One of the first things foreigners to India notice, is the smell. Foul or intoxicating, it is a constant presence.
Apparently, the area of the brain responsible for processing smell is right next to the part that stores memories. Which explains how certain smells trigger specific memories. For me, every memory is associated with a smell, or a sound. An old friend, a familiar childhood landmark, a scare, all trapped in a swirl of sounds and smells,waiting for the right trigger to be released.
Of all the fragrances that my home offers, a few stand out.The fragrance from the fresh blooms of an Ezhilum Pala’ tree (Alstonia Sholaris in Latin), also called the devil’s tree, is indescribably intoxicating. While going on long rides in my bike (mostly at night, with an ipod for company), many a time have I stopped at random places, having sensed its’ bewitching scent. I’d look around, trying to spot the tree. I usually don’t, since the fragrance spreads out over a large distance, especially at night.
Superstitions dictate that one should steer clear from an Ezhilam Pala in full bloom, because it is the resting place of old restless souls, of the dead and the forgotten, predators looking to lure the naive into their dark folds. I’ve never been lured so far, perhaps because I’m not naive enough, or may be I’m dead already and I just don’t know it yet. I should never have watched the Sixth Sense. Or the Matrix, for that matter…
And of course, there is the smell of rain on parched earth. The first rains of the southwest monsoon, the thunder and the lightning, the sky blotted out by dark and angry clouds at noon, the fragrance of the rain – kissed earth, all make for such a heady experience, that for a moment at least, I forget everything else, and just soak in the smell and the sounds, feasting on the senses, feeling connected, somehow. I feel like I’m part of something bigger, something that transcends time, sharing an experience with men who lived tens of thousands of years before me, pure and untarnished.
Colour me silly for using a heavily overused cliche, but I still think that the best things in life are free.