Oil Massage

The pool was bathed in an ethereal light from the diyas placed around it. The harsh morning light seeped in weakly through the intricate jaalis. Queen Vasanthi Devi leaned back, resting her head on a silk cushion. The chief masseuse, Sumithra, gently massaged fragrant oil on her scalp with experienced fingers. Other two ladies-in-wating were using the same oil to massage her slender arms. The queen, half-immersed in the pool’s fragrant waters, was a picture of contentment.

This was a weekly ritual followed religiously by the queen. On rare occasions when Sumithra was indisposed, the queen was restless and irritable. For no other masseuse from the royal court would do. “Sumithra has the magic touch…” the queen would say. “Nobody can replace her.”

The weekly massage invigorated and rejuvenated the queen. While the masseuses were at work, the court musicians played soft,  enchanting music just outside her chambers. Apart from this the only sounds heard were the tinkling of the bangles in the ladies’ slender wrists, their anklets when they padded about and the occasional contented sighs from the queen.

After the massage and leisurely bath,  the queen rested, rather slumbered all afternoon like a content cat, curled up in her royal chambers.  In the evening,  she woke in time to dress in her finest silks and jewels for the feast.

***********

“Vasanthi!” hissed Prema through the small crack of the door. “Just a minute”.

“I can’t, akka!” Vasanthi whispered back. “I’m with a client.”

With an exasperated sigh, Prema closed the door gently and went out to the reception area.

“Sorry, Ma’m,” She apologised on the phone. “Vasanthi is busy with a client and just cannot come out. Can I help you with anything?” she asked, putting on her best charming voice.

“No!” Mrs. Patel barked. “I want to speak only to Vasanthi.”

“Can I ask her to call you back when she’s free?” Prema asked politely, hiding her mounting irritation.

“Hmm.. ok, baba!” Mrs. Patel relented a little. “I need to prepone my masage appointment. I want it today instead of tomorrow.”

“Sorry, Ma’m. We’re full up today. But I can ask Rita if she’s free.”

“No!!!” Mrs. Patel barked again. “I want only Vasanthi! Do you hear me? She has the..”

“…magic touch..” Prema finished it for her. “I know Ma’m, but Vasanthi is too busy today.”

After a moment of terse silence, Mrs Patel grumbled, “Oh, alright! Tomorrow it is…”

“Thank you Ma’m and have a nice day!” Prema replaced the reciever with a sigh of relief.

*********

“What is this magic touch everyone is talking about?” teased Prema when Vasanthi nipped to the back room for a quick cup of tea in between her appointments.

Vasanthi just rolled her eyes. “I have no clue!” She said.

“Don’t be soooo modest!” squeaked Leela, the senior-most masseuse in the spa. “Some people,” She said, turning to the others in the room, “are born with a healing touch. They just have to touch you and all youe aches and pains vanish!”

Vasanthi made a face behind Leela’s head and quickly slipped out of the room.

*********

Later, Vasanthi chuckled to herself when she was on her way home, thinking about her ‘magic touch’. She had no such illusions. She just worked hard  and never got distracted when she worked. That’s all.

Her thoughts flew to her mother’s warning that morning. “Come back early, Vasanthi… We need to go shopping for Diwali this evening…”

So she revved up her scooter and sped through the busy streets to her waiting mother.

Her sister was already dressed and ready for the outing. Her mother had a hot cup of tea and a steaming plate of pakoras for Vasanthi as she walked in.

“Asha! Call for you!” their father bellowed from the living room. Her sister scurried out to take the call.

“Amma!” Vasanthi called irritably. “Why did you give her a modern name like that and such an old-fashioned name for me? Why such favoritism?” She pouted.

“You know very well it was your grandmother who named both of you!” her mother said. “But I spoke to her today and found out the reason!”

“Really?!” exclaimed Vasanthi, excited that the question that has been plaguing her nearly all her life will be answered at last.

Her grandmother had just broken her decade-long silence that followed a family feud. Prior to that, Vasanthi remembered their unfailing annual trip to their native village filled with bullock-cart rides and moon-lit dinners.

“Remember that ruined fort next to our fields in the village? Hundreds of years ago, that region was ruled by a valiant queen called Vasanthi Devi. We’re apparently descendants of Her Royal Highness. And all the first-born daughters of the family have to be named after her!”

*****

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