College-goers gear up as SPIC MACAY holds its second international convention in the city. Chitra Swaminathan on the mega line-up

It is not easy to hold the attention of a young audience. But the founder of the Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth (SPIC MACAY) Kiran Seth knows how to. He makes heritage and art as exciting to them as facebook and cappuccino. It’s a Sunday afternoon when you enter room no. 403 in the Department of Management, IIT-Madras to find Seth and his highly-charged team of young volunteers drawing up the master plan for the second international convention of SPIC MACAY to be held in the city (at IIT-M) from June 8 to 14.

A professor at IIT Delhi (mechanical engineering) for more than three decades, Seth has been on a crusade to make art appreciation part of mainstream academics. Over the years, he has drawn up a non-formulaic culture-inclusive curriculum to help students think beyond the classroom and understand the real definition of learning.

And he has examples to back his beliefs. “I had once gone to IIT-Kanpur and a student had come to receive me at the station. On our way to the college I asked him how he got into IIT. I was amused when he said he studied on his own. ‘Yes sir, every day I do an hour of yoga in the morning and an hour of music riyaaz in the evening to stay focussed. I completely agreed with him since I too have been doing so for many years now,” said Seth with a smile looking at the students around him.

“Great arts conceal more than they reveal. So when you are working for the cause of the arts, you are actually working for yourself,” he added with a chuckle.

Seth is a professor who doesn’t preach; hates to talk down to his students and more importantly, loves to dream for them.

He feels we are feeding gen-next with too much information when they do not have the time to think and absorb. “That’s what the term chintan-manan means. It might sound archaic in today’s context but the youth have to see beyond what they can see.”

SPIC-MACAY, he emphasised, is not just about preserving our heterogeneous cultural tapestry. “I felt the need to look beyond and help young people develop an integrated and holistic perspective of the world around. So we introduced yoga, folk forms, crafts, theatre, painting and films. And believe me, in the last 37 years of SPIC MACAY’s existence, this unique experiment has worked positively for many students; made them understand the fine art of living.”

At the other end of the room is student Srinandini Sivakumar nodding her head in agreement to Seth’s statements and eagerly awaiting to express her views. “A hesitant initiation led to an inner transformation,” she said, referring to her first SPIC MACAY convention at Suratkal. “I wondered how I would survive the whole week in a not-so-comfortable ambience. But one day led to another. By day three I was overcome by the joy of experiencing things I had never given a thought to earlier. For instance, interacting with maestros of music, master craftsmen, professors, researchers and fellow volunteers. The bonding that emerged helped me make very dear friends.”

Chinmaya Arjun Raja, a dedicated student volunteer and a musical novice discovered the “beauty and meditative quality” of the dhrupad at one such convention. “Mundane issues that generally bother us cease to matter at these congregations. The Kohima convention was held in a football stadium and we all stayed in the dormitories of the stadium. But nobody complained. The enriching sessions of yoga, intensive workshops, lec-dems and concerts keep you not just occupied but draw you in completely,” he explained.

It was heartening to hear youngsters speak thus but Seth said he wouldn’t thank them for becoming a part of this exercise since it’s their movement, their responsibility to take it forward and their struggle to bring into the fold more youngsters. “In fact, I genuinely feel we have touched very few souls. The country needs thousands of SPIC MACAYs. Our agenda is to spread to 18 lakh institutions, including in smaller towns and villages, by 2020.”

A wider presence means a battalion of volunteers. “To establish a strong taskforce at various centres across the country we need enthusiastic commanders to take charge. Our gates are always open for students and all those who have an ear for music and an eye for heritage,” said Seth, on a parting note.

Campus notes

Around 1,500 delegates from all over the country and abroad will attend the convention. Fifty well-known artistes on Carnatic and Hindustani music, Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam, Odissi, mridangam, therukoothu, Ottanthullal and Sattriya. There will also be workshops on clay pottery, basket weaving, Kalamkari painting, Warli painting, Kalighat painting, Mughal wood carving and more. The week-long festival also includes classical music and dance recitals, folk performances, plays, film screenings, yoga sessions, craft exhibition and lec-dems. Eminent artists such as M. Balamuralikrishna, T.N. Krishnan, Pandit Birju Maharaj, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Vedavalli, Girija Devi, Alarmel Valli, Pandit Venkatesh Kumar, Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar, chitravina Ravikiran and Warsi Brothers will perform. On the last day there will be an all-night concert that will start at 7 p.m. and end at 6 a.m. For online registration for the convention visit For details call, 09789059024 or 9840089787.