You hear him before you see him. The soft clink of glass touching glass as he walks by, audible above the lapping waves, traffic and seaside chatter, is the only way to pick him apart from the average stroller at Worli Seaface.
That clink is his calling card and those on the lookout for a soothing massage have only to wave at him to summon him.
For over two years now, Paaji Chauhan has been patrolling the stretch of promenade between Haji Ali mosque and the southern end of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, clinking away and providing some relaxation to harried Mumbaikars who gather at the seaside after sundown.
Leaving his home in Mahim after 8 pm, Chauhan, in is his mid-forties, stays in Worli till 4 in the morning. Dressed against the chill in a black jacket, he says he finds at least a dozen customers every night.
His weapons are two small glass bottles filled with mustard oil and coconut oil, and several pouches of cool oil in his pocket. Each oil has a purpose. By the end of his work-night, the bottles are generally empty, and he stocks pouches just in case.”
“Mustard oil heats up the body and goes deep into the skin. It helps a person relax,” Chauhan says. Some regulars, he says, prefer being massaged with coconut oil, which he says frees up the limbs. The cool oil he reserves only for a scalp massage and is a crowd favourite.
Chauhan has several tricks of the trade up his sleeve. He knows which customer needs to relax, who wants sore limbs eased and who just wishes to instantly freshen up. “The acupuncture massage relieves tiredness,” he says. For the stressed, he opens up his hands and carefully presses each muscle, while he reserves a special treatment for gym-goers who come to him with tired limbs.
While rub-downs of arms or feet are most popular, Chauhan occasionally encounters men who ask for a full-body massage.
“I meet different people here every night. Some are office-goers who want to relax at the end of the day. A few policemen who patrol the road also come for massages some times,” he says.
Chauhan says he doesn’t maintain a fixed price for massage”. “I ask customers to pay whatever they feel like. Pachaas rupiya, sau rupiya, kuch bhi. (Rs 50, Rs 100, whatever they want),” he says.
Unlike several of his peers who visit different beaches and promenades every day, Chauhan has never wanted to leave Worli”. “There is something about this place,” he says, gazing at the late-night bustle.
“People can leave their worries behind when they come to the seaface.”
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