It is Kerala which has made the words “Ayurvedic massage” famous all over the country in the last few years. So I had an Ayurvedic oil massage, followed by Shiroday, in which oil is poured in a thin stream onto the forehead for 15 minutes – supposed to be very tranquilising. The oil used was herb-infused sesame oil, and there were two masseuses, one standing on each side of the table. (Am I going to get icky Google hits for this?)
The massage part was relaxing, obviously, except that my mind wouldn't relax - it was humming with self-consciousness. At the end of it the Shiroday began: a strip of cheesecloth was tied around my head above my eyebrows, to keep the oil away from my eyes. A frame from which a clay pot was suspended was wheeled over me so that the pot was above my forehead. It had a small hole in the bottom, through which a length of rope extended. When the warm oil was poured into the pot it flowed down the rope and then onto my skin. A masseuse stood behind my head, slowly guiding the pot from side to side so that a steady stream of oil moved back and forth across my forehead. From time to time she moved a fingertip in a circular motion, or combed some of the excess oil from my hair with her fingers. The pot was refilled several times.
It began to be too much – eww!, how would I ever get all that oil out of my hair? And the background music, Shivkumar Sharma whaling away at the santoor with the tabla galloping along beside him, was too frenetic. I would have chosen something with a long, slow, meditative alaap – the rudra veena, perhaps. (Or something in the south Indian classical style, instead of the northern). I wanted it to end, but didn’t feel that I should interrupt their routine. At length it did end: a masseuse wiped the soles of my feet and rubbed some of the oil out of my hair. I showered, scrubbing with some mildly abrasive ‘bathing powder’ mixed into mud in a dish.
I left relaxed and rank, reeking of herbal oil. I was like a carrot which had been pulled out of its protective earth and exposed to the light, and then put gently back again. I felt green and vegetative, at last.