What if we tracked our life through aromas and fragrances? What would the earliest memories be?
Let me go back, years and years ago. A girl in a white petticoat, watching two men building a fence, the same girl in a boat leaning her head out watching the water hyacinths swirl around under the engine, on another day, she squats and digs the damp ground with a stick poking out worms and deftly moves into an empty coconut shell. Strange that most of my childhood memories are around summer holidays in the village. Very few , almost non existent of the town where I spent the first twenty years. Muse for another post.
What did I inhale those days? Fresh air was taken for granted. Mangoes, oh yes. The exotic varieties that were delicately cut and served in a plate, we never cared for much. It was the ‘chakiri manga’ that fell with every gentle breeze that passed by, that filled our holidays. The ones with a sharp beak, deep green in colour and the base a pale yellow or a deep pink. Filled with fiber, we nipped the tip of the skin with a deft bite and sucked in the juice. And then chewed out the fiber, skin included. How did it smell, I wonder.
Yes, the smell of mangoes, the dried ones. Juiced and dried out on a mat in the sun. A layer added each day, fattened up over the two months, rolled up and stored away in earthern urns, the huge bharanis. The smell was tangy, of wind and water, of a grandmother’s love. Ah, that reminds me of another fragrance. Of the wizened old woman, it was unique. A strange mixture of her body and spirit, the faint smell of talcum powder in the mornings and the strong ones of kuzhambu by night. Of ginger and turmeric during the day. And the wisdom and naughtiness in her eyes. Yes, I can still get that fragrance, as I close my eyes and inhale. Those days and the memories it brings.
The mud. Fresh and dark, from the depths of the river. The earth after the first rain. Of rot, that gave life to others that came after. The jasmine flowers that poked their head out after the first thundershowers, the faint smell of honey from the chethippoo, of the viscous hibiscus shampoo, the healing fragrance of pani koorkka, the heady fragrance of roses that were tended with life, of bananas raw and ripe, freshly ground coconut oil, the dung in the cow shed, the itchy smell of dried hay, of hens and their poop, of chewed mango leaves, the spicy aroma of cinnamon bark drying in the sun, the sharp one of ground pepper, of mustard dancing in hot oil, of shallots and dry chilies, of curry leaves plucked straight from the plant, I could go on and on.
And the fragrance of my mother. Of Cuticura talcum powder after her evening bath. I would die to get a whiff of that now.
Does the ability to inhale these life giving fragrances disappear as we grow? For, there is nothing much that comes to mind after those days. Other than the dust and fumes. Of deodorants and perfumes. Of aromatic soaps and shampoos.
As I make dish after dish in my kitchen, is it my childhood that I am trying to catch? As I long for mountains and valleys, rivers and springs, mud roads and pines, what memories am I trying to create? Is it life that I am running after? Or the love of it ?