Ace Spanish painter and multi-hyphenate Pablo Picasso has been quoted as saying, "Those breasts are most beautiful that give the most milk."
This perhaps proves that even masters in their own right can have pretty colourful ideas of what qualifies as beautiful.
But for some Indians, lactating breasts go beyond the domain of what is beautiful, or even essential, for that matter. In some cases, they provide a sense of safety; in others, they aid in better sleep.
In the past, various analyses of India's Google search data have revealed that queries related to breastfeeding adults are wildly popular in the country. A staggering number of Indian Google searches that begin with "my husband wants" end with "me to breastfeed him."
In fact, Google data from 2017 showed that the number of searches on how to breastfeed a baby were almost equal to the number of searches on how to breastfeed an adult man.
"Adult breastfeeding (ABF) can mean many things - be it just watching a woman breastfeeding, actually suckling the lactating breasts and deriving sexual pleasure out of that (termed as 'lactophilia'), or simply having sex with a lactating woman," Pallavi Barnwal, a sexuality coach based in New Delhi, told VICE.
"It can also be seen from a BDSM umbrella where I can command the other person to feed me, or vice versa," she added.
Though several fetishes are often considered taboo, ABF occupies a special place in the hierarchy of taboos.
"It's a perfect storm of a fetish because it combines two things that make us, as a society, very uncomfortable," sex educator and phone sex operator Tonya Jone Miller told VICE for an earlier related piece. "First, there's the idea that a man shouldn't be dependent on a woman, that he shouldn't be vulnerable and a woman shouldn't be stronger than him. Second, it's the idea of a woman sexualizing the thing that's thought of as the most sacred thing about her body and her femininity."
However, for Jay, a 31-year-old stock broker based in New Delhi, an accidental discovery of the fetish was life-changing.
Jay, just like other ABF fetishists mentioned in this piece, was uncomfortable with revealing his full name because of the stigma associated with the kink.
In 2019, Jay joined scores of Indians who had lost their jobs as the country's unemployment rate peaked to a 45-year high. "It devastated me," he said. "I saw myself as the provider, not just because I was earning more than my wife, but also because I'm from that school of thought where the husband has to provide, no matter what. That has always been at the core of my value system."
Born and brought up in the conservative village of Bhandal Buta in the Jalandhar district of Punjab, Jay admitted that his idea of pleasure was self-centred due to his negligible interactions with women in his formative years. But his conservative ideas of the roles men and women should play were put to the test when he lost his job.
"My wife provided for me financially, and was more than happy to. I had to get over myself and accept things for what they were," he explained. "But it was difficult. One night I just broke down and buried my face in her breasts. She was lactating because we had just had our second baby, and I just naturally gravitated towards her breasts. I have never felt more secure than I did at that moment."
While Jay discovered the fetish only recently, 26-year-old Tonghkar looks at it as a "ritual" he likes to indulge in every night since the first day of his marriage two years ago.
Tonghkar lives in Shillong in the northeastern state of Meghalaya. The "Scotland of the East," as the British once called his city, is known for its picturesque valleys and perennial rivers. The state also houses one of the world's largest assimilation of matrilineal tribes, where property names and wealth are passed from mother to daughter rather than father to son like in most of India.
Tonghkar, however, doesn't consider ABF a kink. "Why should I box it as a kink? That narrows it down to just one aspect. A woman's breasts are sacred, not just because they are life-giving, but also because they mark the first time a human being truly feels affection. And there is nothing wrong in repeating that first feeling of affection every day of your life," he said.
The highest point of pleasure for him was after he and his wife had their first kid, but before and after her lactation, Tonghkar would indulge in heavy nipple play.
According to his wife, who doesn't wish to be named for privacy reasons, ABF seamlessly blends into their lives. "I don't see it as something strange," she told VICE. "When I was lactating, I'd be watching television and my husband would casually sit next to me and start suckling. The ease with which he did it made me comfortable too. The same has continued to this day."
Babies and toddlers are often described as addicted to breastfeeding. Indian mothers have been known to use various deterrents on their nipples - from extracts of the bitter Indian lilac (neem) and bitter gourd to red chillies - to initiate the process of weaning. Tonghar believes that breastfeeding or even just the action of sucking on nipples can be addictive for adults, too.
There is, however, another aspect to what seems to drive Indian men. For many, virility is the absolute indicator of masculinity. Perhaps that is why most Indian men who are clinically diagnosed with infertility refuse to acknowledge it.
When Karan, a 27-year-old entrepreneur who lives in Mumbai, recently discovered that he had a low sperm count, it was the "bleakest day of his life." The only saving grace, he said, was how his wife responded to the news.
"It was perhaps the maternal instinct inside her," he said. "When she saw me dejected and lost, she held me in her arms. And I just became a child at that moment. Not because I was trying to substitute for the child I could never give her, but purely because at that moment, I was reduced to a child because of my helplessness. I could only look up to her for succour. Later that night, I sucked her breasts with tears in my eyes. Every time I feel lost, that's what I do. It's more therapeutic than sexual."
However, things may not always be all intimate and consoling when the man acts like a vulnerable child. When Aditya, a 32-year-old queer man based in Kolkata, hooked up with a man over a dating app, little did he know an ABF kink would end in bloodshed. Sort of.
"This guy had told me on the app that he loved nipple play, and so do I. He was really good at it, too, when he started off," he said. "But as he kept going, it's like he somehow got possessed and started becoming agitated. He kept asking in Hindi, in a baby voice, 'Why isn't the milk coming?' To keep the groove going, I didn't say anything. But things went south when he actually bit my nipple and a little blood oozed out."
Aditya recounted how when he pushed him away, the man "came out of a milk daze," and snapped back to reality. "His explanation was that he got carried away because I resembled his aunt, whom he has always fantasised about, particularly when she was lactating."
India is not the only country where this secret fetish seems to be thriving. In Japan, you can find "lactation bars," where you can order a glass of the maternal beverage, or you can even straight-up feed "from the source" - meaning one of three resident "mothers."
In December 2014, a prostitution ring was busted in Beijing, where young lactating mothers were paid to feed their breast milk to adults, while powdered milk was given to their own babies.
In some cultures, inducing lactation is also an aspect of ABF, though no one we spoke to in India even beyond those mentioned in this piece seemed to be indulging in it. There are plenty of stories of athletes considering human milk a miracle remedy and going to remarkable lengths to get it, too.
In Mirzapur, a popular show set in the heartland of rural India, a character is shown to believe that he can ace the local bodybuilding championship only if he consumes breast milk, and goes to extraordinary lengths to seek it, even if it meant blowing someone's brains out.