Fragrant connections


One of my dear friends has invited me over to to her house to celebrate Sankranti, the Indian harvest festival. As part of the rituals, my friend dabs a little perfume on the back of my palms. The perfume is of the champak flower. I inhale deeply, the perfume is fresh and fragrant.

The fragrance transports me to my husband’s childhood home, where his parents had planted two champak trees, when they started construction of their home after marriage. The trees are more than fifty years old now, and form a fragrant archway at the entrance to our home. Both trees are still flowering.

When he was still with us, it was my dad-in-law’s job to collect the champak flowers from both trees. Since the trees straddle three floors, one has to go up to the terrace on the third floor to pick the flowers. A specially designed long stick, with a small hook at one end, was the tool of choice to gently nudge the fragrant flowers from their branches. The flowers were collected in an orange bag (a wire bag made at home by my husband’s mom). The beautiful creamy yellow of the champak flowers beautifully contrasted with the orange of the bag. Once he was done, my dad-in-law would leave it in the living room. My mom-in-law would retain a few flowers for herself, to offer at the altar during prayers. The rest were for neighbours, who would drop-in at various times to take the champak flowers. Some would call from the gate, and my mom-in-law would pass it to them after a quick chit chat. Some neighbours would come home and stay for a cup of coffee and exchange local news.

By noon, the orange bag would be empty and go back to its rack in the store room, till the next time. In the evenings, when the sun would go down in the sky, and a gentle, cool breeze would blow, the delightful and invigorating fragrance of the champak flowers would waft in the air. We would usually stand at the entrance and close our eyes in bliss.

All the nostalgic memories come back to me now, as I bid bye to my friend and thank her for her hospitality. Beautiful champak flowers, fragrant memories and deep friendships. I sigh in pure contentment.

My Grandma’s friend


When I was growing up, we lived in a big joint family with my grandma, aunt and uncle. Life was always exciting; the house was always filled with people visiting. The kitchen was a bee-hive of activity. From 6 am to around 2 pm, and then again from around 4 pm to late at night.

Picture courtesy – 123RF.com

My grandma, mom and aunt were permanently busy, and we tried to keep out of their way. Life was simple and fun.

My grandma’s house was the third house in a long line of houses; neighbours we knew from birth. In the third house from ours, on the right, which was the sixth house in the row, lived one of my grandma’s dearest friends.

My grandma’s friend was referred to as ‘the aunt who lives in the third house from ours’ (loosely translated from our language).

So, when there was a festival, we became errand girls, as we ran to distribute sweets to our neighbours. We frequently visited “the aunt who lived in the third house from ours”, as, being dear friends, my gran and she exchanged a lot of things – sweets, vegetables, sometimes change for currency, sometimes grocery….

Also, nearly twice or thrice a week, “the aunt who lived in the third house from ours” called on my gran during the 2 pm to 4 pm lull time.

She wore lovely vibrant sarees, and a big pink Bindi on her forehead. She usually carried a bunch of keys, that had a long metallic keychain. This used to fascinate me. She had a distinct cough, and she coughed on and off. We were not allowed into the living room, so we peeked from the window sometimes.

They caught up on their everyday lives. At 4 pm, after her friend left, my grandma and mom would head into the kitchen to start preparations for dinner. All meals were prepared at home, and there was no concept of eating out.

My grandma and the “aunt who lived in the third house from ours” went back to their chores, totally rejuvenated after their afternoon chit-chat.

But it wasn’t until much later, when I had started working, that I heard about the passing away of my grandma’s friend. It was then that it hit me; that I did not know her name!

But, she continues to live on in our memories as the “aunt who lived in the third house from ours”; and evokes many lovely moments from my childhood.

Neighbours


Today, we have more smartphones and tablets than the number of members in a family. We sit on our couches or slouch on our beds, busy connecting with people from around the world.

But the world was not like this at all, when I was growing up. All social networking was done face to face.

We had neighbours. We grew up with them, till we went to college, got jobs, married and moved out.

We played for hours on the street, till the street lights came on. We played riotous games, and sometimes spent entire evenings looking for a missing tennis ball.

We formed numerous clubs, drawing inspiration from Enid Blyton books, and many other childrens’ movies. We put up stalls, and all kinds of shows for our parents.

We attended exhibitions of butterflies and other insects put up by the neighbourhood boys. We went into the neighbouring woods to collect eucalyptus leaves, which we used to light bonfires.

We spent all our time in and out of each others’ homes, bringing plates filled with lunch, and eating together in a friend’s garden.

We had fights, silly squabbles and long battles that sometimes lasted an entire season.

We eagerly opened boxes of yummy snacks that neighbours sent to us. We went in droves to the home where the first television made its appearance.

Image courtesy – http://www.fotosearch.com

We watched the glorious Indian Monsoon with our noses plastered to the windows – howling winds, lashing rain and falling trees.

We watched the first frost of winter, and gobbled up piping hot venn pongal that was served in the neighbourhood temple.

We knew a lot about each other and our families. We lived at a time when we got ‘live updates’ about each others’ lives.

We had lovely neighbours.

Imaginative nose


I have a sharp sense of smell. I can smell, from afar, if all the masalas in my curries have blended well for that perfect aroma. Enough said.

A few months ago, when I got back home in the evening, I could smell something milky at the doorstep. I sniffed appreciatively. Looked like one of my neighbours was making something with a milk base.

image

             Courtesy – http://www.123rf.com

The next morning, when I walked out the door, the same smell wafted in the air. I sniffed, this smelled different. Maybe a little like yoghurt. Maybe the neighbour was trying to condense the milk or make cottage cheese.

Day 3, the smell was stronger and not so nice. Had the neighbour put ‘the milky condensed yoghurt, cottage cheese ‘ dish out to dry or something?

Day 3 evening, the smell was unbearable, unbearable to the point that I wanted to puke.

What could I do? I walked towards the store room cupboard, to take out a new cereal box. This store room is right next to our main door.

I opened the store room and ughhhhhh! The stench was from my store room.

The smell of curdled milk hit me with such force.

I quickly ran to get a towel to cover my nose, and then started the process of discovery.

One of the tetrapaks of milk had puffed up and burst, the said ‘milk-yoghurt-cottage cheese’ had flown down the cupboard like a river.

Believe me, it took some cleaning. For days afterwards, I could feel the smell in every pore of my body. It was as if the whole thing had permeated my skin.

Hmmmm….so much for the milk-based dish !

Imaginative nose


I have a sharp sense of smell. I can smell, from afar, if all the masalas in my curries have blended well for that perfect aroma. Enough said.

A few months ago, when I got back home in the evening, I could smell something milky at the doorstep. I sniffed appreciatively. Looked like one of my neighbours was making something with a milk base.

image

             Courtesy – http://www.123rf.com

The next morning, when I walked out the door, the same smell wafted in the air. I sniffed, this smelled different. Maybe a little like yoghurt. Maybe the neighbour was trying to condense the milk or make cottage cheese.

Day 3, the smell was stronger and not so nice. Had the neighbour put ‘the milky condensed yoghurt, cottage cheese ‘ dish out to dry or something?

Day 3 evening, the smell was unbearable, unbearable to the point that I wanted to puke.

What could I do? I walked towards the store room cupboard, to take out a new cereal box. This store room is right next to our main door.

I opened the store room and ughhhhhh! The stench was from my store room.

The smell of curdled milk hit me with such force.

I quickly ran to get a towel to cover my nose, and then started the process of discovery.

One of the tetrapaks of milk had puffed up and burst, the said ‘milk-yoghurt-cottage cheese’ had flown down the cupboard like a river.

Believe me, it took some cleaning. For days afterwards, I could feel the smell in every pore of my body. It was as if the whole thing had permeated my skin.

Hmmmm….so much for the milk-based dish !