Wednesday, April 25, 2007


It was a friend who triggered the thought, the excited phone crackle of a first time mom talking about her new baby’s first step. Yes, EspritNoir ( it right. It’s true enough. We do focus on all the firsts. Some may say it’s the inherent nature of being positive. Perhaps. But anyone who knows me will agree that I am far from positive. I am cynical and fatalistic about most things. But even in my confessed negativity, I think there is something to be said for keeping conscious tabs on things that could very possibly be something you will do for the last time. True, you don’t necessarily know. But sometimes you do. More often than not, you do know.

It’s funny how the human mind functions. Something so important and steeped in the sub conscious can be triggered off by such mundane things. For me, memories lie curled up within smells. Nearly every memory has a smell or a distinctive fragrance that is attached to it. So strong and so distinctive that I can nearly taste the air at the time. Life, the smell of the first rain always brings back a certain string swing under an elinjee flower tree, red soil slushing along the by lanes and the smell of damp wood and wet coir heavy in the air.

Another strong smell memory is that of Nina Ricci’s Jasmine. It always brings back a memory of the airport lobby of King Fahad International Airport for me, my home for a couple of years. Close my eyes and I can still smell the perfume and see the glassed in immigration area and the airport activity of a typical international red eye waiting area. The perfume, which my mom had dabbed behind my ears, was a gift from whom we termed family in an alien land. That smell is first thing that brings back the blurry memory of waving to the small crowd waiting outside the departure area, knowing I may never see the land or the people ever again.

The metallic smell of gin always brings back images of giddy evenings celebrating youth and success and the sheer joy of being alive. Expensive perfume, smoky lashes, too white teeth dimples and cocktail glasses. Promise of much flirting and mischief. The knowledge of a headache tomorrow morning. Time spent with people you love, friends long forgotten.

Another familiar smell is that of floor antiseptic. A friend in a coma, people pacing outside. A janitor cleaning the hallway. The smell of pine scented Lysol stinging my nose. He wasn’t expected to survive the night. We should all say our goodbyes. I remember sitting there on the metal stool talking to him. Talking about the good times and better, never knowing if he could hear me or not. Telling him to take care and we all love him. Holding the gauze covered hand and knowing that this was one hand I would never be able to hold again. A friend gone too soon.

Of course, these things aren’t always nostalgic; I can still smell the tangy bite of Kool Aid. Knees scruffy and bloodied in the dirt of a foreign land. Accented jeers and a twisted arm. Books scattered on the playground, lunch spattered against the wall. My first taste of racial discrimination. Not fun.

Another was in the smell of too heavy Dubai Attar. Arranged marriage setting, stressful at the best of times. My cousin bedecked in flowers and jewels, being rejected by a guy because she didn’t have the right shade of white to be a suitable wife to a coal black loser. The smell of humiliation and defeat. Of fervency and despair. I went down on my knees that day to ensure he burned in hell.

Of course, there are other giddy memories. The cold smell of ice cream of a first date, the minty fragrance of foot lotion for a particularly relaxing foot massage, the smell of olive oil heavy in the air when I broke the large bottle, knowing I was going to be smacked the minute my folks got home, the salty smell of the sea air mixed with that of paani puri.

Of course for me, the most memorable smell will be that of mild Hovet and the slightly sour smell of pool chlorine. The olive eyes of a beautiful stranger, the heady intoxication of twilight, the dimples and a smile that stayed in the eyes long after it left the face, the timbered scent of excitement and anticipation, of something new and uncertain, of being a teenager in crush for the first time.

Life. What would it be without the sense of smell?