These are a few of my favorite whiffs

Have you ever at any point in time come across a wonderful aroma as you are walking down a street or a pleasant fragrance from someone’s home or a heady scent when someone passes you by? There have been some unmistakable smells from everyday life that have made me close my eyes, breathe in deeply and take in the aroma, fragrance or whatever pleasant smell that is being emanated. Enlisted below are a few of them which I simply love.

I remember as a child walking down the street somewhere in T Nagar in the city of Chennai and there would be small shops along the lane – grinding mills, grocery stores, tailor shops, small pharmacies etc. One of the little joints was a coffee grinding mill and from which a rich, warm hedonistic aroma wafts out and appeases my olfactory senses. It’s a similar experience even when I pass by a Starbucks or any other coffee house. The warm, enriching aroma beckons you and is simply irresistible – almost comforting…

Another strong aroma I will always remember is the evening nearly 12 years back as I was returning home from my Math tuition quickly walking down a by lane in a Brahmin populated locality of Chennai – R A Puram. I still recall the aroma of potatoes being roasted, tempered with mustard seeds, coated with turmeric and salt as they turned golden brown and became crisp over the low flame of fire. That coupled with the aroma simmering garlic rasam, until the aroma danced out into the streets and made the stomachs of passersby like me rumble.

Being a book-lover and an avid reader of Indian writing in English I have frequented the aisles of many a bookshop – Landmark, Higginbotham’s, Odyssey, Borders, Kinokuniya et al. There is something so exciting and solacing in picking up a brand new book and turning its pages and just feeling the surface of the printed paper. Sometimes the sharp edge of a page slices through the soft pink skin of your forefinger and sometimes the glossy pages squeak when you turn each page. But have you ever lifted the book to your nose and smelt the freshly printed paper? At the risk of looking silly I have many times just taken a book and smelt its newness and placed it back on the shelf, satisfied by the experience.

We all love babies don’t we? That small ball, gurgling and chortling, delicate and soft. I’m not sure how to describe the ‘baby smell’ that emanates from their tiny bodies. But it’s a smell you can’t get enough of. A gratifying sweet smell that makes you smile. A combination of powder, oil, soap, milk, spittle and poop which is oddly endearing.

I love watching my washed clothes flapping in the sun as they dry on the clothes pole. I strangely enjoy bundling the freshly washed laundry, still warm from the hot golden rays of the sun. Not only that but I also love the smell of these freshly washed clothes. As I lift my white cotton tee I draw it up to my nose and deeply breathe in the smell of detergent that has cleansed it.

And then there is the smell of rain. It’s an earthy overpowering smell just before a downpour on a dry, hot, scorching day and the smell soon after the first spell when the ground gets wet and the hot air evaporates. It always makes me rejoice and sets me in a pleasant mood for those few moments.

While we are on the subject of aroma how can I not mention the bakery? The smell of freshly baked bread, buns, brownies, croissants and puffs still warm from the oven, tickles the taste buds and draws one to the delicious treats. Whether it is ‘Raghavendra Iyer Bakery’, ‘McRennetts’, ‘Hot Breads’, ‘Bread Talk’, ‘Delifrance’ or ‘Prima Deli’ the bakery aroma is one of the best.

If you’ve walked into ‘Aesthetics’ a store on RK Salai in Chennai that sells wares from Pondicherry or the posh high end ‘Naturally Auroville’ boutique on snobbish Khader Nawaz Khan Road then you would be familiar with the fragrance I’m talking about. A mix of smells that is given forth from handmade paper, leather bags and essential oils. If you want to know what that smells like you’ll simply have to visit the stores. It is a faintly perceptible mixture of fragrances that hits you as soon as you enter the stores.

Last but not the least is the fragrances that entice from the jasmine, sandalwood and rose scented incense sticks giving out swirling wisps of smoke as their tips burn slowly. I may be passing by a small shop in the street or an auto parked at the corner early morning or even my mom’s pooja room but it has always had a calming, soothing and tranquil effect.

To sum up my olfactory experience – For the sense of smell, almost more than any other, has the power to recall memories and it is a pity that we use it so little. – Rachel Carson


Knock knock who’s there?

Unlike this part of the world where I live, when in India you simply cannot have a day without having your doorbell ringing periodically with the familiar stream of helpers to help you get through your everyday chores.

It’s between 5:00 am and 6:00 am in the morning. You’re still stirring in your sleep, while the uncle and aunties are brusquely taking their morning walk. The dew still hasn’t evaporated and the day is yet to begin. Within minutes there is a knock on your door or worse still a single ding dong to break that silence. It’s probably the watchman or “doodhwallah” to drop of your sticky, drippy packets of milk. Of course many of us have gotten smart and leave a basket outside our doors so that the milk can be dropped off without any disturbance.

At around 6:30 am the “newspaperwallah” swiftly flings ‘The Hindu’ at your doorstep and scampers away to other households awaiting the paper with their morning cup of tea or coffee.

Then there is the watchman’s wife (please note that the watchman and his wife are all rounders) who trundles in with three to four hibiscus flowers in colors of red, white or yellow freshly plucked from the compound tree or surreptitiously picked from a neighbor’s tree for your morning pooja.

Somewhere between 7:00 am and 9:00 am while you’re in a frenzy trying to pack off husband and kids, the maid strides into the house. This is maid no 1 who is breezy and extremely focused on finishing the work in the least amount of time with the least amount of effort. She is meant exclusively for washing the clothes, scrubbing the vessels, sweeping and mopping. All done in a jiffy and all done after she has sipped her hot tea.

As she makes her exit, maid no 2 makes her entrance. Now she is only for the top work. Dusting, chopping vegetables, making the second round of tea, folding the clothes, keeping away the vessels and generally hanging around to execute any odds and ends. Sometimes you wonder why you’ve hired her and sometimes you thank God for her looming presence.

At around 8: 00 am the watchman is again at the door demanding the keys of your vehicle, which stands coated with a layer of dust, so that it can be washed and wiped squeaky clean.

Come 10:00 am and the “istriwalla” or ‘ironing man” is tapping his foot with one arm propped on the wall for support, looking around the living room and making small talk with the maid. He counts aloud as he drops your crumpled, wrinkled clothes in a pile. He then bundles them up and hoisting it over his shoulders yells out the number and trudges out.

At around 10:30 am the gardener makes his appearance. Yet another round of tea to be made and served in a steel tumbler( seems like tea is the fuel to get everyone started on their work). He folds his lungi and gets to work in the sweltering midday sun. He potters around for about two hours until noon and has managed to repot, add new soil, water, cut and prune and finally clear up the debris.

At around half past 12 the “sabziwallah” cries out “greens, onions, potatoes, tomatoes…”. Usually he rings your doorbell and tries to entice you with a “fresh” special vegetable. After a few minutes of haggling you walk away with your vegetables and he walks away with his few rupees.

You would think that you would atleast not have anymore visitors after this but invariably there is some minor repair that needs to get done ever so often. So from 1 pm until 5 pm you can have anyone from the plumber to electrician to computer serviceman to TV/Music system serviceman knocking at your door.

So you see, fortunately or unfortunately your aides stream in and out of your household all day long. But the scene abroad is quite a contrast. I long for the doorbell to ring. I reminisce about the barrage of servants, maids, cleaners, dhobis, and all the above mentioned “wallahs” and how domestic help of any kind is a luxury out here and not a part of everyday life.

So while I do cartloads of washing, drying, folding, ironing – cartloads of vessels – scrubbing the bathrooms and toilets – chopping veggies and making my own tea and meals – being extra careful about appliances lest I land myself in a problem, your doorbell is ringing.The “cablewallah” perhaps?

Let’s Drink to Milo

When it comes to downing the all – in – one nutritious milk in a disguised form, Aavin’s cardamom and pistachio flavored milk packaged in tetra packs now and plastic bags earlier, win hands down. Thank God for small mercies thought my near and dear as I happily sipped on the delectable drink which I otherwise hated. It beats me how I managed to drink half a cup of steaming hot Bournvita in my sleep for 14 long years. But come college and out went the milk factor or anything associated with it from my dietary chart. Now and then I was enticed with a banana milkshake, mango smoothie and cold coffee just so that the milk would flow into my body. Sleepiness of course made it much easier to gulp down the oversized glass filled to the brim with a frothy shake/smoothie. Mom’s can be relentless.

But when I moved to Singapore out went all the cardamom and pistachio tetra packs. Out went all the smoothies and shakes. But not long after, Singapore’s favorite energy drink greeted me. When I was handed out an environmentally green carton with ‘Milo’ scrawled across it and the picture of a swimmer and chocolate milk somewhere in the background, my first instinct was to turn around and bolt in the opposite direction, as fast as I could. Had my throat not been parched and had I not been told that it is Singapore’s most popular drink I wouldn’t have touched it. I eyed it with suspicion and tentatively took a sip. What followed was a pleasant experience. The chilled chocolate milk tasted delicious and had a rich chocolaty flavor.

It’s interesting to note the popularity of the drink. Singapore is famous for its kopi tiams present in every residential hub and even the CBD (Central Business District). The kopi tiam which is a traditional breakfast and coffee stall often serves ‘kaya toast’ (toast with an application of kaya- a jam of coconut milk and egg), teh (tea), teh tarik (pulled tea or the equivalent of India’s cutting chai), teh halia (ginger tea), kopi (coffee), kopi tarik (café latte), kopi ais (iced coffee) and of course last but definitely not the least, Milo. Milo can be served as Hot Milo with water or milk, Iced Milo with water or milk, Milo Dinosaur (iced milo with a generous sprinkling of powdered undissolved Milo heaped on top) and Milo Godzilla (iced milo with a topping of whipped cream). My personal favorite is the Milo Dinosaur at Mr Teh Tarik’s – a small wooden pushcart in Far East Square, with two Indians behind the cart pulling tea for Singapore’s corporates all suited and booted in the heart of the CBD. However I must add that today the pushcart has given way to a stall called Mr. Teh Tarik Cartel, thanks to patrons like myself who never get enough of the Milo whether it’s a Dinosaur or a Godzilla.

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