The smell of memories

When you imagine someone reminiscing.. you imagine them seeing the scene in their head, just as it happened. Right? Like a movie. No other sensory function involved but your eyes.

It’s a little different with me, of course. Weird people are like that.

There is a specific smell I relate to some periods of my life. Like how my earliest memory of my father is the way he smelt when he came back from office and hugged me. The amalgamation of perfume and cigarette smoke. The way I relate my initial Potter mania to the Harry Potter bubble bath liquid. That dry cleaner liquid like smell of the place where I met this guy really long back when I was 13. The body wash smell of this April 2011.

Even my board exams are vivid in my memory with the smell of Indian paper and the auditorium. And the occasional phenyl smell of the floors on the way out.

I can never forget  the first smell of college. Something of a cross between old stone and rain. That’s how I remember it best.

There was the hilarious incident of how I remember the smell of soap when I saw a computer hang up for the first time. I was spooked by computers after that. All for the want of an alien’s carcass. Sigh.

There’s the nature smells. How I know my favourite places by the way they smell and also the first look I get of them (preferably from the sky.. but that’s for a later post) Mumbai, for its raw smell of rain, sweat and immediate waves of humid air. Riyadh for its smell of dry grass and sand. Dubai for its salty smell (very vague, but it’s up there). London had a weird rain/pigeon shit smell.

I could go on.

But you know what my best olfactory memory is?

I am 7. It was one of the first few days of 3rd grade. I was back at my old school after a gap of a year. Things were different, to say the least. All I wanted was to come back home and sleep. I was tired and hungry. I hand my bag over to Dada, climb up the stairs saying “Oooh! Mom cooked Sambhar! And potatoes. Wanna bet, Dada?” . I was right. That was the first time in my life I had done something that felt remotely psychic. But, that’s not what I really want to focus on. I ran in and called out for Mama. She sees me, calls me all the gooey gibberish in the world and declares the menu for lunch. She smells like Sambhar masala and lot of other spices. Also feels cuddly and tired. I sat content at the lunch table later, yapping away about the day.

SO yeah… it’s not like I don’t see things happen in my head too when I reminisce. This just happens to be an added talent/attraction/sideshow? I don’t know. Is there a word for this?


  1. You know, When I muse over something in the past,I usually remember it by what I was thinking back then. And as vivid as our thoughts are, they are usually not even related to the events that I am recalling. But i remember them nevertheless.
    I like the line, “she smells like Sambhar masala and a lot of other spices”. 🙂


  2. Haha. Of all the lines! Well, she has not read this yet. I wonder what she’ll say in response to it. Maybe something like “could I not smell like jasmine or something nice? you make me sound old!”
    I wonder how your remember what you were thinking back then. I usually forget. Weirdness, remember? 😉


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