CULTURE Innumerable art forms which rolled out at Spic-Macay’s first International convention at IIM-C Kolkata engaged the youth at adeeper level. LEELA VENKATARAMAN

For 35 years, if Spic-Macay’s voluntary movement has held its own against enormous odds, it speaks not just of rare commitment of a small band inspired by the missionary zeal of Kiran Seth, but also of supporters from different disciplines who realise that survival of India’s heterogeneous heritage needs awareness being created in future generations. Encompassing 300 chapters covering 350 cities, now spilling into rural areas, ‘Vision 2020’ aspires covering 17 lakh schools and colleges. Stunning in sheer spread, Spic-Macay’s first International Convention at IIM-C Kolkata, with 1,700 participants and over 200 artists this year underlined the theme of ‘Nish kama karma’ or ‘selfless service’. The massive coverage incorporated art forms classical and rural, handicrafts, Naad Yoga, Hatha Yoga, theatre, cinema, intensives and craft workshops with joyous young participants doing weaving, puppetry, phad folk painting, and tribal arts like Mooj grass crafts, Block printing, Kalamkari and Terracotta.

The day started early at 3:30 a.m. Strolling through the corridors of the building orchestrating with sounds from different disciplines was an experience — the meditative tanpura drone with the deep sound of swara-s emerging from the inner spaces of the lower abdomen of the Naada Yoga aspirants; the Hatha Yoga sessions led by Kiran Seth; the Koodiyattam chants in the demi-plie posture by participants of all ages, tutored by Kapila Venu – all subsiding as the morning Sun rears its head on the distant horizon. Other sounds later emanated from the myriad intensives in adjacent buildings – with rows of carefully arranged footwear in the corridor proving better indicators than the room numbers listed on the board.

A mini Nalanda

Vedavalli’s class saw students taking down words of Tyagaraja’s Utsava Sampradaya composition “Shobane vadanadyuti jita soma vasuda” in Pantuvarali; ascending and descending notes in vocal exercises in raga Megh characterised Bahauddin Dagar’s intensive; Uma Rama Rao’s Kuchipudi class had enthusiasts in stages of learning Prahlad Sarma’s Pushpanjali with homage to Akhilandeswari; practising a soft and graceful movement style were Rasa Sankirtan students under Thanil Singh and N. Tiken Singh; Bhairav strains wafted from enthusiasts in Wasim Ahmed Khan’s intensive; from the corridor looking down to the floor below from where came the authoritative voice of Astad Deboo, sweaty panting youngsters practised movement exercises; Rani Karna’s students tried a staid Surya Namaskar; while Chitra Visweswaran, underlining the need for good teaching, explained ‘saustavam’ in dance, the youngsters maintaining right posture; sweet sounds of ‘yaman’ floated down, though locating Kumar Mardur’s class proved futile; group images of the Devi were seen in Sharmila Biswas’ Odissi class. For six days, here was a contemporary mini version perhaps of the ancient Nalanda.

Avid youngsters enthralled – Chitra Visweswaran led pithy Bharatanatyam lec-dem with students Umpa Namboodiripad and Aroopa Lahiri demonstrating Alaripu glimpses in tisram, chatusram, khandam and misram with fleeting abhinaya glimpses coming from Chitra herself. Then there were Astad Deboo’s endless pirouettes, like a swirling dervish. Hymavathy presented just the pallavi of “Pancha Bana” varnam in Shankarabharanam and the sensitive sringar abhinaya in Sattriya in Anwesha Mohanti’s Gitor Naach. While painter Jogen Chowdhury talked on texture, form, space creating mood in painting, Anjolie Ela Menon took the gathering on a delightful journey down her career with visuals of her paintings. How painting celebrates the human body and how ‘vulgarity’ emerges from the viewer’s perspective and how the imagination of the artist juxtaposes incompatible images like a person walking leading two leopards on a leash, were succinctly communicated to young minds and that became evident from the spate of queries following. An enjoyable lesson on environment emerged from Sudip Gupta’s fluorescent images in puppetry of “Doll’s Theatre”. And what delicate humour, tenderness and human emotions set against nature in the cinema classic “Bhuvan Shome” by Mrinal Sen. The auditorium resounded with applause to Birju Maharaj’s Kathak demonstrations and Sankirtana and Raslila with its gorgeous get-up showing Manipuri’s exquisitely internalised emotions and grace-filled movements.

In another, less familiar plane of excellence, Kalamandalam Gopi’s Kathakali abhinaya “Mada sindhoora gamane” to Kamboji and Dhanyasi ragas, saw Rukmangada from Rukmangada Charitam, express bewitched love for Mohini whose curling black locks are like bees swarming around a flower for honey. On-the-spot ilakkiattam rendered to only percussive accompaniment of Chenda and Maddalam saw Nala and Mohini (done in stree vesham) declare their feelings for each other.

Parvati Baul’s emotive singing, throbbed with the message of selflessness through the elimination of desire as the only path to salvation. Teejan Bai’s power packed Pandvani narration threw out nuanced dimensions of the Arjuna/Krishna/Karna interaction — Krishna agreeing to conduct Karna’s final rites after the fatal injury through Arjuna’s arrow, in an unkshatriya-like act, prompted by master strategist Krishna, finding its mark, felling an unprotected warrior. Forcefully pulling out the teeth, (the only part of the Dharmatma, which had sinned by laughing along with the Kauravas, at Draupadi’s humiliation in court), and consigning them to the pyre created on Krishna’s palm, Arjuna’s descent to heaven is assured. It was amazing to watch how this great artiste (constantly reminding the youngsters to pursue education and not be unread like her!) came out tops by prompting a youngster who used her own natural Hindi language to narrate the Arjun/Shiva argument over the Boar and Arjuna winning the Pashupata astra from Shiva.

A feast of classical music

It was a river of classical music. One swam in T.N. Krishnan’s violin melodies rendering Tygaraja’s Keertanam in Sri “Entharo Mahanubhavulu”, and the same composer’s “Manavinalakincha” in Nalinakanti, with a ragam/tanam/pallavi in Simhendra-madhyamam – all with the restrained elegance of rhythmic brilliance in R. Ramesh’s mridangam and Sivaramakrishnan’s ghatam. There was Vedavalli’s uncompromising classicism in the Ananda-bhairavi Syama Sastry classic “Marive egati” and Todi ragam/tanam/pallavi which in the tanam ushered in other ragas, Sankaranarayanan’s truncated recital (shortage of time and having to catch a flight), flowed with the usual robust melodies in Tygaraja’s Hamsanadam Kriti “vantureeti..”. After Keerawani and Yamunakalyani (Nammalwar’s Nalayira-divya-nama prabandham) came the mellifluous Jonepuri.

As for the Hindustani feast cascading sound memories, one heard khayal manodharma in myriad versions — unforgettable Rajan-Sajan Mishra’s togetherness rendering Jaijaiwanti, virtuosity in raga Nand by Waseem Ahmed Khan, the churning sweetness alongside the punditry of Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan’s Sitar alap, jod, jhala in Pooryakalyan with Ramkumar Misra’s tabla playing the quintessential partner, the sur filled “balam ko naina me rakha..” of Ulhas Kashalkar in Kamod, students responding intelligently to Santoor wizard Pandit Shivkumar Sharma’s advice of closing eyes while listening to the Pooryakalyan he played.

After the elaborate Rageshri, Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty’s second khayal in Malkauns ate into time slots of other artists. Bahauddin Dagar’s deep rudra veena rendition was raga Gange bhooshini. With dawn about to break, Bhairav emerged from the free flowing voice of M.Venkatesh Kumar enrapturing listeners.

Youngsters from Pakistan, Poland (who sang in harmony Polish and Slavic traditional music) and Bangladesh, provided bonding opportunity with other cultures. Despite last minute dropouts, awkward ‘farmaish’ encounters creating time slot invasions, and the overwhelming numbers, this convention proved that Spic-Macay’s message is spreading.