Fragrance

April 27, 2010


I was in Fahud (Oman) then. We forced bachelors used to go for a walk after supper every day.  It was moonlit night and I became suddenly aware of the faint fragrance that was floating on the breeze. Suddenly, it was as if all the senses had come alive at a time, not only the olfactory. Real, still an ethereal experience.

Friends walking with me just waived off my suggestion, saying this was the normal smell of the winter. True. There were a number of frangipani and jasmine trees flowering every night in the campus. But this was a different fragrance. I could not place what it was; neither could I forget it until I went to sleep that night with difficulty.

Next day, same time, same pathway, and that same, faint but all enveloping fragrance! My friends said I must be going crazy. I was. Such was the unsettling effect. I begged excuse and went on search for the shrub/ bush which was trying to paralyse me. I searched all the shrubs lined along the two kilometre long path. Could not place my finger on any particular one. Again disturbed sleep that night.

Next day, during lunch hour, I enquired with the gardener as to what that fragrance can be. He asked me to describe it. And I did not know how to. If one did not know from which flower it was emanating from, how could one name it?

I came up with an idea then – I told him, It is not like Rose (Gulab), not like Jasmine (Mogra), or Frangipani (Chapha) or Lily (Kamal) or Tuberose (Nishigandha), or even Lemon, Orange, Mango.

He then suggested a few more names of flowers and I said, “No, it does NOT match any, but I have a doubt that its effect takes me to my childhood. Somehow it is related to old memories.”

He said, “Then Date (Khajoor) trees? And Drumstick (Shevga) trees? Or the frankincense (Ood) tree one of our Omani colleagues from Salalah had planted in front of his room?”

They were also flowering. May be that was the fragrance? I said I shall check out. That evening, I went in search of the trees.

My friends had now given up on me and seriously started thinking if they should label me SmellHound or FlowerHound or something like that in Hindi. But, such was the spell of the fragrance, that I could risk anything.

Next day, the gardener asked me if I had found the origin. I had not. He suddenly said, now only God can save you. I said, yes, possibly.

My search was on for a fortnight or so. One of those days we had a severe dust storm and a rain shower followed by it. The puddles on the footpath and the road were such that I had to tread a different, unpaved route that day after supper. As expected, the fragrance was now mixed with the fresh aroma of the soil wet with rain.

The senses I think were sharper that day, and Viola! I stumbled upon the strongest whiff. I judged the wind direction and literally started Doglike pursuit of the smell. I did not have to wait much.

It was a simple, seemingly innocuous, dark pink budded Oleander tree (Kanher) in full bloom which was emanating this enslaving fragrance.

Then I tried to relate the possible association of the fragrance. Was it something to do with the Ganeshotsav? The garden at our ancestral home? Festive crowd?

Kanher was quite common those days in every household, and the white one was useful for Shiva and Gauri Pooja. So, what was so special about its fragrance? I could only take ‘Not this’, ‘Not that’ route…. Only exception being, it reminded me of my very early childhood. That was all. Neither a specific instance nor person associated with it.

Generally I can associate any fragrance with its first significant memory. Moti soap and crackers with a particular Diwali, fermented Jaggery with a Kirana Shop/convenience store, cologne with an uncle, rusted chains with a hardware shop, Nirgudi (an antiseptic creeper) with my injury in an abandoned stone quarry…and what not.

Somehow, and for no reason, my brain had stored the Oleander scent for so many years in a safe deposit vault and released its effects during the past weeks for its amusement….Or I was being reminded and given a chance not to forget it again in future.

When I was tired of thinking, on a wilder note, I even farfetched the connection to my previous births, provided there were any and I was not a cat or a camel in those birth….who knows?

In a couple of days after I found it, I was through with this Kanher business and started sleeping well. When I showed them the bush, my friends were totally flummoxed by the finding. They were expecting a wild, exotic flower, but not this lower middle class Kanher. To pacify them and to celebrate my freedom from the clutches of that fragrance, we arranged a barbeque party next weekend in the company of that bush.

I made it a point that all my friends had a nose full of that fragrance before we concluded the party, so that they would also not forget and identify it in future without a doubt.

I sincerely hope that, that dumb shrub has wizened up and does not torture others now a day.

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6 Responses to “Fragrance”


  1. Lovely anecdote 🙂

    With the wealth and range of experiences that you have.. and your distinctive style of writing.. I’m really glad you’ve started this blog!

  2. Ranjeet Elkunchwar Says:

    @ Pa,
    Nice one. What was the nick name ?
    I was reminded of the movie “Perfume” where a perfume fanatic makes the most seductive perfume from the actual “fragrance” of 12 women. I think I will not spoil it if you haven’t seen it

    Keep writing. An extremely wise person told me “Write, not for the comments or readers, but bring to it to life”.

  3. saee Says:

    Hey,
    I had no idea you had such a place on the net. 🙂 Glad. I will follow it now.
    I can totally relate to your analysis.
    I associate so many smells with so many places and people too. Cloves always remind me of my grandmother. So much so that if I have them in the evening, I actually end up crying.
    It is funny when you go to buy a perfume for yourself. I always think that the fragrance that would really be “me” would have to have a little bit of all the people I have loved and cherished in my life. 🙂 Instead I have to make peace with a Chanel or an Estee Lauder. 🙂
    Very nice post.

    • rajeevelkunchwar Says:

      Other funny thing is, if you are already disturbed because of other reasons, these residual memories disturb you further. And they will attack at a time you never expected.
      How the french will know indian psyche? French will always be french.


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