Updates from Bad Luck Garden

Alyssa Shteyn - India


March 7, 2019

I’m sitting outside watching my favorite neighborhood kid play with his
toy.

He’s three years old and throwing things. He always throws his toys at the
watchmen and smiling passerbys. He climbs up the parking garages of
neighboring buildings and throws plastic cricket bats onto the street. No
one stops him, this neighborhood is his domain. This has become my main
form of entertainment; sitting outside for hours and watching neighborhood
kids play. It’s the primary reason as to why I’ve not blogged yet. There’s
life outside here: wispy saris air drying from each balcony, old couples on
walks, young couples on mopeds, and stray dogs. So many stray dogs.

Each apartment complex in my neighborhood has watch dogs. In my
neighborhood, the uniform breed is German Shepard. They prowl up and down
the streets without leashes several times a day, but they’re too fat to
pose any real threat to intruders. Each apartment complex in my
neighborhood also has a set of grand gates, designed to keep out bad guys.
But few things in my community operate before 9 am and even fewer things
after 10 pm, so usually the trespasser is me, leaving at the crack of dawn
to play football with some students or coming home from a delayed flight
that landed at some ungodly hour of the night.

My host family’s garden is my favorite place to sit. It overlooks the
backroad of my neighborhood. The garden is where I talk to my family back
home — by the time the American midwest is awake, my host family is asleep.

My host mom believes the garden is bad luck, according to ‘Vastu Shastra’,
which, from what I’ve gathered, is basically Indian Feng Sui. She probably
gets weird vibes from the amount of time I spend in the Bad Luck Garden.
Every morning the door to the garden gets opened for one reason or another,
and every morning my host mom shuts the door. I eat my breakfast to
artificial lighting. By the time I’m eating breakfast in the morning, there
are already about 3-4 guests in my house, I call them ‘Matagi’, which means
‘respected mother’. Every woman in the ISKCON (International Society of
Krishna Consciousness) temple is referred to as ‘Matagi’, even me, a
clueless teenage white girl who is clearly lost inside and is just
desperately seeking to find her host mom in a sea of Hare Krishna devotees.
Luckily, any person I ask in the entire temple knows exactly who she is and
where I can find her. My host mom, the Matagi of all Matagis, is a
spiritual counselor and leader within her local Hare Krishna community.
Unlike most fellows in the India cohort, I feel as if the majority of my
experience in India revolves around my host family. Unlike most fellows in
the India cohort, I’m living with a powerful personality who has powerful
convictions and whose devotion permeates every aspect of life. Unlike all
of the fellows in the India cohort, I have access to a subculture and
minority spiritual identification in India.

I came to India to discover eastern philosophies, culture, language, and
religion. I ended up living with the senior most devotee in the entire city
— she’s a follower of a religious sect founded in the United States. One
of their most prominent temples is in West Virginia. Her spiritual master
is a white guy from Chicago. It’s been an interesting time navigating the
nuances of this somewhat western, somewhat eastern, new age spiritual sect.
It’s not exactly what I expected. But nothing here is.

Hare Krishna,

Alyssa

Alyssa Shteyn