Scent – A Soulful Companion of Daily Life
When we smell, we call to mind something or someone or a certain feeling, abjectly, as if we were experiencing it all over again, right at that moment. A scent can evoke other sensory details: the touch of pages of a book, the breath of a loved one, the comfort of warm sheets, the sweetness of a few minutes of freedom from the daily drill of life… There’s a pause – you try to place the feeling, or comb through the leaves of stacked and covered memories to lift the veil from one particular frame.
What could that pause, that freedom, that escape be but self-care? Scent helps us live in that respite. As we breathe in, that evocative fragrance slackens those emotional knots.
There are a number of things that we do to care for our senses through scent without even realising it. We wait for the rains to stop so that we can take a stroll on the streets, walking through invisible fragrant patches the rain creates. Scent of damp earth, smoky tarmac, wet flowers thrown from trees and shrubs, the frangipanis and jasmines strewn all over, releasing their last breaths, the champa tree exuding its heady fragrance into the moist air. The scent from the fallen damp eucalyptus leaves along with that of tea being brewed in a neighbouring house, carried by a cool breeze create an evocative montane atmosphere. We also take comfort in the smells of the evening: chai being brewed lets us foresee a moment of respite and nurturing. We doze off to the smokiness of the dying embers in the fireplace. We sleep better in our very own blankets because they have absorbed the intimate smells of our home, our books, our pets, our nightly rituals. We wake up to the anticipation of the scents of coffee and toast. And what would intimacy be if one didn’t know the scent of one’s lover by heart?
I have a neighbour, a retired Kannada professor, who fills her garden with only fragrant flowers. Looks don’t matter to her, unlike most people who keep gardens, she tells me. She goes after the fragrance. There are creepers of Spanish jasmine on the pillars of her verandah and the railings of her balcony- these tiny white flowers exude a strong, spectacularly divine fragrance. Geraniums surround the house. There are sweet peas that not only smell luxuriously sweet but also look pretty, alongside fragrant pots of davana leaves; particular types of roses that take precedence in imparting their soft scent over looks, frangipani shrubs that disperse powdery scented flowers through the garden, perfect clusters of tuberoses, their heady scent consuming the observer. If one cannot be there, surely one can imagine the beautiful scented calm a garden such as this might be drenched in. It is a perfect aromatherapeutic background to ease into, to settle the body, the mind, the spirit.
The professor is single and lives alone, and I’ve always seen her peaceful and happy, without many relatives dropping in for visits. During our early days of friendship, carefully minding the thought that she may have been posed with this question rather excessively and intrusively, I tentatively asked her if she ever feels lonely. On the scented summer evening breeze, her answer carried such a revelation for me.
She said patiently, “My dear, how can I be lonely when I’m surrounded by so many beings? Though they are plants, immovable, they have taught me so much more about life than any human could. Look at the tuberoses, for example. They stand silent, so patient, content in my little garden, head held high in all their majestic beauty. Through their fragrance they tell you: I’m a tuberose and I’m all of it. You see, I’ve never really felt the need for a husband or a partner to make me the person I am. I’m glad I am what I am by my own doing. Every day, these flowers speak to me in the language of their unique scents, and I speak to them.”
Night-times are almost magical in this wild garden. The professor sits on the veranda steps, gently breathing in the air of her handiwork, absorbed in her thoughts, and I in mine. The gentle breeze blows fragrant white jasmines around, like snowflakes. The parijatha tree sheds its numerous delicate flowers, their scent like that of a piece of heaven. The professor’s special tuberoses emanate their bold fragrance.
The moonlit garden with its perfumed shadows is a balm for the senses. Time there helps me easily bundle up all of that day’s stresses and put them aside, at least until morning. Such a night, bearing only the memory of a fragrant zephyr, is always one of peaceful rest.
One thought on “Scent – A Soulful Companion of Daily Life”
Very aptly penned. I could visualise the scene as well as experience the scent !!! Well written !!