Smells of India

Smelly trench by Chelsea Foster

Chillakallu, India 1/5/13

India offers overwhelming opportunities for olfactive overstimulation. If ever technology allows for scratch 'n sniff photography, India would undoubtedly serve to be one of photographer's most favorite subjects. But until then, allow me to use some words to describe the vicious assault against one's nostrils while breathing in the air of this chaotically charming country. 

A walk down the road may first offer you a pleasant whiff of curry bubbling in big pots, cooking over an open flame. Therefore, you'd also smell the smoke from the fire. But is it really curry you're smelling, or could it be the remnants of an already-digested curry floating forgotten in the cesspool filling the ditch along the path? Your nose may not be able to discern between the two, and your brain will hate you for it. 

Rancid may be a word used to describe particular smells in India, but that same smell of fermenting oldness is also a flavor that envelops some of the sweet treats you are offered to eat after a meal here. So again, was it a sweet treat you smelled? Or could it have been an old bucket of milk curdling in the afternoon heat? Just eat your treat and stop thinking. 

Occasionally, a fresh breeze will bring new air all around you. You'll twirl in this newness, but only a couple twirls. For freshness is short-lived here in India. It's only a matter of seconds before a semi-truck comes barreling down next to you. What once was fresh and breathable is suddenly dust, exhaust, and black smoke. Stop your twirling, and hold your breath. 

I was walking down the road the other day and saw smoke rising from a yard along the way. I breathed in the smell of breakfast cooking, and thought, "Ah, now isn't that just delicious." A moment later, I looked down on the road and just narrowly avoided stepping on a diaper filled with poop. I was struck by the circular way of things and immediately stopped thinking in terms of "deliciousness". 

Dirt and grass can be smelled fairly consistently here out in the Indian villages. That's a nice natural reprieve from the inevitable blast of trash-infused air that's just a windswept walk away. There's good with the bad. 

Deep breathing in India should be done with deep skepticism of what is being breathed. If it smells too good to be true then it probably is poop. If it smells like curry, it's probably poop. And if it is wafting from a water buffalo pasture then it's probably poop. And if you're standing over a pile of poop and smell poop, then it's definitely poop that you are smelling.  

...ramble on...

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