Of Massages, Masseuses and Madness

Steaming Pig.

Like every other touristy place, traveling to Kerala is fraught with cliches. And you have no choice but to succumb. And believe me – it is not always bad to do that.

The cliches usually involve a houseboat, the back waters, fish curry and a customary Ayurvedic massage.

Now massages in general involve a lot of undressing and creams and rubbing etc. But you haven’t experienced a massage until you have experienced a true blue Ayurvedic one.

It began innocuously enough with the dainty little woman telling me to get undressed. She handed me a little white handkerchief and I thought how very thoughtful considering the balmy weather until I realized that was not a handkerchief. It was a strip of cloth which is supposed to conceal the one part of my body that won’t be massaged. At least not in the respectable establishments. Now considering I am not an overly endowed woman I was still wondering by what stretch of imagination did they think that that fabric was enough to conceal anything ! It was something that would give a G string a complex. Anyway to humor her I went along with the idea and tied the little fabric to myself and then realized –  they mean it as part of meditation. You are supposed to relax to the point where the fabric feels like it has expanded and engulfed you and shrouded you with modesty.

So I lay down on the smooth table and waited. A lot of shuffling later she came back with a barrel full of oil and then began the massage, complete with my squeals because well… I am ticklish.

By the end of it – I felt like a deep fried croquette of sorts. You could have put me out in the sun, warmed me up and eaten me. If you weren’t on diet of course.

At the end of the massage she pointed out a little black box. I was supposed to get up and walk to it. Walk ? Walk ?

As I raised myself to sit up and swung my legs to the floor… I literally SLID off the table. Slid! and then swoosh skated on my bare feet in the general direction of the box… arms flailing all over the place. The horror struck woman tried to grab me to prevent me from falling to the floor  but instead slipped on a pool of gooey oil and went slippery sliding after me.

Now imagine if an outsider were looking through a window.

An almost naked woman..Oh who am I kidding … A naked woman slipping and sliding around a room followed desperately by another oily looking woman trying to lunge at her (Shakti Kapoor would have been proud).  This fracas lasted all of 20 seconds perhaps but for me, looking to avoid landing on the hard floor butt naked – it seemed like an eternity. Finally ugly black box saved me as I lurched towards it and held on for dear life. And did not move for a whole minute as I thanked all the saints in heaven who protect hapless naked women.

When I finally got my breath back, the masseuse came up to me sheepishly and with big doe eyes said something in malayalam which  I assumed was an apology. Either that or judging strictly by the tone, she was saying “How you doing?” Joey style 😛

She then proceeded to cocoon me in the Black box. One of those funny looking steam baths where you are sitting in a box with only your head protruding out.  As I sat there looking like a corpse trying to wiggle out through its coffin I contemplated the scene of the crime. The oily table, the greasy floor, the unctuous diminutive woman… my pinguid head minus the body( the reverse of a headless chicken)… I started to giggle. And couldn’t stop for the longest time.

It was the most eventful massage I had ever had.

Forget the oily smell that wouldn’t leave me for 2 days – the laughter was well worth it.

I tipped her well and promised to return. This time with anti skid slippers.

Oh and I finally understood the purpose of the little strip of cloth.

It was like one of those charm bracelets. Only difference is that you wear it around your waist.

You don it for luck and laughter.

I enjoyed both.

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Venice – An Old Long lost Lover

Strolling through Venice at midnight….. Even her most vociferous detractors couldn’t possibly resist the charm of a reticent Venice minus her hordes of lascivious suitors on a quiet full moon night…. where the only sounds are of your own footsteps along deserted ancient alleys accompanied by the sighs of exhausted heaving gondolas resting gratefully under silent ponts… 

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A place so often photographed and so often written about – that you arrive at Venice and find it as familiar as an old long lost lover… There are no surprises – except perhaps the initial mild shock at finding that odd strand of grey hair at the temples or a couple of wrinkles near the eyes altering forever the image of evergreen youth in your mind. But when the mob of tourists settle in for the night…and the canals and alleys are bereft of their needy clinging humanity – and the tiny frothy white waves lick the sides of gondolas tucked in for the night… and a full moon covers everything in a soft blanket of mellow lighting…The signs of age melt away and you begin to rediscover the reason why you had loved her/him right at the beginning ….

No the canals don’t stink. It didn’t the two days in august that we were there anyway.

Yes the gondolas are almost always manned by incredibly handsome men.

No two days are not enough.

Yes it has every romantic cliche possible but you would have to be a very very jaded person to resist them.

No we did not do every single touristy thing.

Yes we will return.