Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I am always amazed at how much impact some smells can have on ones life and state of mind. I don’t mean common smells – good fragrance, bad odor – the perfumes and the rotten eggs which evoke that ah or ouch moments. I am talking about the scents which are much more personal- hardwired into some inner, unknown consciousness. Smells which spring up and catch you by surprise and have the power to suddenly and without warning change your mood, your outlook, your frame of mind.

Yesterday, I was someplace where the receptionist just switched on the air conditioner. It gave off that slight whiff of old dampness (of an air conditioner unused for a while). Almost immediately I felt a heaviness in my heart - (I have no cause to feel so right now).

Which set me wondering about what possible association it could have which causes this sudden change of mood. I have felt it before – that sudden sniff followed by the melancholy. I know that the predominant mental image I have of the smell is a wet blackboard on a rainy day. Me, clutching someone’s hand and climbing up this dank, dark stairway which comes out to a second floor landing outside an old classroom on the second floor (I clearly remember the second floor bit clearly for some reason). I even remember that the bottom edge of the blackboard is above my head. (Reason validates that, the only classroom which could possibly fit that kind of memory happened when I was maybe three or four years).

I don’t know what happened which caused that kind of oppressive subconscious association. I can’t for the life of me remember, and neither can my mother. But that is the odor I can smell (even when it’s not physically present) on late Sunday evenings in the throes of pre Monday blues.

Similarly I can’t tolerate the scent or rose-incense sticks – and the variations of that rose perfume, rose sticks, gulaab paani (not roses though) – that’s always associated with traumatic death. Easier to explain since that’s one of the strongest smells which entered my head through the haze of pain of my fathers death. But what is more difficult to understand is how my nose can locate that sickly sweet odor when I hear of someone’s death miles away.

There are positive associations as well – first rains on parched earth are always the smell of childhood. Whatever I am doing, however stressed I am, that fragrance always manages to infuse a little freedom, loosen some shackles and make me feel lighter.

The intensity of the negative associations is usually far stronger though – can be almost like a physical jolt. .


Recyled from (12/05/2007)- Will shift a few more to blogspot. Pls to bear with me.


phatichar said...


Loved this post..

Drenched said...

I loved this post. :) I associate a lot of smells with people close to me and sometimes, when I am missing someone, I can instinctively sense their smell even if it's physically impossible. It's fascinating how the mind works.

narendra shenoy said...

I loved this post too. I've always been affected by smells, mood wise that is.

agent green glass said...

i know what you mean. i have moments like that. like when you walk up a building and suddenly you smell something cooking, and it reminds you of sunday lunch when you were a kid.

and when i shifted to my new place, one evening just as i was going out, i smelt this thing. lot of bongs burn it in the evening. and it reminded me of so many happy things. and i knew the new house was home.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

Phatichar - i read that. Pithy and goin for the jugular as usual.

drenched - isnt it? actually even the smell of people. you can actually verbalize it only when you are not close to that person.

naren - and the interesting thing is most of the time, it is subconsciouos.

agent green glass - yus thats pretty much what i mean. its a pity one cant replicate the smells on demand. would have made life much simpler.

AmitL said...

ah...Cyn,I guess that's what our olfactory senses are for-to enjoy smells of the good kind and turn up our noses at the bad ones.:)
But seriously,yes,even I remember scents of different kinds-the most favourite being,of course, that of fresh rains having fallen in the green areas.

phatichar said...


Whinophile said...

I like the smell of babies.. You know.. the freshly bathed, johnson's baby powdered.. it totally cheers me up!

And yes, I have an aversion for rose things.. (except the natural flowers) - I also cannot stand fruity fragrance in deos.. it makes me feel unclean as if there's fruit stuck all over my body! :P

Mehak said...

nice post! smells most certainly have intense powers of association.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

AmitL did you know that the term for first rain is petrichor? I used to find that word rather fascinating as well!

Phatichar - hello to you too.

Whinophile - yes, I have that fruit aversion too. Its very cloying no? And somehow I have noticed fruit perfume wearers douse themselves with the perfume.

Thanks mehak

Sanand said...