Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Scent of a memory

Image courtesy: www.skottieyoung.com
The other day my dad mused, "If our mind had the capacity to remember everything, like a huge hard drive, our lives would be miserable and we would be dead by 50." 

Internet today has made it difficult to forget things. That song with funny lyrics you had heard when it was blaring outside your house during board exams? Go to YouTube and you might be able to find it. Remember that neighbour you had from years ago, she might be on Facebook. Oh her kids have got married. The married brother-in-law of the neighbour is present in the graduation ceremony of their third kid. Wow! They do look old. Zoom into their profile picture and you can also see their wrinkles.

Ah! Memories and Nostalgia!

Is nostalgia a bad thing? Those fading memories with a sweet aftertaste. Experiences that look sweeter because they are in the past? Memories are malleable. When you look back you only remember a figment of those moments under a veil of bittersweetness. 

Or are these reality checks of timelines memory a better deal? When you can constantly trace back your roots, and realize how foolish your hairstyle looked in your first profile picture. What about people with amnesia? Not remembering anything - good or bad - is that a better curse than remembering everything in detail?

I am glad there is no Google search for smells. The scent of that first kiss, scent of your mother's recipe of kosha mangsho, waft of tulsi chandan in that temple behind your grandparents' house in Varanasi. Or the stench of fish market on your way to the service apartment in a foreign country. Or the smell of strong musk worn by the uncle that pinched your cheeks for no reason.

Smell is the ideal route of nostalgia and memories. They snap you back into another world. Narrow lanes of your mind map, connecting different stories, holding milestones, scars and badges at every other corner.

Unlike thoughts, memories related to smells only come to you when you experience something similar again. It is difficult to define a smell and store it in a memory box. Unlike a memento that carries the map to revisit old memories, there are no tokens of scents that you can hold on to.

It is this transient feeling of a scent that makes it so irresistible and mysterious. Who knows what I may smell next and which lanes I may walk again. Like Alice in Wonderland you keep slipping into labyrinths as it fuzzily, gently keeps reminding you of a hazy past.


  1. So so true. The smell of Aloo fry in Mom's kitchen. Of ripe mangoes in Grandmom's house. And somehow, this smell just sticks to me - the smell of someone who returns from abroad. When we were kids and some Uncle would come from UK, we would sniff their clothes to get that "foreign" smell! :D

    Super post. Reminded me of so much! :)

    1. Haha 'foreign' smell. Sniffing the clothes reminds me of onset of winters. The smell of naphthalene from sweaters buried in suitcase from previous year! Ah! Delhi winter is one-of-a-kind experience.

  2. Very true. Incense sticks reminds me of my granny's place, Lifebuoy soap reminds me of college days when we used to dissect earthworms & frogs and wash our hands with it..ah memories. Your blogpost triggered lots of pleasant (and unpleasant) memories related to smell. Keep writing :)

    1. I am glad you could revisit those memories :)

      Thanks for dropping by!

  3. Perfectly said! Nothing can make you relive certain moments like smell does. I don't know if i like that though. Some smells can make me happy as a bunny, and some smells just make my heart ache and feel heavy. Sigh. (-Moo)

    1. Yea, I know what you mean. And sometimes I smell something and it makes my heart ache in a weird way, coz it touches a chord but I can't remember what it is. Memories are so fragile.

  4. I haven't shared a Haiku with you for a looooong time, your dad's comment triggered a memory of this

    There are two Truth types :
    Profound: Life's short; but eternal
    Clear: I think; I live.

    Sometimes diametric opposites can both be true ...

    In "Natural History of the Mind", some learned neuroscientists who studied memory were of the opinion that it is more incredible that we can actually forget, that man's mind is mindblowing in that memories can actually disappear.

    When we contemplate how awesome memory is, after a lifetime, a childhood perception can come back clear as daylight. How much more amazing is it that we can forget what is not useful to us.


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