A confluence of great minds

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“We need to regenerate enthusiasm for India’s cultural diversity”, says Shabana Azmi

“The problem is in the mind. If you are able to set your mind on any one thing then there is no problem at all.” These were a few words of inspiration from Mohan Singh Khangura, Rabindra Sangeet exponent, to a student who was being unable to follow the lyrics of his songs during an intensive class at IIT Kharagpur.

Doll Theatre class at Nalanda Complex

In one way or another, these words are being echoed by almost every Guru who is conducting the intensive classes or workshops for the 1200 participants, mostly students from all over India, at the 6th International Convention of SPIC MACAY currently under way at IIT Kharagpur. While Malavika Mitra, the eminent Kathak dancer, tries to cajole her dancers to feel the beauty of their movements through their minds, Shilp Guru Ananta Malakar helps his students focus on creating ineffably delicate art works made from sholapith stalk.

At 9 am, when they begin their classes, participants at IntCON ‘18 have already been awake for close to five hours. The day begins at 4 am with yoga, followed by a strict day long routine till lights are put out at 10 pm. With such rigour you would expect youngsters to say ‘never again’. But surprisingly for some of these students it is the second or the third convention and many of them have not only decided to do the rounds again but have roped in their friends as well.

Guru Sharmila Biswas taking a class

Take Yash Dharwade from the Academy of Architecture, Mumbai, who has come with three of his friends, or Pratima Kumari from Parivartan, a social organization in Siwan, Bihar, where SPIC MACAY hosted its first Rural School Intensive last year. Pratima and her friends have come to see and experience the diverse culture of India. “What is the fun if you go on doing the things you know already,” says Nitam Kumari, also from Parivartan. Her logic for being at this convention is shared by many participants who have come from beyond the borders too, like Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Japan.

For Tomoka Mushiga, a Japanese PhD student of ancient history at the University of Allahabad, it is her second SPIC MACAY convention. She explains, “What is unique about SPIC MACAY conventions is that they bring in the best artistes and give students a chance to interact directly with them.”

A mask-making class

Tomoka was proven right when Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar spontaneously fielded questions from students immediately after a moving performance of Kaifi aur Main on the second day of the convention. Shortly before the performance Shabana had said in an interview, “One way of defeating the divisive politics of today is to regenerate enthusiasm for our diversity among the young.  I am what I am today because I was exposed to the country’s plurality as its greatest strength from a very young age.” She thanked SPIC MACAY for its “salute worthy” efforts at introducing the rich cultural heritage of India to the country’s children, and IIT Kharagpur for hosting her.

On being asked by a student about her emotional journey while enacting her mother in Kaifi aur Main, Shabana said, “I don’t see it as a play but a gift received by the daughter of two exceptional people who lived in exceptional times, which I want to share with the generation of today.”

For the past few days, IntCON ‘18 has been hosting many more exceptional artistes like her. The convention began on June 3 with an invocation by the students of Shrutinandan, Nadaswaram by VidwanSeshampatti T. Sivalingam and a performance of Sattriya dance by Guru Ghanakanta Bora. Day Two also saw concerts by Begum Parveen Sultana (Hindustani vocal) and Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (Mohan Veena) who gave the listeners an ethereal experience. Day Three saw back-to-back performances of Vidwan T.V. Sankaranarayanan (Carnatic vocal) and Vidushi Ashiwini Bhide Deshpande (Hindustani vocal), which allowed the audience to savour the great southern and northern musical traditions of India.

Satriyya dance at the Kalidas Auditorium

There have been a slew of performances by folk artistes – Mayurbhanj Chau by Mayur Arts Centre, Baul sangeet by Shyam Sundar Das, Sri Sudeep Gupta’s Dolls Theatre — that have complemented the performances of classical dance and music. The young audience has been as moved by the Sarfaraz Iqbal Chishti brothers’ qawwali as the soulful rendition of Baljeet Singh Namdhari’s Gurbani. For many, like Chicku Irshad, a volunteer from Kerala, this was the first introduction to music of this kind. Day Four saw Vidushi Priyadarsini Govind put up a stupendous performance, which was followed by Vidwan Ravi Kiran’s mellifluous Chitraveena.

During many of these performances, many among the student audience sat on the stage with Dr Kiran Seth, the founder of the SPIC MACAY movement and its chief margdarshak or guide. He says, “For art to have its impact, we have to minimize the distance between the listener and the artiste. That is why I make as many children sit on stage and on the aisles as possible.”

The convention will conclude on June 9 with an all-night soiree that will see performances by Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar, Shruti Sadolikar, Pt. Ajoy Chakraborty and Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar.

 

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