Smell is a powerful sense

June 19, 2006

Scents bring memories, and many memories bring nostalgic pleasure. We would be wise to plan for this when we plant a garden. – Thalassa Cruso, To Everything There is a Season, 1973

Scent of newly mown hay. The fragrance of Jasmine. Aroma of sizzling hot Bhajji. Perfume of roses. The redolence of fresh brewn coffee. Sweet smell of biscuits and cakes. The nostalgic smell of an old paper turned yellow. The smell of boiling milk.

Sweet smell of the soil after a shower. The fresh scent from a new notebook page. The holy smell of Sambhrani smoke. Smell of freshly washed and ironed clothes. Smell of shampoo. The combined smell of Plantain leaves, flowers and fruits before a festival. The combined smell of camphor, agarbathi and flowers in a temple.

The smell of Oggarane*. The aroma of roasted Jeera.The combined smell of Ghee and Elaichi while making a sweet. The aroma emanating when you boil Butter before it becomes Ghee. The aroma while making Onion Uppitt.

The scent of a fresh baby diaper. The raw smell of a leather ball. The healing smell of Vicks inhalation. The pleasant smell of Masala tea. The aroma of Pakodas emanating from a roadside stall. The strong smell of Petrol, Dettol and Crackers. The fresh smell of wood at a carpenter’s workplace.

Can you think of more?

****** ****** ******
I remember reading as a kid to blindfold a friend and hold a piece of Orange near his nose and put a piece of Apple into his mouth. Ask him what he is eating. And he says, “Orange”! I tried this and it happened exactly this way.

Most people just think of the tongue when they think about taste. But you couldn’t taste anything without some help from the nose! The ability to smell and taste go together because odors from foods allow us to taste more fully.

Take a bite of food and think about how it tastes. Then, pinch your nose and take another bite. Notice the difference? It’s just another reason to appreciate your knockout of a nose!

Nearly everyone has experienced a moment when a faint fragrance brings a memory of a long-lost moment in time crashing back to the forefront of their minds.

Often we will have forgotten about the event completely, yet it transpires our unfathomable minds have filed it neatly in some unreachable corner of the brain, primed for instant retrieval.

It may be the perfume worn by a long-forgotten friend, the stench of petrol from a youth spent worshipping motorcycles, the smell of smoke coming from burning leaves or the haze of chlorine from summer months lazing by the pool.

It is amazing that a few simple airborne molecules can trigger such vivid recollections. Your sense of smell warns you of dangers such as smoke and poisonous gases. It also helps you appreciate the full flavours of food and drink. I read that our sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than our sense of taste.

Childhood memories represent times when we were free from the responsibilities and anxieties of adulthood, so we may redefine them in an idealised way, even though many of the experiences we went through were difficult at the time.

Human beings tend to emphasise vision over all other senses, but our sense of smell is important enough to evoke its own form of déjà vu. Perhaps the foul and strange smells we experience today will be associated with fond memories in years to come.

(By the way, Anosmia is the loss of sense of smell.)

* Frying of Coriander leaves, Mustard, Jeera, Channa Dal, Urad Dal, Asafoetida (Hing) with Oil


30 Responses to “Smell is a powerful sense”

  1. Shruthi Says:

    Lovely post… I don’t have anything to add to your list of lovely smells… you have written it all 😀
    I have only one more, probably. The smell of seegekayi pudi, mixed with the smell of the smoke that comes from burning wood, in a hanDe.

  2. mavinayanasa Says:

    different type of topic and nice to read and enjoy. while reading i visualised as if smelling each one of the smells.

    you have covered almost all good smells. sometimes, foul smell also give inspiration. 😛

  3. RK Says:

    Shruthi: I’m happy you liked it. I thought about Seegekai Pudi and filtered it because when you try smelling Seegekai pudi, you get Ghaatu, and you start sneezing. As an afterthought, may be you can add it.

    Srinivas:Thanks for visiting. For me, foul smell gives perspiration.

  4. Vijay Says:

    Outside an Iyengar Bakery at around 3 PM.. just when the breads, pufss, and cakes are coming out of the oven… mmmmm

  5. RK Says:

    Vijay: Absolutely right. Yenu Suvasane!

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Naanu Dheerendra Gwopala
    Vasanae ..yinnondhu bittbitidhya Siva..( Infact several )..
    Ofcourse you covered all pleasant Suvasanae .

    Ningae gothagdhae yaavdhu Bus hathbittidhya ..Nidhaenu athkathu .
    Suddenaagi ningae yee vasanae(Su)

    1. Biscuit Suvasanae ..Mangaram Biscuits on peenya road (to tumkur)
    or Kwality Biscuth ( Mysore road after byatrayanapura)
    2. Ofcourse famous Vrushbhavati , kengari vasanae right from rajarajeshwarinagara Entrance.
    3. Chemical/Poultry Gabbu vasanae if you travelling to hyderabad via Bellary Road.
    4. Rich paddy field/Sugarcane field aroma between Maddur and mandya.
    5.if you are going on a two wheeler
    and eyes start burning..they you notice thick fumes of kerosene run Auto. ‘Thoo yavano kerosene hakkond odisthavane)
    6.Nimma mane Nithyamallige balli vasanae
    7.malleswaram Sampige maradha Suvasane( yeega hego gothilla)
    8. Railway station nalli Train dhu diesal engine smell . Munche Coal smell when train is going on a curve and you happen to hang out near window.
    9. On a sultry day travelling in a rush KSRTC bus .The smell of thaleyalli mudidhantha baadi hogiro Mallige Dindu vasane ( Su depends on yestu baadi hogidhae )
    10. Hot summer day when you get yourself with great difficulty into a BTS bus hardy finding space to keep your leg ..and the Body odor and stenching smell of sweat mixed with lack of air .
    ( easpecially if you happen to travel from city market/majestic to anywhere else)
    11. if you happen to walkthrough Magadi road , The different aromas of Agarbathi factory coming from homes .

  7. Roopadarshi Says:

    Has anyone anytime wondered why there are no specific words for specific type smell / aroma? We always say “smell of so and so” or aroma of so and so”. Till date I have come across only one specific word for smell of wet leaves and the word is snipid. This word was used in one of the Calvin and Hobbes comics by Calvin. However, I could not find this word in any of the known dictionaries.

    If any one of you know many more words like this, kindly share them. I am eager to know such words.

  8. RK Says:

    Dheerendra Gwopalanna: Adu yaa paati lisht kottidyanna. Badatthaddu nanna thalege ee paati lishte barlilla.
    1,4,6,11 bho pasandaayitu. mikkovu yeneno jnaapisbidthu budathlaage.

    roopadarshi:Very interesting what you have mentioned. I too would like to know about the words. F1 please!

  9. coup Says:

    ” For me, foul smell gives perspiration.” Haha nicely said. It’s funny how the first scent/smell i thought of was also that of mown hay, although i detest it.

    I wonder when the idea of smell-a-vision will become a reality?

  10. RK Says:

    Hey Coup,
    Yes, technically it is possible. It has even been tested. Maybe after 20 years.

    Imagine watching a TV show where a car is peeling out from a stop and the viewer gets a whiff of burning rubber. Or you sitting watching me Live on TV and smelling the Pakodas that I am preparing. Will this ever be possible?

    Years ago, in movie theaters, Smell-o-Vision was tried with varying degrees of technical sophistication. And was scrapped.

    Read this article in TIME about Smell-o-vision. very interesting.

  11. Sanjay M Says:

    Good post – and comes right after masala dose post… I can almost smell the dosas 😉

    About smell-o-vision, all colors can be represented as 3 basic colors – RGB – just look at the monitor with a magnifying lens, its just incredible that all those millions of shades just comes down to 3 colors per pixel!

    I wonder if smell can be reduced to such an equation as well…

  12. RK Says:

    Sanjay: It just happened that this post came after the one on CTR Dose!!

    Yes, I have tried seeing the pixels on a TV screen.

  13. Vidya Says:

    Hi Ramki,

    Smells, especially fragrances bring nostalgic memories. But not only that, there’s more to it.
    Today the world’s Flavor and Fragrance industry is worth about US$14 billion!!

    Here’s a different intro from F & F industry scientists who introduce us to
    Common scents: 6 basic fragrance types

    Floral — The largest, and most popular, category is created mainly from flowers, such as roses, orange blossoms, gardenias, jasmine etc. These are often blended together to produce a distinctive floral bouquet.
    Oriental — A heady mix of spices, amber, balsams and resins marks this type, suggestive of warmth and exotic sensuality. Because of the group’s rich, musky traits, these luxurious scents make the best statement in the winter

    Citrus — Derived from citrus fruits such as lime, lemon, tangerine and mandarin, this fragrance type projects a sharp, tangy aroma. Naturally refreshing and uplifting, citrus blends work well for women who don’t want to wear overpowering fragrance.

    Chypre — A notably woodsy-mossy mix, this type was given its name by French perfumer Francois Coty, who created a scent based on his impression of the island of Cyprus. “Chypre” simply is French for Cyprus and is pronounced “SHIP-ruh.” Hints of bergamot, oak moss, citrus and patchouli enrich the sweet, earthy aromas

    Green — Sharp, grassy notes blend with pine, juniper, leaves and herbs to create memorable perfumes. Sporty and brisk, green scents make good buys for the outdoorsy woman.

    Fougere — French for fern and pronounced “foo-JHAIR,” it’s a combination of fresh herbs and mossy ferns that come together in a sophisticated urban style. While men typically wear fougere fragrances, fougere fragrances still capture women’s olfactory attention. One fougere scent, Jean Nate by Revlon, has been a best-selling scent for women since its launch in 1935.

  14. RK Says:

    Vidya: Thanks for the info. Very interesting. Could relate to these terms vaguely after you told me so much about the F& F industry y’day.

    You being in the same industry, these terms will be at the tip of your tongue. But we are ‘Hulu manavaru’!!

  15. RedTulip Says:

    A baby knows his mother’s scent. That’s how he identifies her early in life. Isn’t it amazing? I enjoyed reading. Thanks.

  16. rk Says:

    hi redtulip,
    welcome to Rambling with Bellur.
    thanks for leaving a wonderful comment. discovering a mothers’ scent and her nipple must be one of the child’s earliest discoveries. simply amazing isnt’ it?!
    keep visiting.

  17. praneshachar Says:

    sambhrani vasane gotta? hage dashanga guggula hege
    chennagide vasane suvasane chennagirutte adare durvasane
    innu vishesha andre kelavarige kelavau smell sahisalagall talenodu barutte. for ex on a id day if come across group of muslims attar smell is not tolerable for me
    one man’s food is another man’s poison antharall hage

  18. rk Says:

    sambhrani vasane amogha sir. thanks for reminding about it!
    and of course, kelavu scent vasane thale novu barsatte. 😉

  19. Jamie Says:

    Just searching on google and found your site. It was ranked fairly high on google to. Anyway just looking around to see why.

  20. I am just amazed at how well you write! Keep-on going you are just so good… mary

  21. very entertaining site, I wish I could do as good as you! jannet

  22. bachodi Says:

    Rk, thanks for the link, nice read.
    When I was ten something , I attended a quiz. One round of it is smell quiz. They had kept different kitchen items and asked us to recognize. I got all of them right.. 😉 . And my teacher told me “boy ..!! You spend lot of time in kitchen!!!”

  23. neel3 Says:

    Aromatic post.. and fragrant comments…
    something that will remain in memeory for long!!

  24. […] almost lunch time now, but I can still smell that unique Sagu-Masale Dose from Vidyarthi […]

  25. […] like the other people. They drive around the town spilling more than what they carry, spreading the perfume under the brand-name, “Bangalore Mahanagara Palike’. If the people are cleaner, they […]

  26. latha vidyaranya Says:

    that was wonderful post, RK. i could very well relate to the sentence about how taste buds will be of no use without the sense of smell, the olfactory sense to relish any food, as right now i am having such terrible “negdadi” (cold and blocked nose) that since about a week, eating any of my meals has just become a mundane ritual as every item tastes like paper!

    another aroma that gives me a very holy feeling is the “homada hoge” – the aroma of burning various kinds of samittu in the homa.

    somebody mentioned the scent of a breast feeding mother that a child gets to identify easily. i immediately remembered how good the child smells after it has just finished its breast feed! i remember my kith and kin waiting to smell the child just after its feed.

    how about the stffy smell of a room in the attic that has been locked for over number of winters! how many memories it can bring to the foreground of our mind!

    how can we forget the whiff of air on a beach on a holiday?

    and the whiff of smell of ajji as the grand child sleeps on her “haasige and dimbu”! how secure it makes the child feel!

    RK, you really brought out the child in all of us to start thinking and bringing out all those hidden “aromas” in our minds! this is like a collective game, each one of us adding to the collection of aromas and sending each one of us down our memory lanes whiffing for the lost smells!

    just imagine how wonderful and sophisticated is our brain that it can file each of our sensory experience neatly into millions of files and retrieve them in a fraction of a second, making us all reel under the gush of nostalgia?!

    and do you all know of “synesthesia”?
    let me explain. it is a condition inside the brain where the sensory nerves from various sense organs bringing in different sensory experiences are wrongly connected to different sensory areas! and can u imagine the effect it has on the person? he can see smells, hear pictures, and smell colours and numbers! it is very true. there are a number of people in this world who can see colours when u mention a number, or when they look at objects, they either smell things or get a particular taste in their mouth that the object is in no way associated with those sensory experiences. i have a cousin who sees colours when i mention some mathematical digits. and this is a consistent experience for them – they see the same colour when we mention a particular number. and i have also come across some autistic children who experience this kind of erroneous sense upon sensory stimulus presented to them.

    and the surprising thing is that these people when they were children believed that that is how everybody experiences the sensory stimulations and they come to realize that it is not so only later, may be around the time of school going, when children read number three as 3 and not white or black! or when teacher reads a lesson or they listen to a rhyme, all children repeat rhymes, but these synesthetics would be either seeing colours or smelling certain scents!! amazing is it not?


  27. neel3 Says:

    wondreful information given. Thanks. A great help to teachers. Please start a blog and write about such things which are useful to all teachers and parents.It will help us understand children better.
    Regards, Neela

  28. whatsinaname Says:

    Wow! Ramki!
    It cant better. This is surely a wonderfully smelling post 🙂

  29. […] really difficult for a foodie like me. I see various dishes being fried and baked and I can only smell the aroma emanating from them. I am no way allowed to even stand in front of them. It is really tough to […]

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