Long before I knew that it is called olfactory memory, I have been finding solace in my private world of fragrances ever since I can remember. My youngest memory is that of the Pears soap my family used. My mother would keep the soap cover for days near my window, knowing I loved the smell. Whenever I would need a break from anything, I would take the empty cover and inhale the faint scent deeply. Everybody tolerated my quirk, probably thinking it is good that I am not inhaling glue!
The familiar scent of the soap would instantly transport me to my protected haven, into the loving arms of my parents in our cozy home. I hated going to school. And whenever I had a fight or a teacher scolded me, I would just imagine myself smelling the familiar comforting fragrance. It had such an effect on me, I now realize I was partial to friends who used the same soap and smelled like it!
With age, I slowly started exploring the world. I would help my father as he worked on our tiny kitchen garden. And I would wait impatiently till he allowed me to water the garden. Sprinkle lightly over the seeds just planted, he would say. A balmy evening and the earthy smell of water on freshly dug soil is something that remains with you till your dying day. I loved that time with my father. The setting sun creating a magical atmosphere, and a smile of satisfaction playing on my father lips. When I look back, I believe it was a moment when I felt closest to being one with the whole world. Now my father no longer works in our kitchen garden,and I stay in a concrete jungle in another city,courtesy my job. When it rains, I try in futile to look for that elusive earth smell. It's always missing. Someday, I promise myself, me and my father will spend some magical moments again,under a setting sun in a balmy evening, working on our garden, talking about everything and nothing.
As an adult now, there is rarely any time for me to stop and smell the flowers. A cliche, I know. But in reality, there are times when I long for something which will transport me to my world in a cocoon, where there are no blaring horns and frustrating traffic, no rushing to office, no deadlines. Where there is just life and the time to appreciate it.
Another incident I vividly remember is when I spilled my father's Old Spice aftershave. Needlessly to say, I was disciplined and an entire room smelled like a barber shop for a whole week. Nevertheless this incident sealed the fate of Old Spice as my aftershave of choice. Every time I use it, I remember that time. The little me reaching out to touch the fascinating red bottle, clumsily dropping it, and everyone coming running, drawn by the smell. In a way, this has made shaving a therapeutic ritual for me, which takes me back to my childhood and with it, to a time of innocence.
But the smell I miss most is that of a cold cream used by my mother. I guess it was named Tuhina and it is no longer available now. My mom would use it even on me and I would keep smelling my hand,till she got exasperated and finally made me wash my arms! So much for a cold cream!
Getting married was an exciting time for me. And when I became a father, I was ecstatic. I held the baby close to smell that new baby smell so many people talk about. And I fell in love with my son. It is something that cannot be described. A mixture of baby powder, wipes,new clothes, it instantly makes me feel complete. It is like life has come full circle. And I look forward to smell the earth with my son and my father!
Many times I think what is it in a smell. Why does it make me feel sane and peaceful in this mad , mad world? Is it a dependency? Actually it is not. It is just the happy memories stored within you coming forth again. I call them my life fragrances. They make me happy, content and give me a sense of belonging.
I thought I had had my fill of my "life fragrances". But a frantic drive to our pediatrician turned out to be a eye opening experience. I never used a car perfume, rather loving the scent of leather. But my wife insisted and I reluctantly bought an Ambi Pur car perfume. The pacific air one, to be precise. I got to test it in an unfortunate incident when we had to rush our son to the hospital due to a stomach infection. Throughout the drive, I could strangely feel myself calm ,composed and resolved. I was not panicking,rather, I was strangely assured that I would reach the hospital fast without any incidents and everything will be fine. I won't deny the affect of my wife's reassuring hand on my shoulder all the time I was driving. But she also told me that the Ambi Pur perfume reminded her of a garden, covered with soft grass and blooming flowers. And this made her feel peaceful. I guess it had the same effect on me too. I agree it is purely psychological. But I would grab anything with both hands which will keep my mind peaceful during traffic moving at a constipated pace or a frantic drive!
It is a medically proven fact that a smell can open a floodgate of memories. A smell which makes you remember your emotions is a powerful tool, transporting you back to your happy childhood or a memory which invigorates you, makes you forget your problems and infuses you with energy to take life by it's horns. It is not a way of escaping reality, it is rather drawing energy from your memories to remind you that all is well!