Monday, August 05, 2013

Olfactory Me.

I was born with what folks then politely  described as a snub nose , and for the first few years of my life, my late paternal grandfather  gave me a Marathi nickname (नकटी ) that highlighted this feature.  Consequently , in an amazing display of nostrils-over-nature, I fine tuned my olfactory abilities and have been deeply smelling al manner of things things ever since;   like,  trouble, opportunity, wonderful aromas, fragrances, and even stuff you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.

More than half a century of living has you wondering.

My earliest smells, have to do with hot copper boilers, coal,wood, steaming water, and  ambehaldi smells.  We had a traditional copper boiler which worked on coal, and there was this fragrance that was a compounding of fire, water, copper, hot shahabad stone and ambehaldi with milk. Sometimes compounded with shikekai scrubs.

Then there was the smell of tur dal which had just cooked to perfection.  and you impatiently inhaled the rich aroma as you waited for the rice, the ghee, and the squeeze of a lemon.

Jasmine, champa and mogra fragrances intermingling with mild agarbattis and lit lamps in the little puja corner of the  just mopped, slightly still wet  floor of  one of the inner rooms in the house .

Spicy bossy flavors that transcended floors and wafted down to the garden were those that prompted folks to ask if we were pounding garam masala in wilambit taal,  or grinding roasted horse gram (kuleeth, a Kokan food).  These were comfort smells  and still remain so.  Along with scintillating aromas of garlic , hing and methi participating in the most amazing tadkas of all time. And let's not forget the smells of butter being made into ghee wafting across the house.

I could go on and on .     

I did.    :-)

I went to the US to study after college.  And learned that houses did not smell of  biryanis and tadkas, but like a summery spring that happened in the midst of the harshest winter. When you went to some one's for dinner you couldn't guess the menu, thanks to "sprays".  To me, everything was like they showed in the movies, spic and span and smelling of roses.   And those visiting my shared apartment always rushed to look inside the pot to see what was smelling so good thanks  to my spray-disabled state..  

I do realize that all smells do not emanate from kitchens. There are unpleasant smells, and some simply need to be masked by something better. 

That is why hospitals smell different. To remove the smell of disease. 

Corporate offices smell different. Possibly to hide the smell of big money.  

There are Ambi Pur sprays and things available in various scents where you can pretend you are enjoying  New Zealand Springs, Pacific Air,  Vanilla Bouquets, or in a Lavender Spa  amidst Hawaiian flowers, or even pining for Thai Dragon Fruit and so on.  

The smartness is in knowing to know when you need to use these. 

I learned it by accident. 

Our new car, (bought after 38 years of an old faithful  going geriatric on us and relocating somewhere else for research),  one fine day simply didn't start, when I turned the ignition .  I had just bought vegetables the previous day .  Things were working fine then.  Investigations revealed that rats, who think our building garden is wonderful, actually thought the car was better. They squeezed in and feasted on some electric cables.  The mechanics, in the time trusted Juggad tradition,  did the connections again , and advised us to keep tobacco pouches all over the car, along the wiring , to keep the rats away.  While doing the work, the mechanics yanked the rear seat , and while putting it back , probably left a gap where the seat belts should have emerged but now actually didn't.  

A few days later, it became impossible to sit inside, not due to the  anticipated but strangely non existent hot tobacco smell,  but, thanks to some really bad rotting smell.  It turned out that a small cabbage had fallen out of the bag, earlier in the trunk, and simply gone bad in the heat and suffocation of the trunk. Thanks to the gap in the rear seat, we were the beneficiaries of the terrible smell.   

At this point it must be mentioned that the daughter is a standing example of animate objects that exude fragrances thanks to various cosmetic sprays, and every time she traverses your path you get a whiff of something. She is hugely interested in the various Ambi Pur fragrances available for non-personal spraying.  She was inordinately interested in the  piece that I received in the post,  and promptly installed it on the air vent in the dashboard of the car.  A few drives around the place with windows open, and the car became usable again, without having to hold your breath.    

So yes, life in the car is tolerable again.  But for the times that one is on two legs instead of four wheels,  in the innards of the house,  I would like to give suggestions to the Ambi Pur folks  regarding fragrances and aromas.  

The aroma of Ginger and lemon that might encourage the cilia in the nostrils to e-tickle your taste buds;  a whiff of roasted Ajwain  to settle your stomach;   a hint of  elaichi and nutmeg  for special days to honor the environment in which shrikhand is being greatly relished.  

I wonder if the aroma of new books can be bottled   Or how difficult it is to capture the aroma of  a baby being given a traditional Indian style bath , oils, medicinal seeds thrown on charcoal embers to create inhalable smoke. Or the fragrance of a lap of a mother, complete with palloos  hinting  about a just imbibed meal.    Or the combined smell of a baby, milk and talcum powder. 

I am sure the Ambi Pur folks are listening. 

In the meanwhile, if you think of a sprint race between the various aromas , say, lavender, jasmine, pacific air, New Zealand spring, Hawaiian flowers,  rose, sandalwood,  garden fresh , and say, that of fragrant Hyderabad biryani happening in some one's house,  all I can say , is , that , the last one will be the Usain Bolt of it all......   

Just saying....

P. S. If the Ambi Pur people ever come up with Tobacco aroma stuff you can leave  in the  car internals, do remember that you heard it here first.

Submitted as an entry to the Indiblogger  AmbiPur Smelly to Smiley Contest.


  1. Wonderful Read this one as always! Read it till the end :)
    Your writing is an aroma too ;)


    1. Ila Johari, Thank you! The writing has been called all kinds of stuff, but never an aroma...:-)

  2. Actually white or yellow ginger flowers are my favorites. I've never smelled a fragrance that came close to capturing that wonderful smell though. Smells are so evocative of experiences. And yes, Indian restaurants always smell so exotic.

    1. Kay, Thank you! I've often felt that many things we grow here and consume raw might possibly be similarly used , raw and/or cooked in Hawaii, because of similar weather.


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