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Drawing from Myth to Become Mistress of Spices

puram, where hundreds of Aravanis gathered for their pilgrimage to Koovagam village Tuesday.

'The elderly Aravani introduced me to the Muslim family who kept me as their cook for 10 years'. It is this family in Coimbatore that taught master chef Mathana how to make exceptional 'biriyani', a non-vegetarian rice dish.

Her fame, which spread at first just by word of mouth, is such that she has to carry business cards with phone numbers for clients to contact her for party cooking contracts.

The Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative and Native Medicare Charitable Trust (NMCT) have roped her in to train younger Aravanis to cook. 'With TAI and NMCT I am attempting to wean away Aravanis from commercial sex work and give them an alternative,' she says.

Mathana, 53, just directs her disciples these days, saying 'so much of chilli powder and so many cardamoms into the cauldron,' and heavenly aroma rises from the pot of golden rice. Seven to eight such party jobs bring her as much as Rs.5,000 a month, and, of course, recognition as a master chef.

'In our community (Aravanis), people only go for basic education, not for higher education, because they want to start earning at the earliest to become independent. So they go for sex work, as it is easy to find. But there are other ways to live,' she says.

NMCT project coordinator Jeyaganesh told IANS that Mathana and several other Aravanis who cook well have been involved in training the first batch of 26 transvestites.

Soon the second batch of 25 Aravanis will also begin. The trust, supported by TAI, is also collaborating with the famous Madurai-based catering house 'Meenakshi Bhavan' and its chain of hotels and teachers of the catering department of the Avinashilingam Deemed University.

'The batch was first given a 15-day catering training in Madurai with sessions on improving behavior and self-esteem, and then added skill upgrades in Coimbatore for an
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