Sachu maami was a tall and strapping specimen. She had kohl-black hair, gleaming skin like burnished oak and a brisk walk that set the frills of her madisar aflutter around her ankles. She was the cook, the maami who'd feed us endless meals when we turned up during summer at my grandfather's home in Tirunelveli.
Sachu maami had a not-so-secret vice. She was addicted to Tamil cinema. She'd watch films in an auto-erotic trance in the afternoons after her elaborate cooking for the day was done, the children had been put to nap and the maids had washed up the kitchen.
Most Tamil films of my time had a first-night-after-the-wedding scene, in which a plump bejewelled heroine, dressed in jasmine and silk, coyly offered a tall silver tumbler of milk to a bull-necked hero, who quaffed it and burst into song before ravishing the woman on the bed. "It's cow's milk with soaked nutmeg, almonds and pista essence, and spiked with saffron and palm candy sugar," Sachu maami informed.
"Yuck, who wants a Lactogen kiss?" I retched.
Sachu maami, legs stretched before her, crossed them tightly. "It's meant to act as a stimulant to keep the couple going through the night," she informed.
And did she?
"I'll brew some filter coffee," she quickly offered, disappearing into the kitchen.
"The adage that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and the belief that aphrodisiacs work up real passion is humbug. It's just meant to keep the woman slaving in the kitchen..."
Dilli maami, the gossipmonger, divulged that Sachu maami had been naïve. At her nuptials, she told the women that she "knew all about it from the movies" and quickly walked into the chamber where the husband awaited her. She held out a tumbler of milk to him, cleared her throat and sang an off- key version of "Paalum Pazhamum", a la Saroja Devi. Singing over, she climbed into bed and promptly fell asleep. A few years into marriage truth prevailed, and she had her first child.
The adage that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and the belief that aphrodisiacs work up real passion is humbug. It's just meant to keep the woman slaving in the kitchen and come up with new and fancy food to keep the lout well-fed and burped.
"It's ancient wisdom," grannies would tell you, pointing to their brood of children as evidence they fed their men the right things to keep them active at night. But it's more probable that the women didn't feed themselves the right pills to stop unwanted pregnancies.
• You mean cabbage kari and gandathipili rasam gave Vembu uncle the Viagra boost?
• Chow Chow paasi paruppu kootu and chutta appalam fired Vaithi maama's hips?
• Curd-rice and naarthangai were enough to seduce Pattabhi chittapa?
Potency was important to fulfill the social and religious duties of procreation in ancient societies. As nutrition is one way of ensuring health, ancient societies gave prominence to fertility and it was believed that certain types of food were good for producing quality offspring. Myths also perpetuated the belief. The sparrows were sacred to Goddess Aphrodite and hence sparrow's brew was thought to increase fertility. Sachu maami mumbled: "Chittu kuruvi lehiyam (gooey medication) is a big seller for the quacks at Kokkarakulam."
The ancients also advised to keep lettuce, dill, lentil off the menu if the lady of the house wanted her womb filled. More like it that the caveman didn't fancy them! But such is the promise of folklore that even today cookbooks fight for shelf-space offering listings of "erotic foods". Easier for the man of the boudoir to place the blame about his lack of technique saying, "The dinner you cooked was rubbish Lalita, so don't expect me to play a virile Rajnikanth you tonight."
A good meal, well-presented and cooked just so, is undoubtedly a sensual experience. But making meals to increase the man's libido so that he would bless the lady with great sex is stuff men perpetuate to keep their bellies filled.
Sachu maami is no longer around. But much wiser now, I'd tell her that takeaways can be rocket fuel too.
A version of this appeared in the author's now defunct blog.Suggest a correction