Growing up, I remember that during the summer holidays every year, the four of us would pack a very large number of suitcases with goodies from “the Gulf” for our relatives in India and travel from our little town of Al Ain, (which was so little, it didn’t have its own airport for the longest time) to Dubai to make the journey to Mangalore. I remember the never-ending queues we waited in to get into the air plane and then fighting with my brother to get the window seat. (One of the many perks of being the younger child was that he usually had to give it to me…. 🙂 ) The aeroplane had a distinct smell. A mixture of your run-of-the-mill bug spray and the essence of some wild exotic flower. The scent was so strong that it used to make my father and I sneeze and sneeze until our eyes watered but, there was no getting around it. Through the years, I’ve made many journeys by air and the air plane smell still never fails to set me on a sneezing bout and remind me of all those trips to India I made growing up.
By the time we reached Mangalore, we were all tired but, I remember that I always knew we had reached because as soon as I stepped out of the plane, half asleep though I was, the humidity would hit me like a solid wall and fog up my brothers spectacles.But, that happened only if we landed when there was a break in usually constant monsoon rains. If it was raining, we were greeted by the delicious smell of clean wet mud. It was something that I didn’t get to breathe in too often since I lived in the dry dry desert. To this day, the smell of the earth just after the rain has tenderly caressed it reminds me of holidays spent in my grandmother’s house.
Speaking of my grandmother’s house, I guess, that’s where memories my nose has made seems to be the strongest. I remember that there was a lady who had a herd of cows in the plot of land behind our house. Every morning, I would wake
to the sound of cows mooing and the smell of cow dung. Even though I’m more scared of cows than I could possibly explain to you, funnily enough, the smell of their poop generates a good feeling deep inside my being. 🙂
My grandmother drank a glass of hot milk in a tall steel tumbler every morning at about 11 I think and I remember the smell of boiling milk permeating every room of the house…so strong there was almost no getting away from it until a strong gust of wind would blow through the open windows in the hall and bring with it, the tantalizing fragrance of ripening jack-fruit and a wonderful confluence of the sweet scents of all the flowers on plants that my mother had planted when she had first entered that house as a bride.
Come afternoon and the house would fill with the aroma of fish being fried in piping hot coconut oil…a smell that would linger on much after the last bits of the fish had been licked off my fingers. My own mother never used coconut oil to cook, so after my grandmother’s house, I only smelt that smell at my in-laws and the memories came rushing back….
Once dusk had arrived, Ratna, the girl who stayed with my grandmother to look after her, would light one of those old tortoise coils to keep the mosquitoes away. The smell was so strong, it’s no wonder the mosquitoes couldn’t survive it! Although no one lights them any more, when I see them in the store, I think of my holidays in Mangalore.
Eventually, tired out doing nothing in particular, I would fall asleep to the sound of crickets chirping and frogs croaking only to be awoken the next day again to the sound of cows waiting to be milked in the next compound in all their smelly goodness….
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