Some friends express their love through hugs and sharing secrets and catch-ups over coffee.
Others do so by travelling all the way to Pushkar, India, specifically to pay a visit to one cosmic head massage guy and send pictures to rub it in another friend’s face.
This particular brand of friendship has its perks, I must say.
There are several reasons to add Pushkar to one’s itinerary when travelling around Rajasthan: its charming lake that’s a hive of activity at all times, especially in the evenings when prayer ceremonies (aartis) take place with hundreds of candles in terracotta pots; its array of veg-friendly food — not just delectable Indian street fare, but tasty falafel wraps and chips with hummus, mushroom sandwiches with fresh (clean!) salad and health bowls, lip-smacking fresh fruit smoothies, and more; its market shopping (almost too much — I chickened out with choice paralysis); and easygoing vibe.
But I was on a mission.
I had to find the celebrated cosmic head massage baba.
My favourite jerk (love you, Pat!) once showed me a documentary made by some of the guys from Rooster Teeth. Its presenters are fans of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) videos — clips of soothing sounds and actions designed to stimulate a tingling sensation that helps people go to sleep. In particular, one that comprises of the Cosmic Head Massage Baba exhibiting his, erm, unusual style: claiming to summon energy from the cosmos to produce an invigorating head massage like no other. The presenters decide to fly halfway across the world to find Baba Sen and experience his peculiar skill for themselves.
Pat said that if he ever went to India, this is what he’d want to do.
I made a point of beating him to it.
Because I’m a jerk like that.
Finding Baba Sen
I knew as soon as I booked my ticket to India that this would be one of my primary goals.
And I would do it properly: no Google Maps; just good old-fashioned human interaction, and a mental image of Baba Sen’s shop front.
I wish I had a more long-winded story to tell that justifies the drawn-out process of getting to India and Rajasthan to check this objective off my list. But the truth is, Baba Sen was surprisingly easy to find. I didn’t even have to ask for directions from locals — merely wandered along one of Pushkar’s main shopping streets and spotted a sign with the Youtube symbol on it (or rather, my friend Billy did).
There was the shop front, in conspicuously advertised glory.
However, Baba Sen was not inside. We were told to come back in half an hour or so, and he would be willing to see us.
We did, and he was, beckoning us in with a smile befitting of his title.
Experiencing a cosmic head massage
I was first in the chair.
Baba Sen asked my name. He asked my mother’s name. He wrapped a towel around my shoulders and lathered his hands with peppermint-scented oil. He started chanting and asked me to repeat some mantras with him. He breathed in sharply and deeply, rustling his impressive moustache — almost comically focused, rubbed his hands together, and went to town on my scalp — positively rolling my skull and shaking my shoulders, slathering my hair with oil, intermittently exhaling the phrases, “Oooh, my Shiva,” and, “Relaaaaax.”
He rubbed me with such intent my face was nearly scraping the table. He cracked my joints. He unexpectedly sprayed me in the face with water. He asked me to stand so he could grab me around the waist, lift me up, and loosen out my back.
He summoned the energy of the cosmos, all right: gesturing to the ceiling with great flamboyance, pulling something down that I couldn’t see.
I couldn’t stop giggling, to the extent that Baba Sen had to tell me to quiet down (or “Relaaaaax!”) a few times.
This went on for 10 or so minutes. We finished off with some more chanting and repeating my mother’s name and Billy’s name and lots of other names I can’t remember.
I felt several things afterwards: sweaty, slimy, surprised, amused, slightly awkward. Enlightened, I’m not sure…though my wallet certainly did (2000 rupees, or around forty Australian dollars, for ten minutes of rough-housing — “But if you want to pay more, is no problem!” — yikes!).
But hey. The whole experience was incredibly funny, and Baba Sen was an incredibly warm and friendly man with some hectic energy (even by Indian standards) about him.
The weirdness — and satisfaction of sending smug Snapchats to my buddy — was worth every rupee.