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Fragrances of India

As I breathe in, my mind takes a flight down memory lane as my sense of smell dreamily hovers over the many delicious fragrances of my motherland, India.

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Fragrances of India

Living in the gilded cage of a foreign land, homesickness is a melancholic feeling that pervades the senses from time to time. In the sterile perfection of a distant world, nostalgia is a comforting refuge.

In moments of wistfulness, I close my eyes, inhale deeply and allow my imagination to meander.

As I breathe in, my mind takes a flight down memory lane as my sense of smell dreamily hovers over the many delicious fragrances of my motherland, India.

The refreshing scent of much awaited first showers of rain as it quenches the parched, muddy terrain is a delightful start of a new year at school. The promise of frying bhajias and hot, sweet, milky, tea laced with warming ginger after a heavy down pour is redolent of many a July evening.

The heady fragrance of jasmine gajras, the lingering magic of bright yellow marigold garlands and the romance of rosebuds unfolds memories of celebration and gaiety, a recollection of weddings and pujas.

New mornings ushered in with the aroma of fresh, filter coffee frothing from a tumbler is as awakening as idli-sambhar that deliciously rouses one from slumber. The scent of agarbatti permeating the air is as exhilarating as the goodness of coconut oil that perfumes many a head. A whiff of freshly shampooed hair amid sweaty folks on the crowded train gives much needed relief, as does the fleeting waft of talcum powder.

Passing by pavement vegetable markets one takes in the farm freshness evaporating off the water-sprinkled coriander bunches; curry leaves and sprigs of mint. The tangy trail of lemons with the spicy vigour of green and red chillies assaults the senses. Cheerful whiffs of boiled rice emerge from windows as the pressure cooker whistles, growls and bellows. The zing of cumin, the sweet excitement of cinnamon, the oomph of mustard seeds, the overpowering peppercorn, the robust flavour of bay leaves, the punch of asafoetida all explode melodramatically from the humble masala dabba into the aromatic oil with aplomb — all signs of domestic bliss.

Sundays are resplendent with myriad aromas of special lunch emanating from different homes. The scorching afternoon sun bakes the terracotta pots exuding an earthy essence. Mud walls with freshly smeared cow dung cakes drying lazily have their own charming, rustic presence.

Diwali brings sweet-scented pastes of utna, sandalwood and turmeric, as firecrackers render the air sharply caustic. Smoky, woody bonfires flicker on cold, foggy, mornings as the smell of old woolen sweaters, shawls and mothballs from stuffy trunks offer comforting warmth. The oily whiff from frying roadside treats and the heavenly waft of melting ghee-laden sweets pleases the olfactory and salivary glands alike. Sizzling on rooftops and balconies are fiercely pungent pickles lying alongside the drying peppery papads.

Holidays in May are reminiscent of the heady scent of mangoes ripening in hay — a delightful treat on a lazy, hot summer day. Clean smells of crisp starched cotton and khadi complement the scents of aged, crinkled zari silks worn once in a lifetime and then forgotten. The incomparable, intoxicating scent of raat ki rani and the seductively potent frangipani dramatize the night air as yet another day ends.

Where so many religions coexist, I sniff a pot pourri of attar, incense, burning oil lamps and glowing candles, each evoking radiance, peace and incandescence.

On my flight of fancy, bottled in my imagination, this wonderful Indian concoction is like a bouquet of reminiscences. Of memories, happy times enjoyed in my motherland and of wonders that are homegrown.

This vial of fragrances of India will certainly beat any designer cologne.

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NRI | November 2014

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