"We'll fix it," my husband said soothingly. "We'll get a contractor in, draw up some estimates and change the location of the bathroom and the kitchen."
Famous last words. We were novices, my husband and I, in the volatile, subterranean world of Manhattan co-ops, where committees decide if you can remodel your apartment and contractors walk out at the drop of a hammer. We had wool over our eyes and flowers behind our ears, suburbanites that we were, fresh from the world of independent lawn mowing, snowplowing and deciding our home's destiny. Little did we know that in Manhattan, remodeling was less about choosing cabinets and more about kissing up to recalcitrant board members and contractors with attitude.
Fast forward to a year later. Remodeling was clearly out. The board hadn't approved, the contractor's estimates were sky-high, and we had a new baby. Vasthu or not, the kitchen and bathroom would stay where they were.
Vasthu is Indian feng shui. It is the art and science of designing flowing, open spaces that swirl with good energy. Indian Maharajas and Moghul Emperors used Vasthu when they built their symmetrical palaces, artificial lakes, and geometric courtyards that thirstily absorbed positive energy.
Like feng shui, Vasthu is based on an octagon with the four directions being the anchors. Hindus believe that gods live in each of the quarters of the house, and govern the rooms, possessions, and activities in these locations.
Indra, the god of gods, is positioned to the East. The East is where it all begins in Vasthu. When people build their homes, the main door or the entrance is always facing the East. The eastern direction is the harbinger of good luck, which comes into the house through the door. In our Manhattan apartment, the previous owners had built a convenient computer cabinet in this position, which I loved. The main door was to the right of this computer cabinet. We tricked the Vasthu gods by stenciling a door on the back of the computer cabinet. Let them think that it was the main door.
Kubera, the god of wealth, resides in the north. This would be a good location to keep the household checkbook and the money we keep in the house. My aunt literally has a pot of gold in Kubera's position at her home in Madras. In Kubera's quarter of my Manhattan apartment, I placed my funky coin sorter that I got for $29.99 at Brookstone. I hoped that by keeping my coin sorter in Kubera's position, the money would never run out. My husband said that he didn't much care for coins, he would much rather have bills instead. So we added a billfold next to the coin sorter.
The Northeast is the position for Dharma, the god of righteousness. Hindus typically keep their puja rooms in this position. Since the master bedroom was in the northeast corner of our apartment, I kept a small altar with various gods in the northeast corner of the master bedroom.
Agni, the god of fire, lives in the southeast corner. This presented a considerable challenge. The guest bathroom lies squarely in the southeast corner of our apartment--exactly in Agni's position. If there's anything that the Vasthu rules are strict about, it is that the kitchen be situated in the position of the god of fire. Ancient texts say that locating the kitchen in the seat of Agni ensures 'that the women of the house remained cheerful and of good disposition.' Was this the reason I was so irritable? Though my husband assured me that my irritability had nothing to do with Agni, the thought lingered.
Yama, the god of death, resides in the South. He prevents the evil eye from taking control of our lives. In India, people put a ghoulish pumpkin mask, similar to Halloween masks, in Yama's position to ward off the evil eye. In America, I put my collection of masks from Uganda, Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, and India all across the southern wall.
Niruthi, who prevents homes from being robbed, dwells in the southwest corner. In that corner, behind our TV cabinet, I placed a pot containing our spare house keys as well as some costume jewelry, loose change and an expired checkbook. I wanted Niruthi to watch over my jewels, money and bank account. To be safe, I also kept our car keys, photographs of my family, and the instruction manual of the new digital camera that my husband had bought and loved. If Niruthi was going to keep things for us, I wanted him to protect our car, our home, and most importantly, ourselves.
Varuna, the god of water, lies to the West, where the bathroom should be. The only problem was that my kitchen was located in Varuna's position. Was that why it had become flooded twice in one year, causing our parquet to rise up like mini-pyramids. My husband reminded me that it had flooded because our toddler had left the kitchen tap on before we all left for a two-week trip. Nevertheless, the kitchen and bathroom were in wrong positions in our apartment. What was I going to do?
Vayu, the god of wind and air, is situated in the northwest corner. Vayu promotes serenity, peace and calm. Our guest bedroom was located in the northwest corner of our apartment. Maybe that is why our guests loved coming to our home and stayed on endlessly. They were getting our home's peaceful aura while we were left bickering in another part of the apartment. Accommodating this Vasthu rule was easy. We just moved into our guest bedroom and left the master bedroom for our guests.
The kitchen and the bathroom were more problematic. For a while, I contemplated installing a small stove in the guest bathroom and cooking there. But our guest bathroom is a tiny, dark space that wasn't conducive to the pleasant aromas of cooking. Turning our kitchen into the bathroom was even more problematic. The only thing I could do was to wash my daughter's hair in the kitchen sink. I vowed to do that at least once a week to propitiate the Vasthu gods.
Finally I had an idea. I would move my spice cabinet into the guest bathroom. I quickly bought a tiny spice rack and filled it with all the Indian spices--cumin, coriander, fennel, fenugreek, black mustard seeds and peppercorns. I nailed my spice cabinet with its assortment of spices on the southeast corner of my apartment, just above the showerhead in my guest bathroom. Guests could stand in the shower and savor the aromas of Indian spices as a prelude to my cooking, I figured.
A week after I finished my Vasthu rearrangement, small miracles happened. No, I didn't win the lottery nor did my husband get a promotion. But our daughter finally got admitted into a preschool after months of nail-biting anxiety. Our kitchen floor never flooded again, and everyone who visits comments on how good my cooking is. I don't tell them that it is because of the spice cabinet above the showerhead. But I do feel more at ease within the confines of our apartment.
Vasthu is all about harmony and balance, both in a home and in life. By making these adjustments to our living space, I discovered that even minor changes could indeed bring harmony and balance to our lives.