Saturday, July 3, 2010

Sights, Sounds and Smells

Has it ever struck you that how people and places can be uniquely identified based on how they look, sound and smell?

Isn't it amazing more in the case of places?
The feeling of the salt in your hair on a beach, the smell of fish cooking from a bengali's house, the sound of the morning aarti bells from a temple, the sight of a whole city lit up in the night!

I have always felt that India is the richest when it comes to the diversity and the peculiarity of the varied sights, sounds and smells. I do not think there exists another nation so pregnant with such sensory stimulation.
And the truth of the fact strikes you the most when you are returning from an alien (read phoren) land :). I am sure my fellow "desis" will nod their heads in agreement (and amusement). The first proofs of this are available at the airport itself.

So, this time when I landed back from my transatlantic vacation - mind warped in the rapidly changing time zones I had travelled through - as I dazed through the ramp, I heard a 4-year ABCD (yes, american born confused desi) kid exclaim in a very matter-of-fact tone, "Now, this smells like India!".
Smart kid, I asserted to the slightly embarrassed parents. It was raining, and the muffled smell of wet cement and an unhealthily moist carpet, familiar to every Indian who has experienced the proverbial Indian monsoons, wrapped the air.

I, almost instantly, realized that actually there has been no other place where I could have landed and proclaimed "Now this smells, sounds, or looks like xyz". I mean you cannot distinguish HongKong and USA at the airport - There is this antiseptic sanitation - you cannot feel anything specific to that place - there are generic expected noises and sights - no smells (which believe me is very pleasant, and no am not complaining about that :))!
Forget the airport, most fast paced cities in the developed and advanced nations look so same - you visit one and then the other and the other and there is this characteristic cloning.

It never seizes to flabbergast me how even the various Indian metro cities still manage to have their distinct characteristics that attack, revolt, and please your senses alternately.
Where else in the world would you land and be welcomed by the smell of bidis from an open construction site (Delhi airport), the shouts of "gents and ladies separate line please for security" (Hyderabad airport), the gentle chiding of the security guys, "madame no need to take out laptop" - so what if the board says so (Mumbai airport), the strong smell of jasmine flowers from the masses who have come to receive a single member at the middle of the night (Chennai airport), and ofcourse, the sight of thousands of black and yellow auto rickshaws and taxis whose drivers in khaki uniforms create a stampede to invite travellers (Chennai airport again)!

My musings were suddenly interrupted by the blackout because of a power cut.

"Welcome to India", many co-passengers joked as we went on to face shortage of immigration forms, soaked luggage, and continued power cuts at the airport, but that is a different story, isn't it? ;)


  1. A very romantic way of looking at India. Not that I don't agree but somehow I liked the experience in UK with the order and in spite of all that, I could smell different things there.

    The smell of coffee served piping hot, perfumes as one passes the duty-free shops, the sounds of a different tongue. All these are fond memories of Heathrow and Belfast International airports.

    Maybe India seems a tad vibrant but one cannot overlook the differences in the smells, sounds and sights in other countries.

    Have a lovely Sunday, Yuvika.

    Joy and peace,

  2. well that is my point - India is a little on the extreme when it comes to an attack on the senses - there are way oother smells that could be way more pleasant!

    Nice to read about your sensory experience - cheers!

  3. I know exactly how you feel. Incredible India. I love it too, and it feels almost like home after all these years!

  4. yep - that home feeling is unmistkable

  5. Very true Yuvi...
    There actually is not difference in the large cities of developed nations.
    I cannot say between London and New York by the streets (of course there are landmarks..)
    But India is certainly different. Whether it pleases or revolts depends on the individual! You are right..

  6. I couldn't agree with you more.
    I personally feel very relieved and happy the moment I land on Indian soil.

  7. @Ram: yepp the pleasure and the revulsion depend on the individual and how extreme the sensory attack is ;)

    @Chowla ji: It sounds cliched but nothing feels like home :)

  8. :-D true true true, every word, every expression.
    ye hai India meri jaan and very very different in every way from every other country.
    Yahan meel meel pe paani changes its taste and the mud looks different and people speak different languages and dialects!
    I love it..incredible India!


I appreciate you taking out the time to share your valuable opinions! They mean a lot!


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