Satish Kumar

Vaastu - Being an Architect in India: Oct. 20th
Bhaskar has been putting me to work on his housing plans. He has acquired a 40’ x 60’ lot on which he wants to put a 2700 square foot house with 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, servant's quarters, and the obligatory kitchen, dining room, living room, and puja room.
I spent a day working up a beautiful post-modern plan with him. It had all the right curves and spaces, and was a plan I personally was extremely proud of. In architectural school, I’m sure the plan would have earned me an A. Of course, this is India, and as I keep rediscovering what I think matters very little.
Bhaskar had to have his mother review the plan. It was then that I learned about vaastu, the ancient Indian science of building layout. I believe it is the most ancient uniform building code in the world. Vaastu has a similar cultural equivalent in China, Feng Shui. However, vaastu is caste related, and since Bhaskar is a strict Brahmin (come to think of it, in India I’ve never met a non-strict Brahmin), this house had to be laid out according to the principles of vaastu. Bhaskar’s mother rejected the plan as non-vaastu compliant, and I had to come up with something more workable.
So it was off to the bookstore to read about vaastu. First up, the qualities of the site include its soil, and its seller. White colored soil is considered good for Brahmins (the learned caste), red is good for kshatriyas (warriors), yellow for vaishya’s (the merchant class) and black for sudras ("the lower or backwards working class"). Similarly, "the soil should have a taste appropriate to the class - sweet for Brahmins, bitter for kshatriyas, sour for vaishya’s and any other taste for other working classes". Sites sold by rich people who have been living happily on the site are always good. Sites which are being sold under duress, or which contain dilapidated or haunted houses should be avoided (This explains why old restored havelis, forts, palaces, etc., in India are always owned by white folks!). After acquisition of the plot, cow dung should be placed on the site and a cow and its calf should be placed there for "some time".
Mother had objected to my placement of individual rooms in the house. The entry had to be on the northeast, and the well had to be moved from the southwest to the northeast. I had a dining room wash basin and toilet next to the puja room, a major vaastu violation. The puja room was oriented to the south instead of on an east-west axis. Everything it seemed including puja rooms, entryways, bedrooms (if you want a male child), etc should be in the northwest corner of the house. The strangest rule was that clothes had to be washed in the southeast corner because electricity will be used for the washing machine. Huh? Say what?
It was a challenge for Frank Lloyd Wright to do a house under these design guidelines. What to do to with these seemingly incongruous rules? The cynic in me said "Hire a vaastu consultant, and bribe him to invent rationalizations to mother to get out of this". However, determined to bend, rather than break, I went back, literally, to the drawing board. A new modified, and much less elegant plan was produced that satisfied the laws of vaastu. While it is a livable house, it won’t be architecturally stunning. Mother, on the other hand, wholeheartedly approved the new plan, and this architect now has a satisfied customer.
While going through this process, Satish has been purchasing an apartment of his own. Reviewing his plans, I noted that the toilet was facing south, which if I understood vaastu correctly, was a major no-no. "Yar", said Satish, "what does it matter, it comes out the north end".
I really like Satish.