Men, women, child, twisted ligaments, pregnant ladies, back sores, anything. She knew her way around this island, partly because her job required her to go to customers houses all over Singapore. Which buses go where, shortest routes, everything.
She was a walking directory.
It amazed me how good her memory was even in her seventies. She was larger than life. Much, much larger than life. When she passed away, I knew it was because life itself couldn't contain her. Her positivity, her infectious laughter. Every evening, after a full day of massaging, she would relax and unwind by being in her room, lying down on her queen sized bed and watching Indonesian channels playing on her little television perched on top of a standing cabinet, with a gigantic transmitter hanging by the bedroom window.
She was from Medan, Indonesia and I guess that by watching Indonesian channels, that was how she clinged on to memories of home. The images were always grainy, but that didn't stop her from spending hours and hours watching Telenovelas dubbed in Bahasa Indonesia, variety shows, Indonesian Soap Operas otherwise known as Sinetron and re-runs of both old and the latest Bollywood movies.
So there I was, tucked underneath her left arm, head resting on her chest, smelling the addictive concoction of massage oil and fabric softener, watching a re-run of an old Bollywood movie. The movie itself was the stuff of fantasy.
It was about this snake goddess who has the ability to transform herself into a beautiful woman, who eventually falls in love and married a human being. This movie, later on in my life, after years and years of searching for it's title, is Nagina, starring the absolutely stunning Sridevi. But I was nine. And I knew nothing about Sridevi, not yet at least. All I could remember was the scene that will be etched forever in my mind.
The scene starts off with an evil priest who is trying to lure this snakewoman out of her room, in an attempt to steal her divine powers and possess it, for his own personal gain. so he was playing that snake flute or whatever you call it and she was writhing in her room, snake eyes formed and all. Shortly after, she opened the doors of her room, draped in a astunning white outfit, hell bent on battling it out with the evil old priest who miraculously is still not out of breath after blowing into the damn instrument for what seemed like ages.
I suppose he was an evil priest and he had an evil pair of lungs. And just like everything evil, it will stand through time, whether you like it or not.
And so the battle began. But no, there wasn't any special effects or CGI. In true Bollywood style, the duel was done in sing and dance. And boy did Sridevi danced. I believed the song was Main Teri Dushman which translates to I'm Your Enemy. But all I remembered was how bewitched I was with her dancing and inside my little head I asked, "Who..is..this..woman..?"
I was completely bedazzled, beyond comprehension. The scene replayed in my head for weeks after that. I wanted to know who she was and what was the name of the movie. In the next decade after that, I will be asking everyone that i know, "Do you know of this Bollywood movie about this snakewoman and she danced in this white outfit?"
Some would reply, "Since when did Bollywood make a movie about snakes?", most would just stare at me in disgust and say, "What the fuck? Bollywood? Snakewoman? You're fucking nuts."
Once there was a boy in class who replied, "Is it Jennifer Lopez in Anaconda?" He obviously didn't hear the word Bollywood. And if Jennifer Lopez was a snake in a movie, her gigantic ass would make the snake looked like it just swallowed a cow. And the rest of the movie will be her trying to digest the damn animal and it won't be that much fun after that if you ask me.
But that didn't stop me neither did it made me want to give up; in fact it made me more obsessed. Who was this lady? I was eighteen when I stumbled upon old videos of Sridevi on YouTube.
And there it was.
Of course by eighteen I knew who Sridevi was and I knew all about the movie but somehow or rather I just can't seem to find the movie in stores. There I was, choked up, finally reunited with my snakewoman. And the memories came spilling in, the massage oil smell with that hint of fabric softener, the grainy images, those evil pair of lungs that never went out of breath.
I was nine years olf all over again. And almost instantly, my obsession was born. Fathered by Rishi Kapoor and conceived by the dance moves of Sridevi. In that instant, a friend, now I can't remember who, while watching the video with me started laughing uncontrollably and in between breaths said, "That is fucking old school dude. She looks like she is convulsing to death. Craptastic."
But he wasn't making any sense. I am just a nine year old boy, and this is my first step into the world of Bollywood.