Push and pull

Like small black pebbles, magnets were taped to certain parts of his hands. The fairness of his skin and the white plastic of the tape strangely made them appear more elevated than they were. Greenish. And they stood out in even more contrast. I was fascinated.

And just looking at them taped to his fingers, palm and back of his hand was not enough. And so I traced them with the tips of my fingers, testing the softness of his skin at the same time as the hard roundness of the magnet.

He explained that each magnet had been placed on a pressure point and that massaging each one, in a clockwise and then an anti-clockwise motion, pinpointed a pain in a certain part of the body and eventually helped to relieve it.

His pain area was his sciatica, and so he had a running line of approximately seven to eight magnets starting near the centre of his palm, heading north up to the valley between his index and his middle finger, one positioned right at the peak, and travelling the length of three magnets down the back of his hand. A couple of others were dotted strategically on parts of his right and left hands.

Some days later he showed me the pressure point on the mound of my palm which would help me relieve my asthma, and with a lance shaped instrument, ornate on one side and blunted to a round point on the other, pressed into it – deep down until he had reached an almost exquisite area that brought on a piercing, sharp pain. I instinctively pulled away and he stopped at the look in my eyes. The sharpness of the pain subsided but it was replaced by a dull throb, which I could feel for even longer into the day than it took for the instrument’s mark on my hand to fade. A round red bead.

Months later, on a Tuesday afternoon, we visited Fariyal bai, the magnet lady who had treated him, to seek treatment for our own health concerns. A part-time healer, she only saw patients on a Tuesday or a Thursday afternoon and for her it was a calling, so she refused payment for her services; the joy of having touched and healed another life was enough.

Fariyal bai lived in the Ismaili compound in Parklands, and we arrived unsure of what the process would entail. My sister, the scientist, was very suspicious on the drive over and so we agreed that mum would go first. We would watch her being poked and prodded and taped with magnets before she would give it a try.

Fariyal bai’s home had a small rectangular balcony on the ground floor with a glass enclosure. Sofas bordered one side and there was a wooden cabinet with small pot plants in plastic ice cream containers placed haphazardly on the counter.

The first step was the realignment of the energies within the body. Mum was asked to sit on the sofa, remove her shoes and place one foot on each of the large, flat, black magnets on the floor, and one hand on each of the smaller, coloured magnets that were placed on the right and left arm rests. Other magnetic influences, like a phone and watch, were removed from around the body.

She sat still for 15 minutes, with M***** and I interrupting every 2 minutes or so to ask what she was feeling and whether she was in pain. With the patience that only a mother can have, she would think deeply and then whisper that she could feel the muscles in her right leg stretching – almost as if realigning from the hip.

This was met by knowing giggles from us. We were experienced in Mum’s willingness to believe in almost anything, like the countless “You’re a winner!” smses from random Safaricom and Airtel numbers, all in broken English. No matter how many times we explained, she always believed the best of people and was shocked when we told her the smses were as fraudulent as emails and website banners that shouted “Congratulations! You’re a winner”.

Ignoring our mirth, Mum sat still for nearly 15 minutes clearing her thoughts, encouraged by another patient who was obviously a veteran judging by the relaxed pose she adopted in her seat, and the confidence with which she gave instructions on what was to follow.

After calming her mind and allowing the large magnets to align her body, Mum was taken to the threshold of the house where she was asked, in step two, to stand on a turquoise green mat with short upwardly pointing rubber blades – 5 minutes per foot. After our reaction to step one with the large magnets, the lady ahead of us, recognising us as non-believers, quickly disappeared before we could ask what this second step was for.

Then we entered Fariyal bai’s home for step three, the personal consultation. I was apprehensive. Unsure of what to expect from this lady who had strict consultation times, and who chose her patients rather than letting them choose her.

I peered into the shaded room, dark after the sunlight lit verandah. The room was lined by sofa sets, a large wooden display cabinet at one end with a television screen and glass ornaments, and on the walls, pictures of His Highness the Aga Khan at different stages of his life: a young laughing face, a formally robed serious smile and the immaculate business man accompanied by a group of advisors.

Fariyal bai sat in a single sofa seat, one of the more upright ones in the room with her back firmly pressed against the back of the seat, dressed in a round necked white T-shirt and a casual pair of black trousers. She was fair with curly black hair streaked with grey, twinkly dark brown eyes, round cheeks and a wide, laughing mouth.

The veteran lady who had been ahead of us was sitting in front of her on a coloured plastic chair which was pulled close to the sofa in which Fariyal bai was sitting. She was leaning back but her right and left hand rested on her legs, cushioned by Fariyal bai’s left hand.

We saw Fariyal bai pick up a pointed silver instrument, polished by use to a shine. In her hand it looked graceful, like an extension of her hand or a longer finger. She poised it over the lady’s right and left hand, quietly murmuring to herself, reading the invisible swellings in the palm and without letting it touch the skin, hovered over a particular area and diagnosed a health issue, glancing up at intervals to see whether the lady concurred or not.

And then she began. With the tip of the device held like a writing instrument, her long and tapered fingers delved in, surely and sharply, without the slightest hesitancy, knowing her destination as clearly as if she could see through the skin and sinew. And she reached her mark each and every time. One short, sharp contact with the pressure point and she would pull away. And move to the next. Leaving behind a row of full moons.

And with each probe, the lady would wince slightly if she was prepared, and if she wasn’t, a breathless gasp would escape from between her lips. And only after Fariyal bai had finished mining the whole palm, when the red welts showed up against the pale skin, could you see the hand imperceptibly throbbing. And quicker than the lady could notice or be distracted by the humming pain, Fariyal bai placed small black magnets, like tiny masoor daal (red lentil) on the pressure points, and distracting her with conversation stuck them on with a clear surgical tape.

Next the lady lifted her right foot and Fariyal bai went through the same process, concentrating on the circle around the ankle.

With the magnets on the hand and the foot taped on securely, the lady nodded to Fariyal bai and stood up slowly, acknowledging their weight and the gentle pull they were exerting. And then she took a step and gracefully collapsed onto the sofa next to us, breathing deeply, eyes closed with furrows in between the eyebrows. Fariyal bai whispered small soothing encouragements to her to rest, relax the muscles and allow the magnets to exert their pull.

And then it was Mum’s turn.

February 9 2012

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