A youngster traverses the distance from a shady “massage parlour” in Siliguri to a plush New Delhi spa.
Back home in Ziro, I never thought I’d make a living touching naked men. But that’s what I do, as a masseuse. I hide this fact from my friends and family who still live in a tiny corner of Arunachal Pradesh.
When I finished school, I wanted to become a teacher. But I couldn’t. Work opportunities in Arunachal are few. A friend, who saw how much I wanted to strike out on my own, told me one day, “Listen, there are a lot of businessmen who come from all over to Siliguri, looking for relaxation.”
“What kind of relaxation,” I asked, noticing her stylish haircut and trendy clothes.
“Oh, nothing,” she said, “you just have to press their bodies with oils. If you are able to extend services, they will probably pay you more.”
“How much?” I desperately wanted to help out my family. We weren’t well off.
“Five thousand rupees per session,” replied my friend. “Of this, ₹2,000 has to be given to the owner of the massage parlour.”
I did some quick math. She was talking at least ₹50,000 a month. I could send all that money home if stay and food were free. Or maybe, I could set aside some for buying nice clothes.
“Okay, I’ll do it,” I said. It was 2002 and I was all of 20.
A month later, my friend called me from Siliguri and asked me to take a train from Guwahati. She would receive me at the New Jalpaiguri station. I told my parents that I had got a job as a trainee at a beauty parlour.
The parlour, called Mausam’s Beauty and Massage, was located in a crowded bazaar. The reception was tidy, and it led in to five rooms, each of which had a narrow bed and a washbasin in the corner. They were lit only by a dim red bulb. I was not too scared as my friend was there.
Some men break down completely when they feel hands on their body. Touch does that. A few start telling me about their life and career problems. I listen quite keenly; I’ve always been a good listener.
For two weeks, I worked as an assistant to my friend. I noticed carefully how she went about her work. She giggled a lot with all kinds of men who came in: truck drivers, cops, small-time businessmen, and even students. She would begin by flirting with them, complimenting them on their looks, and then asking them to undress. She would tell them to lie face down on the bed. After massaging the back with cheap and heavily scented oils that smelt like attar, she would ask them to lie on their backs.
She would not touch their private parts, but made sure that her hand brushed against them, as if by accident. A few touches here and there, and a few flirtatious exchanges later, the men would be ready.
“You have a good one,” she would smile and say, “You want me to massage this?” At this point, no customer would turn down the offer. Soon, she would massage the “good one” with oil for about 10 minutes. Tissues would be offered helpfully when the inevitable happened.
This would usually signal the end of a “session”. But there were those who would still retain energy for round two. Oral sex would usually be the next item on the agenda. “Extra ₹1,000 for this,” she would say, and get down to work.
I listened to all these stories. And then one day I got into the swing of things.
My first client was a potbellied guy with too much hair on his back and chest. He must have been from Punjab or Haryana. People from the Northeast usually do not have so much body hair, so I was a bit repulsed. I followed my friend’s style – flirting, light strokes – and soon, he was beside himself, requesting oral service. That was my first on the job. At the end of it I felt nothing. It was just work.
I never complained about my work because I was able to send money home, more than my father ever earned. I bought a brand new colour TV, a new Sony music system, and new clothes for everyone back home.
In Siliguri, I learnt that in cities like Delhi and Mumbai, there are hundreds of massage parlours. There was more money in the big cities too. Besides, I wanted to travel and see these places. My friend and I checked on the Internet and we contacted a few parlours over the phone. We zeroed in on one: Bobby’s Den in Karol Bagh, New Delhi.
Bobby, the owner, kept calling us and insisted that we join him. He sent tickets for the Rajdhani Express. Our Nepali owner – a man in his 50s – was very nice to us. He was a family man and offered to escort us. So, after nearly two years in Siliguri, the three of us set off for Delhi. If it didn’t work out, we would return.
The parlour in Delhi was more elaborate than the one in Siliguri, with fancy mirrors and marble and lighting. There were 25 women here, mostly from Nepal, Bengal, Kashmir, and the Northeast. We were also required to wear gloves, and if the client wanted a blow job, he had to put on a condom.
This place was frequented by Karol Bagh businessmen and those working in Rajendra Place. Alcohol was served here, although it was often adulterated. So every time someone walked in, I had to ask him what his drink preferences were. They would often ask outright if I was available for a full night. I’d say no, but when I heard that a full night could bring me as much as ₹10,000, ₹3,000 of which went to Bobby bhaiya, I wanted to go along. I’d lost my virginity to my cousin when I was in Class 10, and never had set much store by it.
Of course, we had to take permission from Bobby bhaiya, who was a gentleman. He allowed us to go only if the client was a regular and we knew him well. So once, I agreed to go with a person I had been servicing for quite some time. I went to his flat in Jangpura Extension in south Delhi. He was married, he said, but his wife had gone to Lucknow to visit her parents. It was nice, and the man treated me well.
But that was the one and the only time I spent the night away. I was warned by my colleagues that sometimes clients wanted you to do weird things. Delhi was the kind of place you’re better off being safe than sorry.
I worked at Bobby bhaiya’s parlour for five years. By this time, I had become used to the life in Delhi and even learnt to speak Hindi fluently. I had become particularly close to a Nepali guy who was like a boyfriend to me. He worked for a famous five-star hotel as a housekeeper and told me that the property had something called a spa. What’s a spa, I asked him. He said it was the same as the one I was working at, but it was more “respectable”: There was no sex involved, only massage. The customers were rich. But one had to train before applying for a job there.
One day, he set up an appointment with one of the spa guys in the hotel. I stepped inside and it was another world altogether: candles and aromas, rose petals and fountains. People were polite, soft-spoken, and the staff wore well-cut uniforms. It was also very quiet and very, very large and clean and everyone spoke English.
At the interview, I told them only about the massage part, but they said what I had done so far at the parlours was not good enough. So, I had to start all over again as a trainee. I agreed. I learnt various massage techniques: Balinese, Swedish, Ayurvedic. This involved an actual science. I couldn’t wait to be trained and start afresh and leave the other massage parlours behind.
Since 2010, I have been working at this five-star hotel in Chanakyapuri. They charge up to ₹50,000 for some special packages. Apart from Indians, the place is frequented by lots of foreigners. So now I have a range of bodies to work on: black, brown, yellow, and white. But there are still those who seem to have expectations. They think money gives them the right to ask for anything. We remind them politely that it’s a therapeutic centre and not a sleazy Thai joint. Our brand of spa has a worldwide reputation. We give the troublesome client three chances and if he still refuses to behave, we are given instructions to walk out of the room and lodge a complaint with the management.
In my experience, the best clients are, undoubtedly, the Japanese. They are the most courteous, and very kind. They thank you all the time and keep bowing their heads. Americans, on the other hand, are very straightforward, to the point of being rude. Questions like, “Is the pressure all right?” or “How are you feeling now, sir?” irritate them. They just tell you to stick to the job. The Spanish are an enlightened lot and know exactly what they want from the treatment. And then you have the Italians, who don’t speak much English, but are friendly.
On an average, I treat four customers a day and get seven per cent commission for each. I also receive tips sometimes: The highest I have received so far was ₹1,000.
Some men break down completely when they feel hands on their body. Touch does that. A few start telling me about their life and career problems. I listen quite keenly; I’ve always been a good listener. I tell them it will all shape up. People like to be reassured, I guess. It’s a fragile world, isn’t it? Sometimes they start talking about all their financial and family problems. They tell me about fights with their wives. The massage is not just a physical release for them. In that session, inside that fragrant room, the world outside can be momentarily forgotten.
I am 33 now. Next year, I plan to get married. I have a boyfriend who is a graphic designer. I guess I am moving up. The money is not much better, but my life certainly is. I still go to Ziro once a year but it seems so far away. I may get to work in an international spa.
Maldives, perhaps? I’m ready to go.-
As told to Nishiraj A. Baruah