The Samkkya Naturo-Medic Centre is hidden away behind a high wall at the end of a busy road in Bangsar, KL. Specializing in Panchakarma (detox), weight loss and diabetes management, Samkkya (= knowledge of the truth) is all about Ayurveda, the world’s oldest and most natural form of healing. The center is owned by JeyThevan, who used to sell machinery, until the day his father cajoled him into joining him at the Ayurvedic clinic he’d set up. The rest is history. Thevan is a funny guy and engaging character, and from appearances only, seems the unlikeliest type of person to have launched into this business of… healing. To his credit, Thevan seems passionate about the virtues of his center, well-versed in the literature and health benefits attributed to Ayurveda.
(Later I ask someone about the unusual configuration on Thevan’s license plate, because it reads XIII NAM – which sounds like a highly-coveted, much-auctioned-off, Trekkie’s dream vanity plate until I learn that it’s one of the highly-coveted, auctioned-off (or otherwise obtained), barely-used vehicles that were used by VIPs attending the 13th gathering of the Non-Aligned Movement when it was held in KL in 2003. Another license option might have been XX OIC, citing the tenth meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference… but I digress!)
Removing my sandals on the front terrace, I am greeted at the doorway by Jade, the receptionist, decked out in lime-green trimmed black top and skirt. She leads me to the waiting area, where I am served ginger tea and a biscuit (amazingly, the cookie fits ever-so-perfectly onto the little clay plate!). The couches are cushioned, the lights low, magazines laid out on a coffee- (um, tea-) table, and a waterfall in the corner sends gurgling liquid streaming down and through a structure of joined bronze pouring pots. In front of the waterfall sits a colorful statue of Ganesh – the Hindu deity that is lord of success and destroyer of evil and obstacles.
First up: A consultation with Dr. S. K. Vats, an ayurvedic physician hailing from Kerala, India – apparently the birthplace of Ayurveda. Once he’s given me a few preliminary explanations, he takes my pulse – from which he can read my blood type and other information about me.
After a series of questions – centered on my sleep habits, digestion, nutrition and level of physical activity – Dr. Vats deduces that my primary dosha (principle) is Vata, which translates to Wind (space and air). He continues on, detailing the characteristics of Vata personalities, their constitutions, preferences, habits; as well as the foods, temperatures and activities that are alternately beneficial and harmful. There’s a detox in there too, a regular intake of fennegreek and turmeric, meditation, yoga and focused breathing.
Though I’m borderline Pitta too, I sense that Dr. Vats is already reading me like a book. By the end of the session, he promises to send me an email reviewing our discussion, as well as instructions for food and drink intake, as well as other recommendations to boost my energy and restore balance to my body.
When the session ends, I’m led back to the waiting room, where I am offered another cup of ginger tea, until Jade enters with a young man similarly dressed in a lime-green and black trimmed uniform. I follow Jade and the man down a semi-darkened hallway whose floor is lined with pebbles and tea light candles; he smiles the whole way down, bowing ever-so-slightly towards me a few times as we amble. Jade leads us into a private room with orange walls and a massage table in the center, introduces me to the smiling man and closes the door quietly behind her.
This is Ranjit, my massage therapist. Born and trained in Kerala, Ranjit arrived in KL only one year ago after completing his four-year training and apprenticeship at an Ayurvedic center in Kerala. He excuses himself to wait in the hall as I change into a woman’s set of disposables he’s laid out on the table. When he knocks and re-enters, I am already laying face-down on the table. Ranjit wastes no time getting right to work – and it takes me no time to relax and realize that I’m in truly good and well-trained hands. In fact, I’m convinced that Ranjit, who is in his late 20s or early 30s, has hands of gold – oily perhaps, but gold.
Over the course of nearly two weeks, I see Ranjit four times. Intuitively, and by palpation, he easily zeros in on to each point in my body of pain. He asks: here, there is pain.. and here? He uses a variety of hot oils, custom-made concoctions for my Vata. By far, the best part of the hour is a treatment called Kizhi, when herb-filled poultices are sautéd in a frying pan and massaged around and into my sore spots. I remind myself to breathe deeply, in gratitude for the self-confidence with which he tends to my body.
At each appointment, we share more stories from our lives; his life more than mine. Ranjit tells me about life in Kerala; about houseboats on the waterways and the Onam festival, about playing cricket and practicing hatha yoga; and about his guru and his family (his father and brother are bakers). We talk about KL, the multitude of languages spoken in the city, the variety of food, the sports, some of the sights. He confides also about an astrologer he visited in Kerala who foretold that he would soon get a job in a faraway place; Ranjit asked, in Bangalore? No, said the astrologer, in another country.
Once, after Ranjit expresses surprise that I have a Hindi and Sanskrit name that is popular in India (even though I don’t look like Indian!), I clarify the origin of my name. And then, as if I can sense an ongoing fog, I assure him that there’s a (higher power and) reason that my given name is unisex; that it means both infinite and friend; and that it is as common in SouthEast Asia as it is in the Middle East. Yes, I think you are right, ma’am.
Indian rules of conversation, I am reminded, are similar to those I recall from Nepal; and Ranjit’s speech echoes the norms of his homeland, where formalities converge daily with intimacy: He may be slathering specially prepared ayurvedic herbal oils all over my backside, kneading deeply into my tight muscles and an aching sacrum; and I may be barely covered in a disposable bandeau and thong; yet, when I ask how Ayurvedic massage treatment can heal my injuries, Ranjit responds quickly; with a thick accent, a click in the mouth and (I can bet) his head wagging behind me in that ubiquitous Indian way: Don’t worry, this is curable Ma’am.
By the time I’ve had my fourth treatment at the center, I’m a known and recognized entity among Samkkya staff. I’ve stared at Ganesh many times, drunk at least a litre of ginger tea and have had numerous conversations with Dr. Vats and Jade. Somewhere along the way, I have discovered that Jade reads palms, so before my last visit, I ask her to read mine. Not surprisingly, there is so much to tell; however, it will have to wait for another time, because Jade is a woman and these stories are, after all – and for the present at least – about the men of KL who heal.