A very enjoyable French couple next door recommends
Shan, who at 42 gives quite good 1 ½ massages for $11.00.
There are lots of massages and ayervedic health treatments offered
here in Varkala, South India. It is my partner rose's birthday so
why don't I get a massage for myself! Now isn't that a twist! I'm
in India and she is in the U.S. What can I do?
Shan's home is here in varkala but he spends a good
bit of time away and works close to Chennai/Madras in a hotel. Now
he is home for a month or two and practices his trade while here.
It is done in his family house which he says 10 to 15 years ago
was also a guest house for tourists. Then there weren't many places
to stay. Now it is no longer a guest house. In appearance it is
rather old and somewhat run down. Before getting to his house, however,
he comes to Basuri Beach Resort where I am staying, picks me up
on his Hero Honda 100 and off we go for the massage.
The house is full of family, extended family. I meet his wife and
a son, but by the sound of voices chattering away faster than I
can think there must be many more. I sit in the entrance room while
Shan gets the massage room prepared. He gives me a guest book to
read filled with the comments of satisfied customers. I often wonder
at times like this if folks also have a book of comments filled
with unsatisfied customers, but I don't ask! Soon the room is ready
and he invites me in. It is the middle room with a room on the other
side as well, and the only way into that third room is through the
massage room. The massage room appears to be in disarray with some
old broken furniture. In the center, under a florescent ceiling
light, is a swinging massage table. It literally is that. A flat
board hooked at the four ends to the ceiling! I'm hoping it holds!
Shan says to strip to my under shorts so I do and also take off
my rings, wrist and ankle bracelets and neckless.
As I lie on my back, Shan begins to apply the oil.
To compliment this, a mosquito buzzes in my ear. There is no background
music but there is plenty of background family noise so that will
have to suffice. The florescent light is bright but I adjust and
let go! As he continues to work my body, once in a while I feel
a bug struggling to free itself from the bondage of a pool of oil
which Shan has liberally applied. Just another slight distraction!
Now, the oil is a good oil, and as I say, it is applied liberally,
I'm not sure what brand it is or whether it is Quaker State 10w40
but I suppose it's really not necessary to know that, is it? Another
bug lands and almost drowns. The people of the Jain religion here
in India would be in quite some distress over the potential loss
of bug life in this manner! I think I manage to save it by pushing
it to higher ground. Let's see, I was relaxing , wasn't I? just
to remind me that this is India, the electricity goes off and given
that it's 8pm we are suddenly shrouded in darkness. Shan says this
happens most nights and doesn't seem too bothered. He scurries around,
leaves the room to get a candle, I suspect, and suddenly the noise
level goes to a crescendo. Many voices talking. No I would say shouting
all at the same time. Another bug is followed close behind by another
buzzing mosquito. I was hoping the darkness would solve the bug
problem but it seems they can't see either and are wondering around
looking somehow for their own death! I understand that death by
drowning is actually one of the more pleasant ways of going. But
Eventually Shan comes back with an oil candle. One
might think, since this happens most days, Shan would have the
transition down pat. But, once again, this is India! The candle
gives a soft and adequate light, one I much prefer to the cold
florescent death bulb. Shan says that many people prefer the oil
candle to the florescent bulb. I don't ask why! The massage begins
again, the bed swinging back and forth as Shan keeps his movements
in rhythm with it. I wonder how this works for someone who gets
motion sickness. Again, I think it best not to ask. At this moment
the door to the room opens and a child wonders through to the
other room. Ah, well
. Back to the massage. My eyes
are closed and I see lights begin to flash in my eye lids and
hear popping in my ears. Shan quickly flips the switch off and
says the electricity is on again. Oh, yes, why not? Relax Wayne!
We keep the candle, fortunately. Another man enters the house
and there is a brief conversation shouted through the door between
him and Shan. I'm beginning to laugh. What else can I do?
Now I'm to turn over and lie on my stomach. The
table swings and I get in position. Shan goes to work. This position
is not the most comfortable in the world. I feel a bit like a
bow with both feet and head maintaining the highest point. Soon
Shan comes to my head and puts another 2 inch cloth under it and
wants me to put my face directly in it. The bow is being strung
tighter! There is no place to put my face and head as there would
be on a proper massage table so my nose and face are smashed into
this cloth. I try to breath while Shan dumps a quart of Quaker
State on my head and begins working it vigorously. His hands feel
good but my body is tense and in some pain. Go with it Wayne!
Relax! Breathe in, breathe out! Then, thank god it is over! I
return to my back and breathe a sigh of relief. He does a few
more strokes over my body and then takes a towel to 'soak up'
the excess oil. After this experience I think I might invest in
oil stocks! Shan says to relax while he goes and prepares a cup
of tea for me. I say thanks but I don't drink caffeine. He doesn't
understand. It is rare to meet an Indian who does. I say caffeine
and usually I am understood to mean coffee. There is no such thing
as decaf tea or coffee unless you are in a large city and find
a specialty coffee shop. They might have decaf coffee for which
you will pay double the price of a regular cup.
So I try again with Shan. Here tea is just tea.
When I say I don't drink black tea because of the caffeine, he
says "no problem. I can add milk to your tea." No longer
will it be black. Simple solution. I don't dare to confuse the
situation further by bringing up the subject of green tea and
such so I say to him: "Shan, in black tea there is caffeine
which I don't drink." I can see he still doesn't understand.
I try again by saying, "you know, it has a stimulant,"
and I make gestures like bouncing off the table to illustrate
my point. He finally understands and says he'll make me a cup
of ginger tea, but he again doesn't understand that here ginger
tea is mixed with black tea. I'm about to give up when I say:
"how about lemon juice in hot water?" He says: "certainly
and I'll put milk with it." Lemon juice and milk! I can already
see the milk curdling! But I don't argue, and figure we're almost
home so I say: "great!"
I have sat up during the last bit of our conversation
and now lie back down to relax for 10 minutes while my tea is
being prepared. Relax? This word keep appearing! As soon as Shan
leaves the room the family chatter along with Shan's chatter really
picks up. It is loud and rapid fire. By the tone I could swear
they are arguing but I don't understand a lick of the language
in my American isolation so what do I know?
Mercifully, the tea arrives and it is quite tasty.
It is dark in the room except for the candle light so I'm not
tempted to see if the milk has curdled. It goes down well while
Shan and I chat a bit. He asks if the massage was a good one seeming
to want reassurance. I remember the parts that were good and say
"yes." After all, I do want to encourage Shan and I'm
not here to change him or India. That certainly would be a hopeless
task, fortunately, and an unnecessary one at that. Perhaps it
might be better to think in terms of being changed by India. Hmmm
Most anyone can relax under the ideal condition
of quiet comfort and soothing music. But what about lying on a
solid wood table, looking up at a florescent light bulb, a background
of family and neighborhood chatter, the electricity going off
and returning with the blinking and popping of the florescent
bulb, and periodic mosquitoes and bugs? I don't think I passed
the test. That pest, the Buddha, and a laughing one at that, is
lurking somewhere nearby!
I finish my tea, get my clothes back on and we walk
back into the entrance room. Shan hands me the 'comment' book
and asks if I would write something in it. I catch my breath and
say of course I will and momentarily fantasize what my entry might
be! The massage itself was quite good and I want him to know this.
I say: "good massage, nice oil, a pleasure to feel all the
different strokes, and the swinging table is a trip!" That's
about as far as I want to go and I lay the book back down. Shan
immediately picks it up before it collects dust and eagerly reads
what I wrote, then puts it in a protective plastic bag and takes
it to another room. He returns me to my guest house on his hero
Honda 100 and the massage is over. All for $11.00. It was worth
But, thank god, now I can relax!