We Indians are all familiar with time-honoured and, frankly, yawn-making clichés about our distinctive regional pecadilloes; after all, what sets a Punjabi apart from a Bengali and a Bengali from a Southerner or a Gujerati from a U.P bhaiya? We fondly cherish stereotypes of the brainy Bong who eats a lot of fish and thus feeds his grey cells in the process of so doing, the Punj who tends to think and act big and so forth and is capable of devouring a whole tandoori chicken at one go, the “uncouth” (soi disant) “Malayali” slurping up sambhar from the palm of his hand and the “Gujoo” who eats sweet and savoury in one dish. (Note how importantly food figures in this anthropological map).
I don’t think anyone has assimilated the North Eastern races- from Manipur, Assam and Nagaland in a similar fashion and I think it’s high time to honour these graceful peoples with a few compliments. Almost every person I have come across from these lands which, alas, I have never been to, has a quality of charm and good manners that simply eclipses other Indians. Not only are they always neatly dressed and immaculately coiffed, but they smile and, if they are working in a service industry, try to be as helpful and professional as possible. Their movements are full of grace and delicacy, they never shout or make a public nuisance of themselves; they know better than to spit on the street or pee against a wall. It’s hard to forget that they were headhunters not so terribly long ago and my father brought back a photo of himself standing against a backdrop of shrunken heads culled from some past tribal battle.
Near Bogmolo Beach in Goa I chanced upon a spa owned by a young woman called Kapesa. She told me her name means “seedling season”, i.e. the time for transplanting.
The spa is called “Serene” and it lives up to its name with a calm unfussy interior and absolutely amazing therapies. I had two reflexology sessions, a hair colour, hair spa, a trim, a facial, two acupressure massages, a pedicure and a manicure over the space of two days and the bill came to around £80. I was immediately struck with how sensitively the different therapists went about their work- their hands seemed to be so finely tuned that they knew just which area to focus on and just the right amount of pressure to give. I could not believe my good fortune.
I asked Jeff, who did my pedicure and one reflexology, whether he and the others had grown up close to nature, since his energy seemed to emanate from a source deep within and was quite unforced. He said that Nature had quite a lot to do with Nurture. In cities like Delhi, where the majority of his young compatriots emigrate to find work, there is often discrimination and prejudice but, he told me, Goa was different.
I couldn’t get a picture of Jeff, but here is his colleague Dillem (which I suspect is a corruption of Dylan) who has a magic way with hair.