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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Young converts to Indian classics

By Jayshree Bajoria
BBC correspondent in Bombay

Students at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Bombay have been going back to their roots - at least temporarily.

Teacher Ila with children
Teacher Ila Tiwari says too many Indian children get no exposure to classical culture

The country's leading technology school has this week been hosting performances by world-renowned artists of Indian classical music and dance.

Hundreds of students and young professionals from across the country gathered for the five-day event on the campus - trading modern sounds for the more traditional shehnai and tabla.

They belied the popular belief that India's youth has lost touch with its culture and heritage.

School pupil Akshay Dutt, 14, had come all the way from Bangalore - and now says he can't get enough of classical music.

"We suffer from herd mentality and blindly copy each other. Since everyone else listens to popular music, so did I," he told BBC News Online.

"But now I feel that one can listen to popular music for only a little - while classical music can be enjoyed all day.''

Peer pressure

Ravindra Taneja was another who had travelled south for the 27th annual convention of the Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture amongst Youth (better known as SPIC MACAY).

Ravindra, a 21-year old medical student from northern Haryana state, says he became a member due to peer pressure.

Akshay Dutt
Akshay Dutt - 'we blindly copy each other'

''I didn't have any interest in this sort of music earlier. But after being forced into it by my friends - attending some performances, meeting some accomplished artists - I felt a new-found respect for my culture.''

Ravindra says many of his generation are attracted to Western culture because they don't have sufficient exposure to their own.

And that's exactly what SPIC MACAY has been striving to do for nearly three decades, says its founder, Kiran Seth.

A lean man clad in a pristine white kurta, Mr Seth greets all with a ready smile. Some try to check whether he remembers their names but he never falters. In fact he surprises them by remembering even those of their parents.

Mr Seth, alumnus of the IIT and Columbia University, gave up a plum job with Bell Laboratories to take up teaching, and is now a professor at IIT Delhi.

"SPIC MACAY was born when I saw how little students knew about our culture.'' Mr Seth says SPIC MACAY aims to make up for what the education system lacks by introducing students to classical music, folk music and meditation.

''This makes the young more sensitive, inspires them and develops in them a respect for the mystical. This also helps to fight the violence, the anger, the frustration that we witness in our society.

"Today is an age of instant gratification - people have no patience. But there is no instant element in our heritage. It is calm.''

Very precious

So are the youth really tuning in to the classical and peeping into our rich heritage?

Old things are in vogue. Classical music, classical dance, if you notice all volunteers for the event are also young
Sujata Sethia

''We are fighting a losing battle. But every time someone asks me why I am carrying on, I say we should at least try.

"We have something very precious and we should not let it die and get confined to museums. It's a living heritage and we all have to try very hard to conserve it,'' says Mr Seth.

There seems hope when you see the group of 13-year-olds sitting on the lawn, singing and laughing, their eyes shining with excitement.

SPIC MACAY co-ordinator Ila Tiwari, who has been teaching music and dance to the children for the last few months, says: ''They are from Maher, a home in Pune for battered, exploited and destitute women and children.

"I thought they must be introduced to our culture. They are so talented but never get a chance to see any of this."

One of the children, Sukeshini, says: ''I want to learn all that they will teach me and go back and teach my siblings.''

Another, Mangesh, is excited about seeing the performance by Kathak (a northern Indian classical dance form) maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj.

"There are so many people and from all parts of the country," Mangesh remarks.

Young men
The young came from all around the country

Some at the convention are recent converts - Sujata Sethia from Delhi developed a keen interest in classical music only a couple of years ago.

But Chetan Jain, a software professional in Bombay, has grown up with it.

Both agree that it's important to understand yourself if you ever want to feel relaxed. By listening to the music, you will know the difference, they say.

Sujata says the current craze for revivalism explains why young people are interested in classical music.

"Old things are in vogue. Classical music, classical dance, if you notice all volunteers for the event are also young."

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