“Should I take everything off?” I asked. “Yes, everything off,” she replied. “Underwear too?” My question was more out of caution rather than inhibition, because in a country where it’s inappropriate to hold hands with a member of the opposite sex in public or show your knees and shoulders as a woman, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t offending my first Ayurveda masseuse with overt nudity.
As I stood naked I considered how to assume the proper position for the massage. Glancing at a black gym mat on the floor, I noted it as ‘Option A.’ To my left was an elevated wooden plank about the width of a coffin and the length of a fishing pole, which sloped at an angle of 30 degrees towards the floor. Underneath the board was an aluminum basin filled with glass bottles containing essential oils. That couldn’t possibly be ‘Option B,’ could it? I thought.
“Please sit.” She said as she pulled out a white stool soiled with dirt that collected in the thin grooves of the plastic seat. The room was surfaced with cold brown tile floors, white walls, and was set to one side of the central breezeway of her teacher’s family home in Fort Cochin, India. There was no relaxation spa music here—just the sounds of squawking blackbirds and small children playing outside the one window in the room that was covered with a thin lace curtain.
I wanted to ask for a towel to put between my bare cheeks and the chair, but I remembered I was in India—where dirt, sweat and body odor are a part of normal everyday life.
After vigorously massaging oil into my scalp she asked me to lie down on the plank and proceeded to pour almost an entire bottle of oil over my body. I couldn’t fully relax during the massage partly due to the hard wood pressing into my spinal column and partly due to the environment, but it was an experience— the first of many odd, intriguing adventures in incredible India.