The Game of Love : Perfume, Food and Flirting

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The other day as I was helping my friend to find a new perfume, she remarked that the rules of dating have become very complicated, especially with the advent of new communication technologies. How long do you wait before you reply to his email, how fast should he text you back, etc? Thinking about this gives me a headache far faster than any of the latest celebrity fragrances. As I left my friend to select between Stella McCartney and Hermès Kelly Calèche, I went home to browse through the most famous manual on love for some dating guidance.

In the West, the Kamasutra is seen predominantly as an X-rated guide to all things seductive. In Hindu scriptures, however, kama encompasses all pleasures, from aesthetic to erotic. As a result, Kamasutra is actually a compilation of advice on all matters pertaining to social relationships, romantic encounters and business dealings. Written between 400 BCE and 200 CE, the manual explains how to acquire money, how to behave with friends and how to lead an honorable and fulfilled life.

Chapter 10 on Preludes and Conclusions to the Game of Love made me smile. Please take a look at the excerpts below and tell me if the rules of the game have changed so drastically after all.

“Accompanied by his friends and servants, having taken a bath and being elegantly dressed, the citizen enters the chamber of love [special room for entertainment] of his dwelling, which is carefully decorated, ornamented with flowers, and perfumed with scented smoke. [the man then proceeds to invite his lady and] he amuses her with funny stories, making her laugh… Then comes vocal and instrumental music, whether or not accompanied by dancing. After which they talk about art, then once more, he encourages her to drink….having scented her with flower essences and offered her betel [aromatic nut chewed in India for its mildly stimulating effect], he sends away the others present…[curtain closes on our love birds]”

“Then, conversing sweetly and gently, they take a pleasant meal, a clear soup tasting of mulberries, appetizing grilled meats, drinks of ripe fruit juice, dried meat, lemons and tamarind fruits, according to the customs of the country. Then, at their ease, they drink sweet liquors, while chewing from time to time sweet or tart things. Climbing to the terrace on top of the house to take advantage of the moonlight, they give themselves over to pleasant conversation. She lays her head on his knees to look at the moon. He explains the figures of the constellations to her. Thus, their games of love come to an end.”

At the close, the Kamasutra offers more advice, “A solid attachment is established through friendly conversation. Mutual affect is expressed by changes of mood, sometimes by disputes, sometimes by tender looks. He speaks to her of the wonder of love, born at their first meeting, and of the pain felt in separating, just as the poets have described… United by their experience, their passion grows.” From The Complete Kama Sutra: The First Unabridged Modern Translation of the Classic Indian Text by Alain Daniélou, Inner Traditions International, Rochester, 1994.

Photography of Indian art of henna by Vera, all rights reserved.

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15 Comments

  • Suzanna: Wonderfully fun post, V., and so true! However, the rules of social engagement that include betel nut and mulberry soup seem far more alluring than those involving cell phones and text messages. February 9, 2012 at 9:26am Reply

  • Victoria: I'm glad that you liked it, there are other fun and sensible bits there about courtships and relationships. And there is a lot about scents as well.
    Speaking to my friend, I realized when my husband and I started our courtship, I didn't even have a texting option on my cell phone. 🙂 So, yes, I agree with you. But wining and dining a girl and making her laugh–that's not different from today. February 9, 2012 at 9:38am Reply

  • minette: that’s sweet, victoria! thanks for posting. so often i feel that as electronically hyper-connected as we are these days, we’re not actually engaging with one another. very little gazing deeply into others’ eyes going on – and i don’t mean just between lovers. the modern “mutal affect” seems to be based on mob rule and quite superficial in nature.

    so, when you find something and someone who can cut deeper, it’s a real pleasure and relief. i think you do some of that with your contributions here. February 9, 2012 at 3:27pm Reply

  • Victoria: I have to agree, because I find that electronic communication sometimes is very shallow. How much can you really convey in a Facebook update or in a tweet? Of course, when it comes to dating, I would be lost today. Back in the day, I recall even making fuss over an email–only a phone call would do.

    This excerpt though really made me smile. Some patterns are recurring. 🙂 February 9, 2012 at 5:13pm Reply

  • Perfumista8: Fun post, Victoria. I guess this is the quintessential example of the American idiom, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Afterall our most fundamental needs have not changed. February 9, 2012 at 5:21pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you. 🙂 And yes, our fundamental needs are still the same.
    And this excerpt really made me wish to taste that clear mulberry soup. There was a big mulberry tree next to my parents’ house, but we usually just ate the berries raw, straight off the branch. February 9, 2012 at 5:43pm Reply

  • Amy: Great post, Victoria!
    And I absolutely LOVE Vera’s photography. February 9, 2012 at 6:08pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, Amy. Vera thanks you too! 🙂 February 9, 2012 at 6:36pm Reply

  • Rose D: “Mutual affect is expressed by changes of mood, sometimes by disputes, sometimes by tender looks.”

    Funny! Probably not the most romantic line in the entire text; but certainly the most truthful:) (at least according to my mother and her 25-year marriage). February 9, 2012 at 9:54pm Reply

  • Victoria: Very truthful! Love bears it all though. 🙂 February 10, 2012 at 8:11am Reply

  • Victor: To be fully connected to our senses we need to set time aside. Learn to do nothing, go slow, look for the smallest details, like meditating. The world becomes more alive, focused.
    Wonderful posting Victoria. Mr Daniélou is a talented ethnographer and writer. I’ll look for the book. February 10, 2012 at 9:05am Reply

  • Victoria: His studies on music are also great. Also, he has an interesting book titled A Brief History of India.

    What you say about needing to slow down is very true. Sometimes there is so much going on, so much information, so much activity that it becomes hard to focus. I always worry that I might miss something. But when I actually follow an advice like yours, I find that I get more done and have more time for what matters the most to me–my loved ones. February 10, 2012 at 10:45am Reply

  • Undina: I enjoyed the post too, it brought a smile to my face – thank you, Victoria.

    As to the “rules of engagement” for the modern dating world… I can’t remember what movie/TV series it was (one of those that I liked but I can’t pinpoint which one it was) a heroine tells her either husband or husband to be (referring to the “dating market”): “Please tell me I won’t be out there again!” – and that is exactly how I feel when I listen to friends who are trying to date now (being in their 30++). February 12, 2012 at 8:44pm Reply

  • Victoria: I'm so glad that you liked it! I think that meeting people outside of school is difficult. Dating at work has its own complications, while something more structured–a singles meeting or a blind date–doesn't allow people to experience each other at their most natural. They end up putting up a show of sorts for the other person. It takes so much longer to get to know each other well. February 13, 2012 at 11:38am Reply

  • ner: Betel nut is a drupe rather than a nut, more like fresh dates but green. The flavor is green and astringent, with distinct pepperiness when chewed alone. I wouldn’t call it delicious but it could be an acquired taste. February 13, 2012 at 1:45pm Reply

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