I desperately want to know the word with which we can refer to people who have lost their sense of smell. Years ago, people used to attach so much importance to the aroma of food. Now no one seems to possess any sense of smell.
Absence of fridge those days enabled us to get everything fresh. Milk, ghee, curd, vegetables, fruits, rice, chapatis, breads and buns, everything had their own soul-stirring aroma. When I was a boy, a ghee vendor named Gopal used to bring ghee from his village. He visited homes on our street once a month on Sundays. He carried with him a ghee tin wrapped in a dhoti cloth. The fragrance of his ghee would arrive well before he himself appeared at our doorstep. Drawn by the aroma of his ghee, we children would go running to swarm around him. After the sale, he would distribute the leftovers among the children waiting with outstretched palms. The smell would linger in our palms for hours. Even today, after 50 long years, if I close my eyes and sniff my palms, I can smell the fragrance of Gopal’s ghee. None of the many brands of ghee the market is now flooded with can be compared to the simple, adorable stuff Gopal used to bring to our doorstep.
The next thing I remember when it comes to smell is our neighbourhood baker Balarama’s breads and buns. Balarama Nair from Kerala had a bakery on Lake View Road in West Mambalam. He had his own woodfire oven. The fragrance that emanated from his shop was so strong that one could sniff one’s way to his shop from half a kilometre away. During those days doctors used to recommend a diet of bread with milk for sick children. My brothers and I used to feign illness so that we would get to eat Balarama’s bakery bread.
After Balarama’s bakery comes Kamalakar Oil Mill. It was not a big enterprise. It was a small shop with a backyard where a wooden mechanical oil press was operated. The owner Kamalakar was himself a skinny person. He sold three kinds of oils: coconut oil, groundnut oil and gingelly oil. The fragrance of the gingelly oil overpowered the smell of the other two. Even after buying what I wanted, I used to linger around to inhale the smell of gingelly oil mixed with the aroma of coconut oil. Gone are the days when we were led by nose to what we ate.