Sunday, July 27, 2014

Fragrances of Nostalgia

Smells have a way of whiffing past you when you least expect it. The tiny tendrils of a particular scent will tickle your nostrils and leave you happy, aroused, depressed or nostalgic. For me, scents play an important part in evoking memories from past, near and distant. The salty smell of sea reminds me of the seaside chalet visits I enjoyed with my parents, the smell of tube rose; of visits to funerals, the smell of sandalwood and camphor; of visits to temples.        

There has been a combination of scents that I have never forgotten and has always cherished. This heady combination has "Nostalgia" stamped clearly on it. Without further ado, let me take you down the fragrant path of memories.

1. Childhood: A two months visit to my maternal house was an imperative element of our school vacation for as long as I can remember. This visit was something my sister and I looked forward to because of the cousins we would get to meet and the extra attention lavished on us by our grand mom. We would be welcomed by the fragrance shed by allamanda, plumeria, ylang ylang and michelia flowers in full bloom. This fragrance would be interspersed with the fragrance from mango flowers, ripening mangoes and jackfruits from around. If this was the top and middle notes, the base note of this heady fragrance was the smell of sweets being in fried in pure homemade ghee wafting from the kitchen. It was this flavourful aroma that told us that we were home.

2. College Days: Back in college, our batch seemed to be the one which had gone on maximum number of out of the ordinary study tours during the three years.  One such tour was an overnight trip to Chimmini Dam and wildlife sanctuary. This trip was quite an exciting one for me as I had mostly done my schooling in the Middle East and being exposed to nature at this grand an extent was a novel experience for me. Additionally, my gang of tomboyish friends were the one eyes kings in the land of blind. So, this trip was definitely an adventure waiting to happen.

We were welcomed with a heavy downpour as soon as we reached the dormitory close to the wildlife sanctuary. The rain had left behind a trail of the smell of dry earth and dampness that just added to the wild beauty of the forest around us. The fragrance formed the backdrop to and evening that saw card games, antakshari, dumb charades and ghost stories told in whispers provide the much needed entertainment.

The next day, we were asked to wake up early for a morning trek into the sanctuary. We walked in groups listening to the guide explaining about the different trees and wild flowers. The rain from previous night had intensified the smells of resin, wild jasmines and wet earth. As we walked along, the guide stopped us and plucked a yellow coloured fruit off a creeper. "This is passion fruit", he explained as he halved and handed it over to us. "Smell it, and see how you like it", he continued.

As it was passed on to me, I took a quick whiff and the aroma hit me quite strongly. The smell was exotic and incomparable to anything I had smelt before. It truly felt like the smell of passion to me. The smell of resin, wild jasmine, wet earth and clear air formed the base and middle notes with the smell of passion fruit became the top note of the unique fragrance. The scent has stayed with me so much so that I have actually planted a passion fruit creeper at home and is eagerly waiting for the first bud to bloom.

3. Teenage years: As I mentioned earlier, I finished my schooling in the Middle East. As customary, we had our school days off on Thursday and Friday as opposed to the traditional Saturday and Sunday. However, my dad had his weekly days off on Friday and Saturday. This meant that when my sister and I got back home from school in the afternoon (school finished by afternoon for us) so that we could have lunch together. During vacations or the extended weekends, my dad would plan on impromptu morning shopping trips into the main city located 45 minutes away. This was quite extraordinary for us kids because most of the shopping is done during evenings in Middle East, owing to the extreme climate during the day times. Most of the people step out when the sun has gone down and the climate has cooled down enough.

 We would be woken up and herded to the bathroom by our mom so that we would hurry up and finish with our morning ablutions and dressed. My mom, already dressed in one of her many saris and wearing her favourite vanilla perfume would make sure that we were transformed from grumpy sleepyheads to chirpy, happy kids all set to go. There would be long conversations about anything but school on our way to the city, the car cool and filled with pine forest smell from the freshener and wafts of vanilla perfume my mother had worn.

The first smell to hit us as we stepped out of the car used to be the salty, musty air that is typical of seaside city. However, the moment we stepped inside the shopping mall, the first smell to welcome us would be the smell of waffle cones being cooked. The sweet, sugary smell would hit us so strongly that we would become immobile, in front of the ice cream counter, to be precise. This was the much required bribe for bearing with the torment of shopping for hours(or so we posed). Once the cones were bought, we would walk behind our parents silently, enjoying the taste of cool ice cream and waffle on our tongues.

The smells of attar, spices and frankincense mingled with that of rolls of fabric would cover us as we would walk through the malls. Dad would always find a specialty restaurant to have lunch at during these trips. He would also take us to gaming zones where we would try our luck at crane redemption game to get the soft toys. At end of the shopping trip, we would buy soft drinks, mostly Coca Cola to quench our thirst. The fizz and bubble and the smell would be enjoyed for a few seconds before large gulps emptied the cups.

The combination of vanilla perfume, waffles cooking, attar and coca cola still reminds me of the happier and simpler times so much so that I have armed myself with vanilla based perfume and a small bottle of attar, to recapture the memories. 

There are so many scents and smells that I can recollect and that would remind me of times, both good and bad. Right now, my favourite scent in the whole wide world is the one I keep inhaling as I hold my baby close to my chest. This, I am sure, will be yet another fragrance I will add to my treasure chest and keep coming back to every now and then, when I am in need of a little nostalgia.

This post was written as a part of Inspire a fragrance blogging contest ( conducted by Godrej in association with Indiblogger. 

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