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Movement for the arts

CHITRA SWAMINATHAN
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chat SPIC MACAY founder Kiran Seth on how it began

Culture calling Kiran Seth
Culture calling Kiran Seth

K iran Seth engineered a cultural movement on campuses. This Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at IIT - Delhi deconstructed the myth that classical art forms could not strike a chord with uninitiated young listeners. In 1977, Kiran Seth set up SPIC MACAY (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture amongst Youth), a non-profit voluntary youth movement, which now has around 250 chapters nationwide. It has not been easy for Seth to uphold Indian classical arts. “When we started, there was no money, no resources, no manpower… there were only dreams.”

Seth studied at IIT-Kharagpur, went to the U.S. for a doctorate and returned to India to become a professor. So, when did the interface with art happen?

In the 1960s, when he was at IIT-Kharagpur, his brief encounter with Indian classical music was the annual ‘Green Amateurs Night', organised by one of the staff members. Seth joined Columbia University in the early 1970s to do his Ph.D. One day, he saw a small newspaper insertion about a concert by the Dagar Brothers at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York. That night, when Seth walked back from the concert, he felt a sense of fulfilment — something he hadn't experienced earlier. Soon, he returned to teach at IIT-Delhi. Once there, he was shocked that none of his students knew about sitar exponent Pandit Nikhil Banerjee. He started a couple of groups . Though they did not generate much response, the passionate promoter of arts persisted. This time, with SPIC MACAY.

Soon the movement spread to other colleges; it gained momentum and branches were launched in other cities. In 1981, schools were brought into its ambit too. Then there was no looking back.

CHITRA SWAMINATHAN

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