Meenu (name changed), a 32-year-old massage therapist, has seen both the best and the worst in spa business in the last six years. Here is an insider’s account of her experience at a low-cost spa where clients came merely to seek sexual favours from the therapists and the business owners chose to look the other way.
Seven years back, when I moved to Delhi from Manipur, I was happy to be selected for training as a therapist by an international wellness chain. The group had branches in south Delhi, west Delhi, and NCR. I was posted in their Noida unit and was happy with the HR policies of the spa management. Although we had an eight-hour shift, we were allowed to decline more than five hours of therapy sessions. If the number of sessions exceeded five hours, we would get incentives. Yes, there would be odd clients who asked for various favours, like ‘happy ending’ (a term used for masturbation performed at the end of a massage therapy), but we had management support in walking out on such clients. Yet, most of the therapists obliged ‘decent’ clients for a ‘generous tip’.
Things changed when I switched job to another local spa for want of better pay. This is when I realized the dark practices in those low-cost massage parlours that were mushrooming all over the city and offered services at half the cost, sometimes even lower, than the more organized establishments.
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The high cost for a therapy session in my previous group discouraged or filtered the ill-intentioned clients. But in the new unit, I would meet patrons who made lewd passes, enjoyed talking dirty, flashed their genitals (often refused to wear the disposable underwear) and offered money for fellatio and ‘home-services’. At times, some of them will take advantage of Valentine’s Day offers, come with a female partner and used the premises as ‘love nest’.
When I complained about a certain regular client about his unruly behavior to the manager, the response was shocking. The manager asked me insensitively if he had raped me. ‘Keep quiet and don’t ruin the business. The competition is tough,’ he said. I soon learnt that most of my fellow therapists had little training about a human body or muscle relaxation. They were there only to give the ‘services in demand’. I also learned their operational terminology: ‘B2B’ meant body-to-body massage, which meant lying over a client with minimal clothing; Topless meant the client will touch or fondle your naked breasts and; ‘Full Service’ meant sleeping with the client. Massage was never the call a client came for. As soon as the door was locked (in my previous spa centre, the door was closed but never locked) the deal would begin between the ‘therapists’ and the patron. It was nothing short of organized prostitution.
The clients looked at you as if they were examining a commodity before purchase. I felt cheap. I took leave and started negotiating with my previous employer for a return. They asked me to wait as they were facing low clientele due to tough completion. Then one day, my former manager called up to tell me that two of their therapists had left and there was a vacancy. My first reaction was to call those who had left the job and ask them if they were joining some low-cost ‘massage parlour’; I wanted to tell them the risks involved. But, I let it be. We all learn about the perils of easy money our own hard way.
(The names of the therapist and her employers have been withheld at her request by LokMarg)