Last evening on my way back home, as I crossed Janbazar, the strong pungent smell of freshly ground spices hit my nose first and then my head. The spicy aroma of turmeric, asafoetida, cinnamon, cloves and cardamoms numbed my brain for a moment leaving me with a sensation so euphoric.
Spices, they really bind our country together, don’t they? It was this familiar aroma of spices that embraced me and made me feel warm when I left my hometown for good to make this city my home. When I first hugged my mother-in-law, she did smell of the same spices like my mother. The smell of familiarity.
As I then crossed
Street and later Park Circus my mind ran
affectionately to a statement made by my cousin when he had visited me in
Kolkata. He had lived all his life out of India. This was his first time ever
to Kolkata. When he was asked by SSM (my husband) about his views on Mumbai versus
Kolkata, he replied – In Mumbai, everywhere you go you smell sewage; in
Kolkata, wherever you go you smell food.
I realised how true a statement that was. All through the route I salivated at the aroma of the sizzling rolls stuffed with solid chunks of meat – Ah, the memory of the first time when I had bitten into this mouthful of heaven. The intoxicating fragrance of the biryanis – I can vividly remember the first time I had inhaled the goodness six years ago - the sight of the yellow and white rice hiding the lone potato and the chunky portion of tenderly cooked flaky mutton – and finally the taste. An ecstatic experience. The smell of contentment.
While my mind was feasting on the aroma I noticed a whiff of cigarette smoke escape from the window of the taxi right in front of mine. I smiled. I love the smell of cigarettes. No, I do not smoke. I have never smoked but yet it’s something about the smell that hypnotizes me. Just the way, the smell of coffee drives me crazy.
I have always had this visualisation of me walking on college street with a cigarette in my hand the smell of smoke mingling with the spell bound smell of old and new books. I couldn't and I never will get over the habit of smelling a book when I get one, old or new.
And when I think of the smell of books, I remember my summer vacation visits with my cousin to Strand Book Stall in Mumbai - books books everywhere; no place to stand. Strand Book Stall was one place which was paradise on earth. We would spend hours and hours standing in a place surrounded by books almost falling on us – touching them, feeling them, loving them and smelling them. The smell of wisdom
And then another smell found its way up my nostril as I reached Jadavpur- The smell of chatim flowers. The smell that announces that pujo is not too far. Pujo has its own aroma, doesn't it? - That of freshness; of happiness; of celebration; of love. Pujo also means the crisp smell of new sarees; the heady smell of the dhunuchi, the delicious aroma of the bhog.
It brought back the memory of wild love-making back home after the sindoor khela on dashami (the last day of the pujas) – the giddy blend of various fragrances as we nuzzle up - of perfume merged with the sweat and the smudged lipstick and vermillion adding its own fragrance - the fragrance accompanied with the rhythm of the dhaak in the background. The smell of passion
My passionate thoughts were disturbed by another smell, again a food smell - the smell of frying telebhaja. I had reached my para (mohalla). I asked the driver to stop the taxi and got off. I had to buy the phulluris; the begunis; the alu-chops. Yes, they all mocked my diet, but today; I just had to buy them. I picked up some and walked back home.
Back home as I opened the door a naked, about to be washed, Ri (my son) came and leaped up on me to smother me with kisses. He smelled of baby powder, and the fish and rice he had just eaten. I smelled of the city. His smell blended with my smell. And then SSM came and hugged us. It suddenly became our smell. The smell of our family. The smell of our home.
PS: I am an adopted child of Kolkata, but she has loved me like her own. She smells like home, like a mother.