I had the most unpleasant massage of my life the other day so I am going to suspend my recent efforts at non-judgment for a moment now to tell you about it in oily detail.
I love massages. When I am in Southeast Asia I try to maintain a strict daily massage regime. Blissful Thai massages and deep Balinese reflexology go for about US$2-5 per hour. It would be irresponsible not to get a massage every day at these prices.
So I decided a few days ago that I should sample the favored technique in India: Ayurvedic massage. I knew beforehand that Ayurvedic massage involves oil and I usually try to avoid oily massages. But when in India…
An acquaintance recommended the Ayurvedic treatment center in the basement of the ashram where I was staying. When I arrived a grim looking man greeted me and showed me down a narrow staircase into a further sub-basement. He asked me if it was cold and when I responded that it was a bit chilly he nodded approvingly and told me to take my clothes off.
While I was standing naked in the corner, already starting to shiver a little, the man lit a gas burner on the other side of the room and put on a large saucepan. The burner did nothing to heat the room, but I wondered, could this be for a cup of chai to warm me up? I suspected so little.
Next, the masseur approached me with a long white string and a thin strip of cloth. He tied the string tightly around my waist and then draped the cloth over the string, treading the material between my legs and yanking it all too firmly upward before folding it under the string in back. My first banana hammock g-string, Indian style. Thus attired, I was directed to the massage table in the center of the room.
The massage table deserves some further explanation. In one of the Ayurvedic treatments on offer, Shirodhara, a stream of warm oil flows continuously onto your forehead, running endlessly into your scalp and hair. This sounds like an elaborate torture scenario to me and I can’t imagine much worse. Personally, I’d rather have searing hot oil poured directly down my new loin cloth. But then I should be careful what I wish for. The massage table evidently doubled as a Shirodhara oil drip table and included an elaborate oil-catchment area, a cold layer of left-over oil all over and, inexplicably, a lot of dust, grime and small pebbles (yes, pebbles) on the area where I was meant to lie down.
When in India… Lie down, I did.
It hadn’t gotten any warmer in the room but I had been too distracted by the loin cloth application and the oily, pebbly table top to really notice the cold. Which made the first splash of hot oil on my stomach all the more surprising. More oil, poured directly from the saucepan, flowed onto my legs, feet, chest, head and oh, wait… there it is, down my g-string. Oil, everywhere.
I opened my eyes to find out when the deluge might end and was surprised to find that a second man had silently entered the room and was standing to my side with his arms crossed and a stern look on his face. He was not wearing a loin cloth, unfortunately but he did have an exceptionally well-groomed mustache.
Let the rubbing commence. Next thing I know both men were working my legs, one man on each leg. They gripped my ankles with both hands and then in unison squeegee-ed upward with sufficient speed and force to send oil from my legs spraying onto my chest and face. Good times.
The massage continued in similar fashion for the next 45 minutes, with a half-time break of about five minutes to heat more oil to be poured on my back and my ass while I shivered on the gritty table. Evidently I was not yet sufficiently dripping with the stuff.
Afterward the men gave me a cursory cleaning with a dirty looking towel and then watched, with what seemed like amusement, as I tried to squeegee more oil off myself before putting on my t-shirt and jeans.
And all this for the price of only 600 rupees (about US$12). My first and last Ayurvedic massage, thank you very little. Though I did ask if I could keep the g-string…
(Note on the photos: Speaking of well-groomed mustaches! I passed these men on the street in recent days and shot them “from the hip.” You can tell from their suspicious looks that I might need to work on the subtlety of my hip shots. But then you would have to expect men with facial hair this sharp to be on point.)