The Girl with the Miraculous Hands
April 17, 2009
When I was a little girl, my father gave me “The Man with the Miraculous Hands” by Joseph Kessel. The story of Felix Kersten, Heinrich Himmler’s personal masseur, who used his miraculous hands to save people from persecution and deportation. A fascinating story, and one I often think of when I get a massage. But I had never met a miracle masseur.
That is, until I met Shirin.
Shirin is a massage lady from Kerala. She works at an ayurvedic clinic in Jaipur where I go once in a while for an hour of bliss. The place itself is unremarkable. Some people say it’s dingy. The rooms are dark, as a massage room should be. The ceilings are high, the music – sitar mostly – faint, the mosaics on the floor, old and beautiful. The decoration is surely dubious (plastic gods, artificial flowers, bazaar paraphernalia) but there is a charm to it. I love it. It’s shabby chic.
Shirin herself is a small young woman who looks 25 and probably will for another 30 years. She is petite and round. She has tiny but strong hands that seem to have a life of their own, their touch deep and smooth.
Over the years, I grew used to her, and she to me. She knows which pressure I like and where are the knots on my back. And over the years, she started talking. Oh, nothing much. I like her for this: she is quiet. After three years, she now says three sentences to me. But as I told her the other day, every time her English improves. “Oh no, she chuckled, I think I know nothing.”
These last months sadly I didn’t have time for her.
Until my back broke down on me. The rickshaw rides, the tension, the swims and the late nights, I guess, little by little gripped my back. It grew really bad, to the point where I slept badly and couldn’t sit on the floor anymore. I emailed my father (a doctor as we all know) who wrote back “take some paracetamol“. Painkillers didn’t help. Sleeping on a hard mattress didn’t help. After two weeks of constant and intense pain, I went to see Shirin, fearing that even she couldn’t do anything for me. It was that bad.
I asked her to spend extra time on my back.
As usual, she started with my legs and arms. She massaged my hands, and at some point, she pressed my palm just beneath the thumb. It hurt.
She stopped and asked me: “I hurts here?”
“Yes”, I said.
“Does it mean something?” I asked, my eyes still closed.
“It means your shoulders are hurting too much, your back also, and you are having headaches.” I opened my eyes. It was true. I never have headaches, but these days I fought them constantly.
She went on with her massage. She slowly got to my back. Unhurriedly, she unknotted every ball of nerves. She worked my shoulders, stiff as iron. She said they were “very bad”, but she kept her pace, her strength, and her smoothness. Then she got these pouches of herbs sunk in hot oil. She massaged me with them. They were rubbing hard against my skin, deep into my back, and I could feel the heat and the soothing herbs mollify my angry muscles. It lasted an hour and a half, and when I left, I felt light, dizzy, washed out, all tension gone, all muscles asleep.
“You should always make time for massages, she said. It’s important. Once a week.”
I sighed. How can I ever move back to Europe?
However, I thought I’d need to go back at least twice before my cracked back healed. Not at all. It was still a little sore when I got home, but the next day I woke up fresh and rested and not feeling the slightest pain.
I loved her already, but now I truly worship her.
Shirin, sweet genius with miraculous hands.