Thursday, March 13, 2014

Different minds, different smells

Inhaling, is serious business. Sometimes, it is also an unpleasant business.


The sheer topography, weather, and density of Mumbai, has widened  the mind, so much so, that the numerical variety of smells you have to deal with in daily life, seriously challenges the number of olfactory neurons sitting, aram se, amidst the cilia at the back of your nose.

It means , beginning your day with the smell of boiling , sometimes overflowing milk, mixing seamlessly with the smell of puja lamps, flowers and garlic tadkas from the neighbors kitchen, amidst whiffs of powder and deo's as assorted folks secure  their temporary body fragrances, exit through the door and permeate the elevators, in a clash of sandalwood,lavender and sometimes even pinewood, in city that is losing its green at an alarming rate..

Then there are various combinations, hitherto not thought off by fragrance folks in Paris.  The leading smell would be  a fine combination cow dung and diesel, often  imbibed by our pores, as we wait for Mumbai's lifeline, the BEST buses, which again open the doors to a world of different smells. Unwashed shirt smells  mixing with gleaming coconut oil smells as you fit yourself into a space  designed for someone half your size. Sudden whiffs of jasmines as a lady in a morning silk just out of mothballs, struggles to reach the exit door. Many times, a fellow will push past, reeking of alcohol, designed to make you throw up early in the morning.  We need to be grateful that phones don't smell; the bus would be a confused haven for fragrances, given the number of passengers busy staring at their phones and moving fingers.

The trains are a different world altogether. They ride roughshod over landscapes that reek.  Of an unsanitary city, that doesn't care for its women and children, of creeks that are treated like dirt , stuffed with trash,  the mangroves starved, so  that  shameless mercenary types can build .  So the smell of rotten fish mixes avidly with the smell of the fresh fish baskets carried in the trains by the fisher women ;  sometimes rotten fruit under some seats making their presence felt, all mixed with deos and  perfumes across the spectrum of price, mingling in Brownian motion in the ladies compartment.  Station smells, particularly when empty, a combination of rexin, metal, steam , fire and smoke, interspersed with bathroom smells.

There are some smells , a good decent hot water bath and scrub will get rid off. When the water is available, that is.  Since we realized the value of the Sun only after the West pointed it out,  the quickest way today, to get hot water is the instant geyser, which most of us use, in preference to the old style boilers and heaters that enhanced our electric bills wildly. 

And so a daily return home, followed by a quick hot shower gets the smells out and the squished muscles freed.


There are however, some smells that have no easy solution, instantly Racoldian, or not. 

These are smells of money that came from cheating, corruption, lying and crime. Hot water of all the instantly angry geysers in the world, will not be enough to wipe out these smells.  You get these smells sometimes in temples as well, when you see certain worshippers performing complicated vidhis , beseeching God to turn a blind eye to their dubious activities .

But. Not all smells are smelly,  although they sometimes do have a Racoldian solution.

He was in his late eighties, a hitherto very active and fit person, coming to terms with the sudden effects of old age, which confined him to a bed. Most of his family was overseas, except one member who stayed with him off and on to take care of him, and work along with the nursing and home care.

It was a life where you triumphed if you were able to turn on your side on your own, or mouthed a silent victory whoop, if could lead a spoonful of soup into your mouth.  It went without saying that baths didn't happen, and sponging was the order of the day. The mind however was alert, and he looked forward to friends and relatives who dropped by.

There was attendant lady, Mangala,  who would manage his meals and cleaning when the family member was not there, or late.  And then one day, there was excitement. Some of the overseas family was about to arrive in a few days.  Mangalabai looked forward to these things in a world where people were so few and problems so many.

One morning she woke up his daughter , the local member, at 4 am. No, there was no problem. Just that after weeks of sponging and horizontal baths, she wanted to organize a proper bath/shower for the patient, and wanted to know if one could go ahead.  "So many visitors coming to see him and stay with us, and ma'am,  we cant have him smelling of ointments, food and stuff; help me ...... "

And so they both helped get him seated on a computer chair with wheels, and trundled over to the bath, where a bucket was filling with hot water from the  old Racold  geyser, mixing nicely with drops of Dettol. The daughter helped lift him up by holding him around his chest from behind him, and held him vertical , bent over backward herself, but supported by the wall, while fresh , hot and clean water streamed all across him, and he got lightly but carefully scrubbed, keeping in mind the instructions of the doctor. An early morning freshness rivalling that of the just emerging flowers in the garden.  A careful dry rub , a good dusting of medical powder, and  he was ready, smelling of health and old days, in some simple clean clothes, to meet another day.

No one bothered about the status of the computer chair. It probably dried somewhere on its own.  It too, had got a hot and fresh cleaning thanks to the hotwater treatment . Someone threw a fresh dry towel across it, he sat down on it, and they slowly trundled back to his bed, where he laboriously stretched out, helped by the two women.

Fresh, clean, and generating a fragrance which was a  strange mix of  antiseptics, care, comfort, lightness, cleanliness and concern. He felt tired, but hungry, thanks to the exertion amidst smells and hot geyser water           
And so , it seems, that smells are not always in the nose of the inhaler. Sometimes, they are in the eyes, sometimes  in the ears when you listen to unsaid wishes, and mostly in the mind. 

Possibly aided  by the instant hot water geyser. The old man approved. He always frowned on wasting of electricity by keeping on boilers carelessly the whole morning.

The circumstances of the bath were a bit odd,  but he felt good ; about the bath, the geyser, his family and staff.

Did you say "smells" ?

What smells ?


  1. A great post very nicely written, congrats on your win!!

    1. desihearld, Thank you ! Just rushed over to see , and was delighted with the Indi-Pattani prize. Just wondering what Indi Pattani means .... :-)

  2. Loved the post.. especially first half.. nice play with words and smells.. well deserved win :)