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Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth (SPIC MACAY)
March 1978- 2022
Priyangi Agarwal, August 15, 2022: The Times of India
When the Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth (SPIC MACAY) organised its first event in March 1978 with the famed Dagar brothers, it drew only five people to a hall that could seat 1,500. It was a flop show.
SPIC MACAY, however, now organises over 5,000 programmes in more than 1,500 institutions and connects with 3 lakh students every year. Classical flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, who has played repeatedly at SPIC MACAY events, says that while playing for students “I feel like I am in heaven”. He called SPIC MACAY a gift for future generations. The beginnings were gradual, its growth steady over four decades after its launch in 1977. Founder Kiran Seth, who is a former professor and professor-emeritus at IIT-Delhi, said the society was formed through a process that began by fluke. “The first programme which I attribute to this fluke was a Dhrupad recital by Ustad Nasir Aminuddin Dagar and Ustad Zia Fariddudin Dagar which I heard at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York in 1972,” he said. The Dagar brothers’ performance “was very powerful”, Seth said. “It lifted me off the ground. At that time, I thought that if it could happen to me, it could happen to so many others,” Seth said. He started inviting great classical musicians under the aegis of the India Club of Columbia University. After he moved to India and started teaching at IIT Delhi, Seth was surprised that none of his students had heard the great sitar player of the time, Pandit Nikhil Banerjee. He formed the Mechanical Engineering Final Year Operations Research Group and later renamed it SPIC MACAY. “The process of starting this movement happened gradually,” Seth said. Today, over 500 artists, including veterans, perform regularly at SPIC MACAY’s shows.
Pandit Chaurasia said: “It is an achievement of Seth that he convinced schools and organised shows with scores of children as spectators. ” But luring youngsters interested in popular culture to Indian cultural heritage has been a result of concentrated effort.
“Anything of depth is very difficult to grasp,” Seth said. “Therefore, you have to keep on getting the best people and bring them face to face with young people repeatedly. Ustad Aminuddin used to say: ‘You take a jet of water and put it on a stone, nothing will happen to the stone. But if you take the same water and put it drop by drop, it will make a hole through the stone. ’ Anything of depth, including our heritage, classical music or mathematics, you will have to apply the same drop-by-drop procedure,” Seth said. “We try to do the same thing. The graph of people getting involved with SPIC MACAY was not steep. But over the years, the numbers are increasing as we are doing it again. ” Seth was awarded the Padma Shree for his contribution to the arts in 2009.
Volunteers Of The Movement
SPIC MACAY would not be what it is today without its tireless volunteers. Jinal Jain, 21, is one of them. A student of Miranda House, Jinal became a volunteer about three years ago. “I was in Class X when I saw a Bharatnatyam performance for the first time. It was organised by SPIC MACAY. I was mesmerised. When I was in college, I initially used to attend the shows as I was attracted to celebrities. However, I started liking it and realised that it is necessary to protect and promote our cultural heritage,” she said.
F Wasifuddin Dagar, the Indian classical singer of Dhrupad, has been associated with SPIC MACAY since its inception. He attended shows as a child along with his father and uncles. “In the early eighties, it was a struggle and difficult to bring schools and universities on board. However, things have changed positively now. Everyone knows and accepts SPIC MACAY. It is a matter of prestige for schools to become part of SPIC MACAY,” Dagar said, adding that it is a movement and mission to bring Indian culture and heritage to the notice of youngsters.
SPIC MACAY has spread its wings in about 500 towns in India and around 50 cities abroad with the volunteers playing an active role. “It spread gradually and organically. After I started SPIC MACAY at IIT Delhi, other colleges and schools started getting in touch with us. Some students went to different parts of the country and started organising the event there,” Seth said.
Not Just Music And Dance
SPIC MACAY initially began with the objective of introducing classical music and dance to the youth, but over the years it has become a platform to promote Indian cultural heritage through varied activities such as workshop demonstrations in rural areas, intensive art and craft interactions, yoga and holistic camps, annual festivals and the Gurukul Anubhav Scholarship schemes. It went online in the middle of the pandemic and organised over 700 shows in 2020-2021. During the pandemic, it started the Support the Artists initiative and organised 550 events.
However, funding continues to be an issue as the society organises shows with support from the government and private and public sectors and much of this is hard to come by. “As it runs totally on volunteer help and donations, it has often fallen short of funds. In such times, artists have stepped forward and performed without a fee. Individual and corporate philanthropy has kept the movement going,” Suman Doonga, the director of media and convenor of the Support the Artists initiative, said.
One of the major challenges is that the priorities of volunteers change over the years. “The battle between popular culture and classical culture has been going on for decades. It has become tougher now because mobiles are in young hands as there are too many distractions. Hence, we are trying for more interactions between students and artists,” said Anshuman Jain, the editor of the SPIC MACAY publication.