Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Never Tease Gandhi- preamble to notes on Vasti treatment

Imagine my mirth when I learnt that the last wish of my great grandfather was for an enema, which his wife had refused bluntly. He died soon after, his bottom most desire unfulfilled. For long his wife was plagued by grief that she had refused a dying man a simple last wish!
“You know, just as emperor Krishnadevaraya gifted golden mangoes to the priests and Tenali Rama offered branding with hot iron rods on his mother’s death anniversary, we must also offer enemas to guests who arrive for Thatha’s shrardam. Only then will his soul be assuaged,” I said most seriously to my great grandmother. The lady was not amused. She merely said- “My husband was a Gandhian. Like them, may you also know the pleasures of an enema.”

This story predictably generated high decibel belly laughter among my friends. Few smutty jokes made the rounds. One talked about Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel and his portrayal of Gandhi in it as Bhisma obsessed with colon cleansing. Another friend cited Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice-candy man and Gandhiji’s views in it on bowel irrigation. Ideas abounded on how to placate the soul of my great grandfather who died wistfully dreaming of a warm enema. All of us laughed more than warranted. Then it happened. My stomach began “gesticulating”. Oh! How to describe it! It was as if my intestines wanted to step out to say hi to my friends and play dumb charades or something. I miraculously reached the bathroom on time.

While I was in there worrying that my intestines were descending so far down that they could say hello to the denizens of hell, I received an sms from my host (wise guy) from the other side of the door, “8 a kilo and shat 4? Bad Math. Worse aftermath.”
As my physical condition left me indisposed to retaliate in full strength, I merely stopped with not flushing his loo.

After that day I religiously began carrying the status message- “Never tease Gandhi” on my messengers to spread the news that one could attract painful stomach ailments if one teased the clean habits of the Father of the nation. But even this did not placate the forefathers for shortly after I developed a mysterious illness, which mysteriously enough had no apparent cure in “English” medicine. I was admitted into an Ayurvedic clinic- not the fancy green and ochre, oil dripping, back water facing thatch roofed kind you see in Kerala tourism brochures- but a real one which Shushruta would have been proud of- the kind which still uses leeches to drain bad blood and sets broken bones without anesthesia.

I was ushered into my room, where two shiny brass telescopes above the bedstead briefly distracted me from my grief.
I put one to my eye and peered out of the window. The telescopes smelt strange.
“Nice showpiece, eh? What happened to the glass lenses in them?” I asked the nurse.
“Who wants to see through them?!! They are the instruments for giving enema,” she giggled. Word spread about my faux pas. I was called Galileo by the doctors.
“How did you contract the illness, Galileo?” The Chief Doctor asked cheerfully.
“I teased Gandhi,” I said smartly and narrated the story of my Thathaji and Gandhiji with full histrionics and laughter.
“Heat the oil a tad more,” shouted the Doctor sternly and exited while the trembling nurses told me that their Chief was a sworn Gandhian!!
Oh! The old men were my nemesis. The next twenty days saw Galileo’s intestines being gargled with warm medicated oil and hot herbal concoctions through the telescopes. The nights in lieu of star gazing were spent tossing in fright after visitations from the two grand souls with toothless smiles. Not a day passed without me remembering the grand old lady who had cursed me to know the pleasures of enema.
A month later, as I left the clinic completely detoxified in mind and body, I swore to myself that a) I would spread the moral of the story - “Never tease Gandhi” far and wide and b) if ever I was to have a dying wish to be fulfilled by my descendents, I would die wishing for a full blown orgy on a barge - Cleopatra style.

"Never tease Gandhi" was published in Loony life column.

Days 12-16

Now we come to the grand conclusion of the long, hard, tummy turning treatment. After completing Ama pachanam (the cooking of 'amam' or toxins) through medicine, followed by Sneha Panam (internal oleation of body), Abhyanga and Swedana (massage and sweating) to move toxins of the body into the eliminatory system, we come to that final and crucial part of Panchakarma called Vasti which involves the elimination of the toxins dislodged from various parts of the body and made to accumulate in the eliminatory tract. Vasti involves giving enemas to the patient. Over a period of five days oil and herbal enemas (Sneha Vasti and Kashaya vasti) were administered and the bowels entirely irrigated. I feel extremely light, sprightly and "clean" after the treatment. My health has improved considerably. And I am keeping my fingers crossed for a complete cure. With this the "Purging of Jaya Madhavan" comes to a conclusion and I am going home to recuperate. :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Abhyanga and Swedana

Day 9-11
Abhyanga and Swedana may sound like two apsaras descended from Indra's court to seduce Viswamitra but to bring you back to terra firma the two words roughly mean massage and sweating. Note on the two terms follows, but my story goes first.

Elements of Abhyanga scene- Two swarthy (female) masseurs. Hard wooden bed. A bucket of warm oil. A loin cloth. And me. Just arrange these elements in your mind and I will come back to it for I am going to digress a bit now.
There used to be a huge mortar and pestle in my grandmother's house. Washing the mortar and pestle by itself used to be a separate chore and women of the house used to vie for it. Not without reason. It needed two to clean that mortar and pestle and that pair who were in most urgent need of exchanging gossip used to tumble out to clean those mammoth instruments. Standing close to each other the women would bzzbzzbzzbzz softly and if someone were to pass by they would restore their voices to normal decibel. High and low, high and low they would whisper, giggle, gossip and pour out the contents of their heart even while the mortar and pestle got cleaned automatically and expertly, without demanding too much attention from the bzzzbzzing women.

Cut back to the clinic with me on the wooden bed, flanked by the two masseurs. Up, down, up down their hands move briskly and deftly. Tup-tip-toop, they turn me front to back, front to back effortlessly, all the while gossiping in high and low tones, completely oblivious to me, as if I were a mere pestle :(
Masseur 1: "And then my husband came home drunk and flung her to the ground. I turned off the TV and waited for his next move."
Masseur 2: "But that's what happened last week also after she came home in that particular way."
Masseur 1: "Yesterday was different. She was wearing flowers and an alien fragrance wafted from her."
Masseur 2: "What does your husband care?"
Masseur 1: "No, no she is.....what can I say? She is....."
Masseur 2: "Okay forget it; tell me what he did to her?"
Me: "Er...excuse me, but who is this "she" you are talking about?"

No sooner did I ask the question than the two sheepishly shut up and looked to finishing the massage swiftly. My head was exploding with curiosity. It was obvious they were continuing the conversation from the previous patient's massage bed and the previous patient must have known more about the "She". "Er....who was your previous patient?" I wanted to ask so that the story may conclude in my head. No such luck, for the treatment of the day finished and for the next two days I had two other sets of masseurs who nevertheless gave me a peek into their worlds with their gossip.

After the massage, a tube pouring smoke at its mouth was brought to me. It smelt of pungent herbs. Hot vapour was coursed down my body from the tube and I began to sweat as if I had run 6 miles. "This is Swedana," said the masseur answering my unspoken question. Shortly after, unable to contain their tongues the women returned to their idle gossiping.
I was worried that Swedana might be a Vedana (pain), but it is turning out exceedingly interesting what with the number of stories that float around like the thick fog above my bed.

Abhyanga and Swedana

Abhyanga is a gentle but firm warm oil massage done by two masseurs. Oils for the massage are chosen according to the ailment or constitution (prakruti) of the patient's body. The prefix “Abhi” means “into or towards” and “ang” has a root meaning of “movement’. So “Abhyanga” is the process by which bodily energy is reactivated even while moving the "amam" or toxins towards the body’s eliminatory systems. Abhyanga I find is an extremely comforting and rejuvenating part of the treatment. My skin is glowing from all that oil I was dunked in. My body feels lighter and many of my aches have subsided. I am liking it :) The stories of the masseurs are of course a bonus.

Swedana is yet another process of detoxification where steam from herbal concoction is blown on your body to stimulate sweating. As you "cook" beneath the steam, the body will begin to release its accumulated toxins through its pores. Together, Abhyanga and Swedana help in balancing the doshas and restoring health to your body.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Day 8. End of Sneha Panam. Also end of me.

Today I had the largest dosage of ghee staggered through the day as two doses. The first glass of ghee was given at 6 in the morning and just when that "ghee burping" stopped and I heaved a sigh of relief, the doctor and his man servant appeared with the second glass.
"Dr.Sudheer you expect me to be friends with you even after this?" I asked as he blindfolded me and plugged my nostrils.
"mutu mutus?" I hollered at Nandakumar the manservant.
"Eh?" he asked.
I removed the nose plugs and repeated, "You too Brutus?"
"Eh?" he asked again.
"Your Shakespeare is wasted on him. Come on be a good girl and drink it up," Sudheer egged.
"GHEE is a four letter word," I said as the unctuous fluid coursed down my throat.
I really had it that day. I began purging the undigested ghee and god! my grandmother would have wept to see so much ghee go down the drain (literally). It reminded me of a childhood story filled with scatalogical references about a fox which stole into a wedding feast and drank up all the ghee and served the guests pus from its wound insteaad......YAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH and such yucky stories my mind threw up. The mind is such a devious beast. On one side my stomach was bidding goodbye to me and begging to find a replacement, on the other my mind was chewing on useless old stories and frying my dizzy head in such slimy stories. I got a clear idea of a purgatory that day. Man! If I am writing so badly today, it is because of the ghee (heh-I found an excuse finally). Tomorrow Swedana begins. If you thought Snehana and Swedana are two attractive twins like the models Tapur and Tupur, heh- so sorry. Swedana is the next phase of the treatment. More after I digest this medicated ghee.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Day 6-7

Today I got admitted into the hospital for the Snehana or pretreatment to Panchakarma. What you read till now was the pre-pretreatment which I carried out as an outpatient.
I chose a common room in order to have some company. As luck would have it, the only lady who was here moved into a separate room after spending a day with me. We laughed too loudly, we spoke too much, we displayed too much exuberant behaviour and such complaints rose within the hospital and hence she quietly moved out of the room after briefly crying over my shoulder. I knew it was that Nandakumar who spread these vicious words. His job is to ensure that we do not fall asleep during the day (as it aggravates pitta), make us sit erect in our chairs during and after meals and prompt us to have our baths before 6.30 am etc. He must have been a Puritan in his previous birth, always worried that “someone somewhere might be happy.”
The hospital is a fairly pleasant place, neat and simple, bright and quiet. All this at the first glance. Heh- as you begin your stay here, the harshness of the place unfolds. In my room, three fans hang above three beds uselessly. In this tropical heat, we are not to use fans. Three beds wait vacantly, but I cannot lie or sleep until the sun has set. I have this urge like Goldilocks to try all three beds…in vain.
My laptop beckons but I am not to work until it is dark. No talking, no sleeping, no serious working during the day. Only staying awake and being still. Try it and see if it does not drive you crazy.
There are other interesting patients here- one has hands that turn numb without notice, other has a tummy that cannot accept any kind of food without breaking into bleeding rashes, yet another has a growth in his brain and then there is me with this unglamorous mysterious illness and so on. Yet we cannot speak to each other to offer comfort or exchange notes.
“Conserve your energy. You can heal only by not doing routine things like talking, phoning, browsing, working, eating unfriendly food, sleeping at odd times and bad posture,” my good doctor instructs. Suddenly it makes immense sense to me. I got ill in the first place because of faulty habits. I must give my body a chance to heal. I immediately became a good girl and even read Skanda Shasti Kavacham. But in some two hours time, I tired of being good. Luckily it was bedtime. I was asked to be ready by 6.30 am the following day. I was told that I would be given “Sneha Panam” (literally ‘friendly drink’) first thing in the morning. Ha! A welcome drink at a hospital! What next? Would ill clad girls dance to me and pour wine from tall urns into my waiting glass? Mmmmmmm. I hit the sack with great expectations.

As I eagerly awaited the drink the following mornign, a lady came in bearing a steel tumbler, a longish piece of cloth and two cotton buds dunked in some unguent.
“I have to blindfold you,” she said and my imagination simply exploded. Wheee! Long live Charaka and Sushruta. Long live ancient Indians and the age that facilitated the writing of a treatise like Kama Sutra. So on and so forth I exulted as I permitted myself to be blindfolded. No sooner were my eyes bound than two oily cotton plugs were unexpectedly thrust into my nostrils. A smell that could make a skunk wither pervaded my entire being. As I swooned in shock a glass was pressed to my lips. I perked up immediately, knowing that it was that promised welcome drink and eagerly opened my mouth when of all things ghee flowed into my mouth! Can you believe I was made to drink an entire glass of ghee?!!
“You call this Sneha Panam?” I shouted.
“Sneham means oily. This is towards internal oleation of your body. This will help the toxins to dislodge from various sites in your body and move towards the alimentary tract,” they explained in Shudhh Sanskrit.
Shuddh ghee over Shudhh Sanskrit. I could not decide which was worse.
“Tomorrow we shall give you a larger glass of ghee, okay?” said the lady. I could only weep.


Snehana is the pretreatment to Panchakarma. It literally means oleation. In Snehana medicated ghee (according to your illness) is administered internally over three to maximum seven days in increasing dosages, till your body reaches a saturation point. Sneha Panam or medicated ghee is given first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and no food is offered until the ghee has been entirely digested. Only hot water laced with dried ginger is permitted during the day. When the body reaches a saturation point, the patient begins to purge to empty the excess ghee out of the system. At that point, Snehana is stopped and the next phase of treatment begins. Just as we dip clothes in detergent for easy cleaning of clothes, Snehana is vital for the easy “laundering” of the body failing which the body will suffer like a dry stick under pressure.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Day 4-5

No point mulling over this Ama Pachanam period. I decided to take my mind off coffee and food. I made this crucial decision after experiencing some severe “blade emotions” over something equally blade. I was going someplace with my son. It was pretty early in the morning so I liberally pressed on the accelerator. At one turning I made an intelligent manoeuvre and a car on the opposite side had to break roughly. I scrolled down ( rolled down I mean) the car window and said sorry to which the very young driver said a very bad word.
“Hello!” I said, blood rushing to my head. The kid was ‘young enough to be my son’ as the saying goes. I don’t think he was a bad kid, just a bad mannered kid.
He began to move away without an apology and I (as such without coffee) was highly fragile in my temper. A hot chase ensued. He sped away and I sped after him honking and waving him to stop and give me an apology. My poor car was no match for his swanky car. Yet, I pumped the accelerator. I tried to fly over his car and drop in front of him like Rajnikanth and compel him to stop with screech and/or his tyres bursting into flames. No matter how hard I pulled the steering wheel up as they do in films, my car still remained on terra firma. I decided then and there to take my car to a drive-in theatre, where she can also watch some films and pick a few fly-yourself techniques.
At one crucial turning, the boy cleverly gave me the slip leaving me to face a red signal. I said a brief “you-you-you” and turned back home. Despite the obvious defeat, I still felt triumphant after the chase. I had got my adrenalin rush for the day without coffee. “You are Ben Hur, I say,” I congratulated myself.
“Stupid-stupid-stupid,” my husband shouted. “Want to get yourself killed? Who do you think you are Ben Hur? I would rather you stopped this treatment and got back to your coffee and start behaving,” he ranted. My son and I exchanged glances and giggled. “Papa don’t preach,” we whispered lest it triggered another lecture.

Over all I decided the lack of coffee was making me jumpy and very blade-emotional. I decided to “like” the treatment for a change and see how my body was benefiting. As I begin to take stock of my body, I do feel that the Shaddaranam is doing its job. My body is feeling lighter. I almost don’t feel my stomach’s presence. It in fact it looks flatter. Sorry that was an exaggeration, it looks a little flat- that is all, not flatter (as though it was already flat.) Huh.
More about Shaddaranam will follow.

Day 2-3

Ama or Amam is the flo(a)tsam and jetsam of the body. Undigested material and toxins which float around the body have to be coaxed to descend into the alimentary tract from where they can be eliminated. Ama Pachanam literally means “cooking of Amam”. The Shaddaranam which I wrote about earlier does the cooking and (near) elimination of the Amam. Those which do not get evacuated during the Ama Pachanam will be expelled during Vasti (enema) process.
I was on a strict fat-free diet. I was not permitted to take milk/curd (tell a South Indian to not take curds)/butter/any diary product, oil or vegetable other than snake gourd. My diet consisted of plain idlis for breakfast (no chutney or milagapodi), rice and ungarnished plain dal for lunch and phulka and un-garnished watery dal for dinner for seven days before getting admitted. Even the food was bearable but the lack of coffee tried me to the hilt. This treatment, I decided is a test for both- my physical and mental endurance.
If you thought maintaining a bland diet is easy, I challenge you to try it. By the third day you will be flying off your handle. I was continuously hungry and irritable. Food turned to dust in my mouth. Every little pile of work seemed mountainous to me. I was simply losing it. But in my mother’s words I was being perfectly myself even during the bland-diet days.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Day 1

Breakup of treatment into three phases

Pre-treatment, primary treatment and post treatment. Before I wax eloquent about the three phases, let me sob over the pre-pretreatment phase.

I am now undergoing what is called the Ama Pachanam, the pre-pretreatment phase where I have to go on a fat-free diet. No milk, no oil, no spice.
And above all no COFFEE. Can you imagine, no coffee? Tell a true blue south Indian to stay away from coffee and she will commit hara-kiri. Lucky for me I do not understand Japanese and hence did not commit the whatever.
But it has not been easy, I tell you.
I just have to hear the syllable Ka and my eyes dilate with tears. I feel intense viraha for the brown fluid. For the first time in my life I understand why most alcoholics trade every last ounce of their credibility for the sake of the bottle. What would I not give for now one cup of coffee?
Adding fuel to the fire is a magazine which has asked me to write on….guess what? ….Coffee! Life is a four-lettered word I say. By day 1 evening I was bawling over the phone to my doctor.
“What at all may I drink? I am craving a hot beverage. What can I drink?” I wept.
“Drink HOOOT water,” she said kindly.

I cannot have coffee, what I can have instead is Shaddaranam, this absolutely delightful bitter powder that can make a bittergourd seem like laddoo. Have Shad-daranam and all you can think of is the pot. If “Pot” gives you transcendental thoughts, Shad-daranam gives you thoughts of the pot.

To digress a bit, there is this medicine called Triphala (made from equal parts of Amalaki, bibhitaki and Haritaki) a super laxative that can churn your stomach in seconds and make it expel even ten days fixed deposit in your intestines in 2 mins. Now if Triphala is the mother of laxatives then Shad-daranam seems to be the Pitamaha of Triphala. I will get back to you on the ingredients of this bitter medicine which is working like a Super-Bat-Spider-Shakti-man of a laxative on me. My intestines, I fear are going to descend and drop into the pot shortly.
I should have one tsp of this "pot-thoughts" inducing medicine every morning and evening (instead of coffee). No need to explain where I sit rest of the day. Thank god for wireless and the peerless (pan) I continue to work from where I am.

A note to my gentle readers. There is an Amazon of a woman here who pops in every two minutes, asking me to shut down the "TV". No amount of explaining convinces her that what I have here is a laptop. According to her, "If it sings and shows video, it is TV". Hence my posts may come a little late. But hang in there. I will post something everyday for you people. Also try and leave a comment, good or bad. I love hearing from my readers (especially the coffee drinking ones) and especially during this unhealthy time of being away from civilization. SWAT, sorry that was a mosquito. Bye and hang in there.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Purging of Jaya Madhavan

Welcome and namaste to all my dear readers who have arrived to read about the purging of Jaya Madhavan easily one of the pleasantest topics to read just before brunch, lunch or dinner.
I am undergoing the Panchakarma (Ayurvedic) treatment and do not be misled by anyone who says it is one of the most ex-otic, ex-quisite and ex-hilarating treatments to undergo. If at all it is any “ex”, it is ex-asperating and ex-pensive.
Just to give you the context- I have been suffering an insufferable ailment the past four years- a way too unglamorous illness that does not suit my writer-image as much as a lymphosarcoma or a brain tumour would. After a long round in allopathic hospitals where doctors were about as helpful as BSNL employees, I zeroed in on an Ayurvedic doctor who in no simple terms told me that what I have is a Vatta disorder and my apana vayu (downwardly mobile bodily gas) is all screwed and angry and causing me the illness. The Sanskrit sloka she quoted to substantiate her diagnosis sounded something like “Vatta-shutta-butta-pitta-kutta-mutta-swaha!”
Just as I was fleeing both the Sanskrit and the diagnosis, a helpful Dubashi in the clinic told me kindly that, according to Ayurveda all diseases are a manifestation of the imbalances in the three doshas of Vatta, Pitta and Kafa (roughly gas, bile and phlegm) and once these three Musketeers are evened out, the disease should also automatically vanish. And a sure shot side effect of this treatment, he said would be weight loss upto 7 kilos in 22 days. Now that got me hooked and here I am, undergoing the Panchakarma treatment- the ultimate laundering of your body.

Note on Panchakarma

Panchakarma (literally meaning "five actions") is directed at cleansing your body by removing toxins through nasal therapy (Nasya), Vomiting (Vamana), Purging (Virechana) and two kinds of therapeutic enemas (Sneha Vasti and Kashaya Vasti with herbal oils and herbal decoctions respectively). To put the above jargon in simpler words, the toxins in my body are going to be moved to the alimentary tract through massage, fomentation and medication, from where they would be removed through enemas. My intestines are going to be gargled with exotic fluids. And I think by the time I am through with this treatment I would have been folded into five (hence the name five fold therapy eh?)

More to come

There are three phases to this treatment. Come back tomorrow to know more about the first phase of this five-fold therapy (human-origami, I call it). You are welcome to leave any comment, but without mentioning the word coffee/kapi. Please.