…miracles sung in Tulu.
It was very early morning when I arrived in Udupi after having NOT SLEPT A WINK on the smart but restless bus from Mysore. You can really feel the Western Ghats undulate on the top bunk. It was a beautiful night and there was something magical about giving up on sleep and watching the Indian night stream by in the shape of hills and trees and rocks and jungle.
The only passenger awake and roaming, I quickly became a talking point at the all-night cafe pitstop. Three men were there and me: the driver, the guy making chai to order, and a solitary customer (all of us there at 3am in the middle of nowhere). I made a frantic bid for chai and buns, talking too fast, as normal. “England,” one of them pronounced.
Hoode. Thonse. Actually, it’s ‘Thonse-Hoode’ – with its own language: Tulu±. But I’ve only just found all that out. What a magical place… and what a magical way to find it: through a surfing link. It’s amazing how one good connection can lead to something you never expected, nor planned for, but which you really, really need.
After a slightly dramatic touch-down in Udupi: boarding a rickshaw in the early morning only to realise the meter was going nineteen to the dozen and finding the only way I could get the guy to turn the machine around was to half jump into the road (this was a problem with lack of clarity in communication, he wasn’t trying to kidnap me), I finally made it (cheaply) to my chosen lodging: Thonse Nature Cure… and found myself checking into what looked like a hospital. I’d come to surf with Shaka but.. I went with it.
I need regular reminders – or, you could say – physical enforcement to make me spend adequate time looking after my own needs. Institutionalised seems to suit me, at least for a pause (I was drawing comparisons with the Priory when I first arrived). But really, I’m just normally poor at this and like many people who find fascination in lots of things I can be atrocious at taking the time for self care.
Even the simple stuff like getting myself to a doctor if I have a cough, resting if I’m tired, eating if I’m hungry – whenever in life I am absorbed in a time / place / activity about which I’m passionate, like I was this year in Sri Lanka with my dear, dear talented friends in Arugam Bay I find it hard to tear myself away for anything.
And that very first day I was sent to see the Chief Medical Officer Dr. Shrutha Dayananda who looked at my skin and frowned, who took my bp and frowned…
All this year I have suffered from quite extreme breakouts on my skin ranging from spots to what can only be described as boils – horrible. When it gets really bad rashes appear. It can happen anywhere on the body but is most often on my back… and two rows of stitches from a small surgery in Africa had also decided to take on the characteristics of infection. Extremely horrible. This condition seems to stem from a combination of hormonal imbalances (what were they putting in the water in Leicester in the 1980s?), confirmed PCOS, and is exacerbated by stress, diet, poor self care, and a lack of sunlight.
“I hope you don’t mind my asking, Debs, but what HAVE you done to your back?”
I’ve had plenty of sunlight this year so it’s the other things – and anyone who has been around me as I’ve weathered the tropical days in little more than a bikini and shorts has no doubt noticed some strange markings on my back: a friend in A Bay, Tavish, came right out and said it, “I hope you don’t mind my asking, Debs, but what HAVE you done to your back?” The open-minded boyfriend (unfortunately no more, I mean he’s alive, he’s just no longer the boyfriend) was the first person ever, aside from my mum, to try to squeeze them out one by one (a kind if for me in all my Britishness, HIGHLY MORTIFYING act) but this was ultimately useless. (That really is love. Thank you for trying, Praneeth. Thank you for your utter lack of squeamishness. I wish I’d shared it.)
“…there’s always a way. This is India.”
Finally, I found a doctor who was taking this seriously – and had an approach. And an approach that works… (Or maybe this is INDIA: anything is possible. A new friend and fellow inmate, Spoorthy Vinay, has been teaching me about this thing here – there’s always a way. This is India.)
Thonse, an Indian Medicine Research Institute, started me on their strict regime (punctuated by the bells!):
- Eye packs twice a day. It’s like an enforced nap, initially I was so exhausted I was falling asleep without realising. And there’s surely some magic in what they put into the pack: each time I come back feeling like I have psychic powers (or is that just the effect of adequate rest?).
- Full body oil massages: performed by two therapists working in tandem – they’re all so strong and there is one amongst them who is definitely working on your dream body`.
- Steam baths: you sit in this thing that looks like half a Dalek and steam. They pour water on your head. Then pat it. Sometimes they stroll by, “What happened?”. Te he he. There’s no formality here.
- Magnesium salt baths, in the bath that you see being moved around and shoved behind places in the corridor: I love the utter lack of unimportant ceremony here.
- Turmeric rubs: and it was ALL yellow – no, really, my bikini will never be the same again. No matter!
- Massaged and pummelled with a cloth sack filled with rice and milk and mysterious herbs: actually really nice.
- Sunlight baths: strange to be plonked on the roof^ fully naked, totally covered in something – you never know quite what it is – to bathe in the morning sun.
- Oh, and plenty of enemas. (No colon comment here. Ha ha ha!)
- The final day’s massage is a full salt scrub: see how I shine.
Udupi is famous for its food and its gadbads. So eat at Thonse.
The food is bland by India’s standards and so so healthy. Some inmates are only getting soup so I am very pleased with the generous helpings of wholegrain rice, healthy parotha, or ragi laddu (millet balls) that go together with a multiplicity of vegetable broths, salads (typically one of sprouted mung beans, pomegranate, apple, and seeds), and simple carbohydrates. And, luckily, I have a prescription for salt due to the low bp. Some buttermilk from time to time. A Fenugreek drink in the morning. No tea or coffee. No sugar. That’s what I smuggle into the room. And no gadbads+. I smuggle those into my sugar-craving body on the road.
One pranayama exercise ‘releasing the weight of the body’ almost had me flying
There is also a yoga session twice a day. I’ve only made it once just because I can’t stop myself from hopping on the old-fashioned ladies bicycle they have here and exploring the island, and checking the waves to surf – – – oh, and to get those ice creams. The yoga teacher is clearly fantastic, if quite frenetic in his movement without warming up (I guess it is 30 degrees in the shade…) and has a deep understanding of pranayama yoga. One exercise (releasing the weight of the body) almost had me flying. Also my blood pressure is confirmed to be low. I am ordered to take salt more than hyperventilate in a small room. Horses for courses. Sea and salty fish for me!
“These are the women, these are the hands, these are the voices that heal as they work, touch, soar.”
…and here are the magicians. These are the women, these are the hands, these are the voices (a treatment is rarely without a song, a song sung in Tulu) that heal as they work, touch, soar. Thank you, Kavitha (Song), Tara (Star), Shobha (Beautiful), and Kusuma (Flower)#.
Thonse, I love you.
*sometimes the guess is that I’m French (as it was in Hampi), sometimes Israeli (as it was here by a co-resident). Once, in a hospital in Bangalore, it was “Indian?” – at this I was most perplexed, especially because at the time I was looking grey.
± Tulu where the Sinhalese word for “I” (mama) is here the word for “breasts”. I discovered this today testing out similarities between languages. Kanada shares some features with Tamil, “Iylla” – nothing, being one of them.
`the dreams I’ve had here. Whoa. Another story for another day.
^ especially as the top floor here looks like a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
+ an ice cream famous to this region. Huge irony. Udupi is famed for its cuisine. I sneaked out once for treats from the city – walked directly and without signpost to the foodie quarter (genius) and managed to arrive on a fasting day when most restaurants were closed (utter fail).
# Hindi meanings given in parentheses and what a fitting and fortuitous set of names we have here!
Side note: to add to the cuckoo’s nest effect the water dispensing machines use two tunes to indicate when they are pouring water and each can be found on the bread trucks that drive around the villages in Sri Lanka at dawn and dusk. It spooked me every time I filled a water bottle or heard someone filling a water bottle, i.e. most hours of the day and night.
I wouldn’t be surprised that if one day I were try to find Thonse again I would only discover a barren strip of land in the jungle by the river and by the sea with no trace of magical hands or songs from Sri Lankan bread trucks.