In the period of receding summer in 2014, I got the opportunity to travel to Calicut or Kozhikode for official work. On the western coast of India, this beach city has lush green cover, sweeping shades of blue and a hint of saline in the air.
The first day began with a short lesson on Moplah cuisine, followed by the unravelling of the intricacies of Ayurvedic treatments offered by specialists in the region. The Ayurvedic treatments here are quite strenuous, so the food is served according to the various stages of the programme. This was followed by a heavenly full-body Ayurvedic massage. The masseuse got me to strip down completely. Completely! Right down to my birthday suit. She then put a very, very tiny piece of loin cloth over my nether area. It was awful.
Extremely embarrassed, flushed red like a pomegranate, I hoisted myself on the wooden table. Then came the tons of aromatic oils and herbs, heated together and lathered generously. From head to toe, I was one slick doll. After the rather gratifying massage, overcoming the issues with my nakedness, came the next awkward part. To move from the table to the shower area was one titanic feat. I was slippery like an eel. The masseuse held my hand, with her other arm around my waist, as I could feel my feet take off in different directions.
A hot shower is always welcome, and after a restful afternoon, I stepped out in the evening for a heritage walk with a personal guide. A tall, elderly gentleman, Mr M had snowy white tufts on his crown, and warm brown eyes that had a hint of mischief. He took me around the beach area, the mosque, temples and churches, remarking on the architecture, like a storyteller he had me wrapped in imagination.
When we reached Kuttichira, walking down a narrow lane, we came across a tiny shop with a wooden store front, lined with large glass jars filled with pickled fruits and vegetables. Mr M refused my offer to pay, and quite like a child, I had the pick of the lot. Star fruit, raw mango, cucumber… I picked one of each, stuffed in a clear plastic bag. Munching on them, I leisurely walked back to the hotel.
By the time I reached my room, I was exhausted, but no sooner did I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I was shocked. I was stunned. My eyes popped out, and my jaw hung open. My right ear looked VERY different from the left. It was excessively red and tender, and had swollen pretty badly. It seemed elongated, soft to touch. I was aghast! Oh the horror, the horror! I was nearly in tears, calling my parents frantically. They had no clue. “It’ll go. Stop panicking,” was the only reaction I managed to squeeze out of my father.
I drank gallons of water, hoping to flush out any toxins in case bitten by some bug, though I wondered if it was an allergic reaction to the extremely sour pickled fruits I had earlier. This was the first time I ever had an allergic reaction to anything, I was confused as hell. Dinner was the most difficult part, a sense of dread filled my chest as I took the elevator to the restaurant. I kept angling my right ear away from other guests and staff, and letting the miserable strands of hair fall over it. I went to bed wretched, wondering how to face people in the light of day.
But thank goodness, I didn’t wake up like that! The swelling had gone down by morning, although the ear was still a tad too tender to touch. With a skip in my step, I left for my early morning excursion to the local fish market, making a mental note on avoiding overeating food items I’ve never had before.