The Five Senses – Smell

I thought I would write some of my general impressions of India through the lens of the senses. There are so many differences between this country and mine. It is hard to know where to start. I will start with smells.

When there are as many people in one place as there are here, it takes some doing to move them from place to place. When in the auto rickshaw it is the overwhelming smell of exhaust that I notice. Busses, cars, motorcycles, auto rickshaws all spew fumes. Many, I suspect, would not pass emissions testing elsewhere.

The heat and humidity, of course, is a major component of living here. My towels and washed clothes don’t dry as quickly and that leads to a stinkiness. On the flip side, our cleaning lady, Nanda, comes almost everyday and our apartment will have that pleasant scent of lemon cleaning solution after she is done, particularly after cleaning the floors. Alternately, our place fills with the aroma of food cooking when our cook, Aneeta, comes.

When people are in the heat so much, they sweat. That in and of itself leads to a certain kind of smell. One day I went to the “Western” shopping mall to look for a bra. I brought a couple of very old ones with me with the intent of tossing them at the end of the trip. Several days I put it off, feeling to sweaty and stinky to even step foot into a fitting room. Last week, feeling less hot and sticky than other days, I popped over to take a look. I think it was Wednesday in the middle of the afternoon and there were at least eight young women working in the lingerie section. The stores tend to employ way more people than we do in the states. All eight of them were gathered in a circle, chatting. Two approached me, one saying “Yes, Mum”. It must be a leftover thing from when the British were here because this greeting happens frequently. She kindly helped me find a couple to try on and while letting me in the fitting room I could smell her body odor. This has not been the only time this has happened. It is just the way it is.

Across the “busy road” is the School of Agriculture and we have taken some walks in there. The trees grow tall in most spots on the campus with open fields behind the buildings where the crops grow. There is one spot the first couple of weeks that was filled with the sweet smell of flowers. There aren’t many gardens or flowers here. At least not visible from the streets and sidewalks.

Our apartment building is next to another, which is next to a wall. One day we took a walk on the other side of that wall by mistake and found small huts, with lots of people living there with dogs and goats. It was the only time I have felt like I was in the wrong place since I have been here. A good number of mornings I wake to the smell of fire, which I am guessing is the way those folks are making their morning chai or breakfast. The first couple of mornings I though the apartment was on fire and woke with a start.

Like every drain I the apartment, my attached bathroom drains have small moth balls in them “for the bugs” I have no idea what kind of bugs or why they would be in the drain, but the bathroom has a hint of mothball smell.

While in class, particularly in pranayama or in savasana it is a surprise to me that something will noodle it’s way to my sense of smell: incense, the smell of DEET, or some baked good just out of the oven. Or maybe the baked good smell is in my imagination.

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