Saturday, July 21, 2012

Coming across an 'original' Shilajit seller: Is it the same ancient Indian aphrodisiac or a hoax?

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

Shilajit is a substance apparently found in Himalayan mountain ranges and is known for its miraculous healing properties in traditional Indian system of medicines but is commonly believed to be an aphrodisiac.

There is a general perception that it is nearly impossible to get pure Shilajit these days. A few days back, I was standing with a group of friends when a 'shilajit' seller passed by.

The man introduced himself as a Pahadi [from the mountains] and approached the policemen nearby. Cops are more interested in such stuff and are readily approached by those selling magical medicines & herbs.

One of the reasons is that the khaki-wallas are considered outspoken and coarse. As a result they don't feel embarrassed talking about virility-related issues in public [unlike the rest].

Curious cops and commoners

Still, one of the cops sheepishly looked at me and then asked the man, to show the substance. "Let's see if, its real". More people, mostly policemen came around, as the man [like a typical tamasha-wala] sat on the ground, enlightening us about Shilajit and its health-related 'benefits'.

"Ye patthar ka pasina hai [it is the oil of stone]", began. Everybody was interested. An elderly cop, who had the expression on the face, as if he had seen everything in his life, dismissed the suggestion that it was the original 'shilajit'. 

'Sab naqli bechte hain, asli Shilajit mil jaye to phir', he said ending with a crude joke, making everybody laugh. He said that only real yogis could find shilajit. But maintaining his seriousness, the Topi-wala man, who  hailed from Himachal Pradesh, said that he will prove it here only that it is the real Shilajit.

No wonder there are a lot of wandering vendors cheating people by selling 'shilajit' just like in the old days when the mythical 'zeher mohra' [stone that sucks poison, if placed exactly where the snake has bitten a person] was sold.

People had arrived from the nearby pan shop and the officials from their rooms also gathered. Now the circle around him was complete. The man, who was dressed differently, to create an impression, spoke haltingly.

Testing: Is the real or fake?

Is that the original 'Shilajit'
One after the other, packets were opened. Finally, the black stone-like substance emerged. He showed it to all of us. 'Now I will prove that it is the original one'.

Does anyone have a match-stick. Do you know its property? "Yes", said a cop. "It doesn't burn, turns into a wire that you can stretch up to miles", the cop announced.

Now the man lit the match stick and brought it close to the hard substance. There were a few bubbles and soon brown sparkling threads began emerging.

 Magic substance or marketing strategy!

"See", he said triumphantly and asked others to hold the 'taar' and keep stretching it. Voila. It kept on getting longer and longer and didn't break. Everyone was now impressed, nodding.

The man who had given this performance now wore a winning smile. Crowd had swelled. Cops of all ranks were now vying to have a look at it. He kept it back in the bag. By now, the curiosity had grown manifold. Now he was no longer a vendor seeking buyers.

The shining brown tar stretches...
Roles had been reversed. It was the turn of the people who were seeking his attention. They were asking him about the method to use it, how to drink or swallow and the cost of the traditional Indian panacea.

Like the 'masaan' magician who can make your %*& disappear!
I left the spot and walked on with my friends, wondering if it was indeed real. I thought of snake charmers, the saanp-nevla [snake & mongoose] fight walas, men who carry jars in which strange creatures--gohs, lizards and other reptiles.

Also, about those door-to-door sellers claiming to have the real honey which looks original and beautiful but after a few days, you realise that you are tricked when you find sugar in the bottom of the container. Often, it is just coloured jaggery water.

Or for example the herb selling vendors on streets [and those who carry masan ki haddi, warning that if someone leaves the crowd, his private part would disappear], it was probably just another tamasha-wala to entertain us.

And hence the wandering road side performers keep earning their livelihood. Even if the 'stone' fails to have the desired effect on the buyers, they only think that it was not the real Shilajit. And thus, the myth of the magical mineral, continues.

[*Shilajit means Rock-invincible in Sanskrit]