By Pushpesh Pant
New Delhi [India], January 24 (ANI): Who doesn't know that man doesn't live by bread alone? Food is essential to survive but, so is sex. And, what could be better if joys of sex can be blended with palate pleasures? This is what the timeless quest for aphrodisiac foods is all about.
Two recent news items have made us ponder over these issues. Nigeria is a large African country owning rich reservoirs of oil and gas. It has also been devastated by decades of civil war triggered by ethnic strife and chronic insurgency exacerbated by fanatical Islamic terrorists.
Large segments of its population have great difficulty in securing basic food for subsistence. Ironically, the country also has a thriving aphrodisiac foods market. Ingredients like baby crocodiles command a high premium and edible preparations guaranteed to restore lost vim and vigour are sold at 600,000 Naira a pop. Remember the average monthly wage of a Nigerian is just about 6000 Naira.
The other eye-catching headline focused on the promise Viagra seem to hold in the war against the COVID virus. Viagra alone may not vanquish the virus but it has certainly made people sit up and ask can aphrodisiac foods build up our natural immunity?
Aphrodisiacs have always been likened in different cultures with ambrosia- food of gods, elixirs with exceptional restorative, reinvigorating properties. Modern science has for long debunked traditional aphrodisiacs. The peasant in medieval Europe resorted to 'Spanish Fly'-- powdered Cantharis--to seduce an innocent maiden. This substance of insect origin was largely an irritant that created an illusion of excitement. Things changed when Viagra was synthesized and marketed with certification peer group reviewed efficacy.
Chinese Apothecaries continue to do flourishing business in Tiger's Penis, Rhino's Horn, Bear's Bile Sack assuring their customers that incorporated in food or drink these could turn back the clock for those who have lost their virility. The Chinese seem to have put their trust in the dictum 'Like cures Like'.
Age, injury or ailment may impair the capacity to indulge in sensual delights but the embers of desire continue to smoulder. Ghalib has penned the memorable line "Go Akhon mein nahi jumbish hathon mein to dum hai, rehne do abhi sagar o mina mere aage!" (The eyes have lost their sparkle but the hands retain their grasp. Let the cup and the flask of wine remain.) These were the patrons catered to by purveyors of myriad kushta.
Literally translated kushta means a corpse. In this context, it takes us back to the Hindu mythological tale of Shiva reducing Kamadeva (Indian Cupid) to ashes. Kamadeva had incurred the wrath of ascetic Shiva by shooting an arrow of desire at him disturbing his meditative trance. When Rati cried inconsolably and requested Siva to bring her husband back to life, the Great Lord took pity and reassured her that Kamadeva would live forever in his residue bhasm (ashes) without a physical body. These would continue to churn the minds of men, arouse uncontrollable desire and well, invigorate them to experience ecstasy.
In ancient India, like elsewhere, being virile was a great virtue. A great variety of restorative tonic foods were prepared to prolong the pursuit of youthful pleasures. Legend has it that Chyavanprash was first compounded by the aged seer (whose name the concoction bears) to enjoy nuptial bliss with a princess (much younger than him) gifted as a bride by her father.
Ayurveda provides a number of prescriptions to enhance stamina (bajikaran and stambhan) to treat distressing impotence. The list of ingredients includes Kasturi (musk pod), Kesar (saffron), Ambar (Ember gris), shilajit (melted iron spore oozing out of rocks) and bhasm (fired ashes) of noble metals and pishti (paste) of corals and pearls. Plants like punarnava (rejuvenator), ashwagandha (smelling like a stallion) were also prized. The Yunani haqim admitted their debt to vaidya in this specialization.
The real challenge has been to create delicious recipes incorporating these exotic ingredients. The legendary bawarchi of Awadh mesmerized their decadent patrons by tempting them with titillating items like tarqish e tamanna, lab e mashook, etc. Besides suggestive names the plating also prompted arousal. Quite a few celebrity chefs have started creating naughty nuggets inspired by traditional classics. Their repertoire is eclectic--dark chocolates, dates, red wine, avocado pears, strawberries and blueberries. Asparagus spears, crayfish and more.
Why should we complain? Sex, like war, begins in the minds of men. The promise of peace and bliss also germinate there. Call it the placebo effect or what you like, aphrodisiac foods appear a radiant silver lining in a dark cloud stained sky in Time of COVID.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the above article are that of the writer and do not reflect that of ANI. (ANI)