Pluralism has been my greatest sanskaar,” says percussionist, writer and perfume-maker Krishnaraj Iyengar. “I believe in the Rig Veda sutra—Aano bhadraha, kratavo yantu vishwataha (Let noble thoughts from all directions nourish you),” continues the person who plays not just the tabla and pakhwaj, but also the Turkish rebab, the Arabian darbuka and other one-stringed fiddles that he makes.
Mumbai-based Krishnaraj started learning to play the tabla when he was just seven years old. “I inherit rhythm from my mother Smita Iyengar. As a dimensional art designer, my father, Kishore Iyengar, always listens to the music of his client’s country while creating the artworks. Since childhood, Beethoven, Bhimsen Joshi, Celtic and Carnatic music, and more have resounded in my household,” says the musician. With a Gujarati, banjo-playing mother, and a Tamilian father, the home was where his experiments with languages started. He is fluent in 11 languages and has the felicity to sing Hindustani, Turkish and Arabic compositions as also Kathiawadi folk songs.
“Travelling around the globe, interacting with people of different nationalities and soaking my senses in the music of each language makes me a passionate polyglot. I also compose poetry in Persian, Urdu and Gujarati,” he says.
Krishnaraj remembers the time when he bunked school as a 14-year old to meet the legendary sitarist Ustad Vilayat Khan. That interview, much appreciated by the press-shy maestro, paved the way for Krishnaraj’s journey as a journalist. “I have interacted with international musicians on and off stage, like Ustad Malik Bazer Baashi of Syria with whom I recorded in Mumbai. I met Serdar Bagtir in Istanbul. It was an ‘aha moment’ when the Turkish musician suddenly opened up my technique by turning me into a left-handed darbuka player like himself!”
Krishnaraj has created many tabla compositions based on the five gharanas—Delhi, Ajrada, Farrukhabad, Lucknow and Old Punjab. “I have several ideas for music compositions which I think would be suitable for films.” The percussionist adds that he is also looking for a producer for two unusual and offbeat film stories he has registered with the Screenwriters Association. Alongside, Krishnaraj also has his nose deep in the world of fragrance.
“Perfumers are anaesthetists. Fragrance numbs the agony of life and soothes the ordeals. I relate to scents spiritually. Veteran perfumer Mukul Gundhi of the 200-year-old Gulab Singh Johrimal tradition guided my journey through the world of fragrance. I once blended a bespoke fragrance for an Italian client and wore a little bit myself. Danny, a ferocious neighbourhood French Mastiff, almost had my throat when I realised the pungent mid notes were the culprits! After reworking on it, I christened it ‘Danny De Veto’,” he laughs.