You can check out anytime you like…

From today’s New York Times, this lede:

SHE was Glinda in a sari. Early that morning, she had glided ethereally across the courtyard with her fellow healing goddesses, their feet bare, their flowing white garb edged in gold. The bird trills reverberated off the palace walls.

“Please sit,” she said prayerfully. Soon, thick warm sesame oil infused with medicinal herbs began to permeate my meager muslin thong. She breathed heavily, karate-chopping the oil with the edges of her hands. She gently pummeled me with poultices, hot bundles of herbs resembling bouquets garnis. In the background, I heard oil sizzling. I felt a strange compulsion to go fry myself in a wok.

Pummel me with poultices! Stay me with flagons! Gag me with a spoon! What on Lord Krishna’s blue earth is going on here?

It’s just San Francisco-based writer Patricia Leigh Brown receiving treatment, for research purposes, at the Kalari Kovilakom Palace for Ayurveda in the hills of Palakkam, Kerala, where “ayurvedists — longevity-seekers who are already deeply into the present moment — come … to detoxify and purify with ayurvedic doctors, the new yogis, for whom mind, body and spirit have been fused for more than 3,000 years.”

Exempted from the resort’s two-week minimum stay rule, Brown was able to pick and choose her treatments, avoiding the “stamina-challenging sequence of enemas” and secretly brewing Peet’s Coffee in her room.

The article is long, and not entirely as ridiculous as would appear from the opening. By the end, in fact, some interesting cultural analysis has crept in. En route, however, you get lines like “My spine was a cobra unfurling,” and the apparition in Brown’s mind, during treatment, of a vision of Dick Cheney. Surely that can’t be therapeutic.

17 thoughts on “You can check out anytime you like…

  1. Ha – love the title! Mmm, I’m inspired now:

    On a dark forest highway Monsoon rain in my hair warm smell of papayas rising up thru the air up ahead in the distance I saw a kerosine light…

  2. On a tropical runway, hot wind in my hair Warm smell of coconuts, rising up through the air Up ahead on the sidewalk, I saw a pile of trash Auto-rickshaws and Ambassadors Cruisin’ for a crash

    Eating Malabar curry I heard the temple bell And I was thinking to myself ‘This could be Heaven or this could be Hell’ Bitten by the mosquitoes, smitten by the chow, Starving kittens on the patio Thought I heard them meow:

    Welcome to Thiruvananthapuram Such a lovely place Such a lovely taste Plenty of room in Thiruvananthapuram Any time of year, you’re invited here

    English language so twisted, we can’t understand Everybody speaks Malayalam in this southern land Some want foreign investment, others call for a strike Break the curfew after midnight and find your head on a spike

    So I called on a guru, ‘please help me unwind’ He said, ‘put your feet up onto your knees and twist around your spine’ And still my clients are calling from overseas Air pollution choking up my lungs, I can barely wheeze:

    Welcome to Thiruvananthapuram Such a lovely place Such a lovely taste We’re livin’ it up in Thiruvananthapuram What a nice surprise, what your money buys

    Geckos on the ceiling Microbes in the ice I think, ‘We are all just prisoners here, of our own device’ In our swanky apartment, weÂ’re enjoying the view For a hundred fifty bucks a month, what else can we do?

    Can’t afford to leave here Can’t afford to stay Sanity’s unraveling with every passing day ‘Relax,’ said the guru As I started to cough The Wheel of Karma only lets you die You can never get off!

  3. Big ups Nina P, Big ups! :)

    I hope that you kow that you’re required to give a rendition of this at the next meetup – I’ll back you on the sitar!

  4. the apparition in BrownÂ’s mind, during treatment, of a vision of Dick Cheney. Surely that canÂ’t be therapeutic.
    I actually had a vision of Dick Cheney when I finally experienced sirodhara, a signature ayurvedic treatment that Dr. Sreelatha and others had cautioned could lead to emotional melt-down. Warm oil is released above you in a steady pendulum stream, your forehead a windshield and the oil, the wiper. Feelings of deep panic were eventually supplanted by one of utter defenselessness in which, I was certain, all dark information about my past could be gleaned. Sirodhara struck me as an immensely powerful tool for extracting secrets

    A veiled Gitmo reference from the paper of record.

    You can check out any time you like…But you can never leave.

  5. I would recommend a trip to Kerala for anyone – and take your honey with you, its very romantic. Check out the resorts of Kovalam or Cocunut Grove, which is majestically situated on its own island, and where everyone gets a private swimming pool. The backwater tours are fun too – you get your own boat and your own chef who fires up some mean meen moli and trivandrum chicken fry, (bring a single malt to complimentt). And if you can pass for a desi, you can do it inexpensively.

    The Ayurvedic centers are filled with Germans and other Europeans who come from a “spa” culture. Recall Thomas Mann’s novels, or even Anna Karenina’s trip to Europe -them peoples loves the therapeutic vacations, and I believe they get reimbursed for it under their health systems. It also seems like a good compliment to allopathic medical tourism. Have a tooth implanted for cheap, or that faddy laser eye surgery, and then head to Kerala for some spiritual R & R.

    KR Naryanan, the last President of India, hailed from a siddha/ayurveda family, his father was a renowned practitioner.

  6. And if you can pass for a desi, you can do it inexpensively.

    Most things in India are this way, no? When I was a kid, my mother would ask my not to talk in the lobby of various hotels we stayed in when not staying with family. She was afraid the employees would hear and make us pay the firangi rates. It was always her crappy Hindi that gave it away though. ;)

  7. Tamasha,

    I think you have to show id now on domestic flights, so the scam might be over. But back in the day it was rather easy: when in Delhi, pretend you’re a Mallu; when in Kerala, pretend youre from Bihar. If you’re like me, then your accent has all the authenticity of Apu, so it was perilous. The Kerala people did the double-take when I opened my mouth – and then decided some people in Bihar must be talking this way only. It also helps if you have a pan-desi name like “Kumar” or somethimg. Whatever. Now that I have a real job, I have been trying to pay like a good NRI.

  8. :) Interesting article. The whole deal sounds like a ordeal though, but it is not much different than the boot-camp ‘America’s biggest loser’ contestants go through.

    It would be just fine if you know about this experience before hand, but based on my sister’s comments about the boredom that sets in within 2 days, especially if you go to one of these idyllic places for honeymoon, I’d be forewarned. Such rustic pristine places are fun for 24 hours, after which I need my pakoras, martinis, long islands and coffees :)

  9. I miss those days of subterfuge and deception when my mother would sling her purest Marathi at various jawans and guards while I stood silently by her side, not speaking a peep of English so we could pay Rs.10 instead of Rs.1000 to get into various forts and museums. I think we still stood out but her Bombay-hewn rough edges usually intimdated people into letting us through.

  10. desitude, I think you have to show id now on domestic flights, so the scam might be over.

    I took three domestic flights in India my last trip and was asked for ID on only one flight. Most airlines, like Deccan, Indian, and SpiceJet, have the same fare for NRIs.

  11. I miss those days of subterfuge and deception when my mother would sling her purest Marathi at various jawans and guards while I stood silently by her side, not speaking a peep of English so we could pay Rs.10 instead of Rs.1000 to get into various forts and museums. I think we still stood out but her Bombay-hewn rough edges usually intimdated people into letting us through.

    This is exactly it. I would be so embarrassed: “Mom, it’s, like, only 4 dollars, what’s the big deal?”

  12. When it comes to saving money (read: being stingy), different people have different tactics. My first experience in a US grocery store was an eye-opener. I was surprised to see people (mostly americans..both young and old) carrying grocery store coupons to save 5c on tomatoes and 10c on bread! I’ve never seen any desi (in my age group) with those discount coupons. In India, I usually see my people haggling over Rs 5 or 10 with a richshaw driver etc…but dishing out Rs 250 for an over-priced fancy cup of coffee.

  13. In India, I usually see my people haggling over Rs 5 or 10 with a richshaw driver etc…but dishing out Rs 250 for an over-priced fancy cup of coffee. Sorry for the typo.. I meant “many people”.

  14. brown_fob:

    About many people haggling with rikshawalle, but spending a fortune of coffee – I completly agree to this phenomenon. My own friends used to do that and I was prompt enough to point out this as ridicule of cheap labor. In their opinion, the labor shouldn’t be pampered, but the rich boutiques can be, such class-less class disparity.

    Having said that I was extremely proud of my mom, when she bargained in a high up jewellery store and walked out with the stuff that she wanted for the price she wanted, by also subtly telling them that bigger shops with higher volume should give bigger discounts. She also told them flat that if the so called big shop cannot give her for the price she wanted, she’d buy from a smaller store for higher price. The manager was all confused but he still wanted to make the sale :) I was very impressed with her haggling skills.

  15. My vata imbalance — sapping my creativity and “native pitta fire” — melted away under ladlefuls of warm water mixed with green gram, a slightly exfoliating lentil. The goddess, in the act of bathing, had returned me to an infant state.

    If this is how she writes after regaining “creativity and native pitta fire”, clearly ayurveda is not doing her any good.

    Is there anything more absurd than this:

    I almost fainted, transformed into one of those Halloween masks in which the eyes pop out of their sockets.

    I am going to soak in sesame oil and dilute the toxins produced while reading this drivel.

  16. I am a malayalee and I don’t want you pretentious yuppies mucking up my beloved state! Down with your chuck taylors and your ipods.