Ideas · random thoughts

Scent of a place – Nosetalgia, a nosy idea!

Top of the mind recall when I threw the word ‘smell’ at some of my friends and asked them what their first thoughts were, included:
• Food: Each food category or item can be associated with a distinct aroma – be it Sambhar or biryani rice or Kabab Gali (the smell at this street of Lucknow can only be experienced) or a Chinese restaurant, Bengali fish rich food or whatever.
• Fragrance: After shaves, deodorants, soaps, perfumes etc
• Flower essences
• Aromatherapy: adding few drops of tea tree oil in a hot bath can actually make you feel like some tea tree parts are in the tub 😉
• Stink generated by garbage, crap, fart etc

Anyway, I have been thinking about how things are associated with unique smells – sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant and how we could use this distinction among various things to cater to a hitherto untouched market – the smell of nostalgia!

Take this example, I miss India so much sitting in Pittsburgh that every now and then, I mentally spend time at Chennai, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Delhi, Sikkim, Himalayas, Goa, Kerala, Bangalore, Mysore and wherever else I have had the good fortune of visiting and hence missing as well. Talking about food, I have infinite thoughts running in mind but I would mention just one here. If I type more, the need to eat would go up beyond tolerable levels. The unique wonderful smell of sambhar and rasam that would envelop my apartment complex in Kolkata, so much so, that even before I entered home, I could almost predict that my mom was ready with coffee and was making onion sambhar with potato curry – well, almost! I would enter and tell her that in the boiling sambhar a little salt was missing in action or it was probably spicier than usual. Well, well … Talking about food made me add some masala of my own too 😉

One unpleasant but memorable attack of olfactory senses was associated with an annual event that would take place at least twice in the space of 2 months. Coromandal Express was my mobile home for 2 days every year, transporting me from Kolkata to Chennai and back for my summer vacations. What a choice of time for ‘vacationing’ at Chennai! About half an hour before Chennai Central arrived, the train would drag itself through Basin Bridge Junction. That was an assault, a rape of the nose. Unimaginable stench caused by all the dirt and ‘waste’ of humans and animals would greet you. Worse, trains would invariably stop and restart, stop again and restart & never gallop through this area, as if it were part of a tour itinerary. The only positive thing I could think of then was the excitement of reaching Chennai and being able to play with all my cousins, collect cash each time I was asked to fall on somebody’s feet and seek their blessings. I was too young to question the relationship between blessings and marks in my history examination or future state happiness indices. However, a hundred buck or a fifty rupee note was all I would hungrily eye. If anybody gave me less, the next year, they were removed from my list of ‘falling on feet’ category. Of course, all those miserly oldies had to be forcibly included in my ‘falling on feet’ list after many years when I tied the knot. They got not one but two souls to bless. Interesting customs we have, eh 😉
That once again brings me back to nostalgia, and creates fragrances that would remind you of places.

I have not felt that way in the US cities, maybe, the garbage or trash cans conceal the smells quite efficiently. There was not much of a difference between Charlotte or Pittsburgh or NY etc. Although New York does remind one of India due to the crowds and Times Square has so many kebab or hot dog carts but nothing compared to my good old Kolkata Esplanade or Chennai Ranganathan Street or Lucknow Chowk or Mumbai Chowpatty 🙂 Being a novice in the area of essence creations, I can only think of a random indicative table that might help in this regard, assume one part of smell index to be just about enough to distinguish the origin of that particular smell. Here we go:


Initially, the idea seemed ridiculous to me, but, if only this was a reality, I would have flooded my home with small bottles of Indian cities and villages. These bottles would have helped feel (read smell) the bottled feelings of love for Apna Desh. Jai Hind!


7 thoughts on “Scent of a place – Nosetalgia, a nosy idea!

  1. Lets see if my comment is the first one, this time !!
    Very brilliant and unusual idea. We could enter this business if we are ditched by software market.
    I have heard even a Chennai-ite returning from Bangalore, remark on the Basin Bridge smell , way back in early 80’s. Ur blog reminded me of his comment.
    The Brindavan Express, apparently worn out after after practically racing till Arakonam, would crawl over this stretch, spoiling the njoiment (if any) of the journey till then. Wonder if it still does that these days.

    Ranga: Yes, KRam, you are the first one to comment. I loved your other comment on copyright, left, filter copy and copy ragam! You sure are a PJ partner for me 🙂 It is still the same these days too. Hope the BBDBagh equation also brought old memories for you 😉

    Ranga again: Check this one on Basin Bridge etc, fantastic post from a fundoo blogger:

  2. Basin bridge 😀 LOL, I remember Appa waking us up saying Chennai vandhdtu in the train and my sis saying: Oru smellum varliye. Don’t lie and let us sleep! 😀

    Ranga: Ha ha, looks like Basin Bridge has had a deep impact on so many people 🙂 esp those travelling to chennai from other cities remember the rude awakening! basin bridge perfume is definitely not going to sell even if some enterprising soul is brave enough to create such a scent bottle! ha ha ha ha! 😀

  3. do u ever forget sambaar ??? this one doesnt bring me sweet memories at least. I am tired of eating sambar in idlis, dosa, rice, chapatis etc etc 😦 No more cribbing

    This one is an interesting post. Martin Lindstorm in Brand sense exactly copied what u said – Smell is the first thing people relate to or remember about, of all the five senses.. N yes I too have been a victim of Basin Bridge scents… we need a club for this now 🙂

  4. Thanx for the link , old man, its a very nice post indeed . Pip-pip.

    Ranga: Good you enjoyed it. I admire his mimicry capabilities – something I always aspired to do but couldn’t 😦 have a good time, old man, toodle-ooo!

  5. Hi Ranga .. Thanks for your comment sometime back on my post. Your name and blog title sounded familiar till I saw the “BAR” in the categories 🙂 It all came rushing back in.

    I love your blog. I just figured out that you are in Pittsburgh, yet you are able to dole out such distinctly sambhar-y posts. The smells was a wonderful idea. I find that sometimes some smells trigger a memory somewhere that I have to ponder on for some time to pin down. It’s fun!

    P.S. Do you have a feed? If so, please post it on my blog.

  6. Now I realised why I didn’t comment – Its the link you have posted!! I got so addicted that this bikerdude basically determined my break times and durations! I just kept reading his whenever I wanted a break – too funny I say!!
    Nosy idea is really good – but I don’t have a strong nose, so don’t know what to say! But I loved the smell near Kerala chips and McRenett and pav bhaji!

  7. Basin bridge yuckkkk .. i remember tht skink when I was workin in Chennai!!!!! ….ha ha haa

    Ranga: Looks like we got to start a Basin Bridge stink page on facebook 🙂 I had no idea so many ppl were soo affected by the stench that it has scarred our memories and found its way in our dil ka diaries 😉 ROTFL

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