In 1990 with the ULFA problem showing no signs of ever allowing Assam to get back to a sense of normalcy and having concluded, regardless of my love affair with Tea, that a hole in the head (which was a grim possibility) was not quite what the doctor had ordered to improve my looks, I ended up jumping ship to land feet first in Dubai. A short stint in a job situation peddling agricultural commodities ended soon with me starting my own business. A business focused on the only product I really knew and loved – Tea, though now from the other side of the fence. Following a very eventful decade of ups & downs in Dubai, I relocated lock stock & barrel to Sri Lanka where me and the family spent five lovely years, with me enhancing my enriching my romance with Tea.
During the Colombo tenure, South Indian fare having been added to the repertoire of Teas I was able to offer to purveyors in various markets to which I had spread my wings, I would quite regularly take the short hop of a flight across the Palk Straits to Cochin to attend to ongoing business. The hotel I’d always use in Cochin was the Taj Malabar which being located on Wellingdon Island was, besides being the most convenient for my business since all the tea companies operated from offices on the Island, is also amongst the most beautiful hotel properties I’ve ever stayed in. Situated on the very mouth of the Cochin back waters, the beer garden on the lawn facing the backwaters is just about the most serene place to relax, guzzle down some beer and watch the huge ships heading in or out of Cochin port to and from the Arabian sea.
Regardless of which time of the year it may have been, whenever I visited Cochin and checked into the Malabar, I found that it was always packed with foreign tourists, a fact which intrigued me. On enquiring from the hotel staff as to what brought this swarm to the hotel I learnt that, besides trips into the backwaters, the Malabar was a very popular destination on account of the spa which specialised in Kerala Ayurvedic oil massage. Having never had the pleasure of one of those or for that matter of ANY massage, I simply took that in as an interesting bit of information and left it at that.
Over a period of time with my trips to Cochin and my stay at the Malabar becoming more frequent and always seeing folk from all over the globe visiting the hotel and making a beeline to the spa, on one of the trips while sitting in the beer garden watching the ships entering the port, I came to the decision that I should at least try and understand what the hullabaloo was all about and ended up doing the unthinkable – walked up to the spa and booked myself for the similar type of massage which all the white hordes were heading to Cochin for. In hindsight, I should have kicked myself and should have had my head examined.
My massage having been booked for 1500 Hrs, I walked in at the appointed hour blissfully unaware and having absolutely no idea what I was letting myself in for!
The proceedings commenced with me having to strip down to my birthday suit and being handed over something which resembled a rather tiny handkerchief. One that was so flimsy that had I to blow my nose into it, the snot would have likely been all over my hands. Having taken the plunge, there was nothing for me to do but to put the kerchief across my front and wrap the length of tape stitched to both ends of it, across my waist to tie a knot just above my butt so as to hold up this apology of a garment in place.
Having been kitted out for the firing squad I was ushered into a room, which back in the day would have been assigned the title of a ‘torture chamber’. The room was furnished with only one long wooden table on which I was told to lie down. Which is when the ‘assassins’ came into the picture! Two strapping young Malayali wrestlers, neither of whom I would have ever liked to encounter on a dark night! One of the two musclemen picked up a huge canister from a corner of the room and went about the single minded purpose of trying to drown me in a deluge of oil. With me now probably more slippery than the slipperiest of eels, the real torment started.
Between them, the two ‘gentlemen’ caught hold of my two arms and proceed to try and pull them out of their sockets while at the same time using their ham-fisted hands to try and wring my flesh from out of my pores. Having made short work of squeezing the life out of them and having inflicted serious and lasting damage to my upper limbs, the duo turned their undivided and sadistic attention to my legs. With both my legs way up in the air and spread eagled and with my feet resting on two pairs of broad shoulders, I literally switched off my brain having willed myself to stop feeling the agony.
What I do remember is that the ‘garment’ which had been provided to me to cover my privates had, within the first couple of minutes of my being doused in oil, become history. And there I was stark naked with two pairs of hands focused on wringing the life out of me.
Being numb all over during that excruciating session, I have always wondered whether, during the torture session, I had ended up being buggered as well. Thankfully, I’ll never know.
What I do remember is that when I walked out of the torture chamber, I had learnt what the waste pulp must feel when it is spewed out from the rear end of a grinder type fruit juicer. Swore to myself that day that I would never again allow anyone to grope me, let alone pay out good money for the torment!
Thankfully, masochism is definitely not my cup of tea