Sunday, July 21, 2013

The olfactory mesmerizer

It has always awed me - the olfactory magic. But two things triggered the thoughts now. One is the news about a camera that can capture the smell along with the images so that the person can get a feel of the place while going through the snaps. Another one is about a friend who lost her sense of smell after meeting with an accident.

It was just recently that I told someone about a deo reminding me of my childhood days... the smell just after bath at grandmother's home with the green Cinthol soap. It was not the first time that some aroma transported me elsewhere. It has happened quite often.  

The smell of hot iron box running over starched cotton takes me to the Sundays years ago when my father used to press our uniforms and his clothes. He would ask us to hold the ends of his starched mundu to stretch it and fold it perfect so that when ironed the edges would be straight. The red Lifebuoy soap too reminds me of him who never switched brand even after a splurge of new luring ones, which he got for us.

The fresh bundle of clothes that arrives from laundry carries with it the aroma of my grandmother's wardrobe where all her mundu and neriyathu (traditional Kerala wear) were neatly arranged. I loved to bury my face on the fresh pillow cover and bedsheet she would spread for us six grandchildren who stayed with her during vacations. 

The scent of jasmine flowers has many associations. One, to my maternal grandmother's house where she would keep Jai soap for us kids to take bath as we loved its jasmine smell. It also takes me to the streets in Kodambakkam I used to stroll in Chennai, my second home. It was the scent of evenings in Chennai. Also the weddings I attended in Kerala where I used to lead the team of kids and grannies who would string flowers at the bride's place the previous day of wedding. I could string them really fast which i acquired from the greed to have the longest string of flowers for myself. 

Vacations meant jasmine bushes in the neighbourhood in full bloom. I used to vie with little cousins in plucking the maximum buds the previous evening and stringing them. We didn't have refrigerators to keep it fresh then. I would hang it on trees in the front yard to keep it naturally fresh overnight in the mist. As the buds open, the aroma would creep into the room through the windows reassuring me through my sleep none has taken it away. Next day I would flaunt it on my long hair on way to Hindi classes.

The smell of burning wicks in brass lamps lit with oil would take me to the temples next door i used to visit almost every other day all through my stay in Kerala. For the pre-dawn nirmalyams and the late evening deeparadhanas

The aroma of crushed cardamoms means amma making payasam for Onam. The days when I least cared about the pain that went behind its making. We would be busy around the pookkalam (the floral decoration in front of home) and the arrangements for afternoon games like uriyadi and vadamvali (tug of war).

Sheen would be more for all things gone. Some aromas are gone forever. I could even sense the scent of mornings and evenings during the carefree days of play and studies. The first drop of rain that touched the hot earth and the the sun that shone after a heavy shower... all had an aroma of its own.  

I'm glad that some aromas can still make my mind dance with images that are tucked away in a corner afresh. But for my friend, those are like the mesmerizing clouds that fly past a parched earth without sparing a drop...