The Untold Stories of the Maalishwalas of Mumbai

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After a tiring day at college and a fair bit of travelling, I decided to go for a brisk walk on Carter’s Road to refresh myself. With no company by my side except the fellow joggers and runners who seemed engrossed in their own world, I decided to sit down for a while. While I was lost exploring the world of music; a guy almost of my age approached me with a smile on his face. He asked, “Bhaiyya malish?” to which I replied, “Nahi chahiye.”

Within a few minutes into a conversation with him, he was working his magic on me. He went about with his work so delicately yet efficiently that all back pain and headache faded away in a matter of a minutes. I don’t know who he really was or where he came from, what I did know was that he had something special in his champi malish. It is like he possessed a magic wand.

These maalishwaalas, are the ones who can take all your stress away and leave you feeling refreshed and relaxed. You will often find them on seashores, outside popular restaurants, on the busy streets of Linking road, at the heart of Mumbai’s Marine Drive, Juhu Beach and the popular hangout spot, Carter’s Road.

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Equipped with a small bag consisting of a towel, coconut oil and ‘rai ka tel’, (mustard oil), they walk around in search of customers to whom they can offer their services. With no professional training or education, this seems to be their only source of income. Yet, they go about with their work like true professionals who make their customers feel rejuvenated and refreshed after a nice 30 minute champi.

I came across a few more malishwalas and decided to strike a conversation with them. One day, I met Feroz, a 24-year-old masseur with four years worth of experience. He came to Mumbai five years ago when he was just 19 years old. He shed some light on the workings of his profession, “We work every day from 9.30pm to 1 am and earn about INR 300 to 400 per day. We conduct this business only at night as the chances of coming across people are higher after the the workday has ended. Every two months we go back to our villages to meet our family. We come back to earn a living. At times there is a pool of customers but otherwise we have to literally sit idle for hours doing nothing. Our clientele ranges from people belonging to low-income groups to big shots who opt for private sessions and willingly pay Rs 500 per massage.” Feroz personally prefers to conduct private massages not only due to better pay, but also because these clients do not argue or bargain unnecessarily. Feroz hails from Mathura where his wife and rest of the family reside. With a heavy heart and a big smile he walks away as an old customer calls for his services.

Another a young lad whom we spoke to was Sabir, a 22-year-old Delhiite. Sabir’s father worked as a driver in Mumbai and now that he is old and back to the village, it is Sabir who has taken the family’s responsibility upon himself. Sabir once aspired to join the army after he finished his HSC exams and was well on his way until he had to undergo chest examination, due to which he was not selected. He says “I earn about INR 500 everyday with this work and still remember the old uncle who taught me the skill of giving massages back in Delhi.” One of his clients also offered him a job as a counter boy for a well-known car showroom in Andheri (Mumbai) but Sabir is persistent to secure a job with the government. While most malish walas are uneducated, Sabir who still strives hard to make it big in the city of dreams – Mumbai with his sheer grit, determination and education.

Kanhaiya Lal was another malishwala in his 50s. Clad in a white kurta, dhoti and black formal shoes, he is always on the lookout for customers. While the younger lot were approachable and easy to talk to, it was the older men that were hesitant and humbly replied, “Aap log to hume internet par daal doge”. While we continued with our interesting conversation over roadside coffee and Boost (a chocolate drink), we were interrupted by cops who came to shoo us away as it was already 2 am. We left immediately not knowing if we shall meet again.

So the next time you meet a malishwala whether at Juhu Beach or Carter Road, or anywhere else maybe you could skip the bargaining bit and treat yourself to a rejuvenating massage.