Even while muddling through 25 years of unstinted effort, Spic Macay has never been thwarted by misgivings about the rightness of its objective to sensitise India's youth to the rich cultural legacy of the country. This year's Convention witnessed a six-day mammoth event at the IIT Kanpur (also heralding its golden jubilee).
Strongly fleeting images imprint the mind's eye — of seven-year-old Pravaha Sammer Khandekar singing the inaugural Ganesh stuti in raga Shankara in Chautaal; of the phenomenal group discipline and bandha nritya agility of the Gotipua boys and their vadya pallavi presentation to another youngster's clear-voiced singing; of Abdul Rashid Khan's throbbing vocal cords singing “Hari Hari.. ..” triumphing over the crippled, 102-year-old physique; of packed halls with one six-year-old on stage seated in vajrasana and another in padmasana, quietly listening to Ustad Fariduddin Dagar's Dhrupad recital; of the pin drop silence in the crowded auditorium watching Margi Madhu's Koodiyattam; of a predominantly North Indian audience visibly enjoying a Hindolam kriti of Swati Tirunal or of Alwar verses sung in viruttam to Hamsanandi during Shankaranarayanan's Carnatic vocal recital, eliciting a concluding standing ovation — all reassuring that somewhere Spic Macay is beginning to make a visible dent in awakening youth to art sensitivity.
The ‘Intensives' evolved into truly intense sessions, despite the rather confused first day's midsummer madness, broiling in the over 40-degree heat from 2 to 5 p.m. — with inevitable snafus like a missing tanpura and much else. Later, one saw youngsters packed like sardines in Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan's classes lost in learning his compositions. To watch Shri Ram Kailash Yadav presiding over the Birha class with jeans and shirt-clad youth following every word of his instructions, lustily singing and miming “Siya Kare Ram se chalaba tore sangava, Hamna rabe ghar liyaee chale sangama” (Sita persuading Ram not to leave her behind as he sets off on exile) was to perceive the bridging of the rural/urban divide.
Guru Munna Shukla devised a thoughtful Kathak workshop based on imagery from nature, whereby rather than the odd tukra or tihai, participants were given an idea of how poetic word, metre, rhythm and movement came together. Technique apart, one had to understand the importance of tone and speed of movement for conveying the right image. At the Crafts Village, in the open tents, youngsters delighted in testing the magic of their hands, working at pottery making, Ikat weaving, Chikan embroidery, wood inlay, terracotta, papier mache, Madhubani painting, bamboo crafts, Phulkari work, Mooj grass craft, Bagru block print, miniature painting, etc. A panel discussion featured gurus and scholars on the role of heritage in present-day India.
Margi Madhu's Koodiyattam based on verses from Bhasa's Balacharitam, with glimpses of Narasimhavataram, Vamanavataram and Ramavataram comprised the most intense experience, the two mizhavu experts Kalamandalam Anoop and Kalamandalam Manikandhan providing rich, tonal, bhav-evoking percussive support. The ferocity of Narasimha and the breath control depicting the dying-in-stages of Ravan were reminiscent of Bali's prolonged end in Bali Vadham, patented by late Ammanoor Madhava Chakyar. The Prakara-nattam, with the actor changing roles from Hiranyakashipu to the placid Prahalad, or from Mahabali to Vamana or from the uttama purush Ram to fiery Ravan, with a minimal shift in bodily stance or attitude, was a performance hallmark.
Ram Mohan's Kathak after this paled, his constant sojourns to the mike to lecture minimising the substance in the dance. Does the Makhanchori gat bhav portraying childlike pranks of a super human hero have to take recourse to childish loss of dignity? The really impressive part, underlining the dancer's talent, was Ram Mohan's abhinaya to the thumri “Eri sakhi mein kya kahoon…” which could have been elaborated upon more.
The convoluted yogasanas of Bandha Nritya weaving strong imagery of Soorya riding his chariot, of Ganesh and of the Pancha Devas in the invocation, by the Gotipua troupe of Guru Gangadhar Pradhan's Konarak Natya Mandir, took the audience by storm, the breathtaking physical dexterity drawing frequent applause. More emphasis on interpretative items could have underlined the expressional innocence of sringar by these pre-teen boys in female disguise.
Led by Guru Ghanakanta Bora, the Sattriya performance excelled in his disciple Anwesa Mahanta's grace and mature expressive felicity depicting Satyabhama as the jealous Khandita in “Ki khoba he Bhuja Raghudeva” — the narrative an excerpt from the Ankia Nat creation of Sankardev. Despite the guru's expertise and khol playing, the Bayan/Gayan splendour cannot be evoked with a solo percussionist and one Gayan with cymbals, and the item based on Madhavdev's verses depicting Brindavan's gopabalaka-s eulogising Krishna and the Sutradhari dance demanded younger male agility.