The human brain is such a fascinating… organ? A lot of times, you are not even aware of the connections its making on its own but if you sit down and think about it, man, it’s one hell of an, organ.
The sense of smell particularly fascinates me. It sneaks up on you at the most random places and the memories it triggers are even more so. On my way back from a jog one morning, I sensed some smoke in the air; the kind that comes from a wood fire. My mind immediately conjured up images of my grandmother in a red sari, sweating at her brow, eyes watering from the wood fire she was in front of as she made sel roti during Tihar. As an afterthought, I remember my grandfather, the sweet and simple guy he is, holding an umbrella behind her, protecting his wife of fifty four years from the autumn sun.
A week or so ago, I was in bed, just waking up and thinking about my day, not really planning it but just randomly trying to manage it in my head. The curtains were drawn and I could sense that it was late from the activity upstairs in the kitchen. That’s when it happened. I pulled open the curtains to the side and a wave of fresh air let my memory drift back with it to my childhood.
Until I was ten or so, I lived and went to school in Birgunj, a small-ish industrial town. Now it’s more city than town, with all the banks, clothing stores and one “MacDonald”, but back then it was so different. Birgunj is right on the border with India and so there were a lot of Sardarjis there who owned huge 16 wheeler trucks which they either drove or gave it out on hire. Some of them had lived there for decades. One Sardarji and his family rented our ground floor rooms. Each morning before spending the children off to school, I’d watch the Sardarji’s wife tie her sons’ long hair into a small ball-like bun right on top of their head. I remember fondly how one day she called me to her and used a potato to tie one on my head too. So anyways, back to the main story, there were also a lot of Muslims and Marwaris in Birgunj then. So in the mornings, when I’d just be rubbing my eyes open and trying to think of excuses to miss school, I’d hear prayer sounds from the mosque’s speakers near our home. For some reason, probably because it’s a pretty soothing sound, (random trivia: its right up there on my list of soothing sounds with night insects and the sound of flowing water), I’d take a long, satisfying breath of air. And the air smelt a different way; fresh and cool and somehow ‘bright’, almost like it had some of the sunlight that makes Birgunj summers super hot. That morning, a week ago, as I lay in bed, at least fifteen years after I left Birgunj and about 350 kilometers away from it physically, a random morning breeze reminded me of all that.
I studied in Budhanilkantha School, famous for having had former Shah princes as students and also because Budhanilkantha students do great academically (well, maybe not all of us!) and had a reputation for topping the SLC exams every year. But the thing I love about the place, second only to having crazy friends from all over the country, was the space. The school was so f$%^&g huge. I passed through there yesterday and peeked in through the main gates and the lush greens made me want to go to school again. Back then, in the afternoons as it’d start to rain or at least look like it, our teachers would hurry us indoors to our dorms. Climbing on our beds and looking out the window, I remember how amazing the first drops of rain smelt as they hit the parched summer earth – like a possibly delicious forbidden fruit. I’d stay there sniffing at the air like a dog.
Rounding up the list a little oddly is the smell of money and how it reminds me of… my dad. Alright, okay so I know how that sounds but let me explain it better. My dad’s a businessman and so at the end of the day, he’d have the smell of paper notes on his fingers from counting money before he shut shop for the day. I was young then and so as soon as he’d get back from work, he’d touch my face and his hands would smell of money! In boarding school, a lot of us got homesick. Different things would trigger the homesickness for us though. Its funny how, when I’d count how much money I had left to buy myself some tucks, I’d miss my dad.