The diligent ladies of the housekeeping staff in the hostel had washed the entire staircase from the ground floor to the second floor. I had had a long tiring day at college and was returning to my room dreaming of the luxury of my bed. After all, at the end of a hectic day, all you need to do is plunge into the bed and close your eyes. That’s it; heaven! As I took slow heavy steps towards my room, a faint scent arose from the stairs and struck my nose. It was familiar but faint. I took a deep long breath to get some more of it. This time, it was strong enough to push me down the memory lane. I closed my eyes as I breathed the scented air.
All I could see now was a long narrow hall that had seen generations pass by, with old greenish walls, its plaster coming off at places. These walls had witnessed the royal family and an extravagant zamindari affluence till late. Now, there was just darkness, which would shy away only when the sun shone from the twin windows that faced the vegetable garden, or when the dim yellow zero watt bulb lit up at the end of the hall, occasionally in the evenings. The wood used to make those twin windows and the petite door at the entrance, have stayed intact for over a century now. On either side of the hall, my grandmother’s treasured collection of clay toys from Dadri Mela, Banarasi saris, local jewellery, hand loomed cotton clothes, and huge jars of mouth-watering pickles were stored in big steel trunks. All of it would show up only when we all gathered at her place during the summer or winter vacations. Before and after that, she ensured that everything stayed safe for her dear children. The hall, more appropriately referred to as the storeroom, generally remains closed, so when you open it up in an attempt to steal some of your favourite candies, you could smell enough of the naphthalene balls and slightly damped walls near the windows. This fragrance was the same as at the stairway that I stood upon. With my eyes closed, every breath had my mind run farther in time. It had been hardly two seconds and I thought of so many lovely things. Yes! That’s what fragrances do to you.
The aroma or the perfumed night-blooming jasmine fill my heart with a warm feeling of togetherness and love. My ancestral house has a backyard where jasmines flourish and the soil waits for the healing rain water. Every morning, my grandmother would bathe and collect fresh flowers for her prayers. Red Malvaceae, white jasmines, yellow oleander (Hindi: peeli kaner) with their bright green leaves looked so fresh in the cane basket that I would have this irresistible temptation of making myself a garland out of those, but with age, I mastered the art of controlling my temptations and focus on which flowers to select. The backyard always smells of mangoes, litchis, guavas, jasmines, tulsi and so many wildflowers too that the newness and bloom never fail to impress.
Such is the effect of fragrances – sweet and nostalgic.