Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sniff Stuff

Who nose why just a smell can take you down memory lane? Is it that a particular whiff, inhaled through the nose, enters our bloodstream, hits our head, our heart, and makes itself an eternal part of the life rushing through our veins - keeping us human, keeping us alive, helping us remember?

I have always marvelled at how a fleeting smell can transport me back to an entirely different setting. I have to pick up the pieces and set the memory in place, even as the transient scent has already gone, leaving me with my eyebrows raised, my eyes squinting in concentration, and my footsteps slower. My nose on alert to recapture that elusive trigger, I try and put into thoughts what my heart and mind have already remembered and reconstructed.

Just yesterday, I was walking along Hill Road (where the hilly experience is defined by the number of potholes and not by sylvan views of mountainous splendour - this is Bombay after all) around 11.30 am. A bad time to be a pedestrian. Dodging cars, bikes, dogs, people, streetvendors. The stretch of shops I walked past were gloomy coffin-makers, frame-shops, shady jewellery stores, and dingy upholstery displays. The winter sun warmed us even as the jammed vehicles poisioned our veins.

And suddenly in the middle of it all I smelt (so quick that I may have imagined it, but why would I do so?) gulaal, or the powder colours used to play Holi. You know it don't you? That hot, synthetic smell that tickles your nose? And snap! I was back in time. Holi happens around March. The time of exams, the time of fears, the time of winter-turning-summer when you are never sure how hot or cold to feel. And I was in school uniform again, it was a Delhi winter on its way out. I was worrying about completing my revision on time. Long phone conversations on the sly where friends confessed how bad their preparation really was. Dodging flying water balloons on the way back from the bus-stop. Passing by shops selling pyramids of colour to brighten up the fading dull of winter. Half-empty school buses because everyone didn't have an exam every day. Getting to sit. Aware that the new school year would mean new faces and some missing faces.

Bombay went on all around me and I walked back home, treading a time bubble that burst when an impatient driver honked at me.

14 comments:

Diligent Candy said...

I can smell gulal now.

OrangeJammies said...

Confession: I don't know what gulal smells like, having never played holi, but I do know what you mean. Once, the smell of a particular sunsilk shampoo transported me right back to a childhood vacation in the village, with cold stone bathroom floors and the sound of the sea roaring in the distance and the quiet house, except for the clanging of the bucket as it came up the well. Yup, know exactly what you mean. :0)
Do we get to meet before you leave?

sbora said...

this is so true...i get carried away by food smells- no surprises, here!
but you are so right...you do get transported and you hate it when something brings that moment to an end.

lovely!

Anamika said...

Candy: Yeah...those getting-warm days of prep leave and long chats OUTSIDE the library...


OJ: Oh, I played very little Holi myself, but growing up in Delhi you can't avoid the smell (and the puddles)!

Sbora: Food smells! Those can be the stuff of an entirely independent blog post!

asuph said...

oh yes! even in the scent-ary overdrive that our city streets are some smells capture you and take you back in time. it's happened to me so many times. in fact lot of my childhood memories, when i think about them, seem to carry some smells/scents back into the present.

nice blog you've got here.
asuph.

Anamika said...

Asuph: You are right. In the middle of all the sounds and smells it's amazing that something aselusive and fleeting as a smell can impact us powerfully. Thanks for dropping by with a comment!

A Muser said...

I love your descriptions of Bandra -- that itself takes me back in time! Hill Road, hmmm, Elco market, dahi puri, shopping for my first bra :)) I will miss those descriptions when you move to Dubai. But the smell post reminded me of an experience I had this morning. My in-laws had bought some instant coffee (Nescafe, of course) from India. My palate jaded on Starbucks, I didn't have any until this morning. The smell awoke a memory of a rainy college day, dripping wet, sitting in the canteen surrounded by friends with a precious hot cup of sweet Nescafe, the aroma mingling with that of damp umbrellas. Nostalgia sweeps me.

Anamika said...

A Muser: Oh yes, coffee stands for so many memories - cold college mornings, lazy weekends at home, sighhh. I liked what you said "Nostalgia sweeps me". Will always think of you when I pass Elco Arcade!

Anamika said...

A Muser: Also, I will miss these places a LOT when I love away. I know I'm going to pine for Biona, Toto's and JATC and Linking Road when I'm far from them! And Bandstand. And Joggers Park. And G-7. (Okay, stop!)

dipali said...

Oh yes: for me a whiff of woodsmoke brings back forty-five year old memories of the few months we lived with my aunt. She used to use an 'angeethi' in those days, and we were absolutely fascinated by the whole process of lighting it and cooking on it. So many smells, so many memories:)

Anamika said...

Dipali: Wow. That is a fascinating smell, and it keeps changing depending on the way the wind blows.

A Muser said...

Biona's is after my time, but Toto's is host to some truly amazing memories. JATC -- just around the corner, right? Turner Road? Me, I also miss Candies, Andora's, Khar Gymkhana (ok, not just Bandra :)) and going down what we used to call ZigZag Road.

aunty g said...

Scrambled eggs in pure ghee || Is a very vivid memory || Of my Pa's Ma || Real nostalgia || Thank you, Anamika Mukharji!

Anamika said...

A Muser: oooohh..Candies. It's walking distance from my place. So I often walk down after 8 pm and then there's a 25% discount on all the food. Sadly, there's little left by then. Of course, I frequently gorge at full price too! And, I LOVE zig-zag road! Oh, I wish you were in Bombay now, I'd have met you and you'd have shown me more fun places!

Aunty G: Yummmm, I can smell it from here!