23 December 2010

The smell of India

“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!


Elizabeth Petrosian said...

Evocative as usual, Isabel! Lovely photo, too. How I would love to have access to such an abundance of beautiful flowers on a daily basis!

Tracy said...

I LOVE the smells of India...especially the Lotus Oil and now I just received some Javadhu powder perfume made from herbs and it smells SO much of India..I am wearing it everyday. I also burn incense everyday in my home..constantly :0)
I miss India so much...

Anu Nandu said...

Hey Isabel,

Yours is not a read blog for me anymore. Its a feel blog. Everytime I read your posts, I'm transported back home.

As I read this post, I smell India. Everytime I open suitcases from India, I do just what your friend does. I smell the sarees and the clothes - I bury my face in them!

I have some guava at home and I'm going to let a couple of them get really ripe, so I can go back to them and smell India!

Thanks for your posts and the joy that comes along.

Kali Om said...

The smell that always catches me when I arrive is that burnt smell; I think it comes from burning dried cow-dung. (I think it's one of the "nice" smells).

Anonymous said...

YES! I just love it! I am just like the friend you described. The clothes especially. Sigh.

Sometimes, here in US, I catch something on the breeze and say "it smells like India!" :)

shubha said...

The strong smell of freshly brewed filter coffee in Darshinis.

The pungent smell of Jackfruit on fruitstands during season.

Padma said...

and Oh the sweet smell of mud just when it begins to rain. I miss that!

The smell of Avakaya pickles.

The roses in India smells so much sweet that I want pick out the petals and taste them.

And many, many more.

Thanks Shubha for introducing me to this beautiful blog.

Isabel said...

Welcome Padma! And thanks to everyone for sharing your India smells!

Kumar said...

Yes, the Indian smells are as confusing as its many sounds (starts every morning with crows, roosters, the autos and the horns), then the bable of untold number of languages. Let's by no means forget the plethora of colors!

Anonymous said...

BTW, the comment from Kumar put a smile on my face, reminded me of a very nice old (as in previous, not his age, LOL) co-worker. I lost his e-mail address in the US, he moved there from Norway some years back to unite with family there...

Lotta a.k.a. AM :)

Olli Laasanen said...

Lovely blog! Brought back so many good memories. I was glad to link this into the answer I wrote in my blog (http://wp.me/p1jVlh-15f).