India, an olfactory journey

The fifty shades of a Veg Thali, the flashy pink horns of an indifferent Bullock, the bright orange loincloth of a chillum-smoking baba – India is a visual spectacle. Now, dear citizen, I urge you to close your eyes, channel your inner Ch’i, step out onto the streets, do the funky chicken, and sniff. That’s right, sniff away. Studies have shown that if you continue to do this while traversing a distance of one kilometre, you will be pleasantly/unpleasantly greeted by an average of 52,396 odours**. As the publisher of this study, and having sniffed my way around a good few cities myself, I shall now guide you through the familiar whiffs that have come to define our average Indian lives.

Bubbling Hot Milk

If you have lived in India, chances are you have been having your milk straight from the udders of a cow, delivered every morning at your doorstep in an old Sprite bottle. This also means that you woke up to the smell of the milk boiling. Whether you were a Horlicks kid or a Complan kid is a rather touchy topic we shall leave for another day. But when this would go out of stock, you have probably found a cardamom floating modestly in your mug, spicing the kitchen up with its aroma.

The Smell of Rain

Yes, most of the world is now suddenly familiar with ‘petrichor’, the fancy word for the earthy smell that accompanies the rain, thank you social media. However, I believe that being so articulate about the whole affair robs it of the extreme Indian-ness that I associate with it. Accompanied by the plastic smell of your old raincoat and that of the wet leather on your Scooty, this olfactory fusion is what dreams are made of.

Freshly-bathed Bodies

Yes, this is a creepy observation. Generally smelled in the wee hours of the morning (if you’re the type that discreetly sniffs at people on the street), you will catch the strong scent of Lifebuoy and Dermicool with a trace of coconut oil. Consider submerging yourself in a mob of said people if you do not remember the last time you stepped in a shower. Emerge from this smelling confusing.

The Scent of our Gods

Whether it’s lit twice a day in your living room, or wisps in through your neighbouring front door, or spreads its mystical fragrance from every breakfast-stall down the lane, the agarbatti, one of the mankind’s greatest inventions, is a critical part of any Indian’s daily routine. Nothing is quite as soothing to the soul.

Garam Garam Pakode and Chai

Citizens, I urge thee to bow down to the Supreme Leader of olfactory experiences. Often found to have hypnotic effects on its victims, targets are found navigating to the source of the aroma and indulging endlessly in it. They are then seen laughing loudly and trying to talk politics.

Open Drainage conceptualised by Cavemen

There is no need to elaborate here. Usually occurring repeatedly at 10-meter intervals, there’s nothing like the smell of gutter to keep you nice and grounded if you’ve been walking around with your nose in the air of late. You think you’re some big shot, huh?

The Metallic After-Smell of your Auto-rickshaw

Have you ever smelled your palms after clasping onto practically any part of the auto-rickshaw that brought you home? No number of iterations of washing your hands with Lifebuoy will rid you of it. You will go to bed feeling like the Tin Man.

Home, Sweet Home

The cottony Ariel-washed scent of your pillow, the possibly toxic fumes emanating from your laundry basket, the whiffs of curry escaping into your room, the smell of the wet leaves on the neem tree outside your window – there’s no place quite like home.


**Studies have also revealed that this is why our noses are so big and ghastly.


– Anupama Menon

About the author:

Lover of fat cats, hater of ketchup, generator of awkwardness….


Lover of fat cats, hater of ketchup, generator of awkwardness. General tendency to get excited very easily and start jumping.

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