Mi, the other day, I opened your cupboard (yes, it will always be your cupboard) to take something out and as usual, fondly stroked your soft leather handbag. As usual, I opened it and sniffed inside, to savor the mixed fragrance of the dried champa petals you always loved to store in your bag. You know what? They still smell nice. One might think that they would just be dry flakes – but no. As if they know I will come back, they continue to stay strong, just as if you were telling me to be. When I go to the market and see all the flower ladies with large baskets of champa flowers, I can actually feel your presence, you know.
Remember how you thrilled at the smell of brand new currency notes? And enjoyed counting our meager savings, excited with each addition. Oh, and the smell of a new book! Why did we always sniff into the book before reading it? I laugh to think of how you all teased me at home because I loved the smell of the new raincoat. Somehow it was soothing and I really don’t know why. I still like it. Just like I love the smell of petrol. Yes, I saw you wrinkle your nose. I loved your expression when you did that.
This reminds me of you and Gopu Mama laughing at me because I could tell a person by her/his smell. And it had nothing to do with deo or perfume – it was just the … way they smelled. Evil. Mean. Kind. Could have been my sixth or seventh sense working on overdrive. Still..
And talking of deo – ah, my love for aftershave fragrances! Even today, long after I am out of the corporate world, a wave of solid nostalgia hits me when I think of the combination of cigarette smoke clinging to my colleagues’ aftershaves. I loved Denim. K used to be so amused by it but faithfully got me a couple of bottles every time he visited. And teased me about what my male friends would think if I smelled just like them. Weirdly, I never got teased. In fact, it made me unique among them, because, after all, did they not consider me one of the boys? You know, right now I feel I have an entire life’s supply of fragrances! I love it when my old friends still gift me a big bottle of my favorite perfume.
I’ll never forget the little vial of Paco Rabanne essential oil. Still have the little bottle with the other essences. You remember that Tony? He always wore Charlie and it used to irritate me. I am grinning thinking of how he came home and gifted me that leather bag and I refused to take it – then you and Paati told me it was okay. What a nice friend he was. He was so crazy about this girl and then his family forced him to marry someone they picked.
To date, I can’t stand the smell of agarbattis (incense sticks). Remember we finally found that nice Sai baba pack with the gentle fragrance? Whenever I find it I buy a dozen boxes for the mild smell – it is the only one we can tolerate without going into a respiratory attack. But it has been a while since I used the last pack. My favorite continues to be sambrani. Oh, how Kondu Mama used to buy large packs of those for us in Bombay! Then we found that they are available everywhere in the South after we moved here. I still have the same sambrani stand, Mi! I also have the one Kondu mama gave me, and I can’t let it go even though it is chipped!
Sambrani reminds me of that day – when Vidur was a baby. We had just bathed him and were showing him over the basket under which we had kept the sambrani, which was nicely fuming away. Then Surekha who was at home at that time, grabbed him, pushed away the basket and said, arrey, aisa karneka (hey, this is how it must be done) and showed Vidur directly on the Sambrani fumes. And the next thing we knew was a nice warm stream of sussu dousing the glowing coal sending out thick fumes! And we all laughed our heads off!
Oh but how lovely it was to hold Vidur as a baby and breathe in his smell – nappy, talcum powder, soft baby skin and all.
This naturally brings memories of food – our home being filled with the aroma of dosas or parathas! How Vidur would return from school and pause for a moment, nostrils flared, trying to pick up the source of the smell and piping up, What did you make Paati?”
Festival days are the best – the typical Tambrahm smell we called it – sambrani + cardamom used for payasam or some sweet + special sambar + vadais. How you loved vadais! And samosas! That lovely inviting smell of fried potatoes! You used to be so excited when I bought vadais from Veena stores – their chutney is still so awesome, Mi. On the rare occasions we do buy vadais, I store the chutney carefully and relish it, missing you for every bite.
Mi, remember how Paati could tell whether the dish that was being cooked had salt in it or not by simply smelling it? I used to be amazed.
Now, every time I make curry leaf powder, coriander leaf powder, mint leaf powder I miss you. We used to keep sticking our hands under each other’s noses to sniff the smell of these leaves. Oh, and lemon? how could I miss that? Even now, whenever I squeeze a lemon, I make Vidur smell my hand if he is around. And obligingly, he does and says, how Paati loved that! By the way, nowadays I get nicely cleaned coriander in pouches.
One thing I am wary of is room freshener. Remember that can of Pampy spray? Was supposed to be sandalwood but would give you an instant headache and I remember taking it to the office to use it there. By the way, I still have that pretty little sandalwood bookmark carved like an elephant with a strip below it to mark the page.
You know what? Whenever I walk along 9th cross, the flower lady calls out to me and asks if I am not buying jasmine for you. And my eyes fill up. When I buy, she also adds a little tulsi to it, saying you used to like that. Remember how you made kashayam with it for Vidur because he loved it?
Just last week, as we discussed dessert options I was telling Vidur how much I used to love the aroma of the roasted wheat flour sweet you made. So he put in a petition for besan halwa immediately.
Do you know when Vidur wakes up in the morning, his forehead still smells of the vibhuti he applied on his forehead the night before? And when he has a cold, like it or not, my nose can never get rid of that Vicks Vaporub smell! How my friends teased me about hating that smell! T was telling me the other day that they literally use it by the kilo – can’t sleep at night without applying it! Yuckolas include that Odomos cream Aunty used to apply…what a sickly smelly!
On the topic of smelly things how could we forget our skunkini and stinkini? While that skunkini used to emit at will and send us all into a coma, stinkini only had to lift her arm to announce her presence – and all the nostrils would respond. I wouldn’t mention names, now, would I? You know who I mean!
You know what smell I hate? The smell of fear and worry. I am afraid of the smell of hospitals because it takes me back to that day when we had to rush you there…because we never brought you back home. We did not make the lunch you had planned for our wedding anniversary because you ceased to exist the day before.
But we hold you in our hearts. Every morning, I am filled with loving memories of how we made the coffee together and enjoyed our first cup, like a ritual. When I am sad, I close my eyes and imagine I am hugging you, your arms holding me lovingly, as I breathe in your kindness, your love along with the cooking smells from your saree mixed with the fragrance of the sandalwood soap and the moisturizer you were so fond of.
I think you would have liked the citrusy smell of the Ambi Pur freshener, Mi.
My memories are fragrant with you. And always will be.
♥ ♥ ♥