Saturday, March 31, 2007

Of Smells and Sounds

I was sitting in a training session today (don’t snigger, yes another training session so what!!), well everything was the same. A vaguely familiar conference room in a vaguely familiar hotel, the same fashionable mumblings on how much “work” could have been packed into this day, the same apprehensive smiling cynics and the same unbounded joy that engulfs all while they attack food. All the same except for one sniggling difference, the training session actually set me thinking, thinking not only about the way I work (which it was intended to), actually on second thoughts it didn’t set me thinking, it set me reminiscing.

Before all you philosophical types get excited, this post is not about my catharsis, its not about me going into a frenzy as I start hating my predictably un-intellectual and supremely uninspiring life full of self imposed audio and visual onslaughts (it will take much more than one training session to do that). It’s really about a train of thought that was triggered by something the trainer said. He asked us if we could go back into time… He asked if a smell, a sound, a color or a touch could trigger a memory and take us back to another place, another time. The answer is yes you dunce but that’s also not the point.
The point, in case you are getting bored and are about to close the page is the number of smells, sights and sounds that suddenly tingled my nerve endings at his question.

How do I begin, maybe at the rumbling of the huge desert cooler outside the living room? The whirring motor and the rumbling cooler promised a cool, lazy afternoon reading an Agatha Christie (btw filling the cooler was an art because you had to be careful the motor stayed dry!!). The refreshing smell of Khus coming from the cooler is the best air freshener I have ever known. I can’t help but smile at the memory of my brother and me standing precariously close to the cooler fan, being blinded by the gush of dusty air, singing the latest song (that had caught our fancy and had been butchered beyond recognition) into the whirring fan. Believe it or not we got delirious with joy on hearing the roar of the fan transform the song into some extra terrestrial war anthem. I have argued with my brother on countless occasions that the three A.Cs now at our home can barely manage to cool as well as the huge rusting desert cooler. Maybe it’s global warming, or maybe it’s just the noise, or the lack of it.
Or how the smell of paint always reminds me of the one white washing (or was it distempering) we had either before or after the rains. All I know is that the smell of paint washed walls mixed with the khushboo (there is no word in my limited English vocabulary for khushboo; perfume is artificial, smell stands for smelly and aroma is pretentious) of the rains made an intoxicating concoction. We are decent people so the house has been painted many a times after that but that’s the only white washing I remember. Maybe because after that I plastered my room with posters of Dev Anand (yes I was/ok am a fan of black and white Dev Anand.. but so what you like Sachin!!), Tom Cruise and Pete Sampras (see I’ve always been “eclectic”) or maybe because that’s when I heard the soul stirring “Tum Pukaar Lo” or probably because that’s when I knew I could sing to save my life.
Or how the chirping of the birds early in the morning… before you go aww cho chweet, well the chirping irritated me no end. In the early hours of the morning when my sub conscious, conscious and unconscious being merged into one groggy, grumpy existence, the incessant chirping (louder and chirpier when they had caught a worm) was the end of the sweet slumber and the beginning of another torturous day of school, tuition, teenage politics and not so friendly sibling rivalry. Well to be fair to the birds, the day in the end always turned out to be much better than that but their chirping invariably made me think of the worst. Maybe it’s because I hate being woken up with a start. Ok I am lazy I hate being woken up.
Or maybe about how the roar of thunder and cackle of lightening reminds me of the word game (dude shall explain what that means). The thunder storm was always followed by a power cut, in those days we had no inverter and the power cut meant the four of us sitting in the candle light trying to stare at each other. In the absence of any distractions the fear of my brother and me breaking out into World War III necessitated that my mum find a way to keep us busy. Ingenious woman that she is, she invented the “word game” (probably someone else invented it.. but as far as I am concerned mommy did). Well to put it simply it’s a word antakshri; so I was supposed to begin a word with the last alphabet of the word my brother used. I know it wasn’t as entertaining as “inventive insults” antakshri or “how hard does my pillow hit you”, and certainly couldn’t hold a candle to “I shall irritate you to death”. But our “un”healthy competitive spirit soon got the better of us and we were completely enthralled in scheming/plotting and trying to beat the other at his/her own game. So much so that we didn’t notice the heat, the buzzing and biting of mosquitoes, our sweat or the ticking clocks… don’t know what was more fun, the joy of learning new words, or the chance of using words like “ostentatious” or maybe it was just the chance of getting even with my brother, at that intellectually!!! But thanks mum.

Or how the smell of barbecue or byre as my dad (and the South Africans) cutely calls it, reminds me of the chilly winter evenings, the hot kebabs and the even hotter political discussions. Over a few drinks and my mum’s delicious kebabs the passionate leftists and the practical yet illogical rightists fought for their ilk and ideologies right into the wee hours of the morning. I sat in the sidelines interrupting once in a while (washing my dad’s drinks even more once in a while) with my fledgling leftist inclinations apparent to all. But mostly I just sat their admiring my father’s rationale and his political sensibilities. And this I say in no jest, my father in those evenings and most others opened my mind to the real world, the world beyond teenage candy floss, he made me think and wonder about the Mumbai riots, the mandir-masjid issue, the Palestinian crisis, the Afganistan bombings and mostly what I wanted to be when I grew up (I know it is an obtruse connection but it is true). Thanks to him I have what they call a “world view”.
Also did I mention that guests at times before they could partake off the “divine” kebabs had to sit through old LP records of Begum Akhtar and loads of people whose name I can’t remember?? It is true, my dad still has a (functioning) LP record player and the best things in life don’t come for free.

Well those (any many more-too lazy to write now) are the sounds and smells that remind of my childhood/adolescence and for the want of a better way to end this blog… what are yours???

2 comments:

Rajnish said...

Hi,

Its a delight to read your blog. Keep posting.

persiflage said...

Nice blog, what a pleasure it is to read your thoughts.

BTW let me know if the LP records need a loving home, promise lots of kebabs in return! :-)