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Thursday, 21 August 2008

Senses and SenseAbility – 6: Smell

Senses and SenseAbility – 6: Smell

Smell goes with breathing, a vital function. Indic people believe that our life span is measured (or decided) by how we breathe – or the number of inhales and exhales, and not by days or calendar years.

It is a common experience that taste, smell and seeing also goes together when food is seen. Smell of food prompts appetite – attraction, or repulsion, in certain environment, for example when we are hungry. Infant wrapped in mother’s sari, as many people do in India, recognizes her smell, not only when she is physically close by.

How does our sense of smell get diluted when in familiar environment, or after we get familiar? For example, pollution of land and water and air – the three vital links to life – and in urban habitat, is unmistakable to nose, though not for our egocentric or helpless mind – whatever we are in social – political – economic hierarchy.

Plants have aromas, and their company on daily basis can rejuvenate our living. But we go on hacking them to make concrete jungles, to build industrial empires etc. for monetary gains. We don’t spare even the forests to make hill stations for our sensual pleasures.

Isn’t it absurd to destroy trees in the urban neighbourhoods, and travel miles away to enjoy nature, or build holiday houses there? Can’t we (or the experts) plan corridors of woodlands for the neighbourhoods in the new town or existing cities that are under revision every twenty years? Such green corridors would give safe passage to wild life (not necessarily tigers) and neighbourhood people would have company of plants and wild life at a walking distance. Instead we put them both in the compartments of reservations. Indeed we are becoming intolerant to other forms of living beings, consequently other humans, which may belong to other caste, class, religion, language, province or nationality.

The thoughtful technology (science, research, industry and trade hand in hand) is ready with remedies – deodorants, cosmetics, drugs… And when we fall to live a life of vegetable, it offers healthcare. We go on pumping deadly toxins in the soil and waters and air in the name of progress and development and economic gains: We neither think of posterity nor improve living of all the citizens on equitable basis.

Plants are helpless because they can’t move. However nature helps them to move far and wide and to propagate by various means, one of them is other living beings (other than man), whom also we eliminate along with plants.

Our love of plants ends with our love for visual aesthetics and imported exotic species, which at times overpower and destroy indigenous species, just like the firangis who came to India to buy spices. Under the influence of our past colonial masters, anything desi – local or indigenous – is detested, though it is Nature-given. I deliberately don’t use the term God-given. How God has messed up our lives, or to put it other way, how we have messed up our lives in the name of God?

Fragrance of Soil rises from the Earth with first shower/s of monsoon, which I relished for decades. But in this concrete jungle of Mumbai it is rare; I feel homesick when monsoon comes. In one of his stories G. N. Dandekar mentions an ascetic presents a small bottle of the perfume containing fragrance of soil to a passionate collector (“Kuna Ekaachi Bhraman Gatha” (Marathi).

Fragrance of Mahuva flowers have left with me their sweet memories forever, which I enjoyed many times during the Holi festivals among the Bhil tribes. Summer is the bloom time for Mahuva trees; the fields, forests, villages, wherever the trees are, are filled with sweet fragrance. So also the fragrance of its precious liquor, which is used on special occasions such their religious rite. The Mahuva flowers are the part of the Bhil’s staple food: vegetables, rotis and biscuits of maize flour… Indeed palm and Mahuva are inseparable part of tribal people.

Collectors of Fragrance: Like honeybees that collect honey, the orchid bees are ardent collectors of fragrance, various fragrances, all types of fragrances; from flowers to woods, decayed woods, even shit, perhaps to impress the females with their collection.

Humans may boast their superiority over the animal world, but they can’t beat orchid bees. Bijal Trivedi informs, ‘talk to any performer and you will discover that brewing a top-selling fragrance is mostly art and very little science. These olfactory connoisseurs travel the world roaming markets, gardens, jungles and rivers to sniff out exotic new scents – their brains trained to tease apart complex odours and describe them in words” (‘Smells rank’, New Scientist, 17 Nov. 2007, p.48-51). And the urbanites that choose to live in urban jungles must surely envy the tribal folks!

It’s plent! It’s all free!! For decades I enjoyed aroma of paddy farms. When you enter Konkan region you can’t miss it if you are travelling by automobile or by railway. During summer, the aromas of cashew and mango in blossom are distinct. Like Mahuva liquor, aroma of feni – cashew liquor – also spreads in the atmosphere.

The rich biodiversity of Indic region provides pleasant fragrances in the environment through all seasons for us to enjoy. And it comes free for all; you need not bottle it like kings and emperors. We have six seasons; the Chinese have twelve seasons: how keen interest the Chinese people must have in the environment. No, we are not talking about the Chinese government; the governments come and go; the civilisations come and go; the people prevail.

Modern city is a parasite, alienated from the nature. Not only does it devour the nature (in land, waters and living beings), but also denies the citizens their kinship with the nature. It becomes increasingly destructive with its growing size; its reach extends beyond and across the continents and the oceans. The modern city is a by-product of Industrial Revolution and handiwork of the centralised powers.

Remigius de Souza
© Remigius de Souza. all rights reserved.

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