THE BLOG

The Scents of a Life -- Why They Matter

I have a long nose. It doesn't stop there. I want to smell everything, because smells work for me more powerfully than videos and pics. Every situation in my life worth recording has attached to it some in-erasable smell. I have measured out life not in coffee spoons, but in the smell of things.
There is nothing quite as delicious as a good smell. The perfume industry knows that and thrives consistently. Perfumes are loved by men and women alike, as good smells works a magic all their own. Apart from that, smells matter because they get locked up in your memory bank forever.

Thus, the whiff of Chanel No.19 will always remind me of my first date, and my first experience of a "discotheque!" I was studying in New Delhi and was 16 years old. It was a place called The Cellar -- a narrow tight space with black walls and a sooty ambience, nuanced further by the sinuous swirls of smoke from cigarettes.The warning on cigarette packets hadn't come in yet and it was a given that you puffed at a place like that. It was cool, then. (Luckily, nowadays, the opposite holds true -- it's a turn off when people smoke). So, there I was with this cute, decent guy, a friend of my older sister's, and for that, fully "safe." And, I had worn my new Chanel No. 19 perfume for the occasion. Later, the perfume was naturally used over many diverse occasions, but a sudden whiff of it would hurtle me back in time to that first date. (It is usually the first strong association with a new smell that stays forever.)

Every perfume I ever used has a distinct memory tagged on to it. For this reason, I rarely repeat a fragrance, however much I may like it. So as not to mix up the memories.

So, Jontue was London -- my first ever glorious trip abroad, where everything, just everything was shot through with other worldly magic. Jontue happened to be the perfume I wore then, and its fragrance got entwined with London forever. (Later, other fragrances got associated with other places.)

A Coty fragrance called "Masumi" was my first crush..
"Brut" was the smell of the quintessential man (my father)...
Jovan musk, the smell of the avoidable macho guy!
Kenzo Flower was my honeymoon...
Georgio Armani, Ming Dynasty, and Eternity, my marriage...
And -- Kouros -- a fragrance so divine I can never tire of it -- my husband...

Flicking through an album of snaps is not half as powerful in recreating the past, as is the potency of smells. Even the smell of cosmetic creams and talcs used in childhood like Ponds cold cream, Ponds talc, Boroline, and drinks like the popular rose sherbet called Rooh Afza, which are still around, all create in an instant a sharp memory tug. In a moment you zoom back to your childhood, your heart scrunching with nostalgia.

However, the perfumes and creams are just one bit of the saga. Apart from these manufactured smells there was a smorgasbord of natural smells, in my growing up years, which are stored in my smells-memory bank. A passing whiff of any of these, crams heaven into remembered moments.
There were the flowers I grew up with (the natural perfumery), in a home boasting of two big gardens.The scents of the sweet pea and rose, the earthy smell of crysanthemums, and fragrances of verbena, temple flower, jasmine and lily, surrounded and engulfed me. There were a multitude of trees too... the oleander with its yellow blossoms, and strong pungent odor, the pretty pomegranate, and the Chinese-orange tree, laden with tiny orange fruit and flowers, that exuded a sharp sweet lemony scent...

There were also the delicious smells associated with the earth -- playing in the mud, the watering of the garden and the wet soil aroma, which for some reason, in the simplest way possible, made you happy. Another heady smell was of cut grass... the gardener sheared the lawn and mounded the grass into heaps and as kids we jumped into it and frolicked around.

Today, the focus is more on chrome and concrete rather than gardens and parks, and many natural smells are getting lost. Natural fragrances are not easily available in cities like Mumbai, where I live today. But, on rare occasions, when I do get a sniff, it immediately takes me back to those childhood gardens of joy.

And, always, but always, there is a deep pleasurable sensation -- and a sharp yearning for -- Paradise Lost?

The saga goes on... Without my realizing it, I keep gathering smells even today, which will surface as reminders, in the future. Bottled fragrances there are many, but, I often wonder, how and where to get the pure natural scents, for myself and for my children, in a smart world, which is bent on shutting out nature and all its wonder...