In just two words, Mahinder Kapoor.
The pleasant ring of his name alone doesn't quite express the brilliance of his class, though.
I met Mahinder at exactly the right time. I'd met Raj a few days before, the young Indian man who nearly ruined Indian men for me. I was walking up the endless Jogiwara stairs on my way to buy fruit for our post-sacrament meeting potluck when Raj tapped my shoulder. Could he please share my umbrella? I consented, thinking he just wanted shelter from the sudden downpour. As it turned out, I was wrong.
We reached the top of the stairs, and when I said I was going left he was no longer headed right. At the fruit stand, he insisted on buying the mangoes and bananas for me. I was not going to accept, but the fruit man said the price in Hindi so I couldn’t pay. Then Raj accompanied me on the entire fifteen minute walk down the hill. “Please, can I have your number? Where do you stay? Will you come to my hotel? Visit me in California? Here’s my card; call me if you ever need a ride to somewhere far away. Please, ma’am, just one kiss? Just one? Please?” My “engagement ring” didn’t stop him from putting his arm around my shoulders, but my armful of fruit and umbrella didn’t hinder me from swatting that arm away either. “No, I am engaged,” I insisted repeatedly, “only my fiancé can kiss me.”
I blame smutty American actresses for his beliefs about Western women, but Raj was certainly responsible for his own behavior.
At this point, I’d been harassed by one too many Indian men, and my tolerance was waning.
It was soon afterward that I met Mahinder. It was just when I was searching for a reason to appreciate Indian men, when I was looking for my white chalk, that I realized I was a scientist on a boat in the middle of the Pacific wishing that I had some salt water. I was absolutely surrounded by white chalk.
Mahinder has long practiced that art of human contact, so when he put his hand on the small of my back as the four of us stood there discussing massage class I didn’t have any flashbacks of Raj. With Mahinder, contact is natural and comfortable, like putting your hand on your little brother’s shoulder when he’s feeling down. There was never anything inappropriate in his demeanor or behavior, but I already knew that would be the case from the first time I met him.
Mahinder is eager to take his students into his confidence. He began with lighthearted tales of that student who squeezed the oil bottle too hard and emptied the contents right into the beard of his Israeli partner, or the time his student came back five years later on her honeymoon, bringing her husband to learn massage from the best teacher. His later stories included his heartbreak over his first girlfriend, the difficulties of his arranged marriage, his enormous affection for his daughter, and the long, miserable hardship of radiation treatments for his genetic skin fungus.
Mahinder never concealed his affection for his, his first group of entirely American students, either, always telling us how he loves us even when our skin is pale or dry. “Tell your mother that you’re beautiful,” he said to me several times. Other times, when he was sad that we’d soon be leaving, he said, “I will always be with you, and you will be with me. It doesn’t matter if we write or don’t write because we are friends.”
And every day of massage class, you’d find Megan, Elizabeth, Rachel and I dipping steadily increasing quantities of chocolate biscuits into Mahinder’s homemade herbal tea.
We couldn’t have known when we signed up, but Mahinder's massage class was exactly the white chalk we needed to conclude our time in India.