Ah, Valentine’s Day and the awful pressure of finding the perfect romantic gift. This year, I had the added weight of having conveniently forgotten the birthday gift, so I had a lot of ground to make up. In a stab at creativity, I opted to give the gift that keeps on giving. I would educate myself on the fine art of romance through massage training, private Salsa lessons, a belly dancing school, cooking classes and a couple’s yoga course. Five classes in five days to inject a lifetime’s worth of spice, oil and chowmein into the love life.
There’s the rub
What could be more loving than coming home to your own private, personal masseuse each night? I set out for a one-day training course at the Keraleeya Ayurveda Panchakarma Centre at Sainik Farms, New Delhi, with visions of me as the kind, selfless lover embarking on an enlightened 4-hour path of learning the secret methods to calm my partner’s weary muscles.
Meher Malik leads her belly Dancing class by example. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Unfortunately, it was far more like science class than a mystical peek into an ancient tradition. For 2 hours, I sat with a teacher and copied down which oils to use to combat psoriasis and which to use for memory loss. I learnt you should never get a massage if you have a fever, and that if I were ever to become pregnant, I better come in for a daily massage or my body would be ruined forever.
I also found out I really needed more face massages, as my teacher happily informed me that I looked much older than she did and she was 10 years older than me, ha ha! Massage class was, thus far, not exactly fun.
After the lesson on my wrinkles, I was ushered into a private room for some hands-on training. Five other women, all working for certificates, though in a month-long course, taught me the basic skills for a head, face and body massage. One woman stood in as the guinea pig, I oiled and rubbed, and the other four clucked over my skills or lack thereof. Then I was tossed on the table to experience what a skilled massage should actually feel like. Obviously, that was the highlight of the course. I lay there as four skilled hands adroitly pushed and prodded me, thinking of the weeks and months it would take me to become a truly skilled pressure-pointer. I quickly came to the conclusion that the next time the boyfriend starts looking a little too stiff around the edges, it would probably be a far wiser investment to just spring for a couple’s massage.
Panchakarma Centre. A one-day course costs Rs4,500.
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The way of the belly
“If I’m going to die, I might as well be belly dancing!”
Twenty minutes into my belly dancing class, a student rushed in with the news that the Delhi bomb squad was on its way to the building. A suspicious bag, that too two days before Republic Day, had the teeming Model Town market in north Delhi convinced we would soon be under attack.
The class rushed to the glass windows. I cowered in the far opposite corner. The teacher, Meher Malik, quizzed the excited class if we should postpone belly dancing and run for safety. No one (except me) seemed ready to leave and one girl shouted she would be happy to die belly dancing. So, class was called back to order, and Arabic music once again filled the small studio.
While I spent the next 20 minutes gripped in a private argument in my head (“You’re really risking death for a ridiculous assignment?” “How will you dying improve your romantic life?”), slowly the loud music and the intricate dance moves pushed the worries from my mind.
An hour into the class, I was surprised to hear one of the girls shout, pointing towards the window, “We’re okay! The police just removed the bag!” Entranced in my dancing, I had forgotten all about the bomb threat.
The class wound up being the only class this week where I wasn’t focusing on the boyfriend or on us as a couple. This slow, seductive dancing had nothing to do with him. It was all about me, my hips and the pounding music. And it was darn sexy.
A student balances on Sanjeev Bhanot’s legs in the bow pose. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Malik says the dance “is such a feminine thing” and at a certain point, she says, she can actually see her students stop feeling insecure and start loving their bodies.
Had Malik told me this before class, I would have likely scoffed at her. But after 2 hours of jutting my hips, rolling my shoulders and twisting my body, I was a convert. I felt gorgeous, feminine and ready for a glittery shawl. And if my mother is to be believed, the most attractive thing about a person is their self-confidence. So, while I’d like to skip the bombs next time, here’s to more belly shaking in my near future.
New batches start every month and cost Rs1,500 for four classes. For details, log on to
Conveniently, while I laboured away at classes in the name of love, my partner was out of town on a month-long business trip. While this probably worked to our advantage—I got to vet the classes without having to put up with his adorable habit of whining—I did face a bit of a conundrum when I signed up for couple’s yoga. I had to ask the boyfriend permission to borrow his best friend as an understudy. I think he was okay with it until he started picturing actual yoga positions.
I dragged pseudo-boyfriend to the Yogalife studio in Shahpur Jat in south Delhi for a couple’s yoga workshop. As it turns out, couple’s yoga is, well, couple-y. To start, we hold hands, stare into each other’s eyes and synchronize our breathing: He breathes out, I breathe in. To make matters worse, our teacher Sanjeev Bhanot, all in the name of a good education, waxed philosophical about the utter importance of breathing in the practice of Tantra, in Kama Sutra, in life and in love.
It’s turned out to be near impossible to synchronize breathing while staring into the eyes of the boyfriend’s best friend, especially when said best friend happens to have deep blue eyes. I couldn’t stop giggling like a 12-year-old. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one. My partner was also unable to maintain sobriety. The teacher finally gave up and placed us back-to-back to breathe. It got a lot easier at that point.
And, all blushing aside, the class wound up being fantastic. Having a partner stretching in the opposite direction pushed me to stretch deeper than I would on my own. And the teacher did get us into strange positions—none that would worry the real boyfriend—but silly ones that were far more like a couple of kids playing than a serious yoga class. We practised the ancient position of superman, where you lift your partner over your head with your feet. At another point, the teacher had me swinging upside down from his feet as if I were a ringing bell.
The couples in the class don’t necessarily need to be romantic couples. Bhanot teaches the course to work colleagues, parents and children and friends. It’s more about trusting your partner, figuring out how to sync with another person and just having a good time. It succeeded on all fronts.
Log on to www.yogalife.org for workshop timings. Individual classes cost Rs550 per person
In the swing of things
It’s no surprise Salsa took India by storm 10 years ago, with classes now a dime a dozen in most cities. The steps are a simple 1-2-3, the beat surprisingly similar to Bhangra and the moves about 20 times as sexy. Rather than joining a crowded class, I opted for a private lesson at home, courtesy Rahul Verma, founder of the dance studio Bollywood Naach and an instructor for 12 years.
The boyfriend is (don’t tell him I said this) a much better dancer than I am, so I was very happy to get a jump on dancing lessons with him out of the picture. And the lesson gave me just that: Over a span of 2 hours, I went from a two-left-footer to a spinning, shaking, Salsa queen.
We began with the basic step and then continued to add various moves, spins and dips. After each new lesson, we would practise the whole routine until it felt natural. We managed to get through eight full moves (Verma says there are about 35-40 standard moves in the dance). The constant drilling also meant I wasn’t just stumbling through them; by the end of it, I was actually managing to keep to the beat of the music without whacking Verma in the face.
But, after 2 hours of sweaty dancing in the privacy of my home with a strange man, I started feeling that perhaps I should have opted for a large, crowded class. I think I’ll hold off on any more private lessons until the boyfriend comes back. But when he does, watch out. We’ll be contestants on Nach Baliye by next year for sure.
The price is Rs1,000 for a 2-hour private lesson for two at your home. Contact Rahul Verma at www.bollywoodnaach.com
The way to a man’s heart
There is nothing quite as sexy as chocolate. Don’t argue. There just isn’t. So for my final lesson in love, it seemed a simple choice: a lesson on how to create sinful desserts. After debating the merits of various courses (do I opt for the Belgium chocolate-making class? Or the eggless dessert course?), it struck me: Men don’t like chocolate. They pretend to want dessert so we can share it guilt-free with them at the end of dinner. Since I had undertaken this whole affair to please the boyfriend, I realized I had to sacrifice my sweet tooth for his favourite food: dumplings. The simple Chinese snack that I can’t stand, he can’t get enough of.
Luckily for him, I found a Chinese cooking course courtesy Manju Monga’s The Chef Culinaire school at Gujranwala Town in north Delhi. Monga offers lessons in almost every category: from south Indian snacks to mocktails. And with classes twice a day, all week long, it isn’t hard to find a class of your choice. I settled into a chair in her cozy ground-floor flat that looked half like a set of a cooking show on television and half like a living room and glanced through the day’s lessons: veg manchurian, veg fried rice, chop suey, chilli paneer, spring roll, cauliflower in schezuan sauce and chowmein. Yep, no dumplings. I sacrificed my chocolate dreams for dumplings and wound up with chilli paneer. Things were not looking good.
Seeing as it might be slightly rude to dash out of the class after only a few minutes, I swallowed my disappointment and settled in to watch Monga prepare her dishes. Like the most astute, kindly mother, Monga dashed through sauces and gravies and manchurian balls with frightening speed. Her husband and assistant, Arun, clucked around the edges, offering the same tips Monga had just provided, albeit in a louder voice. They were adorable: a veritable comedy routine, all the while juggling six entrées. When I had finally convinced myself I would never be able to prepare any of these dishes once back home, Monga had me up and trying my hands at spring rolls. I went from a Doubting Thomas to a professional chef in just a few corrections of a wrist twist.
The class took just under 3 hours and it’ll likely take me about twice that time when I prepare the dishes on my own. But I cannot wait for the dumbfounded applause of all my friends as I serve up the perfect Chinese meal. And the boyfriend will be so full of spring rolls, he won’t have time to notice the absence of dumplings.
Classes range from Rs800 to Rs1,200 depending on the cuisine. Visit www.manjumonga.com for the class schedule.