Several days of lying while watching TV and sleeping in a bad posture had left me with a pain in my back that was difficult to shake off. I’d tried everything… repeated Suryanamaskars, put a cushion on my office chair to give support to my back, stretches, even painkillers and muscle relaxants – meds I’d promised to forever stay away from. But nothing helped. This was a malaise that was just not letting up. While not unbearable, the back pain made me irritable, it stung and sent shooting currents up and down, similar to the feeling of getting very low-level electrocution. In the past, I’d resorted to exercising, and had seen even the worst back issues disappear. Now, maybe slightly more aged, perhaps not as physically fit, my body was refusing to respond to my age-old solutions… a spa treatment thus became my last resort. “All you need is a good, hard maalish,” a friend advised.
And so I picked up the phone and called the spa at one of Hyderabad’s most pish-posh hotels. I’d been there several times before, enjoyed some great spa treatments at the hands of extremely skilled and professional masseuses, but boy was I in for a surprise this time! It’s no hidden fact that the pandemic has worst-hit spas and gyms. People have just stopped going in the numbers and frequency that they earlier did. The physical contact, the repeated use of the facilities… all this plays on the minds of guests wanting to partake in some relaxation. No one wants Covid as a giveaway from a massage therapy.
I think this has made an impact on the spas we have in the city. Not only have the rates in these establishments been hiked, but several cutbacks have been made that leave a client severely disappointed. My masseuse, a short, petite North-Eastern lady, led me to the spa room after informing me that my 60-minute treatment was 20% more expensive than it had been a year back… well above the normal inflation rate our economy has been currently experiencing. Inside, I was told that they’d had to make some cost-cuts and thus the usual flimsy, tissue-paper like undergarment that is normally offered was no longer available. In its place was a pair of disposable tissue-shorts - a massive discomfort, since this particular item of clothing offered no support whatsoever, eventually leading to several slips-ups where my modesty was on full display.
The massage, while thorough, lacked elbow-grease. I needed a good hard pummeling of my back and had explained this several times to the soft-spoken lady. Instead, what I was given was a light patting, leaving me still suffering from my back pain. The sauna, which I was particularly looking forward to since heat is a great relaxer of muscles, was closed. So was the steam room. The accoutrements that we were earlier offered, toiletries, hairdryer, shaving kits and dental care packets (not that I shave or brush my teeth after a massage, but its always good to know that you have them, if not for anything else than to feel like you’ve got your money’s worth) were missing in action.
To make matters worse, the shower controls in my room were the other way around. When I tried to cool down the water, all it did was become steaming hot. Any more of that shower would have resulted in third-degree burns all over my well-oiled body.
I’m not a complainer. Unless I’m in a bad mood. And this was a place where I’d had many great massages at. So I bit my tongue, drank my insipid green tea and paid my bill without a word. At the reception desk on my way out, I inquired about my usual therapist and when she’d be back. ‘A month later,’ I was told, and so I retreated to the porch, rubbing my back where the pain still existed, perhaps slightly more aggravated than it had been before my tryst with Ms. Saigon 2020.
The last treatment I’d had, before the one narrated above, was at the Falaknuma, sometime in late December. It was great! No cutbacks, no hiding the expensive toiletries, no rancid oil, only plain-old top-notch service! The treatment had cost just about the same as well. And this I think is where the penny drops. Entering a new-age, post-pandemic, all we are looking for is for things to be as they were before. We don’t want pricier services, we don’t want the things you’d gotten us used to to be taken away, and NO we don’t want our favourite spas to become experimenting grounds for spa-interns from the North East.
As I recounted my experience to close friends, they advised going to the Trident, perhaps even sticking with Falaknuma… both hotels a considerable distance from my home in Banjara Hills. But that’s the price one has to pay, I guess – if you want a good spa therapy be prepared for the long drive that comes with it. The other establishments out there, my friends stated, were definitely not worth it. Local spas, masseurs from UrbanClap… this was a sure-shot way of playing Russian Roulette with your life.
As things improve, and as people start moving back to Hyderabad, I’m hoping things will get better… not just for spas, but for service outlets across the board. Because, for all their bells and whistles, these sectors are driven by the men and women who work for them. Until then, I wait with bated breath, using a mechanical vibrating contraption that is currently stuck to my back like the lump on Notre Dame’s hunchback, hoping for the day I can get my usual back-numbing maalish again and get rid of this forsaken pain that just refuses to leave. --- Vishwaveer