India is a land of contrasts. From the majestic Himalayas in the North to the beaches in the South, from the remoteness in villages to the urban jungle in cities, from fast-moving Ferraris to bullock carts trudging along the same road, from serene temples to boisterous markets, we have it all. Within all these contrasts there lies a layer of scent, smells and aromas that fill our minds with different kinds of memories as we travel through the diverse country. East, West, North, South it's hard not to carry back a "smell" souvenir!
Growing up in cosmopolitan Bombay or Mumbai as one now calls it, I have had the fortune both good and bad to experience it's heady smells and exotic scents. I can close my eyes and yet know which part of the city I am travelling through, specially on the routes that I most often use. A ride from Dadar to Mahalaxmi starts with the freshness of the early morning dews in the nearby park, somewhere in between comes a flour-making mill with a different kind of welcoming scent. An open urinal right after would suddenly make me hold up my hand to my nose till we finally reach the race course with its familiar scent of the horses. On the way back home there would be an additional smell of fresh greens as the delivery trucks carrying fresh vegetables unload just outside Plaza cinema in B.B. Dadar. In the same way a morning walk around 5-gardens in my vicinity wouldn't be complete without the fragrance of burning sandalwood from the nearby Fire temple. One can't escape the aroma of 'dhansak' being cooked or eaten in most Parsi homes on a Sunday afternoon. Evenings would bring along the appetising spicy whiffs of the bhelwala making bhel or chaat or the sandwich-wala with his freshly cut cucumbers and tomatoes. But mind you, don't venture too close to where they throw their daily trash, you wouldn't want to be there for too long!
Open drains, public latrines, heaps of uncollected garbage, Mumbai has its share of unpleasant smells too, but if I had to recall one particular 'smelly' incident that has made its mark on my mind, it is this one. We were in the middle of a really wet monsoon season and I had gone to watch a movie in the cinema with some friends. As I was looking for my seat in the dark (the movie had already started) I got this faint whiff of something similar to the stench of a dead rat. It got stronger and stronger as I moved towards my seat. As I sat down I tried to ignore it and concentrate on the movie. The film was a long drawn family Hindi drama with over 12 songs and over-rated actors so my mind got diverted to the smell again and this time I was insistent on finding out its source. It did happen to come from my right hand side where a man was sitting and constantly fidgeting with his feet. I was an hour into the movie and almost getting used to the smell when my neighbour decided to shuffle some more and take off his shoes. Before I could react I got a full blast of stench straight into my nostrils! So that was the culprit - smelly feet! I had no choice but to get up and leave after that. Did not find out how the movie ended but at least one part of the mystery was solved. I knew where the smell was coming from!