And this fuelled my interest in massages further: massages given by the visually challenged are superb if they are well-trained, as their fingers are far more sensitive than a sighted person’s
I’m a connoisseur of massages. I greatly savour full body massages, head, neck and shoulder massages, foot massages. Those Kerala-style ayurvedic massages are excellent. I’d had a series of them, not only in Kerala, but also as part of a detox programme at the outstanding Jindal Naturecure Institute in Bengaluru. It included shirodhara (with warm herbal oil streaming onto your forehead) and pizichili (with warm herbal oil poured over your body, as two women synchronously massage your left and right sides).
I’ve been working with the blind since decades. I had arranged to have adult visually challenged people trained to give massages at the Victoria Memorial School for the Blind in Tardeo, as part of a self-reliance programme. And this fuelled my interest in massages further: massages given by the visually challenged are superb if they are well-trained, as their fingers are far more sensitive than a sighted person’s.
I’ve had body massages in Berlin, Amsterdam, Florence, Seoul and Bucheon in Korea. A massage in Berlin, at the end of the Berlin Film Festival is a treat I’ve given myself year after year. It is at the wonderful Hamam: das Türkische Bad für Frauen—Hamam: the Turkish bath for women. Housed in a former Schokoladenfabrik (chocolate factory) in Kreuzberg, it has been made delectably loungy with gorgeous Turkish décor, lamps and scents. And especially as a space for women without men. But the best massage I’ve had was in Bucheon in Korea, near Seoul, given by a blind man. No masseuse was available. I had a massage with all my clothes on, and yet, the blind masseur seemed to have an instinctive understanding of my body and its deeper tissues that felt very intimate, without once making me feel uncomfortable or crossing a line. He seemed to ‘excavate’ pain from tissues I wasn’t even aware existed. It was extraordinary.
Over time, I’ve figured that I can give a great foot massage. Most of this is instinctive. I have also tried to learn from books on foot reflexology. Once, while on a trip visiting south Indian temples that my sister Sarayu Kamat organised, I enrolled with someone, let’s call her Ranjini, in a basic reflexology class. Exhausted after climbing various temples in the spectacular Brihadeeshwara temple complex, Ranjini started snoring in the class. I folded my hands to apologise to the teacher, but she gestured back with a thumbs up, later explaining that if the client sleeps or snores, it is the biggest compliment to the person giving the massage: it means the body is absolutely relaxed.
Years later, I was invited by the remarkable Miriam Batliwala (“Mimi”) to a function of the DM Girls Orphanage Trust and WECAN (Women’s Empowerment Centre and Network) that she runs at Mahim. Mimi is visually challenged, and dances the tango, has lived in Paris and New York, and is author of InSight: One Woman’s Incredible Journey from Darkness to Light. She had been working hard, going without food for hours, and fainted. As guests anxiously called a doctor, I gave her a foot massage and asked another woman to just rub the soles of her other foot. Soon, she revived. “Who is giving me a massage on my right foot? It’s great, please continue,” she said. That day, I understood it was a god-given talent and I had to hone it further, if possible.
Recently, I gave a long foot massage to someone, let’s call her Antara, who is recovering after surgery for cancer. The next day, her husband texted to say, “She is all praise for the lovely massage you gave her yesterday. It was very professionally done and she is very impressed. Thank you.” Then he called to say, that after a week of mainly sleeping, Antara was finally back on the drawing room sofa, watching TV. Small big triumphs. Mother Teresa, now St Teresa, said, and I paraphrase, “Love is a very unskilled thing.” For me, it’s baby steps: after giving an hour-long massage, I felt tired. I believe when I’m better trained and more spiritually evolved, I won’t get tired after giving massages. I’ll just be the medium: the healing power comes from a higher source.
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist.
Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org