When I was in London over February and March, I caught up with an old friend from St Xavier's College, Frank Rodrigues, and his wife Deirdre King. They warmly welcomed me to their bungalow in West Hampstead. It had elegantly appointed rooms on four levels, but my favourite was the large, airy kitchen that overlooked their garden.
The garden was a joy, even in early spring, with roses, daffodils and other flowering plants, and elegant trees framing an archway covered with wisteria. Every morning, enormous squirrels and magpies would arrive, each looking like they had two aloo parathas for breakfast. Frank said foxes and hedgehogs are regular visitors to their garden. Imagine, in the middle of London!
Soon, the conversation turned to massages, and Deirdre told me about a "champissage", which combined the Indian champi (massage) with other massage techniques. Johnny Walker in London? More reverse colonisation. I was hooked, and immediately booked an appointment. Champissage was patented by the late Narendra Mehta, who was blind. He set up the London Centre of Indian Champissage (LCIC), now on Caledonian Road, and was awarded an MBE.
As I work with the blind, I've long been interested in making them financially independent by giving massages, for instance, as their sense of touch is far superior to that of sighted people. Since Mr Mehta passed away, the centre has been run by Moses Chundi from Hyderabad. Chundi tells me he first met Mehta when he taught the latter computers (millions of blind people use computers using a screen reader software called Job Access With Speech, JAWS). Later, Chundi trained under him and practically became family. Mehta realised that most foreign body massages largely ignored the head, which has a lot of key pressure points, or at the most did a face massage. So, he learnt Indian champi techniques, combined them with other massage therapies, and called it 'champissage' for the head, neck and face. His USPs? Even squeamish customers are comfortable, as you don't have to remove your clothes for a head and shoulders massage. And, he doesn't even use oil, so you can continue your day, instead of heading home for a "head bath," as we Indians call it.
Chundi gives me a first-rate champissage, even though it does feel a bit weird getting a champi without "tel", that too at a London spa. Well, I'd feel even more weird as a woman getting a champi from one of those bhaiyyas on Chowpatty, their dhotis flapping in the wind. I sit in a chair in a clean, pleasant room, with dimmed lights and soft 'massage music'. Standing behind me, Chundi presses specific pressure points on my spine, neck, shoulders and head, and massages using his fingers, palms and knuckles.
He excavates pain from under my shoulder blades that I didn't know existed — for me always a sign of someone who understands my body. He says the average adult head can weigh from 3-10 kg, so the neck carries a lot of weight all day, leading to stress points. I have stress stored in my upper body, and carry too much weight on my right shoulder he says (true, that darned bag!). Crucially, he has what I call "clean energy", he never once made me feel uncomfortable getting a head massage from a man. It's a grey, blustery day, but I walk out floating on air, feeling light as a feather. Imagine what he could do if he used "tel" for his malish.
In any case, Johnny Walker, the original Bollywood tel malish champi guy, who sang the delightful 'Sar jo tera chakraye' song in Guru Dutt's Pyaasa, would be proud.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org