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- Closing -

            Fate, karma and destiny are everyday words in India. The law of karma states that while we are not only a product of our past, with free will and using that knowledge wisely, we can create our future and master our own destiny. Having lived more than half my life in North America, I had left that esoteric side of Indian culture far behind but now it began to needle me as I looked for explanations to the senseless loss of my husband. After the news of his passing got around to family and friends, murmurs of ‘it must have been in his karma’ began to surface. It made me furious at the time, knowing that whether it was his destiny or not, the medical system had unquestionably failed us. However, despite the deep sense of loss and sadness, I tried to regroup with a renewed sense of wanting to get back to work and relieve Ajna in New York.

            A few months later, on a hunch, a good friend suggested that we have the restaurant assessed by a Vastu expert. Vastu Vidya is an age-old mayonic knowledge of designing and arranging buildings that was suppressed during British colonization along with Yoga and Ayurveda. What Vastu tells us is that our homes and workplaces are affected by the same forces that rule the world around us - the movements of the planets, gravity, solar energy and so on. These hidden forces should play a central role in our choices about what kind of places we want to live and work in. Almost all old buildings, temples and entire cities in India used to be built on strict principles of Vastu to create positive energy for those inhabiting it. Given the huge popularity of Ayurveda and Yoga, Vastu was also now beginning to reemerge as a valid living art form. She took the restaurant drawing to India, consulted a famous Vastu expert and came back with a somber message. The energy flow in the restaurant is harmful, there is no practical way to fix it, the restaurant would continue to have huge financial losses and that I should get out. Annoyed by the ominous suggestion, I ignored it and barreled on, confident that I could change that energy with hard work and good intentions. 

            Astrology, based on a celestial science is also a part of daily culture in India. Almost all babies have astrological charts written up at the time of birth, which lay out loose seams of child’s future. Concerned parents consult astrologers to determine good matches for their children and to fix the most auspicious times of weddings. My aunt laments the fate of her youngest son who married a young woman the family astrologer strongly warned against but one he was infatuated with and ended the marriage in a painful divorce. Farmers consult astrologers to determine the best timing to plant crops as do businessmen before making investments or opening new companies. At the urging of my aunt worried about the turn of events my life had taken, I consulted an astrologer who informed me that during these years amid trouble and tragedy, I should proceed with extreme caution before doing anything.   

            A small voice inside me kept telling me to find out more about Vastu also because I faintly recalled my parents huddling with experts before purchasing any property. A friend suggested I contact a Vastu school located right here in New York City. I learnt that many architecture firms were beginning to consult these experts to avoid inexplicable failures as to why some buildings flourished and some did not. A graduate from the school came over, took the Pondicheri drawings, asked me a bunch of questions and returned a week later. He looked me straight in the eye and told me quietly that the energy flow at the restaurant was very harmful for both Ajna and myself. New York would always be a financial drain, he told me. I let out a silent prayer that nothing bad should befall Ajna and if anything, I take the fall. But his assessment that Abel’s stay in the toxic space for over a year, particularly the little room below the stairs that had become his ad hoc office pre-opening had brought on the cancer hit me like a gut punch. The info being too bizarre to share with anyone else at the time, I got a sinking feeling that things were about to get even worse. I was right. 

            A week after we had done a memorial for Abel, I suffered a freak accident in the kitchen.  A slight slip of a foot and my entire right arm landed in a pot of boiling hot oil and further went on to splash on other parts of my body. From fingertips to elbow, my arm was a charred mess with third degree burns. Long stays at hospital rooms still a tormented memory, I refused to be admitted to one and came back with a huge bandage. The next three weeks were a blur as friends and family surrounded me trying to help as I lay in a tormented stupor. The recovery was long and painful while having frequent nightmares of losing my right cooking arm. 

            A couple of months later, just as my arm had begun to recover I suffered another accident, a slip of the foot and I broke my left wrist. I had planned a trip to India a few weeks later and despite the injuries, I decided to go. When my aunt received me in Mumbai, she took one look at me with one arm in a bandage and another in a cast and trying not to freak out, told me that ‘something’ was seriously wrong in my life and I needed to take charge. Confused and a little frightened, during the last leg of the trip at the urging of an old friend, I met a famous fifth generation astrologer and Vastu expert who had coincidentally met Abel in 2014 on a trip to New Delhi. He not only independently confirmed what the other two had told me but also insisted that he had detected no cancer in Abel’s body when he had met him. I had now heard the same information independently from three different people. Convinced that our time in New York was up, the day after I returned from India I called up my landlord and started discussions on finding a new tenant to take over our lease. Was it a sum total of the challenges we had faced combined with the Vastu news that convinced me to close? Probably.

            I don’t know what part about the closing was more difficult but none of it was easy. Breaking the news to our now well established team of warrior women - first Ajna, who had dedicated almost four years to running Pondicheri and who immediately viewed it as a personal failure or the hauntingly beautiful Sigma, mother of a five year old and our counter girl who had left an abused relationship and one Ajna had fiercely protected and guided. Her racking sobs while holding me tightly crying ‘Yes, I will find another job but I will never find another Ajna or you to work for’ left me in tears. Or the terrified look in Lugna’s face, a single mother of three we have thankfully placed at a friend’s restaurant. Looking my partners who were also some of my closest and dearest friends in the eye and letting them know of our financial losses was a lesson in humility, and hoping that they remember that they invested in not just a restaurant but in me, and my game is far from over. Most accepted it with grace and kindness - I was obviously better at picking partners than locations. 

            Being an Indian, I do truly believe that everything happens for a reason. I was probably meant to go to New York, learn some tough lessons and reemerge stronger and wiser. And maybe it was Abel’s karma - he would always joke with me that he might die young. Maybe he just knew.