Deepak stepped out for his morning jog around the neighborhood. The mild spring morning was sunny; the bright yellow daffodils, in full bloom just a few days ago, were now fading and drooping, their brief time was up. But, the azalea buds looked like they were about to burst into bloom.
Back home, dripping with sweat, he cooled off on his customary chair in the balcony. Indira brought him a glass of orange juice.
“I called Bangalore. My parents asked about you. My mother spoke to our family purohit … said we should buy a house that faces east; it’s auspicious, keeps off negative energy.”
Deepak nodded his head.
Indira said, “Deepak! Are you listening to me? I don’t know what you do with that iPad all the time.”
Deepak looked up. “I’m reading Bollywood news.”
“Yeah, yeah, more like ogling those half-naked women … hmm …”
He smiled. “Actually, Katrina Kaif looks smashing in a bikini, look.” He gave her the iPad.
“Deepak! I don’t have time for this frivolous stuff. You need to grow up. First thing in the morning you indulge in these, these … you should join in my morning puja … instead … hmm … anyway, we need to call the realtor, update her.”
Deepak sighed deeply. “Okay, okay.” He thought that it is futile to argue with his overly pious wife.
He remembered the time when she decided their son’s name. When he knew they were going to have a son, Deepak jotted down names such as Rakesh, Satish, Rajesh, which he considered modern and mainstream. For him, a name which ended with “sh” conveyed a sense of distinction and accomplishment. Rakesh Sharma, a distinguished scientist and advisor to the defense minister of India. Satish Dhawan, a renowned aeronautical engineer and the driving force behind the Indian space program. And, of course, Rajesh Khanna, the beloved Bollywood heartthrob. Santosh (Indira’s older brother), in Deepak’s view, was an anomaly; his lack of any accomplishments, either minor or major, didn’t really fit his name.
But unbeknownst to him, Indira consulted her much-revered Bangalore purohit, and named the boy Vasudev.
Deepak said. “What kind of a name is this Vasudev? So old fashioned.”
“Deepak! Shhhh … Don’t talk like that. Vasudev is another name for Lord Vishnu, our family deity. Our purohit consulted the scriptures, he said it’s a very auspicious name.”
Thanks to Indira’s directional desire, the number of suitable houses dwindled drastically. The American builders were not up to snuff with Vastu Shastra — the ancient Hindu treatise on architecture.
Before entering each and every house, Indira checked the compass on her iPhone to make sure of the cardinal directions. The realtor joked. “Looks like you don’t trust me, ha?”
In an immaculate house they saw an eye-popping nude painting, reminiscent of a pregnant Demi Moore.
The realtor said. “She’s the lady of the house. I know her. I sold this house to the family, few years back. Now they are moving to the West Coast.”
And in the master bedroom there were several other nude paintings of the same lady. One resembled Goya’s Nude Maja, with her hands behind her head.
After they got into her vehicle, the realtor laughed loudly. “Deepak, how do you like the Demi Moore house?”
“It’s great, well-lit rooms … but I’m not sure the house comes with her.” He sighed dramatically.
Indira remained glum until they were dropped off at their apartment. “How disgusting! Posing nude … and you, ogling like a teenager.”
Deepak laughed. “That’s a well-maintained house, very suitable. They are motivated to sell; we’ll get a good deal.”
“I’ll not live in that house, all those obscene paintings, bad aura.”
Finally, a four-bedroom house was found in Apex, half an hour from their apartment in Chapel Hill. Deepak wanted to move in immediately after closing. But the remote control in faraway Bangalore did not approve.
Indira said, “We can’t move in right away. On May 26 we should go to the house at 1 a.m., boil milk, do a puja. It’s an auspicious time set by the purohit … it’s based on our horoscopes.”
Deepak groaned. “Get up in the middle of night… hmmm … what’s with milk and all?”
Indira rolled her eyes. “What? You don’t know that boiling milk at a new house will bring good luck? It’s part of the housewarming ceremony … I’m surprised …”
“My father built a house when he retired from the government … we simply moved in after it was ready, no puja, no nonsense.”
Indira ignored his impolite comment. “And then, the same day we’ll have a grand puja …. invite our friends.”
Deepak said, “For god’s sake it’s an empty house, how can you do a puja? Where will people sit … on the floor, ha?”
Indira smiled. “You don’t have to be so sarcastic. Everything’s in control. The purohit from the Cary temple will guide us, and then he will sprinkle holy water around the house, chant slokas to purify the house. He will be back in the morning to conduct the grand puja in the presence of our friends. Caterers will arrange tables and chairs. Food will come from Udipi restaurant.”
Deepak said, “Okay, okay, let’s move in the day after the puja. Let me call the movers.”
Indira screwed up her face. “No, no, no, not so fast. Starting from May 27 to June 15 there’s not a single auspicious day. You know Jupiter and Saturn are not properly aligned with our horoscopes. So, our purohit suggested that we move in on June 16, a really auspicious day, all the planets will be in proper conjunction.”
“Great! You want us to pay rent here and also the mortgage … it’s a bloody waste of money … for almost two months.”
“Shhh … please don’t yell, we should follow the scriptures, or else bad luck will fall upon us.”
Indira wore a brand-new silk sari, imported from Bangalore. The purohit and Deepak wore white dhotis, and Hindu scared thread across their bare chests. With a small fire in a cauldron in the middle of empty living room, the puja was in full swing. The purohit’s chanted hymns, and the aroma of incense and camphor permeated the air.
The serene setting was rudely disturbed by a big thud, thud, thud, and then the front door burst open. Four police officers, with their weapons drawn, rushed inside.
One yelled, “Y’all show your hands!”
The purohit, shocked at this unseemly intrusion, yelled back, “Officer, we are in the middle of a ceremony, please leave.”
Deepak said, “May I know why you broke my door and entered without a warrant?”
The lead cop smirked. “Your door? People living opposite complained about intruders. And this fire here is a fire hazard. If this gets out of control, the whole neighborhood can be engulfed in fire, it’s been so dry these past few months.”
Deepak shouted angrily, “Now you all get out of my house. We can do what we want in our own house.”
The cop took a step toward Deepak. “You need to prove that this is your house. You have disturbed peace, entered a house, and doing all this voodoo.” He pointed at the fire. “You need to come with us.” He motioned to his assistants, and they handcuffed Deepak and the purohit and walked them out of the house.
Indira was distraught. “Officer, this is a big mistake. This is our house, and this … this is a holy ceremony … please leave us alone.” She was in tears, and the kids, already restless and sleepy, started to cry loudly.
The cop said. “Now, lady, you are making me nervous. I suggest you take the kids and leave.”
Deepak yelled just before the cops pushed him into the police vehicle. “Indira, don’t worry; call the realtor, okay? … We will sort it out.”
Indira looked relieved. “Thank god I could get hold of the realtor; she was really helpful, talked some sense into those dimwitted cops. Saying that our puja is voodoo, so rude.”
At the end of a long day, they were back in their apartment. Deepak poured himself a generous amount of whiskey. The grand puja, followed by a sumptuous lunch was a great success.
Deepak took a big sip. “Yeah, it could have been worse. Those ignorant cops and the bloody neighbors. I just can’t believe it, calling cops, ha?”
On June 16, at the exact auspicious time — this time, luckily, was in the daytime — they moved into their house. Indira, following her purohit’s instructions, brought a few belongings, couple of pots and pans, sleeping bags, and other essential items for one night’s stay at their new home. This time she did a small puja by herself, with an idol of Lord Ganesha on the kitchen counter. And then she started to cook.
Deepak said, “Let’s get a pizza, why cook now?”
“No, no, no. We have to cook, that’s the rule, and then we should sleep here tonight. Afterwards, the movers can bring everything.”
Deepak said, “You know, honey, you gotta put a lid on this, this … I mean your purohit got us into trouble with the cops. Maybe it’s time to, you know, tone it down a bit.”
Indira said, “Deepak, whatever I do, it’s for the good of our family. If we want to be healthy and prosperous, we need to follow the scriptures. If the gods are happy, we’ll be happy too.”
Indira said, “We need to place the headboard towards east. Our heads should face east. Otherwise …” She was visibly perturbed.
Deepak was mad. “Bull! You want to place the headboard right in front of the door?” He measured the room. “It’s not safe; we’ll run into it all the time.”
Indira said, “Actually, what I’m telling you is the truth. If you want, talk to the purohit yourself.”
“I’m not talking to that dumb guy … telling you all kinds of crap.”
Indira persisted. “So, you are okay with placing the bed so our heads will face east?”
“I’ll do no such thing. You can keep your head against east or south or north, anyway you like. I’ll sleep normally. The headboard will be against the wall.” He thumped his fist on the dining table.
Indira said, “But my feet will be in your face, that’s not, that’s not …”
Deepak was livid. “I had enough of this religious mumbo jumbo. It’s very aggravating. I almost landed in jail, thanks to your crazy ideas. From now on, I forbid you to talk to your folks about every little thing. I don’t want them to run our life. Puja for this, puja for that. Auspicious time, my foot.”
He went into his den and banged the door shut.
Indira looked at the time; it was six in the morning in Bangalore. She called her mother.
“Mom, did you have your morning coffee?”
Her mother yelled at the top of her voice. “I can’t hear you properly. Hello, hello, are you there, Indira?” The lady modulated her voice depending upon the distance, normal voice when she spoke to her friends in town, a few decibels higher to her son in Delhi, and a crescendo to America, across so many continents.
When Indira told about Deepak’s recalcitrance, her mother said, “Oh! I see … ummm … I think Deepak is going through one those Saturn phases. That’s why he got arrested … hmm … now I see. Yes, it’s definitely the Saturn. Let me speak to our purohit. I’m sure he’ll suggest a remedy, maybe a homam or a yagna to get rid of this Saturn. Don’t worry, baby. We will fix it.”