English: NASA image of Mahanadi River
Some of my worst and best memories are flavoured with the same scents… funny na ? At least 10,000 known ‘smells’, in this shared space we call Life.
I have lived in some extreme places – coastal, jungle, urban, mountain, island ; through a Mumbai riot stuck in first floor Kebab-Korner.
Kebab Korner was freshly painted, new enamel and incense sticks mingled with the seasoned masalas, crushed pineapple..
A mob had gathered outside the restaurant. Mumbai riots, and it was late night. No one knew there would be a riot ; I would have stayed home !
“ Match Box hai kya… pooch raha hai..”, ( do you have a match box, they are asking ) , our restaurant- waiter whispered to the five or six of us, in that tiny eatery. The mob outside were asking for matches to burn down this Joint. Was that a joke, was it real ?
Kebabs cooled in our plates…. then like they had come, the mob left. ( There was no smell of petrol or kerosene, or diesel. “Mumu tailors’ in the same street was burned, with three other shops.The riot and the silences that followed were never forgotten, there was that smell of fear, no music in the streets, no street pedlars, no vada pav, or lassi – wallah. Just the importance of water, milk, the morning papers). When the sun came out the next day I sat in our 1st floor balcony savouring the aroma of our sun-dried linen, as if It had pushed away the bad..
As I write this, the feelings are real. They bring in Scents, trails, and I am unable to sort them out neatly. They’re like too many perfume bottles in one shop : my mind ! Childhood and the in between years mingle, tangle, with surprising ease. Hey I didn’t know our noses and minds, worked together this much….
at a Farm last week,traces of yester- year re-visited like old mates whom one recognised immediately. We kicked off shoes, settled into the room and that familiar fragrance of sun dried- sheets filled my senses….
‘Jungle queen ‘ ( flower) scents sharp – pungent blew in from trees outside along with smells of a drying lake – rain- thickened mud, mosquitoes. Lamps hung over tables in the open air misty with monsoon. ..
..Ghee rice and curries.Pickles seasoned in mustard oil ( ah the cook was from Orissa!) ; curd,sliced onions and minced green chilies, Kebabs. A bon- fire.
Memories ran in on barefeet, such a Tsunami of childhood memories. Here now, at Morritt’s Farm ( near Bangalore), among geese and rabbits, there was a fun -bullock cart ride, bright yellow painted cart and happy bulls! Oh it brought back, as if real close up, my young fisher- friend Thandala ; we were 8 years old. ..
she reeked of mustard oil and the sea. Of Jasmine flowers . Cow dung dried cakes burnt in an oven at their stove, there was pokhalo rice – soured rice soaked for days in rice water and served with onion, green chilly, a heap of salt, dried fish, or coriander spiked curry .Ay, aromas and associations are fantastic mates!
I never really understood how I got to go on a yellow and black pug-nosed bus to school but Thandala stayed back and helped her mother sell fish.Sometimes we drew water from the well, sweet cool water when the water tanks went dry . Oh there were shells to pick – sometimes stinky shells sheeeeeesh!
There was Chakrapani, Dad’s attendant who chewed paan : the lime, and tobacco in it could hit you if you stood close, but he wore a loud local village perfume ” Rojh !” ( Rose ). The night the mad dog bit him, Chakrapani was so drunk on local arrack he called it a ‘ Mad Jackal ‘ ( the dog) . Weeks after that he soaked himself in Antispetic lotions and dettol ; Thandala’s mother, Achamma found it very funny ; she never drank but smoked bidis inside her mouth, oh she could talk with that clenched bidi, its acrid smoke drugged the air as she helped my mother in the kitchen ; they ground at a small round grinding stone, baked, made pickles and ghee …
fruit of curry leaf
home made ghee in horlicks bottles ( recycled !:),seasoned with curry leaf, roasting to molten gold in the kadai, as we ran back in from school. Sometimes Achamma brought us toddy to drink, wrapped in a cone shaped out of coarse areca leaf…
Dear God, how many flavours sift in. They say we can recall 10,000 easily, but here am flooded with things I forgot I remembered.
fresh printed books. Old books in the library, the pages buttery thick with older prints and dust. My first box of wax crayons : what words can even say what that was like. Almost as good as rain on hot dry mud. Like grass heavy with dew.
Have you lay down in grass or flat beaches till they searched for you ?
False Point Lighthouse/ island, Paradip Port. We had to cross the Mahanadi river. Fagoo Behera the boatman shiny with sweat and dried salt, dark velvet skin and pure white smile.
Where am I ? Am on an angry river/ sea crossing in a tiny boat, the sickly sweet smells of river banks wet boats and reed. Baskets of milk cans from town – and my mother’s picnic food : Dhal, hot rice, or lime rice. Or biriyani…
Are you saying we have five senses ? Kiddin, right? We must have at least seven or eight. Am sure now there are rooms in our heads like galleries where we store things we do not know we stored. Scents, images, sounds, words, feelings all live together .. see I can feel the sway of that river licking at the sides of the boat, just recalling mud smells ! Okay yes, the brain is a terrific organisation, I get that, but ..
here now,decades later, Bangalore looks like its about rain. Am back home, Lavender fresh and stored in a little Ambi pur vial in our car …. why do I love Lavender? Why did I ask for Lavender ? Should’ve said , ” River mud” or ” First Rains”, na , Lady Moghli that I am !
What’s with the Lavender ?
It’s working for me and our two younger kids. We are three hyperactive monsters and highly possible candidates for road rage, so, Aunty Moa said Lavender was a good choice, it calms people down.
What am asking is, where in my village/ island/ mountain ( we once lived on a mountain called Dolphins’ Nose, Visakapatnam, that Mt. was filled with Night Queen trees…) where was I….?
.. oh yes. Where in all my travels and travails with ‘ match boxes ‘ and riot -mobs, mad jackal and bidi – smoking village women, could I have had an olfactory meeting with ‘ Lavender”… that it so draws me to it ?
Dear God, how many smells are there – good, bad, or ugly ? Wait I just remembered. My first airplane travel alone, KLM, I was dying, positively dying of fright. The Air hostess told me it was just air turbulence, we would live.
” Look down, that’s Finland...” she whispered and looked at me half worried I was travelling alone.
I sat up straight trying to reassure her I was a big girl now. Yes I visibly calmed down. It was not Finland’s lush coast, or the Hostess’s smile. It was her perfume, Lavender.
Now I know.
It took an Indi-bloggn’ Ambipur moment here to understand why I insist on Lavender all the time. Not just me, my little son who is blind and lives in a world of mostly four senses. For him Smells are Key. Oh so very Key. It leads him ,warns him of danger, or good. We share so much when we can relate to rain or flowers, even the smells of a storm, he smells out people. And smiles. Tears. Anger. Fear. And sunshine.
Yeah I better shut up now, can go on and on on this…. 🙂
ALL of the above Post is True, verifiable and as Unabridged as I could make it.