Fragrant Flashbacks..

“Memories triggered by scent have some of the strongest emotional connections and appear more intense than other memory triggers.” This scent doesn’t come so easily; it needs a mixture of right ingredients to invoke that same feeling to take you down memory lane. And when the right time comes, it makes you reminiscent and nostalgic. You are transported to your carefree days which always give you a handful of threshed grains..

Down Memory Lane..

Today, my sister and I were talking about those certain scents and those certain memories!  We were always together in the corridors of childhood, never been parted, one being the shadow of the other (I was always the shadow while my sister led the pathway!). Hence one of us can easily associate the smell the other attempts to describe, when she starts to dust off the pages…We were talking more about scents that bring in memories of places. Those memories, indeed, make those dusty pictures shinier and brighter. Can we exactly describe the smell?  No, it is often associated with other senses too.

One of our much-awaited trips was a trip with family to Madras to visit Achan’s brother, our uncle. Lot of attractions came along with the planned trip. Of course, a trip with family had all its charm with our loving parents and ‘sibling time’. Another attraction was an overnight journey in a train with a bonus of spending time with our dear Radhamama, Saralammayi and fun-loving cousins. Madras definitely was a La La Land for us. It was then, for the first time, we saw a black and white TV. I used to wait for the popular show ‘I Love Lucy’ aired at that time, even if I had not understood a single dialogue by the characters sprinkled with strong American accent! This was way back in 1981, I guess. I was mesmerized by the idea of sitting and watching moving figures at the comfort of home while eating dinner! They had a courtyard with a heavily-laden mango tree at the back of the house. This had its own peculiar smell – a sense of perception stimulated and garnished by all these ingredients -mangoes, a majestic iron swing, Tamil songs from a transistor and the typical ‘chennai air’ with its scent of jasmine gliding in!

The monsoon days have its own smell and its own collection of memories. The wet earth with its different shades of green, glossy leaves has its own smell. Along with it comes the fresh smell of books. It takes me to the living room in our house where three of us sit together with Achan and Amma to do an exciting activity – covering our books and sticking name labels on them. Monsoon was the harbinger of a new school year. We had limited collection of name-slips; so, we used to equally distribute ‘the name slips with good pictures’ and ‘bad pictures’ amongst us. (I don’t remember us having fights to grab better things for ourselves which was quite a common activity among most of the siblings! In spite of being the youngest and ‘a boy’, our brother was also always ready to give in! ) Our parents used to neatly cover the books for us, tucking in the paper on four sides to  keep the jacket tight and neat. We used to place something heavy on the books to give the books a neatly ironed coat. We used to take extra care to make it last for one whole year. It was easy with the textbooks; but not so easy with note books. A scent mixed with wet earth and its lush greenery on a cloudy day accompanied by pitter-patter rain, definitely brings in memories of a special time at a special place!

Sometimes, the feeling can also be something unwanted, something which barges in to mess up with the carefully built equipoise in your life… and you feel stuffiness entrapping you with memories that you love to forget. The smell of a particular ‘masala’ and oil mixed with a humid air that seems so oppressive reminds me of my Mumbai life which I hate even to think of! It stifles me, makes me feel ensnared! I make sure my kitchen should never smell like that! I realise a scent can be appealing or appalling because it is conditioned by the memory you recall…

As Oliver Wendell Holmes says, “Memories, imagination, old sentiments and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.”

The Silence of the Trees

“In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.”

Alice Walker

Trees contorted, yet majestic; bent in weird ways, yet reaching the clouds – I saw them in a narrow pathway in the courtyard of Good Shepherd auditorium in Bangalore. Webbed branches of these trees fill you with awe! Looking up, you can only see the chained sky with its scattered clouds trying to escape from  the tangled boughs. Can sky be so intimidated by trees? Standing under these trees, one can sense the helplessness of the sky prisoned between the majestic contorted branches.

How many generations have these trees seen? How many stories do they carry in their heart? Being a silent witness to the sorrows, smiles and pains of the passing generations of humankind has added many wrinkles on the trees. Wouldn’t their imprisoned hearts wish to spill out those stories to the newest generations who walk past them? Wouldn’t they be waiting to unburden their hearts of the many untold stories they still hold? 

The buttress roots of these trees have been a nurturing place for some money plants. These roots are the ones who decided to grow laterally on their own when they find the trees are not deeply rooted or lacking nutrition. They help the trees from falling off or malnourished. The gigantic trees at the mercy of these roots!! These roots are cradling the money plants with their wrinkled limbs reminding us that they all live in harmony.

The air underneath these trees has a profound wisdom. The soft breeze that blows here has a mysterious rhythm. It can fill you with a sense of enigma,   a sense of bewilderment and a sense of longing to be a part of them! When you are forced to leave their presence, a sense of abundance lingers in your mind….

Let our eyes feed on a morsel of nature, our ears the rhythm and music of Mother Earth. Why fret and hurry? As the poet says, let Nature be the anchor of our thoughts, the nurse, the guide, the guardian of our heart and soul!

“Once again I see
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees! “

Wordsworth

The wardrobe that opened to a new world..

Childhood memories never fade. At times, these memories are pushed into a corner unconsciously; but quite often we stumble upon that abandoned corner only to take out the pieces together to find out that the colours are as bright as before. I always feel sad when someone says he/she does not have any coloured memories of childhood days.  I can see the pain in their eyes and hear the ache in their words when they say so. If you have a happy childhood, you grow into a happy person -a strong one. Agatha Christie has rightly said, “one of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood.”

A picture speaks thousand words. I am sharing something about a picture which I  saw recently while searching for some images on the net. And it did speak to me – loud and clear, flooding my mind with a thousand memories, bringing in an aching joy. It opened one of the wonderful pages from my childhood.

We (my sister, brother and I) were brought up in a small sleepy town which preferred to be in a reverie most of the time. It neither did meddle in people’s lives nor meddle with the world’s latest issues. It was a small world, yet the best one for us – a world of happiness and love with our parents in the  company of each other and,  of course, books.

I still remember the thrill of getting a new book from our father- be it Amar Chithra Katha, Phantom/Mandrake comics or children’s magazines Poombatta or Balarama. I still remember the exhiliaration we felt while waiting for Achan’s story telling sessions of English classics. The books took us to a new world, from the sleepy little town to the snow-capped mountains of Russia, the meandering waters of Thames or to the unreachable outskirts of fairy lands. And we loved it!

This picture is from one of the books Achan had given us when we were children. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Nothing did I know about the fantasy fiction that C S Lewis has written to enlighten children; nothing did I know about the ‘whiskered furry face’ of Aslan, the great saviour of the happy land of Narnia. The girl who held the book then, never ever imagined  that her daughter would be watching movies about Narnia years later … Or her students would be discussing the new Netflix adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia with her in a faraway country, so far away from her old laid-back town! It was just another book for me, back in time. The pale green cover with the beautiful illustration of two girls playing with a lion was the first thing I noticed. And I saw the garland, a garland of bright orange and yellow flowers, clearly and unmistakably! When I knew the book had illustrations, the more I was interested.  

Picture Courtsey – Google

Everything in that book was new to me – the huge wardrobes where you can hang in coats were new to me. A wardrobe where  a child can get in was new to me! We only had small wooden or iron cupboards during those days and  you can imagine the wonder of a child who gets to know about something called a built-in wardrobe through which you can enter into an unknown world ! First time in my life, I heard about the mythical fauns, and the book showed me his black and white picture too.   I was totally captivated by one of the pictures in the book. And after three decades the same picture popped up bringing with it a rush of memories – the picture of the siblings sitting with the Beaver family in front of a table.

Picture courtsey – Google

Just like any other child, I did not miss out a single detail in that picture. The reading stopped when I saw the picture, me eyeing at each and everything in that picture, my imagination running riot beyond the scene. Though it looks like a cluttered room to me now, what I saw then was a beautiful home.  I admired the way the beavers hung the utensils and stacked the boots. I wondered what was boiling in the pan on the stove to which C S Lewis did not have any answer. But he could make me believe that animals had homes and they too had happy meals time! 

Wasn’t our childhood wonderful? We had visions which made anything and everything enchanting. We were not unhappy with our lives. We were extremely excited to see new things, to know new lifestyles and new people. Even if they looked better than ours, we never felt jealous! We knew how to derive vicarious pleasure. Ours was a small world, but we could take anything to our small world, and it rubbed out the boundaries making our world expansive, merging it with other worlds. We could find happiness, delight and excitement even in the pages of a book. Those are the simple pleasures. The memories of childhood fill you up with a special emotion, a special kind of warmth which cannot be put in words. Or is it something like what C S Lewis says in his all-time favourite book?

….. “Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning — either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into the dream again. It was like that now.”