Friday, January 12, 2007

Addicted to the Gamut of Smells?

One thing that is particularly remarkable when one goes to the so-called developing countries is the sheer number and variety of smells that assault one’s nostrils. One of the reason why there are so many of them is in part because most such countries are located in the warmer areas and we seem to smell things better than when we are in cold climate; the other reason is basically that hygiene standards are not as high. Also, there is a lot of cooking going on outdoors with smoke and fire and all kinds of oils being burnt right in front of you. Garbage lies in piles everywhere. Unleaded gas fumes and bonfires melt into a strangely heavy and moody smell.

Animals ( and often humans) answer nature’s call right where they live, and it seems that every second of you walking through the country, yet another new smell or a blend of several smells is “tasted” by your olfactory organs. There are also good smells everywhere- in many places you are near fields of flowers, haystacks, and for some reason, in the developing world they seem to smell more. Each such smell creates some kind of association in you with a mood, a sight, and also, your senses can even parlay it into a color or a sound if you have such a gift, and some people do.

You are now living in a great gamut of smells, a spectrum of sorts containing hundreds, if not thousands of major and minor scents and aromas, wavelets of exquisite odors and horrid stenches all mixed into one continuum. It is basically a world of its own, a universe of smells, as it were.

One can therefore say that certain areas of the world are smell-rich while others are smell- poor. In say, Singapore or Auckland one becomes very much aware of the fact that because of extreme cleanliness of such places, and the very strict regulations governing garbage disposal, outdoor culinary activities and regular cleaning efforts by the municipal authorities, the number of smells there is much lower than, say, in Cairo or Nairobi. If you got used to so many smells where you used to live and then move to the sterile and squeaky clean first world cities, you will sometimes experience a longing for all those scent-related experiences you used to have. Life was fuller to a degree, you may think, even if some smells were offensive. You may even experience a “smell hunger” when in Tokyo, after you had come back from Jakarta and even begin to feel depressed and nostalgic for the places where such invisible riches abound.

Once hooked on living amongst such a diversity of olfactory experiences, one is again bound to return to smell- wealthy countries often unless one can recreate such a condition at home which would not be easy or legal in most places. So, a smell addict keeps going back for more again and again and again. Ah, the smell of un-spayed cats mixed with the exquisite sense of fresh strawberries and a smoke from a bonfire nearby with sights and sounds of braying donkeys nearby. That’s living, ain’t it!

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