Vaastu is a fraud, taking architectural rules designed for houses built in open settings and force-fitting them into the modern city

Sometimes bad events happen in one's life. That's when superstition walks in like a globalised low-ost purveyor of the finest snake oil and takes one out to a nice bar, buys one a couple of drinks and then gently suggests that the only way to alter the cosmic juggernaut of pure chance is to invest one's remaining funds in the purchase of an unseemly ring studded with the right sort of precious stone. While nebulae birth stars and scientists discover that quantum particles increasingly behave like Senthil, the comedian, it is still quite ridiculously easy to exploit a human being's moment of weakness by selling the equivalent of a sugarcoated placebo to heal a tumour.

A similar fraud is Vaastu, which takes architectural rules that were designed for houses built in rural, open settings in the past (essentially sunlight and ventilation design) and attempts to force-fit them into the inflexible concrete jungle of a modern city, not unlike how wedding dinners in Chennai serve paneer butter masala with sambar rice. Tragedy, it turns out, has a weakness for that wicked dessert called cognitive dissonance.

 Speaking of cognitive dissonance, Benjamin Franklin once observed that a person who has done someone a favour is more likely to do that person another favour if they had received a favour from that person. Normally, in Chennai, that's exactly the sort of confusing construction that might elicit a clout on one's head from Goundamani, but bear with me. In simpler terms, we are nicer to people we used to be nice to in the past (and nasty to people we've been nasty to in the past) because ideologies tend to be post-facto concoctions (like paneer butter masala in Chennai weddings).

We do stupid things first and then find ways to justify them. Ben Franklin apparently used his knowledge of this psychological phenomenon to great effect to further his political career.

 Vaastu consultants, gemmologists and astropalmomagnetotheraponumerologists use it more indirectly to augment their bank accounts. They first have to convince you that events in one's life are, in fact, entirely in one's control (when they really aren't) and then suggest that ruby, worn as a nose stud, will bring in an easterly shower of currency. Once one tries it out and realises how stupid one was to try it out in the first place, one is already in the grip of a grinning Franklin. The only logical next step is to remodel one's house in addition to wearing a magnetic bracelet to “absorb negative energies.”

 That brings us to an old Arabic saying: “If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.” It's a metaphor for a situation where permitting a small undesirable thing will result in further worsening of the situation. Every time I see an opulent, gemmologist or a Vaastu consultant convincing people to waste their hard-earned money, I can only think of Benjamin Franklin atop a camel eating sambar rice with paneer butter masala while sliding down a slippery slope.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012

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