Kolkata witnessed a cultural confluence thanks to SPIC MACAY.

On a humid afternoon in the prestigious IIM campus on the outskirts of Kolkata, a packed hall sat awestruck as the Pandwani exponent Teejan Bai, drenched in a riot of red, narrated an excerpt from the Mahabharata in her own inimitable style. By the weekend a teenager attempted the same, leaving the whole hall spellbound. It was almost impossible to think that Teejan Bai could mentor someone so efficiently in just one week. In another account, a 105-year ‘young’ Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan patiently sat with a batch of youngsters to teach them a few of his compositions.

Act of benevolence

By the weekend, they not only presented what they were taught, but as a guru-dakshina, the kids pooled in money to get Khan saab a wheelchair. This touching gesture left a packed hall of rasikas in tears. These small acts of benevolence have been some of the many results of a long penance done by Dr. Kiran Seth through his organisation; SPIC MACAY for the past 36 years. The journey hasn’t been an easy one but Dr Seth’s optimism for the cause is exemplary.

At their first international convention held at the end of May, one witnessed a confluence of Indian culture and arts. High on the spirit of volunteerism, bonhomie and a solid agenda to propagate Indian arts to the next generation, the thousands gathered for this event witnessed the success of this movement. Completely run by students, this is 21st century’s only cultural movement for the arts, anywhere in the world. Spreading out in chapters and sub-divisions, the organisation has managed to take Indian performing and visual arts to remotely unimaginable corners of the country. Their ‘Vision 2020’ aims to cover 20 lakh schools, colleges and other allied educational institutions and initiate them into the world of arts. For all this work, immense support has come from many artists, art-enthusiasts and other support systems.

Summers aren’t the best time of the year to travel to Kolkata, where the humidity is not just intense but drives one to a state of helplessness. For the participants who gathered, from Pakistan to Poland, Afghanistan to Bangladesh, this was ‘normal’ and the weather was the last of the things that bothered them.

With the day breaking at 3 a.m., hundreds of delegates were grouped into smaller batches. Some chose to experience the beauty of ‘Hat Yoga,’ while some others were part of ‘Naad Yog’ sessions under the able guidance of experts. Morning sessions were filled with ‘intensives’ where some of the country’s top most Gurus sat with hundreds of aspirants to teach them arts. If not teach them in a week, at least give them a distilled glimpse into the world of Indian arts. If in one class Bharatanatyam guru Chitra Visweswaran was teaching basic foot work, elsewhere veteran Carnatic vocalist Vedavalli was teaching them a Tyagaraja kriti. In other sessions there was everything from Manipuri Raas Sankirtan to Pichwai paintings. Legendary painters such as Anjali Ela Menon and Jogen Chowdhary dealt with visual art.

By sunset, a packed hall of ‘rasikas in the making’ assembled to experience the finest of Indian artists perform for them. Among those showcased were Astad Deboo (contemporary dance), Ustad Bahauddin Mohiuddin Dagar (rudra veena), Kapila Venu (Koodiyattom), Parvathi Baul (Bengali folk) Pt. Birju Maharaj (Kathak), Ustad Shahid Parvez and Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar.

A day at the convention was equivalent to a wholesome organic meal with endless courses of the tastiest culinary creations for one’s mind and thought process.

Behind all this were Dr. Kiran Seth and his efficient team of dedicated volunteers, who took care of everything from accommodation to food. Once again, SPIC MACAY proved that for any cultural movement to function and thrive, the ‘I’ was smaller and almost insignificant in comparison to ‘We’. There couldn’t be a better proof to demonstrate the power of today’s youth in the land of Swami Vivekananda on his 150th birth anniversary. Three cheers to SPIC MACAY and the vision of Dr Seth!

(Veejay Sai is a writer, editor and culture critic)