Having recently moved into my first solo apartment, I have taken great pains to make the space my own. I have framed, hung, removed, remeasured and rehung posters in all the rooms of the apartment. I spent nearly a week figuring out the ideal hang for my bright orange drapes. I put together a footstool, two bookshelves, a desk and a bed with four bottom drawers before thinking to myself, maybe I’d acquired enough Ikea furniture. And just the other day, I put together a small shrine in the corner of my bedroom.
On a little black table sits a blue silk cloth. Matches and incense sit at the back, along with a holder for the incense sticks made of dark wood. Two figures, about eighteen inches tall, stand opposite each other on top of the silk. One is Krishna, his flute held in raised hands, his choonari flowing, his dhoti radiant, a magnificent turban mounted on top of his river-hair locks. His eyes are looking to the gopi across the table, all pretty in her pink suit with a basket of flowers in her arm. She is turning to face Krishna, as if she were out on a morning walk and the mischievous boy had surprised her with a sudden, loving melody. Between the two sits Maharajji with a white mala, all smiles and laughs underneath the loving gaze of gopi and gwal.
There are three windows around the shrine, giving the deities a powerful radiance even when the shades are drawn. At night, I turn on the single LED lamp in the room, and the figures cast deep shadows against the walls, deepening the romance, marking the devotion more intimately. The head of my bed is placed just so that, at night, if I turn my head to the left, I’ll see them, rejoicing in their loving play, thrilling my heart in the darkness.
Lovely as this all looks, it’s not finished yet. I want to keep tinkering with it, improving the shrine, adding more glory to little leela happening there. I have a string of orange Christmas lights that I’d love to use, but I can’t decide if they should wrap around the table or climb up the central window. I have a small bronze Saraswati from Kashmir which keeps moving from my desk to the shrine, sometimes on a whim, sometimes by my mother’s hand. I don’t have any chanting sheets, instruments or sound system equipment, nor do I have plates for arti, saffron for tilaks, or ghee for candles. I haven’t even decided if the corner of the rooms is an appropriate place for God – most Indian families I know put their shrines in hallway closets, and I have 4 closets to choose from.
Most of this is just part of the frustration of moving. You want to move things around, keep playing with the space, adjusting things by feet at first, then inches, and then…perfect. But it’s also a larger part of human existence, trying to push things and pull things until everything is just so. We do it with our food, our friends, our children and our hair. But in devotion, it’s kind of a reversal. The method is already perfect – it’s ourselves which need the pruning, the discipline, the inculcation of love and humility to attain the divine. The saints, in this way, are very similar to new tenants: they give us the guidance to become more devotional, the satsang to deepen our feelings. We’re the errant homes full of emotional baggage, unpacked boxes and erratic décor. Always keep in mind as you attempt to reorder your little universe to suit your needs, how much work still remains on improving yourself.