A World Without Smells Would Stink

“They don’t know what you’re doing
Babe, it must be art
You’re a headache, in a suitcase
You’re a star

Oh no, don’t be shy
You don’t have to go blind
Hold me, thrill me, kiss me, kill me”

And Smell me? Ha! Love U2, love this track!
Smell is a more powerful sense than many people realise, and can evoke all sorts of feelings and memories – potentially having a huge subconscious influence on how we feel. Anosmia is the medical term used to describe no sense of smell. I cannot imagine a world without the ability to smell. For a start, I would hate to lose one of the most powerful memory triggers around. I think many of us have memories that are associated with certain smells

For example, when I smell ghee, I immediately think of my grandmother. I can picture my favourite thili saaru (watery dal) bubbling on her stove, the rich aromas of its ghee tadka filling her little kitchen.

Similarly, I need just one whiff of Dettol anti-septic liquid, to conjure up an image of my dad. I can still see him standing in front of a small mirror in the dimly lit bathroom, his mouth stretched to the left or right , as he first thoughtfully shaves the tiny bristles around his thick moustache and then gently dips the old-school shaving blade in the aromatic Dettol water stored in a plastic mug under the running tap.

But these are both memories that haven’t totally escaped me. There are other memories stashed in a far-flung filing cabinet of my brain that need a trigger, sometimes a smell, for them to make an appearance.

One day I might be walking through, say, a busy street market in Bangalore, when I am confronted by the smell of freshly baked bread from a bakery. I hesitate ever so slightly mid-step and slow down. At first, I don’t know what the smell is but it’s stirring emotions inside me.

Then it slowly comes back to me: those days after school when my mom and I would walk back home with me swaying my empty lunch basket along. She would normally say no to any requests to eat out, but Saturdays were different. We’d be let off by 12:30 pm on that day. Both of us would laugh and hurry home with different colored lollies(Popsicles) she’d buy me from the bakery after having a palya bun or two at an Iyengar bakery near my school. She always preferred the orange or mango flavored lollies. The grape she’d say tasted like cough syrup.

I recall the sun beating down on my head, the smell of her Boroline cream, her soft hands, and her glowing face from beneath the shade of a small floral-print umbrella. Years later she was gone, her strong body ravaged by a fast spreading cancer.

I smile. I don’t have many memories of her from my childhood – she had a full-time job, so I’m glad when one makes an unexpected appearance.

And how can I forget the smell of a dog? I still remember nuzzling my first dog as a kid because I wanted to lose myself in that distinct smell that is part puppy, part dirty dog and part dog bath product.

That smell still tugs at me whenever I hold any dog today. Of course, there are some other dog odours that I could happily forget about all together.

I could go on but you get the drift.
If you love aromatherapy or a heady fragrance like I do, then your purse too must be filled with sprayed on scent blotter strips.
They are also called tester strips, sampling papers, odour cards, perfume blotters or the more poetic ‘mouillettes de parfum’. Of course, if they were priced any lesser I’d have all of those dainty bottles lining up my shelves but for now the memory of the scent on paper will have to do.
I read somewhere that a considerable amount of technical effort goes into making sure that fragrances smell as good as possible on a scent strip. To start with, there are several different grades of absorbent board to choose from; this is usually dependent on brand and budget. Perfumers will typically test several different types of board, evaluating their suitability by spraying them with, and dipping them into, the proposed scent, as well as using a roller to spread it around, noting the various effects on the fragrance. It’s important that the medium used for sampling is pH neutral to avoid cross-contamination. This may all seem slightly over the top, but manufacturers and retailers are well aware that how the perfume smells on these cards can have a major effect on a consumer’s purchase decision – crucial when a company has invested a huge amount of time, money and high quality ingredients in developing a new fragrance.

Scent Blotter Sketches

So, since I had a lot of these scent strips lying around and considering the good quality of paper used- I decided to use my water colour brush pens and draw a little. Now I only wish I could buy big sheets of this paper – trust me they are really good.


158 thoughts on “A World Without Smells Would Stink

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  31. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I do not know who you are but certainly you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

  32. Absolutely Lars – how could one ever miss anything they’ve never experienced, right? It reminds me of the movie ‘City of Angels’ where Meg Ryan’s character is trying to describe the taste of a pear to an angel who can only see but can’t eat/smell/taste/feel the texture.
    Seth: What’s that like? What’s it taste like? Describe it like Hemingway.
    Maggie: Well, it tastes like a pear. You don’t know what a pear tastes like?
    Seth: I don’t know what a pear tastes like to you.
    Maggie: Sweet, juicy, soft on your tongue, grainy like a sugary sand that dissolves in your mouth. How’s that?
    Seth: It’s perfect.

  33. Hi!
    I know it’s a play with words and maybe I should have stressed the metaphorical part in my comment.
    It stinks (they say) to lose your sense of smell, going from a world with smells to one without. But being congenital, born this way, makes it very different.
    Smells do not exist in my world, so the book title describes it from a smellers point of view. My world is not without smells because one can’t be without something that doesn’t exist.

    I liked your blog entry because, like most congenital anosmics, I am curious about and intrigued by your smelling world. It is so very alien to me. You describe it so well, but it is still totally beyond what I can understand. =)

  34. I also browsed through your blog and congratulations on your new book on Anosmia. So proud now that you stopped by my page. Thank you!

  35. Hi Lars – I appreciate you stopping by to read and comment. English is not my first language. However, the headline uses the word ‘stink’ to mean ‘not very good’ – it doesn’t mean to say ‘it smells bad’. It’s just a play on words.
    Here’s some info I found that makes it easier for us to understand ‘It stinks, or to stink! It stinks traditional means something is very, very smelly like [example], “Whoa! This house stinks!” As in, this house is very, very smelly.
    But we can also use it in slang to mean not very good. For example, “That movie stinks!” [meaning] That movie, isn’t very good. Or, “That actor, he stinks!” [meaning] That actor isn’t very good. So, what in your life stinks? Or what do you think stinks?
    Again, thanks a lot for stopping by! Do visit again.

  36. Well, it actually wouldn’t. Stink, I mean.
    My world has always been without smells and it doesn’t stink. Not literally, not metaphorically. It’s actually always… clean. And normal. To me.

    Without smells, nothing is ever really dirty. Air is never stuffed or bad. Clothes are never reeking of sweat.

    A world without smells is always clean.

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