Sunday, December 7, 2003

Keeping our virasat alive
Humra Quraishi

Kiran Seth: The man behind SPICMACAY
Kiran Seth: The man behind SPICMACAY

After talking to SPIC MACAY’s Kiran Seth for over an hour, I could tell myself: "The man seems genuine and nice." In fact, it is surprising that though, I have been covering New Delhi’s ‘cultural circuit’ for over two decades, I had never really met Kiran Seth till recently. The reason is simple. This IIT Professor teaches by the day and then gets so immersed in SPIC MACAY work that he seems little interested in publicity or focus on himself.

In fact, the impression one got was that he almost shuns it. Even for this interview he kept insisting that instead of writing about him, I should write about the young student volunteers who help to spread and promote SPICMACAY (Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth).

But then, without him there’d be no SPICMACAY, for he is the man who started this concept of not just focusing on our cultural heritage but trying to spread it among the youth of the country.

Though Kiran had always been into music — in the 60s, when he was a student at IIT, Kharagpur, he was into western classical music and then for 15 years, he learnt dhrupad from the Dagars — he felt its intense impact only when he heard the Dagars perform at a concept in New York. The force and the spirit of dhrupad enthused him to such an extent that he decided to spread our cultural virasat. Today, there are SPIC MACAY chapters in over 175 Indian cities and in 50 centres abroad and then it’s an ongoing effort manned by a team of dedicated volunteers.

When I met him, he sat surrounded by his student volunteers with the schedules upcoming concerts spread out before him. "Besides the thrust on culture, we focus on the 3 Cs — communalism, casteism and corruption. After the Gujarat riots we began the community outreach programmes, " says Kiran.

What did he think of today’s political mafia trying to divide even our cultural heritage, the latest being the attack on veteran artist Habib Tanveer’s plays. "Yes, there have been instances of political interference. In fact, one of the Right-wing outfits tried to interfere with us (SPICMACAY) and we simply brushed it off. Though I haven’t seen Habib Sahib’s plays, he is one of the finest persons around and it is very unfortunate that these sort of incidents are happening."

Does that mean that there is a loophole somewhere, that in spite of the efforts of the likes of Kiran Seth, the old values of togetherness and respect for each other and for the common cultural heritage are getting eroded? "Let me put it this way, when there are changes in society it is obvious that every segment will get affected. In fact, once Ustad Aminuddin Dagar had explained that if you put a jet of water on a rock, nothing will happen. But if you allow the same water to trickle on that rock, slowly and steadily, day after day, there will be some impact on that rock. We are following the same philosophy, trying to reach out to the masses. At the moment we have barely scratched the surface," he pointed out. What about the reality that the artistes who live in metros seem to flourish, put the rest die unsung, almost penniless?

"It is unfortunate that this is happening and we are trying to reach out to the lesser-known artistes living in non-descript conditions. In our concerts there is always a mix of the well-established artistes with the upcoming ones."

What does he feel about the politicisation of awards? Yes, I know there are may deserving talented artistes who till date haven’t been awarded — like Kalamandalam Raman Kutty Nair, Ustad Fahimuddin Nair, Yashwant Bua Joshi, Asad Ali Khan, Gopal Krishan, Sultan Khan and many others."

Will India’s upcoming generation imbibe some aspects of our virasat or will everything get trampled in the politics of the day?

"What today’s generation lacks is patience and faith in the system and there seem no role models left. I personally believe that humanness is getting sidelined, and there is that and rush for money, everybody wants to become a Harshad Mehta. Obviously, all this will bring misery."

What is his concept of coexistence amidst peace and harmony?

"In melody, no note is ever completely lost. Remember also, that one note alone cannot make that melody. The world of music and dance does not merely celebrate harmony. It is world of harmony and concord. We at SPIC MACAY are constantly trying to bring out our composite culture. In fact, in Faizabad (Ayodhya) at one of our concerts Uma Sharma danced to the verses of Ghalib whilst from dhrupad exponent Fahimuddin Dagar flowed Shiv stuti. That’s what our virasat is. Our cultural traditions have been built upon a belief that the search for the true note is a universal one. In their various ways, this is what all our artistes celebrate and this is exactly what has bound various schools of music and dance into a common bond..."