The Buti Call


The Buti Call

Illustration: Namaah/ Arré

One of my favourite pastimes while travelling in Mumbai’s locals is to read the posters plastered all over the compartments: Some advertise coaching classes to improve your academic performance but a majority want to make you perform better out of the classroom. Enter the quasi-medical world of lingvardhak yantras, or penis-enlarging “gadgets”, and obscure herbs that will make you the sexual equivalent of a stallion. My friends and I can spend a whole ride from Churchgate to Virar sniggering about these “super-sized” claims, but there are those for whom this business of sex is not a joke.

Like Gajendra, for example. Gajendra has been my istriwala (literally, iron guy. Not Iron Man.) I’ve known Gajendra since he was a teenager helping his father iron and neatly fold mountains of clothes. Soon after, Gajendra got hitched and was under pressure to have kids. A son, to carry on his proud lineage. Numerous attempts were futile, but procreation did not begin. The problem seemed to be that things that need to get hard for procreation to take off, were not getting hard at all.

In Gajendra’s world, the solution to these kinds of problems usually lies with babas operating out of old vans, all tricked out with a bed, a radio, shelves full of dried herbs and pictures of sadhus. As rumours of him being naamard flew hard and fast, Gajendra even told me how his brother offered to help him have kids by sleeping with his wife – an offer Gajendra considered fairly seriously, because after all, his brother was his own flesh and blood. His desperate family even went looking for another wife since this one clearly wasn’t giving him the much-needed boner, but it was becoming too much for Gajendra to bear. I especially remember this time because, suddenly, my shirts weren’t as stiffly ironed as before and the folds weren’t neat either. Getting hard was clearly giving poor Gajendra a hard time.

Enter the nameless dhoti-clad inhabitant of a Matador van that was a perennial fixture in a bylane close to the chawl where Gajendra lived. This beat-up Matador was occupied by different babas at different times of the year. Ditching the path of scientifically proven Western medicine, Gajendra became the newest patient of Baba Scambonath.

Three thousand eight hundred and fifty one rupees was the cost of a five-week course of medication. At the end of it, Gajendra was assured a “santaan”, provided he followed a strict saatvik diet, and took his meds. Also, he was instructed to stay as far away from even the “chaaya” of any “nari”. Gajendra paid his dues and followed the advice diligently.


Gajendra went to a nameless dhoti-clad inhabitant of a Matador van to try and fix his sensitive issue.

Prakash Singh/Getty Images

Joining Gajendra in his quest to rise to the occasion, was another one of our friends; Shekhar, the neighbourhood booze-shop owner. Shekhar was getting hitched and he decided he wanted to give his wife more than one reason to scream, “Arre majhya deva”. Shekhar, whose main source of comprehensive sexuality education was the interweb, more specifically Pornhub, was of the opinion that normal intercourse should end with both parties invoking God with raised voices and sweaty bodies.

Shekhar went for Shilajit, a naturally occurring substance exuded from rocks, and which looks like tar. Found in abundance in rocky mountainous areas, it has been endorsed by Oprah and Deepak Chopra. Shilajit is fabled in Ayurveda for the wonders it can do for your libido. In the Indian imagination, it is a bit like the magical, cure-all Sanjeevani herb, which the Uttarakhand government is searching for in earnest (no really, it’s a ₹25-crore buti). Now, Shilajit is available as a chemically formulated over-the-counter drug produced by licensed Ayurvedic pharmaceutical companies and should be used under supervision by a legit Ayurvedic practitioner. But Shekhar, like Gajendra, went local. He simply picked up a tola for 10 grand from a bunch of Pathans outside the railway station, who claimed that Shilajit users were known to bend iron bars with their bare hands and make love to all of their wives in a single night. Shekhar swallowed the spiel and the tar, dissolved in milk every morning.

In Gajendra’s world, the solution to problems of the sexual kind usually lies with babas operating out of old vans, tricked out with a bed, a radio, shelves full of dried herbs and pictures of sadhus.

Gajendra and Shekhar are two parts in a larger, more complex puzzle that has upwards of a thousand pieces. Apart from remedies to boost your libido, remedies exist for everything from hair loss to diabetes to cancer, but aphrodisiacs are the hottest item on the menu even though no medical study has ever proved that aphrodisiacs can boost sexual desire.

But still the market in “rejuvenators” is worth crores, with scores of small-scale pharma companies in the unorganised sector selling the stuff like hot cakes. Some claim to enhance sexual powers, others talk about “re-energising” and “revitalising”. The root of the problem may lie in the fact that the conversation around sex is an uncomfortable one, discussed in hushed tones, relegated to closed doors. Gajendra cannot bear the thought of having an erectile dysfunction conversation with a trained, licensed, qualified doctor whom he hardly knows. The friendly neighbourhood jadi buti-wala, with a saffron scarf tied around his head and who smells of piss, sweat, and hash, is a way more relatable creature who won’t judge him for not being able to hold it up for more than a few seconds.

The good news is that now, Gajendra can. Two months after baba’s medicine, Gajendra’s wife is now expecting their first child. He’s adamant that the baba’s churan, which consisted of the powdered precious metals “sona, chandi, aur pital”, and countless other herbs, helped him and his wife put the proverbial bun in the oven.

All is well in Gajendra land. Except for Gajendra’s brother. He’s still a fucking creep, that one.