Throwing light on SPIC MACAY’s new television venture in appreciation of classical music as a vocation, Kiran Seth tells Anjana Rajan he feels it will be a “game changer”

The concrete pathways and neat brick buildings of Modern School, Barakhamba Road, are baking in the May sun. A seemingly endless line of buses leaves the gate in orderly fashion. The working day is over for the school kids, but in a flat at the back of the campus, there is no such thing as rest. Animated voices and bursts of laughter float out into the torpid air. Kiran Seth and his colleagues are having a meeting in the office of SPIC MACAY. That the Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Among Youth should have a centre on the premises of this school is apt, considering its association with art ventures and artists — late choreographer Narendra Sharma lived and taught here for decades before shifting to his own house in Bharati Artists’ Colony; sarod exponent Mukesh Sharma too taught here; the Shankarlal Music Festival used to be held on its grounds, and its iconic former principal M.N. Kapur was known for his keen interest in the arts — a tradition that has continued.

Kiran and friends are clustered around a small round plastic table. It strikes one, it’s just as well that this office is located a good walk away from the main gate as well as the school buildings, and even beyond the playing field. When it comes to a typical Indian school’s definition of orderly behaviour, these committed members of an organisation that has been taking classical arts and other vital aspects of life to youngsters in schools and colleges across India are cheerfully inappropriate examples — everyone is talking at the same time, everyone’s volume is high and there is no hierarchy to be discerned. Anathema to an education system where megaphones are used to shout orders to pre-primary children on how to stand properly during assembly time.

Not surprising this organisation gets a lot of work done and has earned a reputation for having brought Indian heritage in innumerable ways into the experience of students across India whose preoccupations might otherwise have remained in the realm of financial improvement and upward mobility of a material nature.

The latest on SPIC MACAY’s agenda is a reality show for classical musicians, Naad Bhed: The Mystery of Sound to be aired on Doordarshan. The current meeting is in that context. Rules and regulations and disclaimers are being read out and finalised with the approval of Seth, founder and face of the organisation — which he prefers to call a movement and which he is at pains to point out repeatedly really runs thanks to a large number of people besides him.

The team is very excited about the TV venture. “This is a very big thing,” says Seth, saying he is getting the same feeling he had years ago, in the early ’70s, when he sat with a few friends to initiate SPIC MACAY. “It can be a game changer.” He says it is not a talent search like other shows but an attempt to “get to a level where a parent can say ‘I’m proud that my child is learning classical music. And that’s why we’ve made the prize money so large (Rs.10 lakh for the grand prize).”

One can’t help thinking, though, that on the one hand the classical arts belong to a world where one communes with the self, away from the general competitiveness of mundane occupations, and here is SPIC MACAY — whose programmes have aimed all along to offer children glimpses of just such a world — succumbing to the trend and bringing classical music into competitive genre? (Admittedly a few other such shows have been seen, some on regional channels and some like Jalsa on Zee TV.)

Seth explains it as an attempt to use the framework of the reality show for a larger purpose. “If an elephant is charging in one direction and you stand in its way, you will be trampled. We are trying to slightly shift the elephant,” he says, adding, “We will keep on bringing this in, that though it is a competition, remember the greatest of classical musicians have not come through a competition.”

Also, he points out, the endeavour will be to get students to put the prize money into fixed deposits to help them further their training. In that sense, he remarks, “We are using 10 lakhs to go beyond 10 lakhs.”

Will he appear on the show? “No,” he says as if surprised by the idea. “Harsh (director Harsh Narayan) and others will appear.” In a movement, he feels, while everyone has the “spark” to contribute, it’s very important to give all members their sense of proprietorship and prestige. “I’ve got everything in this life,” he muses, recollecting an array of unforgettable moments with great masters who were not just skilled practitioners of their arts but philosophers and guides too. “So we would also like them to get that flavour, experiences with those great masters.”

The chance of such proximity will offer itself as the jury in the various regional rounds and finals will comprise eminent personalities from various genres of classical music. “If our volunteers get that feeling that our classical music is not an end but a means to an end, then only can they propagate it.”

Mystery’s history