photograph by jeff mikkelson
Donna D'Cruz
Invites Us In

By Nilaya Sabnis

At the entrance of Donna D'Cruz's Gramercy Park apartment are two figures. Shiva and Shakti, the male and female energies of the world. Dangling from Shakti's slender fingers is a diamond studded set of headphones that Dolce and Gabana gifted Donna because she DJs for so many upscale parties. Donna is the founder of raSa music which markets and celebrates music from all over the world.

NS: When did you move here?

DC: April 26 1991. Anzac day, which is like the Australian memorial day, is on the 25th of April, so I arrived the next day. I came to New York with $400 in my pocket and one phone number of a guy I knew.

NS: Why New York?

DC: Well, really, why not New York? New York represents the universe in so many ways. New York's energy is divinely female. She seems hard and abrasive at first, but, like a courtesan, she will seduce you if you know how to lover her. You have to let her accept you, find you, love you. And she doesn't love everyone. You can tell who's going to survive and who isn't.

New York is not for everyone. If you have an idea, she dares you to pursue it, and if you do, she lets you survive. London, Paris, no other place has quite the infrastructure, the melding system, that New York does. If you're an entrepreneur New York is perfect. You can make a living here if you have the balls to do it. And if you have compassion in New York, she'll let you survive here. You have to see the goodness in everyday things, to talk to the taxi drivers, to notice the few trees, to acknowledge the homeless people. If you stop for the every day moments, the city opens up to you.

NS: In what ways have you and your husband chosen to collaborate on creating this space?

DC: When Architectural Digest came to do an issue on the apartment, we talked about how the genre for the apartment is Italiano Indian. Tom is Italian, and this furniture was made in Milan. The stones that you see around the house are from Brazil and India, all over the place really. The granite on the fireplace and table tops and backboards is from Cochin, where my family lives, in South India. The wood from the coffee table and the window over there is Wenge wood from Africa. These are temple windows from North India and we've put a mirror in the back of it.

That piece leaning against the wall over there is a massage table from South India. You see the cradle at the top of it? That's where the head would go and then the body would be massaged on the length of it. Its for Ayurvedic massage- its soaked in coconut oil. The crystals are from different places we've traveled. We love to travel and pick up things that we see around the world and bring them home because they really carry the energy of the places we go. People have asked me to design their homes for them and I say 'oh no I'm not a designer but I can certainly go shopping for you [laughs].'

NS: RaSa is all about creating a sacred environment using scent, ambient sound and flavor in order to encourage an immersion in a sensual and spiritual life. How have you created this environment in your home?

DC: Everyday I have certain rituals. Ritual locks in intention. I walk into the house and light incense to clear the energy of the day. I exhale and recognize that I am home. The Japanese word for incense is Koh. Shoyeido makes the best incense- combining aloe and sandalwood. You know Indian incense has a stick in the middle so when it burns down, you're left with that smell of burning wood. With Japanese incense, there's nothing left but ashes.

I take off my shoes, light candles, and sit. Lighting that incense, listening to beautiful music gives me a space to decompress the day, to create an exhale. It is so common for people to run into the house, hit the answering machine, watch the time. We should be saying thank you for our homes, this beautiful place to come home to. No matter how big it is, no matter what we have in it. Our first room in New York was tiny- I could put out my arms and touch both walls. We put up silk on the walls and made a little tent. You have to have respect for what you have, have to be thankful. Wherever I go I collect little rocks and feathers, and I remember where they are from, they each tell a story.

To read the full interview, please look for our forthcoming issue of SWAY magazine.