“It stinks of India!” This is what the mother of a friend of mine exclaimed when she opened her suitcase during a trip home.
A friend had once asked me to bring her a sari. When I gave it to her, she buried her face in it, inhaled deeply and sighed: “Ah, the smell of India!”
What is the smell of India? Does it have a particular smell? I think that most places and even cities do have their own smell. A friend who had lived in Paris as a young child told me that when she returned as an adult, the smells of the city (especially of the metro!) brought back many childhood memories.
In this blog I try to share some of the colours, sights and sounds of India. I wish I could share its smells too! So what I’ll do is try to attempt to describe some of the smells of India… The ‘smell of India’ is hard to define, but there definitely are smells that I associate with India. For me, these are mostly sweet smells but there are some stinky ones as well. I inhale deeply and tell you what I smell…
The smell of clothes. The vegetable dyes used in clothes have a strong earthy smell. I think that’s what my friend meant when she buried her nose into the sari.
The smell of jasmine flowers. This is definitely an India smell. Jasmine flowers are sold everywhere on the roadside and outside temples. Women often wear strings of jasmine flowers in their hair. This is a sweet, intoxicating smell.
The sharp stink of sewage which comes from open drains. This is one of the stinky ones!
Another quintessential India smell is the smell of incense. Used during pujas, this is a smell at temples and in shops in the mornings when the morning puja is done.
The smell of overripe guava fruit sold by the roadside fruit vendors.
The sweet smell of the flowers of the Canaga tree which are in bloom right now.
Another India smell for me is the disinfectant used to clean bathrooms. It comes in brightly-coloured bottles and has a strong, chemical smell.
Of course there are the food smells too, like the smell of frying curry leaves and mustard seeds.
The smell of diesel used in generators switched on during power cuts.
The smell of Medimix soap.
The smell of India is a mix of all of the above!