I have always had a thing for smells. Fragrances. Aromas. Some of people. Some of places. Like the chilly mountain air. The smell of rain. Some familiar. Some rare. Some that stir. There are smells that were really close to me but haven’t visited my surface for long. Like long lost friends in their own worlds. Ones whom, even if you meet after a long time, still share the same connection you felt, the very first time. That takes me back to something. That old guest house in Shimla. The silent dampness of a room that hasn’t felt fresh air for ages. One that grew up in its own aloneness. Cut off and detached, yet so open to whatever comes its way. Whether it’s me or Chotu who helped me with my luggage in Shimla. I don’t even know if his real name is Chotu. At least that’s what everyone called him. Often these teeny hosts are generally referred to as Chotu. Like it’s synonymous to small. The air in the house smells humble. It opens its doors to you, welcoming you, wearing a warm smile. A smile that reminds you of the glory this place once held. This smell after all has soaked in the glory of yore. And through its smell, it narrates all the tales hidden in the corners, crevices, peeled-off walls, bricks, decayed wood, dimmed lights, creaky fans, photographs, carpet and fancy yet rustic adornments of the room. The air is happy to tell you everything about the house and its people. Exactly the way grandmothers would excite you with stories they proudly held in their hearts, to put you to sleep and help you dream of beautiful things. And occasionally the spookier tales, if you are hell bent on not finishing your meal. They all say a lot about the place that it once used to be. Not isolating itself, but something just left in isolation. So much so that it has come to find solace in its own isolation. Just the way everyone in the world has to, eventually. And sometimes may be not, when the energies in the room seem unsettled since they died an early death, when their dearest friend ‘time’ was a little child. Whom they haven’t met either, since their last moments together. What best captures this memory for the room, is the rustic, old grandfather clock that stands tall and glorious. It captures like a photograph, the smell’s last encounter with time. And one can see time frozen as a memoir.
There are smells that incite your senses. Say, the goosebumps on your skin. Like the feeling of a million goosebumps dancing on the head. As I left my tiny hut in Chitkul – the last Indian village, scattered in the edge, off Sangla valley. This lone and serene village, resting between two different worlds. China, gazing at my side from the other side. It carries the air that carries the essence of China to this side. These smells are the hippies. Bedouins. Who keep migrating from one place to another. Spreading peace. Carrying with them, memories of people and places to wherever they end up next. Yes! They are the traveller smells. They sometimes carry the messages from parted hearts in Tibet. Some carry the monks’ chanting for a free Tibet. Some carry the pain of lost ones. Some the hopes and wishes for something or someone. Some the undying optimism of China, to rule the world. The Shanghai dreams. The smell of Sanqingshan that’s rooted in Taoism and is shrouded in mists for two hundred days of the year. The mist gives an otherworldly quality to the mountain, along with thousands of streams that pour into pools, granite formations that resemble silhouettes of humans and animals, and strangely shaped pine trees. A home to exotic birds and animals. The smell of Sanqingshan is home to about 2,500 plant species. The smell of traditional Chinese medicines .The smell of Beijing Hutongs to the beautiful plateaus of Sichuan. The smell of Dim sum, minced pork buns and rice cakes. For a moment, the smell transports you to China.
Places have smells too. The misty smell of the hills. The chillness of snow. The Tibetan incense taking over the bylanes of monastery street, at Mc.Leodganj. The smell of ‘Gur Gur Cha’ and freshly baked ‘Khambir’ – the traditional Ladakhi bread, in the Changspa lane at Leh.
As I travelled around, I acquired a vast collection of these scent memories. My nose always kept company like an eager child. I always tell it, “You are the curious kinds”. It is always ready to absorb whatever and whoever it comes in close contact with. My eyes too, agree on the nature of my nose. It does have its share of distant smells. And those fragile ones that could make the tear ducts emotional. Like a hopeless lover, shattered by unrequited love.
People, have their distinct smells too. The smell of perfume against a familiar skin. The smell of their skin sans perfume. The smell of a past love. The smell of your grandma’s fragrant saree, one which you grew fond of, every time you hugged her tight. The smell of a newborn’s tiny cotton top.The smell of the houses and places they live in. One which triggers that moment’s memory. Smells that can travel all the way to your soul.
There are smells that are momentary. Ones that feel like realisation. They appear in a flash, but stay with you. The smell of bakery air. The thin transparent layer of Khari crumbles over the layer resting beneath. Forming sort of a hourglass. The smell of them blends in time. They become the time and lose themselves in the air, opening themselves up to anyone they come across. This is one of those ‘little-joys-that-keep-you-going kind of a smell. They teach you to be grateful towards little moments of life. To take each moment as it comes and appreciate life. The smell of fresh bread, baked in simplicity. It reminds you to embrace the simple things. The smell of ink as it gives itself to the paper. The ink carries the weight and feelings of the writer, surrendering itself to the paper unconditionally. A selfless expression of love, with an openness to receive whatever the paper gives. More of these smells are all around us. The smell of crackling corncobs and spices brushed over them. The sugary condensed smell of cotton candy, swirling itself on a stick, like a graceful dancer swaying round a pole.
Things come with their smells too. And how their smells mature over time, depends on where they are and what they go through. The smell of old books. Ones that have time buried inside them. Stories preserved inside. Happy, sad and strange ones. Unknown ones. Secrets. Feelings. The termites and bookworms have lived inside, yet there’s a new generation of these notorious breed, still thriving inside these books. Their souls and hearts have feasted on the pages. On birthdays. Everyday. Binge eating their way through books, bumping into stories in the pages. They have travelled from an alphabet to a word, on sentences and paragraphs. And pages washed in time. Like the skin changing on the body as it grows older. But with character. Then there’s the smell of a freshly washed sweater worn for the first time in the winters for school. The warm and crisp smell teaches you that seasons pass, and surprise you every time. Just relish the present moment. Life is magical. Keep smelling the world and travelling with smells. And bring them to life by penning it down as they touch your soul.
Image Credits and Source: Clicked by Divya Prasad – Obsessive Compulsive Traveller