The faintly acidic smell of ebony colored tamarind balls speckled with shiny bits of rock salt, make my tongue pucker up in anticipation of the sour, tart sensation; as if I have sucked on a piece of tamarind. The scent of tamarind and rock salt fills me with a sense of dormant excitement, a harbinger of the exciting things that lie ahead. It transports me to the ‘kottathalam’ the huge granite floored wash area in my grandmother’s home, lined with brass utensils waiting to be scoured out with the tamarind mix, until they glisten like gold. That for me signifies the start of the festival. Next to the wash area is the mammoth kitchen, which smells of burning wood and freshly pounded masalas, from the slow cooked curries, gently simmering away on the wood fired open stoves, like a contented elderly matron.
The night before Vishu, is a magical time when the puja room in my grandmother’s house gets transformed into an ethereal space, filled with brocades and antique brass ware. The scent of fresh jasmine garlands and wreaths of golden hued ‘konna’ flowers hang heavily in the air, mixed with sandalwood scented incense and burning, oil soaked, plump cotton wicks. It is this scent which permeates our senses first, even as we falter in blindfolded, with clumsy steps, like a baby learning to walk; unsure of where to put its foot next. It somehow make the whole experience of actually seeing the beautiful arrangement of flowers, fruits, the deity adorned in brocade and bathed in a celestial amber light from the flickering lamps, more pleasurable; much like how eating a meal off delicate porcelain china, enhances the taste and the overall experience of the meal.
The much awaited' kaineetam'*, brings with it, the scent of crisp, freshly minted currency ,which are doled out by benevolent relatives. Most childhood festival memories in my mind, feature my grandmother; with her gossamer thin muslin ‘ mundu veshti’* that smells of starch and buttery, mellow sunshine and soft skin which smells of Nivea cream and floral scented talcum powder, always ready to pamper us with gifts and time in equal measure.
Scents and odors, they say travel right up to the emotional or memory making part of your brain and words find their way up to the thinking parts. For me, it combines to turn an experience into a beautiful memory, to last a life time.
* Kaineetam:The popular tradition of elders giving money to younger ones or dependents of the family.
**Mundu veshti: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mundu