Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon on her third album Soul March, on living life to the fullest and allowing music to find her

The interaction with Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon starts on a surreal note. Having stumbled upon an article about kamarkats in The Hindu, she requests the address of the departmental store reported to be stocking this elusive sweetmeat. She is oblivious that, many summers ago, her illustrious sister Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi visited this store on Santhome High Road, a fact proudly publicised on a poster at the entrance.

As the conversation winds on to other topics, the surreal keeps cropping up. Chandrika is aware of it herself. “It is going to sound surreal and bizarre. One day I woke early with music bursting out of my head. Between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., music for five to six songs came to me in pretty clear outlines,” says Chandrika. This pre-dawn brainwave set her on the path towards making her second album, Soul Call, which received a Grammy nomination in 2011.

Spurred on by the invisible touch of the subconscious and a deep love for music, Chandrika is marching on to her third album Soul March, expected to hit the racks in “under four weeks”. As she animatedly discusses her music — based largely on chants and navigates a multiplicity of tongues, including Sanskrit, English, French and Portuguese — one question follows, inevitably.

What comes first — her music or business? Now, Chandrika, an IIM Ahmedabad product, is seen as a turn-around specialist in the United States and elsewhere, having brought many ailing financial institutions from the brink, back into the sunshine of success.

Chandrika does not look at it that way, believing that one has to be grateful for whatever he or she gets to do. Anything that is done, has to be done well being her dictum, she put music-making on the backburner for long. But she kept the fire stoked constantly, learning music by wangling time out of a tight business schedule and waiting for the time she could create music of her own.

Looking back, finding gurus of Indian classical music forms in the United Sates was a challenge. When she discovered that Tanjore Viswanathan, Carnatic flautist and vocalist, lived a little over a two-hour drive from where she did, she ‘begged’ him to be her teacher. Every Saturday, she made it to his class. “In the middle of winter, I would scrape the ice off the windshield, and drive to the 6 a.m-to-8 a.m. class,” says Chandrika, who sings and can play the veena. The effort was tougher than it looks. “He would not entertain me in the next class, if I had not practised the lessons from the previous one.”

On getting the best of music coaching, she says, “I want to learn only from the best and I have no problem begging them to teach me. I see myself as a music beggar,” says Chandrika. As a result, her gurus include Pandit Girish Wazalwar (a famous disciple of Pandit Jasraj), Pandit Vijay Kumar Kichlu, Sahasrabuddhe and Vidushi Subra Guha.

Asked if she is content with her achievements as a businesswoman and a musician, she says, “Eight years ago, my answer would have been different,” she says, adding that discontent sets in only when life is seen as a series of goals to be achieved. “Now I know, there is no place to get to. You are fullness, as you are, today. You don’t achieve fullness tomorrow.” In her understanding, living fully and letting go means being available for others.

Everything Chandrika does, seems to be governed by this idea. She nurtures and trains a community choir in New York City, which presents Sanskrit chants set to harmony. The average age of the participants is 70. Through her Krishnamurthy Tandon Foundation, Chandrika supports initiatives relating to community building, arts and spirituality.

She says, “Nothing I do is charity. I get much more than what I give.”