Just got back and am still covered in muck -- not by choice, but by DESIGN. Okay, so I've got to step back a few paces and explain why and wherefore.
The story begins about five months ago, when I began coughing. I am quite used to coughing, as I've had my occasional encounters with asthma. But this was a whole new genre of coughing. If it were a show on the AXN Channel, it would be called X-TREME COFFING. Adventure coughing. Rictus-deluxe. You get the idea, perhaps or maybe you don't, so just to be sure, I must make it clear that this was neither the kind of wet, gloopy cough that results in fountains of multi-coloured horror nor the mild, dainty, lady-like cough that is performed behind lace hankies. No, this cough was like me reaching down into my trachea, pulling it inside-out like a sock, and giving it a good scrub with a wire brush.
Okay. Well, I'll cut to the chase -- after several types of treatment, I went, three weeks ago, to an Ayurvedic doctor, a lady called Dr Sudha Asokan. She gave me the canonical vile potions and said that I would "have to enjoy our massages too!". And so it has come to pass that I, along with millions of others worldwide, have had an Ayurvedic Oil Massage.
The medication centre at which the massages are done looks quite normal from the outside -- just another residence in Delhi's teeming Safdarjung Enclave. Inside, the low, single story building is honeycombed with small rooms, in the doorways of which lurk short, modest-seeming, large-eyed women of the Malayali persuasion. The room I was shown into had a platform which looked faintly sinister -- a huge black wooden thing, mahogany perhaps or maybe darkened jackfruit wood -- flat, but lipped, obviously intended for a human being to lie down flat within.
I was asked to strip down to nothing -- is it not amazing how easy it is to do this when one is told to by a smiling and vaguely dorm-matronly woman? In moments, it seems quite natural to be sitting on a mahogany-or-jackfruitwood platform, wearing nothing at all, with all one's minor and major bulges oozing in all directions, having one's head massaged. After this, for one hour, I was literally bathed in hot oil and given a thorough scrub-down squelch-supreme massage. The first woman was joined by two more, and they went to work with calm steady vigour.
Does it feel nice? Dr Asokan came in at some point, while my eyes were shut and asked if it felt good. Of course I had to say something positive, so, like a good art critic, I said, "It's really interesting." It is, for sure, a very odd thing to be trying to be a good art critic while lying in a shallow bath of hot oil, rather like a leg of lamb in marinade, naked as newborn panda cub (there really is nothing more naked than a newborn panda cub. I saw one on TV the other day and was quite horrified. It looked like a bit of chewed bubble gum, except that it was making a weak squeaking sound and its GIGANTIC mother was licking it fondly)(well, okay, marsupial pouch-inhabitants stretch the definition of what is acceptably alive, but then they aren't normal mammals and don't count, do they? I am confident that I can get away with these politically incorrect statements because I am so sure that there are no marsupials reading this. Didn't get up to that stage of development, did they, hahaha) and talking to a warm friendly doctor whom one cannot see because one's eyes are covered in gauze.
So ... uhhh ... did it feel nice? Well, yes, I suppose so, in a completely altered-state sort of way. I now know what it is like to be a panda cub which has been marinaded in smelly unguents and kneaded to within an inch of its young life. I guess that's what it most felt like -- like becoming a huge baby again, entirely in the power of others, even to the extent of not really being able to communicate, since I don't speak malayalam at all and can only understand the conversational language I've heard from my parents, uncles and aunts. The three ladies attending to me spoke in something vaguely familiar, but I could only understand the odd verb or noun, which isn't really helpful for anything.
After the oil, there was a powder-massage -- like being lightly sandpapered -- and then a bit of steam under a curtain placed over my head -- and then a procedure that is best left undescribed in blog-space -- and then I was done. The undescribed procedure wasn't anything perverse, or nasty, or unnatural, just ... not worth describing, okay? We'll just leave it there, on the shelf, and never look at it again. Or at least, not until I have grown a whole lot older and am a veteran of many such experiences, which I am not at the moment, and thus would really prefer not to think about it too much. Really.
And then I was done. The two ladies covered the back of my neck and shoulders with some pungent smelling herbal mud, told me to put my clothes back on and sent me off into the world!
Tomorrow, I shall return and for five more days after that. Oh, and the cough? It's MUCH improved, thank you. It sits quietly in my throat and doesn't fidget or sneeze except for about twice in the day, and I do believe it is quite tame, if not exactly lovable, now.