D. Balakrishna has inherited a rich legacy from his father, Veena Doreswamy Iyengar, and carries forward the grand playing style sans frills
Don’t take music as a profession,” was Veena Doreswamy Iyengar’s earnest plea to his son D. Balakrishna, who reminisces his father’s oft-repeated words of wisdom. Iyengar was the Asthana Vidwan of the erstwhile Mysore Maharaja, Nalvadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar. “It’s a decade since I lost my father, but I realise the effectiveness of his warning today, having sensed the economic temperament of the musical world. It was my father’s deep-rooted passion for music, along with far-sightedness that made his belief stronger,” says Balakrishna, trained under his stern eyes.
How easy or difficult is it for children to carry on the musical legacy of renowned musicians? “You grow up imbibing not just the art, but also values. So, there’s no wavering in your contemplation. I was soaked in Carnatic music…the seedling had to be nurtured and my father was always there, enriching me with more and more,” avers Balakrishna, an M.Sc. in Statistics, who works with RBI as a Special Assistant.
Stalwarts such as Titte Krishna Iyengar, T.R. Mahalingam, T. Chowdiah, N. Ramani walking in to their house was a regular feature. The growing boy saw his father wield goddess Saraswathi’s instrument with revere on stage on numerous occasions and swelled with pride when the ‘veena man’ was bestowed with titles and honours. “This kind of lifestyle, environment and vibe with culture can robotically make you think that you have to step into your father’s shoes and take the style forward,” says Balakrishna.
And what is this special style that has evolved to become a school in the veena world? One has to trace the path to Balakrishna’s grandfather — Mysore Venkatesha Iyengar, a veena and flute maestro, whose love for music made him leave Hassan for a tryst that provided an opening for the illustrious family. “After dabbling with his hand-made flutes, this teenager’s obsession for music made him walk from Hassan to Mysore as he had no money for a bus too, let alone an instrument to learn!” Balakrishna recalls the family legend. “I heard that he went to the then stalwart Chikka Subbarayar’s house with tears rolling down his cheeks, pleading to be taken in as a student.” The generous Subbarayar readily accepted, for, he could not bear to see the ‘thirst for melody’ in anyone. Lessons in the gurkula system turned out to be an elixir of life for Venkatesha Iyengar.
It was later that Iyengar took advanced lessons from the celebrated Venkatagiriappa, who, after a while, also got the young Doreswamy Iyengar too into his shishya fold. With the royal family being connoisseurs of music, the family’s involvement in the music ensemble at the Palace Orchestra is all part of history now.
Says Balakrishna: “The style that leapt forward was a serious and traditional one, bringing together both the kriti and raga in a time-honoured, conventional manner. Every raga’s jeeva swaras were focussed upon for elaboration and the expansion spoke of customary grandeur without the frivolous frills that decant the essence of the scale. Every strum on the veena was important and every pluck at the tala strings had an implication to the portion played. One wrong twang at the tala strings would invite a frown from my father. The style saw a disrespect in anything that was divorced from classicism.”
What about contemporary fusion? “Is there any fusion now? It’s two concerts on the same stage!” And language? “I believe only in melodic language, it’s music that is important, be it Telugu, Sanskrit, Kannada or Tamil kritis,” is his instant reaction.
But Balakrishna had a fascination for the mridanga to begin with. “My beats on every box and utensil in the kitchen as a toddler forced my parents to think that I would fare well as a pace-setter in melody, so I learnt under Iyyamani Iyer. But soon after, with my grandfather’s insistence, I was back to the world of strings,” he says, having tread on a path etched by his family with several titles, awards, albums and students to his credit.
Although Balakrishna belongs to an established mould catering to Kamach, Bhairavi and Hamir Kalyani in concert requests, he believes in fine-tuning his music to the present requirements without filtering his principles. “My concert with Rajeev Taranath was after repeated practice sessions to understand our genres. In the same way, when we played ‘Samugana nilva’ in Kokilavarali raga (of Natabhairavi janya) in a Delhi concert, sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan came to my father and appreciated the grandeur of the scale and spoke of the treasure that exists in the form of composed kritis in the genre. Carnatic music has both — kalpita and kalpana — composed kritis and scope for manodharma. It is the way we handle it that determines our style!”