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Like almost everyone I know, I watched “Barfi” last weekend (this is not a review of the movie btw). A brilliantly made movie, it made me wonder how significant really is ‘sound’? Yes, important in the mundane business of everyday living and to Pavlov’s dog – but significant? Not really. All my memories are always associated with the scents.

The earliest crisp smell of starched cotton saris, baby johnson lotion hands. At times mingling with a pungent matchstick lit, tobacco and Old Spice. Cocooned in soft and sepia. Safe. Familiar.

Sniffing curiously at an unknown mass of soft hair. Surprised eyes. Delight. Giggles. Filed away within easy reach to grab onto from million miles away. Forever.

Sliding down metal railings. Sour hands. Squelchy mud, the welcome whiff of rain-drenched grass. Crumbling stones, sinister stench of slippery mold. 4 p.m. freedom. Masters of our destiny, lord of the ruins. Until 7 p.m. – and a scrubbing of sweet smelling Ponds or tangy Cinthol. Later the pristine smell of Dove. Sudden sophistication. Growing up.

Old books. Well-loved. Sniffing at musty, well-worn pages. Reassured, friends. Startling the bookstore helper by a nose buried in the pages of a new book, drinking in the fresh glue-y fragrance.

Sharpened pencils, scented erasers. Chart paper and glue – depressing deadlines. Fragrance of runny blue ink labelled ‘Chelpark’, scratchy pens on fresh white paper. Monotonous fans, an occasional stifled whisper – sudden ringing of a well-known bell and sweaty palms. Last minute scrambles and an upturned ink bottle, bleeding blue, wiping out the words.

A sickroom odour of medicines, talcum powder and mosquito repellant. Malaria…or jaundice? Shaded lamp, tiptoeing feet. Delirium. Get-well-soon wishes from barely known classmates in faraway voices through a tinny ‘landline’. A duty done – or maybe heartfelt concern. Sleep comes a little quicker and deeper, the pillow feels cooler.

New feelings. Musky. Male. Excitement and racing pulses. Stolen kisses. Promises made and broken. Sickly scent of roses – yellow for friendship. Sounds of heartbreak, red-rimmed eyes and raw red wounds. Prickly soft toys, a little stale. Dairy Milk. The scents stand-in for the touch…

Tiny little markers to a lifetime of memories. Stealing upon us unexpectedly in the midst of rationality, bringing down defences and hurtling us down twists and turns of forgotten bylanes, bursting open tightly closed doors, flinging us back past the point of no return. The same memory…sometimes fragrant, sometimes putrid. But never forgotten.

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