A few weeks ago, I was stretching out in my living room after a long day of work when I got a sudden whiff of something familiar yet far away. The faint, crisp scent reminded me of the sweetness of fallen leaves pressed beneath a hundred footsteps, with just a hint of smoky wood-fire. It took me a few seconds, but I soon knew what it was: the first hint of winter was in the air. I smelt it before my skin felt the first goosebumps of chilly weather. The scent had me awash in a wave of pure joy and contentment. Winter was on its way.
More and more, I am convinced that I was a member of the canine species in my previous lifetime. My olfactory sense is arguably my keenest, and occupies the lion’s share of all my sensory experiences, shaping and dictating my choices and actions fairly often. Places, for example, have very distinct scents of their own, and my instinctive reaction to the scent of a city or town determines my overall impression of the place. The smell of mountains, regardless of the specific area, always fills me with a sense of peace. Mountains smell of pinewood forests and clean, sweet air. They smell of water trickling down the slatey mountain walls. Quite often, they are replete with the damp, hazy fragrance of fog , and walking through a particularly thick cover, one can almost taste the mustiness that accompanies the scent. It can be a revolting odour to some, but I associate the smell of fog with peace and leisure. The smell of mountains is so deeply entrenched in my memory that the mere thought of it brings the fragrance alive to my nose, bringing with it a heart-wrenching desire to drop everything and start travelling, stopping only when I am in the heart of Devbhoomi.
Memories have un uncanny way of hovering right underneath the surface, ready to come alive at a moment’s notice. Years can pass by without an incident or an individual ever coming to one’s mind and yet all it really takes is the mere hint of the smell of the past for all the walls to come crashing down in glib reminder of the throbbing urgency of the past that never quite resolved itself. Then again, sometimes the memories are bittersweet, making one heave a melancholy sigh and breathe in deeply in an attempt to travel back to days – and people – from a long time ago.
In my mind, much of my past is arranged in boxes with their own assigned fragrances. One of the fondest memories from my childhood is of rainy afternoons in the family room, with the scent of petrichor wafting in through the window after the first showers of the season. I would sit with my parents around our massive bed, all of us engrossed into our own respective books, stopping every now and then to breathe in the earth’s luscious odour. Even today, few things give me more contentment than reading quietly in bed with a loved one. Petrichor comes alive for me out of season, and is all the better for it.
I have a mercurial temperament which often causes me intense emotional turmoil and suffering. Sometimes, one of the only things that can help me feel centred after a particularly rough day is soothing scents, usually of the very Bengali dhuno, or the somewhat more easily available lemongrass. These scents remind me of home, of love, and of belonging. Then there is the scent of pages from books, both old and new, each holding its own special type of allure. If amour had a scent, it would be the scent of ink on paper. Or perhaps it would be the scent of dew-drenched grass. A tough choice to make.
But really, as with most other times in life, it is the scent of people you love that really keep you going when the going gets tough. The fragrance of security when ensconced in a parent’s arms, the scent of pure adoration as the family dog nuzzles you, the scent of adventure that friends bring with themselves as they drop by… and, of course, the cozy smell of peace and belonging as you breathe deeply into your lover’s soft skin as sleep takes you over, and then again the first thing as your day begins… Life is beautiful if only one learns to appreciate the really important things, and smells.