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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cultural treasure chests

Dr Kiran Seth
When Rudra Veena exponent Ustad Asad Ali Khan passed away it caught very little attention of the public. That this classical musician, a Padma Bhushan awardee, represented the twelve generations of Jaipur's Beenkar Gharana and was one of the last advocates of the Khandarbani Dhrupad school meant little to many. In the midst of scams and political campaigns that hogged the media limelight, the fact that Indian art-scape had lost the last surviving master of a rarely played ancient instrument failed to grab any mind share. It is a tragedy that while "Save the Tiger" campaign has managed to grab enough attention and mobilize resources, the public at large remains unenlightened of the fast disappearing cultural treasure chests of the country.

It is with this backdrop message the founder of Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture amongst Youth (SPIC MACAY), Padma Shri Dr Kiran Seth addressed a gathering of young civil service officers at the Dr MCR HRD Institute of Andhra Pradesh. While his phenomenal role in reviving art forms, and promoting classical arts and culture amongst children and youth is widely known, in his humble self he said "we have not even touched the tip of the iceberg". Narrating from the his more than 30 years of journey with SPIC MACAY and his personal encounters with the legends of Indian music and dance, he expressed his concerns of how the Indian society is losing the "art of connecting with the within" and dying the slow death as a result of "cultural deforestation". He acknowledged that the generation was getting much smarter, but was cautious of the "inner blindness" that has crept into many who, in an era of instant gratification, have lost patience and faith - the two attributes essential to experience and appreciate the beauty in the abstract and mystical nature of Indian heritage.

"When I met D.K Pattamal I asked her who would take her place and she smiled. After her demise, I posed the same question to her husband Iswaran, and he left me with a smile again". Dr Seth opined that as the attitude of many youngsters towards classical art continues to degenerate, we may run the risk of dropping the cultural baton. Quoting an anecdote he said that while Bollywood music is like a fun, but short-lived, phooljadi, Indian classical music is more like an incense stick whose fragrance filled the space for long. He only wished that the gathered gave a chance for the fragrance to reach them, and assured that they, like him, would feel the positive difference that would change the outlook towards life.

Speaking on how greed was driving even the yesteryear role models and business leaders astray, he said the change for better cannot be induced through likes of Lokpal bill, but instead solely by an altered way of living - one that is based on the "law of nishkam karma". He urged one and all in the audience to venture into voluntary and selfless devotion of the "tan-man-dhan" and experience the change within.

Following this inspiring talk was a befitting classical dance performance by the Kathak exponent Rani Khanam. The audience was treated to her sparkling footwork's harmonic and rhytmic dialogue with the tabla and pakhawaj. The vigor and vitality in her Teen taal and Tihai pieces, were complemented by the grace and poise in her various andaaz. The audience were also treated to multitude of expressions in her recital set to a poetic piece by Amir Khusrow.

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