THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Once Koodiyattam legend Ammannur Madhava Chakyar was performing, and in front of him were rows of empty chairs. But the maestro finished his act with utmost finesse, totally unstirred by the absence of an audience. When somebody asked why he was performing in a vacant koothambalam, he said it wasn’t meant for anybody but himself.
He worshiped his art and nothing could affect his tenacious, if not divine indulgence. Kiran Seth, the founder of SPIC MACAY (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth), a movement with over 300 chapters in India and abroad, gives you this little anecdote as we sit for a chat. “For great masters like him it was part of their journey towards a greater end,” he adds.
The emblem of SPIC MACAY is a vertical eye, with its red pupil surrounded by black flames. Kiran says the biggest contribution India can give to the world is the capacity to see beyond what you can see. “This is what arts do, this is what our great gurus have taught us. But for that you need another eye, the eye of wisdom.” A man promoting India’s artistic heritage for the last four decades, he says today many art forms have become mere artist-oriented stunts.
“What is more important than classical arts getting extinct is the way they are modified. They are slowly becoming performances rather than personal experiences, something more akin to populist modes of entertainment. If you have seen great masters like Kalamandalam Krishan Nair, Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair and Kalamandalam Gopi performing you will be devastated to see the way kathakali is treated by some people today.”
For arts to survive we need not just artists, but great rasikas as well, he points out. “It’s not about learning the grammar of the art form, but having the patience and trust to appreciate the aesthetics involved.” He thinks the quality and capacity to appreciate art should be ingrained in kids at a very young age. “We have to train them to become not musicians or dancers but great connoisseurs. In Norway every child is exposed to minimum of two concerts from various heritages in a year. Children are not pre-programmed, so when you expose them to something, it just goes into their system,” he says.
He gives you a list of mathematicians and scientists who are also performing artist. “There is a great correlation between sciences and arts. It helps you concentrate like a laser beam, sharp without any fluctuations.”
An IIT graduate and academician, Kiran’s tryst with classical arts was more of an accident. He remembers the day he came out of Brooklyn Academy after a dhrupad concert, awash with realisation, a man with a mission. “While I was studying in IIT Kharagpur there were regular classical concerts. We used to just go and sit in the back and play cards or sleep. Later I started my PhD at Columbia University and attended this beautiful concert by chance.
It was the moment I realised that every individual should have an opportunity to be exposed to the best of his or her heritage,” says Kiran on the beginning of SPIC MACAY. Now almost four-decades-old, he says the growth of the movement was an organic process.
He winds up by giving you the best ever analogy between classical and popular art forms, something that came up during one of his interactive sessions.
“I asked some school children the difference between Bollywood and classical music. The participants came up with a string of answers, but this girl gave me the most sensible comparison. She said film music is like a sparkler that lights up your surroundings, but it lasts for only a few seconds. Classical music is more of an incense stick. Its fragrance spreads slowly. Normally you walk out of the room before it reaches you,” he says.
More than funds and patrons SPIC MACAY wants volunteers, people willing to help their heritage reach all corners of the world. The city chapter of SPIC MACAY meets every Saturday in the music department of Kerala University.