Hats – not shirt or pants just yet – off to the Delhi High Court. In a handmark order, Justice Rekha Palli has stopped the Delhi government from banning cross-gender massage services across the city. Even as this leaves same-gender massage services of all kinds hanging, lakhs of flyers with 10-digit phone numbers will stay pasted on walls and lamp posts till another day.
‘Massage services’ are, as anyone having a spine knows, one of the most notorious euphemisms known to any gender. Throw in a ‘parlour’ and there will be visions of 1980s South Indian ‘A’ morning show movies, Bangkok getaways and Anurag Kashyap OSTs. But massage services, as the court rightly pointed out, are also, well, massage services – back rub, shakedown, full-body, pounding tendons, joints, bones – provided by qualified or, at least, adept masseurs and masseuses. When a man came to ‘do massage’ on my grandfather, the therapeutic ‘champi-double plus’ wasn’t delivered/enacted in a dimly lit room above Chandni Bar, but in his balcony – with me sometimes watching on in half-horror, half-fascination.
Judge Palli is no blushing purple, never mind shrinking violet. She is well aware that the state government’s objective of banning cross-gender massage services – that is, a man working on a woman, and a woman on a man – was to crack down on illegal trafficking and prostitution that goes under the rubric of massage services/parlour/spa. Both ‘kothi’ and ‘escort service’ lack the comforting double-entendre that the middle-classes seek in ‘massage service,’ which also has the logistical ease that ‘hotel’ and ‘guest house’ lack. In fact, with ‘massage service,’ it is wise to confirm, as delicately as one can, that a massage that one may seek out is indeed a massage, and not a massage – the message being terribly mixed up purposely by professional euphemists. One way of avoiding confusion – if avoiding confusion is what you seek – is to go to spas without the word ‘massage’ attached to them. The difference in the two easily confusable separate industries still holds sway the same way there is a fundamental difference between a session ‘ending’ and a session ‘happy ending’.
What aroused my interest… let me rephrase that. What especially interested me about the Thursday High Court ruling, however, was the ‘cross-gender’ qualifier. Now, I am not fond of bodily contact, not even hugging, especially when it comes from random strangers, barbers, doctors, prime ministers included. But on the very few occasions I have allowed myself to be massaged – always at a resort with known company near at hand, and usually because there is a discount offer that if I don’t avail will go to waste – my only concern is gender-based.
For reasons that may seem obvious only to fellow regressive readers, I insist on masseurs (men), not masseuses (women). But still, a serious problem lingers… let me rephrase, a serious problem remains. Remember, my brain – the parietal lobe, to be specific – registers the sense of touch. But it is the amygdala, my amygdala, a louche member of the joint family that is my brain, that takes all types of massages – effleurage (light or deep stroking), petrissage (kneading), tapotement (gentle slapping), and friction – and reads them as …….