Smells, Stenches & Time —– Hand in Hand

By Kiran Datey


The Scent And The Woman © The Gappuccino -

I will be able to spot him blindfolded even today

A ‘pushy’ friend pushed me to write — “Write about something,” she said. After going back and forth with her, she suggested I write about ‘SMELL’ …. yesss smell. I liked her suggestion, thought it was unique!

Various kinds of smells, or aromas take you down memory lane to different times and places in your life. Some food aromas remind me of my mother’s cooking.

The smell of Amrutanjan balm reminds me of my grandparents’ house when my grandmother would never go to bed without rubbing some on her forehead. “I sleep better,” she would say. The balmy, salty marine smell reminds me of the city I was born in — Mumbai, which is surrounded by sea. The offensive creek stench reminds me again of Mumbai but a specific place called Mahim.

Even today, the western suburbanites have no choice but to pass by Mahim Creek each time they travel from the suburbs to city and back. Car windows roll up quickly, or handkerchiefs come out of their respective places with astounding speed and are placed over noses! It’s hilarious. The entire ordeal lasts only for a couple of minutes. Unbearable for some, but always OK for me. You can call me tolerant, or simply an easy going person.

I am a smell/aroma lover. By that I mean, I love smells, fragrances, aromas … some stench too! (I must have been a sniffer dog in my past life). You will seldom hear me complain about aromas. I have come across folks who cannot stand the smell of certain flowers, sandalwood, or any strong fragrance. They complain about getting headaches or developing nausea … “pathetic unfortunate folks” is what I secretly think about them and leave them alone to deal with their ordeal, while I get busy enjoying the smells and dwelling in my own world of memories!

The smell of new text books take me into my childhood. I remember the first day of school after summer vacation. It always rained heavily on that day. Wearing a new raincoat smelling of new plastic, the sound of rain going ‘tupp tupp’ on the raincoat hood on our heads, new school bag with new text books in it.

On that day, even water tasted different from my new water bottle. I used to trudge to school with a group of friends, talking mostly about the new things mum and dad got us for school etc… and sometimes wading through water on the street, which was FUN!!! The eraser, pencils & ink pens had their own smells and I loved them all……!!!!!! I used to insist on buying the expensive scented pencil erasers, even though the scent lasted for less than two days.

Smells remind me of people from my past. Each one of us have a fragrance which is our own. I am not talking about body odour which can be offensive, especially in Mumbai where people sweat a lot. I am talking about body fragrances.

I used to date a guy (while still in my last teenage years — not working) who smoked, used public transportation, hence sweated a lot. We used to meet at the end of his work day. I loved the way his shirt smelled, a mixture of his aftershave or cologne from morning, cigarettes, sweat … it was unique! It was his and his alone. I loved it and loved him dearly. Later he dumped me for reasons best known to him, but left his smell behind in my memory, as fresh as yesterday. I will be able to spot him blindfolded even today!

Life in Mumbai was interesting and mostly enjoyable for me. Back then I used to travel by public transportation like the local train and BEST bus. I used to travel by a certain train called the ‘ladies special’, and I boarded it at 8:17 a.m.

We were a group of several ladies/girls going to work. We travelled together, sang (played antakshari), ate and generally exchanged notes, mostly personal affairs with each other and bonded emotionally which now has culminated into life long friendships. The aroma of samosas, upma, sambar, cakes and pastries remind me of those train traveling days.

We celebrated birthdays, wedding anniversaries, mother’s day, valentine’s day and what have you, on the train. Imagine a bunch of giggly ladies, chowing down all the goodies, teasing each other, laughing with reckless abandon … noisy as Hell … Those were the days!

Travelling in buses in the Mumbai monsoon is an unforgettable experience. When it pours heavily the bus windows are shut tight. People are packed in like sardines. The standing passengers holding on to the bars above to balance themselves stick to each other due to lack of space. There is absolutely no space to move. I being vertically challenged, my nose invariably ended up close to some un-deodorized armpit of a tall person. I took the opportunity to practice some breath holding exercise!!!

God save you if one of the passengers was with an upset stomach and releases some ‘air’ … you could instantly see people’s faces change into multiple expressions … e.g. perplexed, accusatory, disgusted … you name it and you see them all. The best were the accusatory looks, making the next person feel guilty. The instant reaching for handkerchiefs to block noses was very funny and wishing we were born with no sense of smell was the common feeling.

This sight or experience is etched in my brain vividly and I laugh out loud even today. The best part was, everybody covered their noses including the culprit …!! A guy friend who used to be a ‘regular’ on the bus once whispered to me, “Kiran, mere naak ke baal jhad gaye!!” …. hahahahahaaaaa I burst into loud peals of laughter to the amazement of all those people who seemed in so much discomfort due the ‘unique’ smell of ‘air’ …

I live in the U.S. for many years now. A sanitized, smell-less country — where people make a BIG DEAL of the slightest of smells.

I miss the smell of the tropics. I miss the aroma of mangoes, jamuns (purple berrries), pineapples, guavas (smells heavenly, I think), chickoos …. tulsi, neem, tender coconut, some flowers like mogra, kevda, jai, jui, also cow dung, hay and above all I miss the smell of earth, after the first monsoon shower (I have not experienced it in the U.S. in all these years).

It is the best scent on the planet, simply divine … and no other smell can come even close. I call it God’s Body Odour ….


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