The sense of smell has to be the most complex and indeed the most powerful of all human senses. While a particular smell can be pleasant to some, the same smell can be utterly disgusting to others and yet at the same time it might not even be detected by a third person!
Our brain remembers every smell we encounter, storing them all in some unrecognizable dark corner of its vast expanses, and we are instantly reminded of our experiences associated with the particular smell as soon as we bump into it again, sometimes after many long years. Nearly everyone has had experiences wherein a faint smell somewhere has triggered a wave of nostalgic memories hitting them like a tsunami.
So when I read about this particular contest on ‘Indiblogger’ which is sponsored by ‘Ambi Pur - a brand dealing with air freshners’, I was instantly transported to my childhood days. All those fragrances came rushing back, the good and bad memories allied with them, making me all nostalgic about the good old days.
A Normal Day
The mornings would be full of that flowery fragrance as Grandma would bring an assortment of flowers from the nearby garden which would be offered to the Gods. No sooner did the golden dust began its dance in the first rays of the sun, the gentle early morning breeze would fill up my nostrils with the aroma of hot ginger-basil tea brewing headily in our kitchen. The balmy scent of shoe polish on my black leather shoes often reminds me of my daily drudgery while I was in school. Today, when I apply my latest aftershave, I instantly remember that whiff of Old Spice Cologne that my Father would use when I was a kid.
Interestingly and perhaps a bit surprisingly, my memory fails to serve up any special recollections relating to odour during the 6 odd hours that I spent in the school. Perhaps I was too busy enjoying with my friends to take any notice of smells around me because one thing that I am sure about, is that I was not busy studying!! But luckily for me the contest asks for ‘nostalgic memories you associate with different smells or fragrances in your home’. Anyways I do remember one particular smell from my school days which I will share later on.
Afternoons were spent watching TV or doing homework or catching up on some sleep. Evenings were reserved for playing cricket and I remember how sweaty everyone would smell after running around for 2-3 hours continuously. After returning home, I would take a bath and get fresh and have my dinner. Then was the time for some more TV or homework depending on various multiple factors which I do not desire to dwell into in any great detail. There was this rule where we had to have a glass of hot milk just before retiring for the day and I remember that smell of milk very well. Just like every other kid, I used to hate it! I still detest it but now I have turmeric milk every night which, well, does not smell bad and at the same time is very good for health!!
The nearly 2 month long summer vacation was like a boon from heaven for kids from my generation. This was our little window where we were free from books and school and homework (there were no tuition classes during the vacations nor were we enrolled in various other classes like the kids of today and schools would not give homework to complete during the vacations) and were free to spend our time as we wished. How well I remember that giddy concoction of bodily stinks when 10 sweaty, sticky kids would simultaneously hug one another affectionately after winning a game of gully cricket from a seemingly hopeless position!!!
Summer vacations would also mean trips to places where we had never been before. I remember the smell of the cool mountainous breeze with lofty peaks and gently flowing rivers completing our surroundings as also the smell of the salty sea air by the sea-side with the growling ocean and the palm trees providing the perfect setting for the most riveting sunset!
One aroma which I absolutely worship is what ensues when cold curd is poured on hot steaming rice! I used to have curd-rice almost daily during the summer season and this was one smell which I eagerly awaited each day.
That earthy smell when the first rain drops gently kiss the earth. Who does not have memories associated with that moment, memories where, the first rain drop of the year would cause a commotion in the building with kids scampering out in the open to get drenched, later playing a game of cricket in the rain!! But unfortunately that pleasant scent of ‘parched-mud-soaking-in-water’ would be short lived as the stench from the garbage dump nearby was enough to make one nauseous. Now there is ‘Ambi Pur - Meadow and Rain’ to make sure that the wet mud smell remains with you long after the first rains have arrived!!
I do not remember any particular scent from the winters, but, in general, the air smelt much better in winter then what it did in the summers! The crisp and the cool morning air was something that I loved taking in, it was so stimulating!
Festivals/ Special Occasions
India is known as the land of festivals and the sights and smells are undeniably something that lingers on with you for a long time. The memories of these festivals, the different unique smells associated with each of them are enough to send my mind into a spiral.
I fondly remember Diwali for the mélange of odours that it presented – from the sickly sweet aroma of the kheer topped with pistachios and saffron, to the fumy, suffocating air from all the burnt fireworks, to the aromatic fragrance of the various flowers used for decorating the house, to the earthly smell of the mud diyas, to the smell of love and affection that was showered on kids. Everyone seemed happy, everyone had a smile on the face, everyone would welcome you warmly… that world was not such a bad place to live in after all!!
I get all nostalgic during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival each year reminiscing about the smell of Modaks which would fill the atmosphere in Mumbai.
The aroma of the sugary sweet Jalebis and the savory Fafdas served along with the raw pineapple and besan chutney would make me impatient while standing in the queue of the sweetmeat shop as I awaited my turn on the Dusshera day!!
Remember I talked about that one lingering fragrance from my school days? The aroma of the black fruitcake filled with raisins and fruits and nuts still hangs around in the air - one that I savored on the Christmas Day for 12 straight years, making me remember my school days warmheartedly.
My birthday meant that I could ask for my favorite dish to be prepared and my Mother would happily oblige. That particular dish was, more often than not, almost always – Pav Bhaji! My mind easily transports me to those days when the house would be filled with the smell of that aromatic, pungent and spicy bhaji… that huge dollop of butter melting away happily on top of it making it smell all the more addictive!! Nothing beats that remarkable whiff of home-made Pav Bhaji, yes; my mother is the best cook in the world!!
There are so many more smells dawdling around in my home today that make me nostalgic about my childhood days – the smell of the tadka as the cumin seeds would crackle in the hot ghee filling the air with a nutty flavor and then the addition of asafoetida would make the air turn heady and finally the addition of curry leaves would complete what would be a pretty intricate odour, the fragrance of incense, the minty aroma of fresh pudinah chutney which my Grandmother would grind with a small cylindrical stone on a larger flat stone (the entire apparatus known as Shil Lodi), the delicate scent of the Jasmine gajra which my mother would sometimes wear, the fragrance of mehndi during festivals, etc
Writing for this contest made me realize how much the smells around us influence us. They have the power to make us happy and to make us sad. Every smell has stories waiting to be told and memories waiting to be kindled. So what is your story and what are your memories? Share them!!