SPIC MACAY, recently concluded its International Convention at IIT Delhi
commemorating forty years of the movement . When we started  at the very same precincts  most people were of the opinion that there were many more important problems that faced humankind. Many of my colleagues, friends and relatives often asked me the question (without actually asking me) as to why I was wasting my time on 'Gaana Bajaana' when I could use it to do good research work. I must admit that I was often very confused and did not know whether I was on the right track, but some intuition kept me going. It seemed that society at large was moving in a direction in which there was belief only in what one could actually see. The intangible domain was slowly becoming either non- existent, or was being treated ritualistically, without an understanding of either its depth or importance. The intuitive impulse has grown in the last 40 years into an understanding (of the order of delta, delta tending to zero) of what SPIC MACAY is actually trying to achieve, which seems almost impossible in the present day scenario.

The reason is that, for an understanding of the depth of the philosophy which has been passed down to us  through great penance by our ancestors, there are two prerequisites, patience and faith, both of which are at a premium in this day and age. The goal is very abstract, subtle, inspiring and most importantly mystical. Imagine trying to experience the effect of a black hole in the universe. A great effort would be required to send a probe in thedirection of what might be a black hole till a certain point after which it would be taken over and would completely disappear once it touched the event horizon. Traditionally, it has been the Guru who has helped chart the very difficult course of the shishya's probe. There is therefore the very well known Guru Mantra: "Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru devo Maheshwara, Guru sakshat, param Brahma, tasmai shri guravay namah." Through various yogic techniques, using the body (hatha yog), breadth (pranayama), intellect (gyan yog), sound (naad yog - our classical music) and many other methods, theconcentration of the shishya is made like a laser beam. The most appropriate technique for each individual shishya is chosen, directing the inner probe towards the goal, with the hope that some day she would actually be able to experience the effect of the black hole. The faith that something like this can actually happen comes down drastically because the idea of a Guru is fast disappearing(this is because very few real Gurus are left). Hence thebrightest in society opt for a technical education with the singular aim of a better material life. Learning and experiencing traditional arts does not even ensure basic subsistence. This even leads some artists to take the compromised route to commercial success.

Historically, the processes which resulted in the birth of SPIC MACAY may have begun at the Sunday 'havan' which my father, a top Mathematician, would conduct. The whole family would participate, reciting Sanskrit slokas which we understood very little of. This was coupled with my schooling experience at Modern School, Delhi. The principal, Shri M N Kapur, suffused students’ lives with a balanced composition of the disciplines of  both thearts  and sciences. The finest of our arts in the realms of classical music , dance, theatre and the fine arts were an integral part of our learning process . In contrast, IIT Kharagpur, where I graduated, was caught by the western pop music fad. We were into the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen and others. Yet, a persistent staff member organized an annual all night event of Indian Classical Music that we attended for a lark, and the SPIC MACAYseed was unconsciously sown. This had enormous transformative powers in the subconscious mind. I was in the US pursuing my doctoral program when, in 1972, a small advertisement in 'The Village Voice' caught my attention, announcing the Dhrupad concert by Ustad Nasir Aminuddin Dagar and Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York organised by the Asia Society. The concert left an indelible mark on me and I still remember how uplifted I felt hearing them sing 'Poojan chali Mahadev......' in raga Malkauns.

This must have been the turning point. A group of us started organising concerts of top Indian artists passing through New York under the aegis of our India Club of Columbia University. Great maestros, like Ustad Ali Akbar Khan performed at the Wollman Auditorium of the University. After thecompletion of my PhD in 1974, I joined Bell Labs in New Jersey and by then, I had even  started learning Indian classical music. In 1976, when I returned to India to teach at IIT Delhi I asked a group of my students if they had ever heard of Pt. Nikhil Banerjee, one of the greatest sitar players at the time. The presumably brightest, urbane and well-informed core of society had never heard of him. This must have been the second trigger for me. I got together with two of my lovely batchmates, Arjun Malhotra (from IIT Kharagpur) and Mahendra Malu (from Columbia University) and a dynamic Hindu College student, Babi Barua at the residence of Arjun's mother in the campus of Maulana Azad Medical College in 1977 and the concept of SPICMACAY was born.

The first Indian concert that we organised in early 1978 by MEFORG (Mechanical Engineering Final year Operations Research Group) was a disaster with hardly  5 to 10 people in the 1200 seater auditorium. In the next year I got the whole batch involved and the MEFYs (Mechanical Engineering Final Years) program was a marginal success. In that very yearthe name SPIC MACAY (The Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Among Youth) was launched with a program in Delhi University. It is remarkable that, soon after, the movement spread organically with my students and others writing in to do programs in the cities to where they had shifted. A student from MACT ( now called MANIT) in Bhopal, Sunil Malhotra, started the first chapter abroad with a program by Pandit Jasraj at the University of Hartford in Connecticut where he had gone to do his MBA, followed up closely by a very big initiative of spreading SPIC MACAY all over North America by an ex - Stephanian, Rao Rohit Singh.
Today, SPIC MACAY is conducting thousands of events every year in about 500 towns in India and  abroad by some of the greatest exponents of thearts. These include classical music and dance, folk, theatre, screening of cinema classics, yoga and meditation workshops, craft workshops, heritage walks, exposure to world heritage and even holistic food. Given the turmoil that the world is going through, SPIC MACAY has started a special module at its conventions called 'Music in Prayer', with the objective of presenting before the youth, a variety of inspiring roads leading to the same goal, which have been developed in different parts of India and the world. In the recently concluded Convention at IIT Delhi, elevating performances of Qawwali by the Rampur Warsi Brothers, Sacred music by the Capital City Minstrels and Gurbani by Shri Alankar Singh were presented.One never knows which road would suit which young person to take him or her to the common goal!


My own journey through SPIC MACAY is not just about the concerts but has been a deeply moving experience. I was greeted, in the residence of thegreat dhrupad singer, Pt.  Ram Chatur Mallick in Darbhanga, by two tanpuras, a cot, a bicycle and a smiling face, all in one room. Smt. D K Pattamal in Chennai, radiated her warmth in every corner of the simple house where she was bed ridden. Guru Ammanur Madhava Chakyar in theVadakkannathan temple in Thrissur, took me on his journey through koodiyattam and the beyond. The pure, twinkling eyes of Ustad Bismillah Khan, Swami Chidanand ji's simple and yet profound discourses at the Swami Shivanand Ashram in Rishikesh and Ustad Nasir Aminuddin Dagar in his tiny Ashram in Kolkata, giving me a glimpse of the heights to which our classical arts can take us to, are memories which will stay with me forever.


SPIC MACAY needs multi-layered nourishment to sustain its path to its goal. We need the excellence of artists, the vibrant partnership of educational institutions, the financial support of those who can share our vision and thousands more to join SPIC MACAY’s voluntary spirit, if we have to succeed in our mission of taking our heritage to every child in the country.