGNCA, New Delhi in 1989. Today it is the largest repository of his work.

Veteran performances and bosom intensives: SPIC MACAY’s 2nd International Convention
- Veejay Sai
Photos: Lalitha Venkat

Margi Madhu presented Koodiyattam Anguliyankam
June 12, 2014 at IIT Chennai
Photos: Lalitha Venkat

The evening performances of dance featured veteran guru CV Chandrasekhar who filled in for Alarmel Valli who had to unfortunately cancel her appearance (Bharatanatyam), Margi Madhu in a stellar Koodiyattam rendition of Anguliyankam from which he had taught his class a verse during the intensive, Padma Subrahmanyam and group (Bharata Nrithyam).  The music concerts included TN Krishnan (violin), Girija Devi, Pt Ulhas Kashalkar and Pt Vinayak Torvi (Hindustani vocal), Chitra veena by Ravi Kiran and Carnatic vocal by R Vedavalli. Mohana veena concert by Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt was at a super speed for most of the concert and did not make for a soothing or melodious presentation. From 13th evening at 8pm was the all night extravaganza that lasted till 7.30am of 14th morning. An injured Pt Birju Maharaj who had hurt his legs and shoulder in a fall, was accompanied by Saswati Sen. He valiantly performed a little bit though he was in pain.  Santoor maestro Pt Shivkumar Sharma had trouble for almost 45 minutes to set up his mikes and tune his santoor and he followed this with a ten minute speech on how we should close our eyes and let the music soak in. That was good advice as many in the audience did just that, and it was quite relaxing, though some might have secretly had a nap! The violin duet by L Subramaniam and his “son and competitor” Ambi was followed by a serene Dhrupad concert by Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar. The finale was a soothing concert by TM Krishna that had the connoisseurs sing Krishna’s praises.  It was wondrous to see many in the audience at that hour, after almost 11 hours of staying awake through the night. 

A fest of this magnitude is not possible without the help of the many volunteers who went about their duties with a smile. It was indeed a humongous undertaking by SPIC MACAY to provide accommodation and ‘satvik’ food to about 1600 or more people and keep up the supply of drinking water to quench parched throats! Ferrying people between different venues was another task ably managed and monitored. The many new friendships forged between participants, teachers and visitors and the camaraderie over breakfast and lunch provided many a happy moment. If there is a little more respite in the tightly packed schedule, perhaps there could be a little more enjoyment. Despite little sleep and too much of soaking in dance and music, most people were up and about by 6am to walk around the beautiful campus and see freely meandering spotted deer, black buck and a variety of birds calling to each other in the swampy areas. I even spotted a snake near the auditorium and the elusive albino black buck too. SPIC MACAY’s founder Dr. Kiran Seth’s vision has paid off in a big way to inculcate cultural values in the youth and we were all thoroughly taken aback when the youngsters applauded at all the right moments in unison and in their generosity, gave every artiste a standing ovation!

SPIC MACAY is a voluntary movement that organizes events (over 5000 annually) of classical music and dance, folk arts, crafts etc. in educational institutions through the world.  For the first quarterly of this year, Nartanam brought out a special issue on SPIC MACAY. “I was amazed reading it, its wide reach, about various projects in this major article by Supriti from Bangalore about the evolution of SPIC MACAY. The entire week we spent at IIT Chennai campus was a tremendous learning lesson, but reading this article gave me deeper insight into the functioning and working of SPIC MACAY, its future course and 2020 vision,” says scholar critic Dr. Sunil Kothari.

The 3rd SPIC MACAY International Convention is to be held at IIT Mumbai from May 31 to June 6, 2015. 

Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of www.narthaki.com