By Raj M. Isaac
Ganesh was adamant about the order of doing things.
“First you have a massage, sir. Then drink toddy. Go hotel and have a shower. Then sleep.”
I had declared my intention to our driver in South India to sample the palm wine and have an Ayurvedic massage. So when my wife and I entered the popular tourism destination of Kumarakom in the state of Kerala, Ganesh parked outside an Ayurvedic centre near our hotel.
Amidst its drab surroundings, the modest three-storey building was redeemed by its colourful ground floor façade of large posters displaying smiling clients being pampered by beautiful young sari-clad women.
“Female Therapist Give Treatment to Female Guests and Male Therapist to Male Guest” declared the brochure in bold red letters. Oh damn.
We chose the “Special Package”, consisting of a massage, oil treatment and herbal steam bath, and were ushered into separate, dimly-lit and sparse treatment rooms.
The masseur instructed me to strip and don a white cotton nappy-like costume called a langot. Something a Sumo wrestler would wear, I thought. Only I don’t have the physique of a Sumo wrestler. I imagined my wife wearing a similar costume. No, we wouldn’t have appreciated seeing each other like this, I concluded.
I was then asked to lie on a wooden table. There was no mattress to soften its hardness.
The massage began, with the masseur manoeuvring me into all sorts of ungainly positions, all the better to massage me with lots of herbal oils and to pummel and tickle me at every turn, gently. Aromatic oils were then dripped onto my forehead and massaged into my scalp and shoulders. This was soothing enough, but all that manoeuvring wasn’t good for my arthritic joints. I did not complain, though, for all this was supposed not only to rejuvenate me physically and mentally but to “reduce pain also”. An hour passed, and I was beginning to think that the treatment would not live up to its claim.
“Now you take a steam bath,” said the masseur.
I was led to what looked like a wooden cabinet with an opening on top. The doors were opened to reveal a seat on which I was invited to sit. I did so, and the doors were shut, leaving only my head sticking out of the opening on top. A towel was placed around my neck. I imagined this is how it would feel to be put in stocks – without the pain. Any humiliation I felt was self-inflicted.
At the end of the steamy session, I used the towel to remove whatever oil I could and then got dressed.
My wife and Ganesh were already waiting for me at reception. My wife and I exchanged amused glances but said nothing, out of politeness to him.
“Nice, sir?” asked Ganesh.
“Yes, very nice,” I said. “Now I need the toddy.”
“And something to eat,” said my wife.
“I take you somewhere nice. You have both,” said our driver.
We were driven to a toddy shop and restaurant. We walked past darkened rooms where all-male clients were noisily enjoying their toddy and meals. We entered a brightly lit and clean air-conditioned family room where we dined on deliciously hot crab curry and roti, accompanied by the well-earned, intoxicating toddy.
The first thing we did when we got to our hotel overlooking the stunning Vembanad Lake was to shower. The stunning views of the largest lake in Kerala could wait. Getting the oil off my bald pate was not a problem, but my wife complained that it would take at least a week to wash it off her hair.
We felt rejuvenated after a nap and were ready for a relaxing sunset boat cruise on the lake.
Ganesh certainly knew the order of doing things.