Early on the morning of 19th March we left for the airport. I was going to my brother’s place. We pass through many villages and towns which have small hotels (here we use the word hotel to mean eating place or restaurant).They were getting ready for the morning business. We could smell idlis, sambhar, dosa, chutney, upma and other popular breakfast dishes. These aromas are an integral part of early mornings. On the way we pass a port and our nostrils flared due to a strong stench. My husband told me it was the smell of logs of trees submerged in water for preservation. Some trees have to be preserved like this. These logs are exported to other countries by ship. He remembered those days when he and his cousins, as children, would watch avidly when wells were dug in their village. Intriguingly, planks made from the trunks of gooseberry trees were laid at the bottom of the well. This acted as a strong base for the walls of the well made of laterite stone. This was because that wood does not rot under water.
This reminded me of our visit to Bangkok many years ago. It is a beautiful place, and we enjoyed our stay there. We were fascinated by the number of eateries on the foot paths . Our friend told us that people there eat everything that moves!! That must be an exaggeration! But every morning the smell of cooking meat assailed us, and it was a little difficult for us to bear it because we are vegetarians. The same happens when we go to the beach not far from our home. There is fishing village on the sea shore and everywhere we are acutely aware of the smell of drying fish. We wonder how people live there and they do. They must be used to it or it must be fragrance for them. ‘Matsyagandha’ in Sanskrit means the fragrance of fish. Matsyagandhi is an ancient heroine in the epic Mahabharata.
Talking about fragrances, the word that comes to mind is petrichor: the fragrance that is released when the first rains touch the dry earth. It is literally heavenly. The monsoon season is very important for us. May is the hottest month in our summer and we wait eagerly for the rains to begin. Then we have the fragrance of incense sticks and sandalwood paste which greet us when we enter temples and prayer rooms in all Hindu houses. It is a soothing experience.
There is also an unsavoury side to the smells that we sense in our surroundings. Unfortunately, many of my country people are not concerned about the proper disposal of garbage. It is very sad because India is a beautiful country which is marred by this lack of civic responsibility. We keep wondering why people of each locality cannot clean their immediate surroundings. But at the same time there are many good people who are doing their best to make their environment cleaner. May their tribe flourish.
So much can be written about the sense of smell. I remember the short story ‘Cedric’ by James Herriot. It is a story about a shepherd who cannot smell anything and gets a good dog because of his disability.
“Smells floating around
Touching us through our senses
(On the 14th evening we had unexpected rains. There was thunder and lightning and it rained for three hours. )
Satyavati – Wikipedia