Introduction by Dr Kiran Seth :
As IIT students in the late sixties, many of us were into Western music – in fact everything that was Western. One staff member, every year, would organize a whole night of Indian Classical Music called the ‘Green Amateurs Night’ (I still have to figure out why this name!). It was held in a big pandal and we would go, basically to look at the ‘interesting’ people who had come to hear the programme. Classical music was the last priority.
The years passed. We graduated and many of us went abroad. While doing my PhD at Columbia University in New York in the early seventies, I came across a small advertisement in the ‘Village Voice’, which announced a Dhrupad recital by Ustad Nasir Aminuddin Dagar and Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York under the aegis of the Asia Society. A group of us said ‘Chalo dekhen’ (not ‘sune’). None of us knew what Dhrupad was or who the Dagars were. I went into the concert
walking on the ground and came out walking an inch above it. A seed planted during my IIT days had emerged as a wondrous plant. The black box concept in science could describe it quite appropriately. I knew the input to the box and the output but not what took place inside it. I figured that what happened to me could happen to others too and started conducting concerts of great classical Indian artistes passing through New York, under the aegis of the India Club of Columbia University; I also started learning Indian classical music. I joined Bell Labs in New Jersey on completion of my PhD but kept in touch with the concerts and continued with my own learning process.
In 1976 when I returned to India to teach at IIT Delhi, I remember asking my students if anyone had ever heard just the name of one of the greatest sitar players who was alive at that time, Pandit Nikhil Banerjee. Not one student raised his hand. We decided to do something about it and set up MEFORG (Mechanical Engineering Final year Operations Research Group) obviously because I was teaching OR to the final year ME students. We decided to conduct a programme and we publicized it widely. I was quite sure that we would be able to fill at least half of our convocation hall, which has a capacity of about 1500. Five minutes before the programme was to begin, there were about 5 people in the hall. When it began, there might have been about 10 and by the time the first raga got over, we were back to about five. A disastrous start – but we said, never say die. Next year the whole class got involved, making it a MEFYs (Mechanical Engineering Final Years) presentation. Having learnt from our past mistakes, this programme was marginally successful. After this the movement spread organically.
Students from other colleges agreed to organize similar programmes and a new catchy name SPIC MACAY (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth) was given to the movement. It spread to other cities. Schools joined in. Other facets of our heritage like folk, yoga & meditation, crafts, talks by inspired writers, painters, philosophers, social activists & environmentalists, walks to monuments with historians, theatre, film classics and even holistic food were included in the gamut of its activities. As the world started shrinking rapidly, the next logical step was the inclusion of the best of other cultures into the activities of the movement. It is today operating in about 200 towns in India and about 20 abroad conducting over 1500 events yearly. The aim still remains to bring all that is inspiring, subtle, abstract and most importantly mystical into the lives of young people all over India and abroad.
However, the journey has had and still has today more downs than ups.
Facing a losing battle, we had to get our best horses forward. Initially, it was very difficult to get top artists to perform for a pittance. As an example, I remember going to meet Ustad Bismillah Khan at the Crown Hotel
in Fatehpuri, Chandni Chowk. Despite my telling him a long story of how his help would change the face of the Indian youth, he refused to cooperate when I told him that we had practically no money to offer. But I did not give up and something about the sincerity of my effort might have struck him for he finally agreed to join the SPIC MACAY bandwagon. Pt. Birju Maharaj, Vidhushi Sonal Mansingh, Pandit Jasraj, The Dagar Brothers, Dr. T.N. Krishnan, Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan & Ustad Asad Ali Khan were among the initial set of artists who consented to support the movement. Most of our other great artistes pitched in later and helped it grow further. Despite
this great support from the artist community, funds had to be raised continuously and this has always been a problem. Captains of industry are committed to supporting projects which are more tangible in nature. Primary education, women and child issues, AIDS, drinking water, the handicapped etc, are all undoubtedly very important areas but very few like Amit Judge, Arun Bharat Ram, Jauhari Lal, Reita and Vikas Gadkari are prepared to financially support even intangible efforts in a sustained manner.
Similarly in the government just a handful of people like Sabanayagam, Anil Bordia, M.K. Kaw, N. Gopalaswamy, Rajeeva Ratna Shah, Amitabha Pande, Mano Ranjan and Meenakshi Sharma have gone out of their way to extend support to the movement. Anjolie Ela Menon has been regularly donating her paintings
to SPIC MACAY which has helped raise lakhs of rupees.
This year, the movement celebrates its 30th year with the annual festival, FEST 2007, to be organized in schools and colleges in over 100 towns in India, which will begin on January 24th at Delhi University, with the
performances by Pt. Birju Maharaj and Pt. Rajan and Pt. Sajan Mishra.
May this movement spread both geographically and in content and touch the lives of many more young people all over the world.