August 25, 2013

The 'Kasturi' diaries

"The faintest waft is sometimes enough to induce feelings of hunger or anticipation, or to transport you back through time and space to a long-forgotten moment in your childhood. It can overwhelm you in an instant or simply tease you, creeping into your consciousness slowly and evaporating almost the moment it is detected. "
~Stephen Lacey, Scent in Your Garden

It is a lazy Sunday afternoon and one that seems truly custom made to my liking.
Those who know me would vouch for me being totally not-a-sunday-person. In fact, I am somebody who will instantly loathe anyone who is in seemingly high spirits on a Sunday evening, mainly because I consider it sacrilege to rejoice in the wake of an impending Monday.
But today is different. I am in a particularly good mood and I guess the world around me should attribute the privilege of my esteemed non-grouchiness to the raindrops pitter pattering outside my window while I huddle up in a warm blanket with my favorite book, and talk to you---the book because it provides me with a deep sense of comfort, and talking to you because...err..because I am nice like that.

 Anyhoo, when I first read about Ambi Pur's contest on Indiblogger,  I was intrigued. Here was a chance to attribute nostalgia to fragrances or smells instead of the usual visual stimulus that we normally associate with our sacrosanct memories---a concept which made me ponder on the lesser appreciated olfactory sense we are blessed with.
Perhaps it is this very thought that makes me pick up the age old copy of 'Wuthering Heights' that I am reading, and inhale the scent of sweet nostalgia from the bookmarked pages that have been yellowed by repeated handling through the years. The musty and rich scent of an old book, don't you just love it? I remember the first time I was reading this book. How I had managed to devour the passionate love of the scheming Heathcliff and the enigmatic Catherine Earnshaw from start to end, so engrossed in its intricate nuances. It made me shudder, their complicated romance, their undying love, the plotted vengeance, the innocent victims---by the time I had finished with the book, I was red faced and teary eyed. The school girl fantasy of having a passionate lover like Heathcliff slowly vanished---as I came of age, interpretations altered with repeated readings of the novel.
However, even today, no other book has managed to fill me with equal wonder, intrigue and empathy for its protagonists...Perhaps these pages got scented with the same array of emotions that the book evoked in me. Thinking of which, perhaps a little bit of us stays as a fragrance in every book we read. Maybe that is why, I love the soft, powdery, drowsy smell of old libraries so much--they are memories  from an era gone by, our communication with people we have probably never know or seen, but with whom we share in common, hundreds of printed pages........and the fragrance in between them.
I take a break from reading and make myself a coffee, my third mug for the day. As I inhale the aroma of the cocoa beans, my mind races back to those exam nights in Medical school.
Amidst a sea of piled up textbooks with highlighted notes, half read journals, heaps of old question papers and hopes of establishing  some sort of telepathic communication with the examiner, I would be sitting numb at the pillow end of my bed, with intermittent bouts of terribly seductive sleep and excruciatingly hopeless panic clouding my consciousness. That was when Coffee would serve as my only savior and friend. Be it the perfectly brewed cup of fresh coffee by mom or the coffee flavored milky liquid brought by an empathic hostel mate, from the hostel mess, gulping it down would somehow kick start me back into action. The aroma of the fresh hot coffee would render a morning quality to those struggling night hours and an optimistic freshness to my tired droopy eyes, and even before I knew it I was asking for another cup.

Another aroma that wafts around my house is one of baked products. Today is no different. My sensitive nose detects the faintest of aromas and one cannot simply ignore the wonderful muffins my sis is baking. I remember the first time she baked a cake we all applauded and complimented her. Pictures were uploaded on fb, friends were invited over to sample...more compliments...more soaring with pride...sigh!
"If you weren't a dentist, you could definitely be a baker..." my dad sniggered. Who knew then, that she would take the compliment so seriously? Now our house is filled with the aroma of baked products on a daily basis----chocolate chip cookies, custard muffins, banoffee pie, apple tarts, banana bread, she has almost taken it up as 700bakes-a-year challenge (if there is anything like that).
Nobody complains, although we are a little careful with the compliments nowadays.

Speaking of compliments, don't you think petrichor is nature's best compliment? Nature is at its glorious best when its raining. Today is just one such a day. The scent of the rain soaked earth is emanating a wonderful freshness that is entering my bedroom through the open window. I allow a few drops to fall on my face and hair and inhale the scent of the flowers that are now in full bloom, as if rejoicing in the beauty of the rain. Mixed fragrances of roses and jasmine in my front garden fill my senses and I cannot decipher which is more refreshing. Its true, the rain makes all things beautiful.Sometimes I wish I could be a child once again and get drenched in the rain, sail paper boats in puddles of water and not give a damn about the world around me.Then  Jagjit Singh's "Woh kaagaz ki kashti..." comes to mind and I smile to myself....If only...

 The mind is inspired by the weather outside and I cant help but pen them down in my diary.
One whiff out of curiosity,
another might for pleasure be...
What follows becomes irrepressible,
and stays etched as a fond memory...
---Priyanka 25/8/13

Coming back to the topic, the plethora of my favorite fragrances  also include the following, each one of which is able to rekindle a journey of special memories. And what better way to travel than with a friend? So follow close...
  • Fried Mushrooms--
    This is yet another reason why I love monsoons.When I was little, they used to call me the 'Mushroom Monster' for obvious reasons. I fondly remember fighting with my sis for an equal share of this delectable delicacy.
    Even today, the scrumptious whiff of deep fried mushrooms transforms us both into gluttonous  kids, a much deserving mention in the plethora of favorite aromas..
  • Eucalyptus oil---its sharp sweet scent reminds me of my grandmother. It was her favourite medicine for a cold. Every time I had a runny nose, she would dab a few drops of this special oil on my clothes, pillow covers, handkerchief and even add a little in my bath water., When I would complain of smelling like an eucalyptus tree, she would laugh merrily pinching my reddened nose with fingers dabbed with the same fragrance. I remember she had this huge bottle of her favorite oil which I thought would never finish. Today, every time I'm down with a cold or fever, the first thing I reach for is the small bottle of Nilgiri oil, or perhaps the familiar scent of my grandmother's love that it carries along.
  • Corn on the cob--- The aroma of hot piping corn on the cob, especially when its raining carries me back in time when Sunday evenings were spent on the beach, building sand castles, calling out to the waves and munching on snacks by the beach side that included pani puri, bhel, sev puri and not to forget my favorite corn on the cob.
    When I see today's parents fussing over their kids, it makes me wonder what iron immunity we had back then or perhaps the hygiene level of roadside food stalls was far better during those good old days. With much more health awareness and declining standards of cleanliness at the stalls, I find myself only stopping for an occasional heated item, the safest being the ever so friendly 'corn on the cob', the tempting aroma of which triggers off nostalgia of those carefree childhood days.
  • the fragrance of Goa---
    Living in this heaven on earth, I am much acquainted with the salty freshness of its sandy beaches that beckon tourists from all over the world.  Fringed with swaying palm and coconut trees, are the cool and comfortable shacks emanating an array of scintillating aromas
    from every Goan kitchen---from pomfret racheado, crab xec xec, prawn balshao and the quintessential fish curry+rice+kismur combination to the goan sweet delicacies like Bebinca and dodol-a cuisine befitting the 'susegaad' (read relaxed) personality we Goans are blessed with..
  • Cinnamon---brown and dry and sweet and warm, I manage to sneak in this spice in whichever recipe possible.
  • Citrus Potpourri---
    Known to stimulate digestive enzymes and consequently appetite, this tangy fragrance was gift wrapped in a cellophane bag topped with a large lemon colored bow, and presented to me by a very special friend, with a gift note that read  "Though the scent of this potpourri may fade in a few months, the fragrance of our friendship will stay forever..."  The citrusy smell of this gift reminded me of the sweet and tangy moments in our priceless friendship, and it has almost become a habit now to have potpourri around the house.

  • Mysore Sandal soap---
    this soap takes me for a joy ride into 'Nostalgia' town. I recall my class teacher Mrs Sawant, who would come to school early morning, dressed in a crisp saree, with her hair held up neatly in a bun. We, students of class fifth, could not ignore the fresh scent of sandal wood that lingered as she walked into the classroom. Her polite mannerisms, her style of dressing, her grace, her elan was so much an inspiration to us all, that every student in fifth grade picked up a trait or two to mimic from her, for that academic year. I had decided to pick up the fragrance.
  • Incense sticks----
    The sweet smell of incense spreads a feeling of holiness and purity all around.The first thing that comes to my mind with this fragrance, is Ganesh Chaturthi.This incense remains an important part of the daily puja ritual.  The aspect of the ritual is called  'dhupa'  and involves the offering of incense before the deity, as a token of respect.
  • Hot samosas and Garam Chai---Every time I smell the aroma of hot tea and piping samosas wafting from the kitchen,  my mind races back to those college days...and good old Sakharam.
    When it came to samosas and chai, nobody could beat him. Sakharam would open his stall, be it rain cold or storm and cater to his huge fan following of college goers. During the monsoons, we would attend lectures according to his timings---most of the times, we would be found loafing around his stall, with those mouthwatering triangular pockets of magic teasing our taste buds as we devoured them one after the other. They were mini sized samosas packed with flavor and taste, and still remain the hot topic for every reunion. When asked for the recipe, Sakharam would simply smile and say "love". Even after various home made attempts, no body has been able to crack it till this day. All we can come up with are cheap imitates that remind us of the one flavour that has still not left our taste buds or our hearts---love, he had said!
When we think of it, isn't it weird? There are so many fragrances to choose from..But somehow the ones that make the deepest impact on us  are the ones that are consciously or subconsciously linked to some memory distant or remote, that surfaces every time we encounter the trigger factor.

 “Smell is important. It reminds a person of all the things he's been through; it is a sheath of memories and security.” 

It is still raining but the day is almost nearing its end. Still, a feeling of complete satisfaction occupies my mind. It feels like I've time traveled to my favorite places and returned feeling accomplished and totally at peace. Perhaps that is how I should spend my Sunday's now, instead of moping over the upcoming Monday. Delving into the past is not always a bad thing. Nostalgia has its own magical quality...somewhat akin to the Kasturi Mrig. Like the musk deer, nostalgia also emanates the sweet smelling fragrances of our memories, that can give any commercial perfumery a run for its memory. Thus is the addictive nature of its scent. Just like the 'Kasturi' is known for its medicinal properties, our memories can be healing too, when viewed with the right perspective and the correct outlook.
Last but not the least,  we should always remember that the musk of captive deer is held to be inferior in quality to that of wild ones. So lets let our memories run wild and free and watch them return to us, making new memories in the process. Holding them captive within the confines of our mind, within the nooks and crannies of our heart, will only restrict them.

Let's travel through time and enjoy the sweet fragrance of what once was, and what will forever stay...our most cherished moments...
Let's wake up and smell the coffee magic...

This post has been written for Ambi Pur's 'Smelly Air to Smiley Air' Contest in association with Indiblogger.
 If you are an Indivine user and you like what you read, you can vote for me here.


Richa said...

what a captivating post...full of lovely things...

Richa said...

what a captivating post...full of lovely things...

Manjulika Pramod said...

Beautifully written and I loved the Title of it... The best is that your blog itself is all about nostalgic moments..

Good luck!

Tanz said...

Beautifully written!!Took me back to my childhood too.Made me rethink about all the fragrances we take for granted!Keep up the writing!

Pri said...

@ Richa
Thanks Richa...I'm glad you liked walking down memory lane with me :)

Pri said...

@ Manjulika
Thanks dear, and yes, it was the very theme of the contest that drew me towards it.
After all, I am one big sucker for nostalgia :)

Pri said...

@ Tanz
Yes, and I'm happy that we got to spend our childhood together. It was so much fun growing up with you :)

sudha...a touch of madness said...

Wow! Such a beautiful list :) I love Mysore sandal soap too and also fried mushrooms. I mean their smell of course :D Good luck for the contest!
Do breeze past my entry:

Pri said...

@ sudha
Thanks for dropping by, Sudha...
Good luck to you too :)