How Not to Review a Spa by the Bay

A couple of years into the writing space, I was asked by one of the magazines I work for to write a spa review. The review was never published. I don’t think they were to blame. The year was 2013…

The predicament I found myself in was triggered by a most humble of requests, one that a writer often makes of his editor.

“Can I get a raise?”

The replies to this question, as most soldiers with paper cuts will testify, are usually vivid, diverse and rancorous enough to merit a satirical anthology of its own.

“How about a spa treatment instead?”

I decided to take a resolute, unshakeable and dignified stand, much like many before me. Viva la revolucion and all that! Down with the establishment. How dare he question my integrity, offering me massage instead of money?

“Sure sir. Can I get you some coffee?”

So there I was a few weeks later, trudging my way to South Mumbai’s affluent spa, ‘Rewa Spa by the Bay’, imagining new excuses to crawl out of this inevitable ‘treatment’ I was about to undergo. I couldn’t think of one that did not have ‘dog’ or ‘homework’ or ‘upset stomach’ in it. As I finally reached my destination, I made peace with my situation and caved.

Spa by the Bay is located in close proximity to Haji Ali, and its entrance in fact is bang opposite Cadbury House, another monumental landmark in the centre of the city. At the entrance I was stopped by the guard. I realized that it wasn’t the usual riff raff that visited the place, but I had done enough to dress the part and still be all writer-like.

“What ho!” I pretended to be mildly agitated.

“Where to, sir?”

“To the spa of course”, my demeanour conveyed the rest of my message which my voice could not “you dimwitted polyp.”

“Sorry sir. Needed to check if you were visiting the Spa or the Maharaja. The Spa will be straight, left and left again.”

“Oh! Of course. Why thank you my good man.” Of course the man needed to check if it was for the spa or the…. Maharaja what, who??

————————————————————————————————

Later in the day, I got an opportunity to speak with the entrepreneur who had started the spa – Khushboo Vakharia, a very beautiful and intelligent lady whom I have never met but would like to think was all that because I am eating chocolate while I type.

Born and brought up in Delhi, Khushboo had worked in her father’s business of manufacturing and the export and import of branded apparel. She had then moved on to ISB from where she graduated and worked with Calvin Klein to set up the Indian wing for their underwear. The learning curve was steep as Khushboo picked up on the fundamentals of operations in retail. But the little adjustments, the minor tweaks that CK brought into the manner in which they functioned, not just in terms of work ethic, but also the experience they try and provide to each customer was what completely enamored her.

However there was a flip side to the formidable CV Khushboo was developing. Long hours and the hectic schedules that followed made her visibly numb to the simple pleasures of life. She quit her job and dabbled around with several ideas on what to do next. “I would listen to music, but not be able to register if I was even liking it or not, anymore.” This very sensation or rather the lack of it would prompt the idea to set up a place where people like her could unwind and just languish in complete freedom and bask in a non intrusive sense of serenity. She decided on creating a spa, quite unlike one that the city is familiar with.

“How can you create a spa in the middle of a mall and then expect a person to relax in it?” she asked, and I replied with equal indignation “That’s a question I have asked myself many a time as well!”

“Really?” she said.

“No.”

Location was key for Khushboo. Her endeavor to set up the perfect getaway would have her spend nearly eight months looking for the place where she could set up shop.

“At the end of the eight months I was at the brink of becoming a property agent myself, but then I came across this place that was being let out by the Royal Family of Rewa.”

————————————————————————————————

“What was this place?” I was thinking to myself as I wandered ahead, in a reverie. Not half an hour earlier I had the elbow of a Malyali lodged firmly in my mouth while I was making my way to the spa in a local train.  And suddenly all around me was emerald green grass, tangerine sunshine, blue skies and a white picket fence against a view of the infinite sea with the relaxing fragrance of white lilies lulling me to tranquility. My mind went back to an episode of the Twilight Zone, where the protagonist is calmed into a false sense of security and when he suddenly turns around an evil clown besets him with a lemon yellow sledgehammer.

“Would you care for some green tea Mr. Nair?”

A girly shriek welled up and died in my throat as I turned around to find a genial young lady smiling and extending her hand. “I am Noor. Would you like to spend some time here to relax before you take a look inside?”

No clown. Check. No sledgehammer. Check.

“Hello Noor. I would very much like to take a look inside. Thank you” and off we went.

Over the course of the next hour or five minutes, I got a short and courteous lesson in all the treatments the spa had to offer. I heard her explain to me how all the ingredients used in the spa were prepared and sent in by Khushboo herself. Bananas, papayas, pineapples, avocados, and other fresh fruits are utilized to prepare what are known as Gourmet Pedicures.

“Can we eat them?” I asked drily.

Noor looked like unsure. Her face conveyed a ‘Hmmm.. I hadn’t really thought about that”. I realized the error of my query and immediately let out a laugh, one which she somewhat hesitantly chimed in on.

“So can you tell me some unique massages that are administered here?” I asked.

“Well there are two very rare massages that we have. The first is the Tok Sen therapy and the other is the Ancient Rope therapy.”

I was wary of ropes. Ropes, bind, tie and strangle. Don’t know of any nice sounding adjectives attached to ropes like ‘tasty’ or ‘eloquent’ or some such. Tok Sen might be better.

“Tok-Sen is an ancient Thai Massage that dates back to the time before the Lanna Kingdom. In its literal translation Tok means to hit and Sen refers to the energy pathways within the body.”

“Erm.. hit?”

“This therapy uses a mallet and wedge made of tamarind wood to gently tap along the energy meridians in the body.”

“No one taps my meridians!”

“We can do a combination then.” Learning quickly of the dangers of dangling participles in my presence, she continued “Of a rope and Thai Massage.”

The latter I was familiar with owing to my friend who had received one. He was alive. That information sufficed.

“Alright.”

“Excellent”, said Noor as cordial as ever and I was led to the massage room. There were several ropes dangling from the roof of its hardwood. I found them to be rather ominous to look at. Much in contrast with the rest of the spa which was minimalist, uncluttered, well-ventilated, bright and full of hues of alabaster and wood.

However, I was in for another surprise even before the massage began. Apparently, my other fear of spa treatments was also completely ill-founded. Noor had told me that The Rope Massage was a ‘dry’ massage. I initially thought that it meant that I would be bored to death while receiving it. What it actually meant was that it involved no oils or fluids of any kind being poured over my body. Something that would save me the shame of having myself undress and reveal my bombastic belly. Instead an airy pair of lovely cotton pajamas were provided to me which I wore in due haste. I was also given a small pouch to keep my valuables in.

But the ropes dangled above and I was still mortified by what fate awaited me. I lay down, as Umesh my masseuse went to work on me.

The Ancient Rope Therapy is a massage where the therapist balances himself with the help of 10 different ropes dangling from the ceiling of the therapy unit to balance his weight and massage the body with his feet. This massage requires the therapist to concentrate on the pressure and focus on the right points at all times. It is one of the few pain relieving massages as the pressure of the feet releases the muscle tension.

And let me assure you, it works like a charm.

After the one hour session, my body felt like it was made of cotton candy; sweet, fluffy and so soft and unencumbered. Every single pore felt like it had been born again. Rewa: the word translated to ‘A New Beginning’ in Sanskrit and I could see now why the name of the place where the Maharaja who owned the property hailed from was used to baptize this haven of rejuvenation. At that specific moment I could have been a space child born to the universe, free of the labors of life. I was a little boy now walking in organic flip flops along the wooden panels of a house I felt was my own. The beauty of the view outside was unfamiliar and yet just so overwhelming I felt tears well up in my eyes.

“Would you care for a pedicure as well? I would highly recommend the Arabian Odyssey.” Noor’s words felt like dew drops falling on leaves.

“Why of course. Why is it called so?” I asked like a curious prince with nothing better to do than ask stupid questions, on that fine Thursday afternoon.

“Pomegranate oil, crushed dates, rose water, yogurt and sweet figs with pure Dead Sea Salts and Mud.”

“Sounds divine” I whispered as I took a seat in a luxurious and comfortable chair that overlooked the sea. Next to me were short story anthologies of Ray, Ruskin Bond and Roald Dahl. I picked one up, and soaked in the evening sunshine that was filtering in. My feet were being cleaned, and as the eventual foot massage ensued I could feel my body melt away like candle wax.

A German shepherd stomped over and sat next to me. She seemed even more at ease than I was. I asked her which treatment had she opted for.

Lazily she replied, “The Tok Sen.” I smiled back and took a sip of my herbal tea.

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