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 Monday, 27 January, 2003, 11:03 GMT
Men-only world of Pakistan massage
Karachi street scene
Masseurs are often unable to choose their clients

Night time in Pakistan's cities can offer men a panacea for the day's fatigues - indulgence at the hands of the malishiyas, or masseurs.

From roadside restaurants in Karachi's congested central district to the roundabouts in the prosperous southern district, the city swarms with them.

Masseurs are easily available and safer for a one-night stand. They don't spill the beans

Massage client
The biggest congregation is in front of Karachi's Cantonment Railway Station, where dozens set up shop on footpaths to massage tired clients.

The tools of the trade are basic - supple fingers and a portable metal rack stacked with coloured oil bottles.

Mustard, coconut, olive, coriander or saanda (extracted from the fat of a lizard known for its aphrodisiac attributes) - the clients choose their favourite oil.

Labourers and yuppies

Dressed in shalwar kameezes, the masseurs attract clients by rattling the rack and chanting ''maalish'' (massage).

Karachi street scene
Masseurs use a range of fancy oils

Roaming the streets from 2100 to 0400, seven days a week, the masseurs usually earn between 2,500 and 3,000 rupees ($52-$62) a month.

After a taxing day around the city, bus, rickshaw and taxi drivers and labourers surrender themselves to a rejuvenating rub.

Magical fingers ease the pain from aching bodies, creaking joints and tired souls.

Relieved, refreshed and revitalized, they are ready for another long working day.

In southern districts of Karachi, the scene changes.

Here dapper yuppies, starched businessmen and juvenile delinquents pick up masseurs and take them home in their shiny cars.

Only one thing remains the same - the gender of the clientele.

I was forced to have sex with a man at gunpoint... Not only did he burn me with his lighter, he paid me less than what was agreed

Masseur, 20

Like many other things in the country, this luxury is for men only.

''I can heal severe muscle injuries. I am an expert in the field," says 40-year-old Rasheed proudly.

He prefers to be called a doctor or physiotherapist.

He hails from central Punjab; unemployment and the rising cost of living forced him to come to Karachi 11 years ago.

He turned to this business after failing to get another job.

Most masseurs have similar reasons for entering the profession.

Rasheed's territory is Old Clifton's ''Do Talwar'' roundabout, a southern district landmark.

Karachi massage
Massages ease away the day's fatigue

He is frequently ''invited'' to police residences nearby, where officers benefit from his miraculous touch - for free of course.

The favours keep the law enforcers off his back.

The masseurs are usually unable to choose their clients - refusal often results in a beating or harassment.

Rasheed is quick to boast that the ''young chaps'' who are his rival masseurs cannot cope with his stamina.

Prostitution

For there is another side to the malishiyas which pushes youth above experience.

Massage, frequently, though not always, provides a cover for prostitution.

A car will drive up slowly and surreptitiously.

Interaction with the opposite sex is not allowed. This is our way to let off steam

Khurram, a student

The headlights flash, the horn sounds signalling masseurs to approach.

The window is rolled down and regular, legitimate rates are haggled.

Those looking for something more need only utter ''what else?'' to receive the reply ''whatever you ask for''.

The more affluent the area, the higher the rates.

There are many pitfalls. The concept of safe sex has not arrived on the massage scene.

Then there are the beatings and the swindling.

''Once I was forced to have sex with a man at gunpoint,'' says one 20-year-old masseur from North-West Frontier Province.

''Not only did he burn me with his lighter, he paid me less than what was agreed upon.''

Homosexuality and bisexuality thrive within Pakistan's cloistered male population.

Many of the men are married with children.

Taboos

''Masseurs are easily available and safer for a one-night stand,'' says one closet bisexual. ''They don't spill the beans.''

Gul Khan, a Pathan truck driver, said: "I spend three months away from my wife. I have to satisfy my bodily desires.''

Karachi massage
Masseurs often prefer to be known as doctors

Masseur Zafar, who operates around the Zamazama Boulevard, recalled being bundled out of a window by a client when the wife returned early from a party.

''He came back the next evening to pay me. He is a regular client,'' said Zafar.

Male prostitution will continue to boom while the social norm in the middle and lower-middle classes dictates a strict adherence to sexual segregation.

Khurram, an engineering student, speaks for the silent and stifled majority when he says: ''Interaction with the opposite sex is not allowed. This is our way to let off steam.''

No one knows how long this situation will go on for before these taboos go.

For now, Pakistani urban society will continue to frown both on closet homosexuality and open heterosexual sex.

See also:

03 Jan 03 | South Asia
21 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
01 Jan 03 | South Asia
19 Dec 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
22 Jul 02 | South Asia
02 Nov 00 | South Asia
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