Nirvana in God’s own country or A ‘Brief Outing’ in Kerala


There are a number of reasons for me to feel blessed – a noble wife, affectionate children, supportive relatives and friends, happy working environment, hobbies that keep me from boredom ….. If I count all my blessings, that will run to a few pages. But what do I value most? This is a tough question. And after some thinking, I have come to the conclusion that freedom from tension is perhaps my greatest blessing. And I have my parents to thank for it. For I am convinced that getting tense and worried is in your genes. You are either this or that.

I can hear readers muttering under their breath, ‘Enough of preamble. Come to the point’.
OK, OK. Give me one more paragraph and then my article will really take off as did my…. No, let me narrate it my own way.

If you are one of those less fortunate human beings and suffer from tension, anger, worries and what not, go to Kerala, which has rightly been called God’s own country. Two days there doing what we did will give you that feeling of lightheadedness, joy, and contentment. What did we do? Well, that is what I’m about to write.

For over two years, Aarthi (my daughter) has been pining for a holiday in the backwaters of Kerala. And she used to say that her idea of a holiday is one in which you do not do anything that can be called work or routine. But the logistics of coordinating the timing of a holiday for our family were difficult. Aarthi studies in Bangalore and prefers to visit Mumbai in her spare time. Harish (my son) works in Pune and likes to visit Mumbai and Chennai in his spare time. Amritha (my wife) and I live in Chennai and we like to solve cryptic crosswords or attend Carnatic music concerts or visit temples in our spare time. And a holiday in the peak season in Kerala may or may not make you lightheaded, but will make your wallet lighter. I’m sure you can see the problem.

After a series of phone calls and consultations, we decided that Aarthi who was going to NID, Ahmedabad for a visit would reach Mumbai on 26th June and Harish would reach Mumbai the previous day and they’d both travel via Konkan Railway route to Kollam. Amritha and I were to reach Kollam from Chennai on 27th after visiting a few temples in Kerala. Anything could have gone wrong and almost did. The severe monsoon in the west coast created problems for Konkan Railway and after a serious accident, train services were suspended for a couple of days. Fortunately all went well and we received Harish and Aarthi at Kollam at midnight. Their train was late by 7 hours. I can hear you say that something did go wrong. But I think late running is as natural to trains as talking is to a human being.

So on 28th early morning, I rang up Ashtamudi resorts, where I had booked our stay. The manager said,’We are expecting you. Sir and I’ll send our speed boat to Kollam jetty to pick you up by 10.00 AM.’ Wow, I thought. At the age when I should have retired but for the generosity of Vajpayee, I’d be traveling a la James Bond.

From the time, we landed at Kollam jetty (which, if you are not careful in pronunciation would become ‘jatti’ which is the Tamil word for brief) we felt we were in heaven. The 20 minutes trip to the resort, the rooms, the food, the service, the ambience, the now-here-now-not-here rains all combined to make a perfect holiday. But the best of all was the massage which is what this article is about.

The manager told us that one ayurvedic massage per room comes free with our package. Aarthi was the one who wanted a ‘real Kerala massage’. So we told Harish to take the other free massage. And they both persuaded us also to go in for the massage. The extra did not come cheap, but I didn’t want to rub my children the wrong way.

So all the four of us walked to the massage room. Aarthi and Amritha went to the ladies’ wing. My turn came after Harish and as I walked in, Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Babu and Sivan) took me to the Puja room. There was a prayer in front of the images of Dhanwantri and Iyappan, Kerala’s own God. I was thinking,’ Is a prayer required?’ and I recalled the joke when a student told his friend,’In our house we always pray before we eat’. The friend replied, 'We don’t have to. My mother is a good cook’. And I thought,’ I hope these guys know their job’. Then I was taken to the massage room which contained a teak table, a stool and some pegs on the wall to hang clothes.

Tweedledum, who was obviously the leader, told me to disrobe. Clad in my briefs, I sat rather self-consciously on a stool as directed by him. After requesting me to close my eyes, he put some powder which smelt like ‘Seekakkai’ on my head and rubbed it in. I thought he was doing it the wrong way as ‘seekakkai’ powder is used back home after the oil bath.

As if reading my thoughts, he poured warm oil all over my head and began to rub it in. As it dripped down my face, he scooped it up and worked it into my forehead, nose, cheeks and neck. This went on for several minutes before he told me ‘Out with your brief' (Now you know why the alternative heading). I was aghast and tried to reason with him,’But I have been naked only before doctors’. A meaningful glance was exchanged between Tweedledum and Tweedledee who then looked at me as if to say they were also doctors. Not wanting to create a scene, I did as requested (ordered?).

As I stood self-consciously with oil on my head and nothing below, Tweedledum told me to lie on my stomach on the hard, bare, and unpadded black table, which must have been made of teak. By now it was obvious that getting an Ayurvedic massage was going to be a totally new experience for me. The table was smooth and had acquired a rich dark colour by who knows how much oil. The surface was very hard. The small pad Tweedledee placed under my chin did very little to reduce the discomfort. He proceeded to oil every available inch of my body. This required copious amounts of oil, but he had an endless supply in a basin for which the space had been cleverly made in the table.

But I must say they knew their job. You’d normally expect a masseur to knead the muscles and massage them. But they simply moved their hands gently all over me collecting more oil at the end of their follow-through. First Tweedledum took over the right side of my body and moved from right shoulder to right toe while Tweedledee did the same thing from left shoulder to left toe. But after 10 minutes, on a pre-arranged signal, Tweedledum moved from right shoulder to left toe and Tweedledee from left shoulder to right toe. Two pairs of hands criss-crossing on my body but never touching was a novel feeling. I’ve seen rhythmic gymnastics, but was seeing (experiencing) rhythmic massaging for the first time.

After 15 minutes of this, Tweedledum indicated that I should roll over on to my back. Let me tell you, I am fit for my age and can turn over in a jiffy. But when you are covered with oil and lying on a slippery slab, it is almost impossible to turn. There was only a small beading at the end of the table to prevent you from sliding out from the table to the floor. Either of my tormentors was no help as their hands were as oily as I was and I could not find anything to hang on to, no matter how appropriate or inappropriate it may have been. I probably would have seen the humour in this if I hadn’t been concerned about falling down to the floor and breaking a bone or two. After a few tense moments, I managed to roll over and watched Tweedledum as he renewed his efforts with even more oil. The rhythmic massagers now had my whole front. As we all know, the surface area of the front is more. So the massaging of the front lasted for 20 minutes, when I was told to sit up.

And I had thought that turning over was difficult. Sitting up with 10 litres (OK, I’m exaggerating. But it must have been 1 litre definitely) of oil on your body on a slippery table is an Olympian task. A great deal of gliding and sliding by me accompanied by some skillful prodding and pushing by Tweedledum and Tweedledee eventually got me sitting up with my legs over the edge of the table. Tweedledee carefully wiped my feet and asked me to get down. I gingerly put my feet on the stool and then on a piece of jute cloth conveniently placed on the floor.

The next few minutes, I regressed into my babyhood. Tweedledum told me that he’d get the water ready for my bath. As I carefully oiled my way across the tiles to the bath room, he followed me there and told me to sit on a stool in the shower.

I watched curiously as he mixed up several herbs into the water. Suddenly and unfairly I thought, he picked up a jug, filled it with this muddy mixture and poured it all over me, explaining that it would remove the oil. But not only did he pour it on, he massaged it all over me. After each body part was thoroughly muddied, he finished me off with pitchers of warm water. I felt thoroughly foolish sitting completely nude in a puddle of mud with an (a non-consenting) adult male giving me a bath. He then soaped me with what he said was a special Ayurvedic soap made there. When he was satisfied that no oil or herbs remained, he gently dried me off using a cotton cloth smaller than a hand towel. I still have no idea how he could have managed that.

Then he said that if I wished, I could have a real shower and he would bring me a fresh towel. I jumped at the opportunity of having a bath away from other eyes. It was then that I realized that the shower room had no doors. So I had my bath under the watchful eyes of my masseurs and was given a new towel exactly the same size as the one before. Finished at last, I padded nude, but clean back to the massage room, thanked Tweedledum and Tweedledee, got into my clothes and left in search of Amritha.

Later I read from a book in the resort’s library that massage is only one component of the Ayurveda approach to well-being. The other aspects of this 6000 year old holistic process involve diet, meditation, and exercise with an emphasis on the link between mind and body.

The whole evening and night, I felt my body had been washed, polished and given a complete lube job and oil change. There is no doubt that the massage had left me relaxed and rejuvenated. During and after my ‘brief outing’, I definitely had attained Nirvana(m)! what does Nirvana(m) mean anyway ?

Nirvana n. (sanskrit) :
enlightenment, tranquillity and peace, ultimate reality, salvation, liberation

Nirvanam n. (Tamil) :
The state of nudity

August 2004