International -- Letter from India
Got a Problem? Try Some Cosmic Harmony (int'l edition)
Three years ago, business was in turmoil for Raj Kumar Tyagi, owner of two small New Delhi companies that produce industrial wire and wiremaking machines. Workers lacked motivation, production was low, theft rampant. Clients, citing financing difficulties and other problems, were canceling orders.
With production down 70%, Radiant Wires Ltd. was losing $100,000 a year on sales of $1.1 million, while Assomac Machines Ltd. barely broke even on sales of $1.2 million. Tyagi admits that he was operating on a short fuse. In desperation, he sought help from an expert in Vaastu Shastra, which means "science of dwelling." It is an ancient Sanskrit text that describes how to design buildings and towns in harmony with the cosmos. It's a sort of Indian Feng-shui, the trendy Chinese design theory that's popular with Western architects and decorators.
A quick walk through the two plants, and the expert, who goes by the single name of Vinayak, spotted the problems. Tyagi was hot-tempered because his office was in the fire corner, where heat-generating activities should be located. Power generators and a casting furnace, on the other hand, were in the earth corner, which should be reserved for heavy machinery because both earth and machinery are solid and heavy. A door on the south, where openings should be avoided, attracted bad vibes and encouraged theft. And toilets, which were in the northeast corner, blocked the inflow of positive energies. Little wonder, Vinayak said, that Tyagi was in trouble.
He isn't any longer. Tyagi spent around $10,000 remodeling the building in line with cosmic forces, and today he boasts increased production, booming sales, and a drop in theft. "Vaastu has improved our overall performance," crows Tyagi, adding: "Now, I am in full command." He's even preaching the benefits of Vaastu to his customers. "If a client has put a plant in a bad position, he will sink down and not place any more orders with me," he explains.A "SCIENCE." Tyagi's not alone these days in trying to tap mystical forces to make his life better. Stressed-out, upper-class urban Indians are applying Vaastu's principles of cosmic energy to improve their health, their finances, and their careers. Vaastu books and CD-ROMs, explaining how to design Vaastu-based homes and offices, are being snapped up throughout India. Vaastu consultants are charging as much as $2,500 to review architectural plans or examine existing structures. Vinayak, 60, is paid $400 to evaluate a building, and he has dozens of business clients. "It's a complete science for the well-being of humanity," Vinayak says of the ancient system.
Although Vaastu has been around for centuries, it's a new concept to most of its adherents. India's Anglicized upper class long ago dismissed traditional religious rituals and ancient Indian sciences as superstition. And they scoffed at the Western hippies who flocked to the country in the 1960s, seeking inspiration in Eastern mysticism. For India's elite, "science had replaced God," says Parveen Chopra, editor of Life Positive, a New Age magazine published in New Delhi. "Anything that could not be scientifically proved was not worth believing in."
But urban Indians these days are turning to all kinds of mystic forces to help them cope with the tensions of rapid social and economic change. Healing centers that practice alternative medicine are popping up, and techniques such as Reiki and Pranic Healing are gaining in popularity. When New Age guru Deepak Chopra, the author of The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, lectured in New Delhi recently, more than 2,000 people turned up, causing a stampede at the auditorium. Some 100 spiritual books have been published under the Full Circle imprint in the past two years. Life Positive readers devour articles on gem therapy, hug therapy, past-life recall, yoga, crystal healing, homeopathy, and tofu.
The trend stems partly from Indians' desire to rediscover the indigenous traditions that earlier generations had discarded in their rush to modernize society. "Lots of people are trying to ask questions about their roots," observes management consultant Anil Sachdev, who built his family's five-bedroom house according to the principles of Vaastu. "We've struggled with our material needs," says Suzy Singh, a former advertising executive. She gave up her successful career so that she could establish the Inner Joy Crystal & Transformation Center in New Delhi. "It's only now that we seem to be prepared to ask questions that relate more to our existence than our survival."
Prema Bhandari, 60, a Harvard business school graduate, is typical of many soul-searching Indians. As a young girl in India, she didn't even know what yoga was. After her marriage, she spent years helping her husband manage their New Delhi auto-components factory. She turned to meditation after her husband became ill. Now she performs Reiki on cancer patients, and every year she goes on a 10-day meditation retreat, where she eats little, sleeps on the floor, and spends her days in total silence. "Life used to be so much simpler, more leisurely," says Bhandari. "Today, people are so stressed out, they want to have something to help."
For businesspeople, Vaastu seems to be the spiritualism of choice. Vaastu Shastra dictates everything from the orientation of structures on a plot of land to the proper layout for rooms and the location of doors and windows. The idea is that by balancing space, air, fire, water, and earth in a structure, you manipulate outside magnetic "energy fields" so that positive energy flows into the building. A finance department should be in the north, the water area, for instance, so that wealth flows in.
Indians used the rules of Vaastu for centuries to construct temples in southern India, and the Maharaja of Jaipur drew on them in the 18th century when he constructed his famous Pink City. Today's Indians use Vaastu to create a better work atmosphere and to bring about business success. "It is a design where people are in harmony with one another," says consultant Rakesh Chawla in his spacious office in Delhi, with New Age music playing in the background. "Who doesn't want harmony?" Nobody, it seems, and Chawla's clients include Nike Inc.'s Indian franchisee, Sierra Industrial Enterprises; Relaxo, a large Indian manufacturer of shoes; a Pepsi bottler, and several upscale retail shops.TOUGH TIMES. Vaastu has its detractors, of course. "It's a constraint imposed for no rational reason," grumbles Yasmin Tayebbhai, an architect in Delhi. She asserts that pricey Vaastu consultants prey on people's fears by predicting ill fortune or blaming tough times on architectural flaws. Illness and even death are blamed on faulty house planning or incorrect furniture arrangements. "You are working on people's susceptibilities," Tayebbhai says.
Indeed, Canon India Private Ltd., which manufactures plain-paper copiers, set up its corporate office in New Delhi in 1997 in office space formerly occupied by a foreign telecommunications company whose ambitious plans for India fell through. To be on the safe side, Raman Multani, Canon's general manager of sales and marketing, hired Chawla to check out the building before Canon moved in. "Why take a risk?" Multani asks. Sure enough, the office had a long, straight hallway that sucked positive energy right out of the building. To keep employees from congregating in that unstable zone, Chawla suggested adding plants and mirrors to break up the hallway, and reserving the area for visitor seating.
Today, Canon India is doing well. Is Vaastu the reason? Multani won't go that far, but he is willing to admit: "It gives me a very safe feeling. It soothes the psyche." For Indian executives, that's reason enough to rearrange the furniture.EDITED BY SANDRA DALLASReturn to top