Sunday, August 25, 2013


“Sadaf, what's Ylang Ylang?"

Sadaf glanced up from the test papers that she had been correcting and saw her younger sister who looked confused sitting on the rocky chair.

Zoya was twenty three years old and had lost her eyesight a year back. It had taken her few months to fully cope with the blindness and get on with her life. Sadaf had given Zoya refuge in her home when her fiancé broke up their engagement.

"Ylang Ylang? It's a perfume tree valued for its fragrance."

Zoya seemed to think about this for a moment. "Oh. What does it smell like?"

"It smells like..."

Sadaf brushed a kiss over her cheek, closing her eyes for a moment as a flowery scent wafted over her.

"Ylang Ylang?" Sadaf asked, stroking her soft hair, the source of the fragrance. It must be her shampoo.

She nodded.


She blinked, having momentarily forgotten that her sister was still there.

"I'm sorry. You asked about Ylang Ylang, right?"

"Yes. What does it smell like? Jasmine? Rose? Lily?" Zoya asked.

"It smells really nice. Not exactly like any other flower. It's different."

"What do you mean by different?" Zoya asked.

"Everything smells different, if you take the time to distinguish each. I may go on and on about the various amazing smells of perfumed candles, cinnamon, riped mangoes, pickles, cardamom and the first rain shower on sun-baked land. Zoya, you have to actually smell Ylang Ylang to know it yourself."

"Could you say Ylang Ylang has a distinct fragrance, then?"

She blinked. Somehow, her sister's description seemed to fit better than her explanation. A small smile shadowed her lips.

"Yes, Ylang Ylang is very much distinct."

It still wasn't completely appropriate definition and Sadaf could think of a dictionary full of words to describe Ylang Ylang: beautiful and nostalgic. Yet none of them could quite describe the scent or all the meaning it held.

Maybe she would never come up with an accurate description of the elusive divine scent that her mother wore before she died of tuberculosis. The mention of Ylan Ylang made Sadaf feel nostalgic and it also made her miss her mother. She never thought the mention of a faint fragrance could bring a memory of a long-lost moment in time crashing back to the forefront of her mind. But that, after all, is the nature of life and of love.

She has had a long relationship with fragrance and nostalgia. Zoya’s doctor had told her that the only way Zoya could cope up with her blindness was if her sense of smell or sense of hearing becomes sharp and she relies on it.

Sadaf took it upon herself to make her blind sister independent so she could lead a happy life. Over the next few months, she regularly made Zoya guess various smells and fragrances and had long discussions about them. Soon Zoya began to rely on herself.

Sadaf still remembers the day when Zoya, after many failed attempts, guessed the fragrances perfectly.

Spring had just arrived and Sadaf took Zoya to the garden, asking her to describe the environment.

“I can feel the sun caressing me with its golden rays, the wind murmur through the trees caressing the long fur of the rabbits, gently playing with their soft hairs and hear the dew trickle off the delicate marigold petals, filling the air with a sweet, irresistible fragrance. This is perfect. Sadaf, I can sense everything around me. Thank you for bringing me here.” Zoya started crying happily in her sister’s shoulders.

They sat in the living room, Zoya on the rocky chair and Sadaf near the glass-top coffee table covered with books and a coffee stain.

“Whenever the smell of chlorine wafts through the air, I suddenly recall the childhood summers we spent in the swimming pool. A whiff of apple pie or the scent of the perfume mom used to wear transports me back to high school. I keep getting nostalgic all the time. Is this normal?” Zoya asked her elder sister.

“While all the senses are connected with memories, smell in particular sparks a flurry of emotional memories because when a smell enters the nose, it travels through the cranial nerve through the olfactory bulb, which helps the brain process smells. The olfactory bulb accesses the amygdala, which plays a role in powerful emotional memories. This close relationship between the olfactory and the amygdala is the reason why smell causes a spark of nostalgia.” Sadaf explained.

“I never thought a few simple airborne molecules could trigger such vivid recollections and have this amazing impact on me.”

“You may not identify a smell but you could associate it with some memory. Smell goes into the emotional parts of the brain and the memory parts in the same manner as words go into thinking parts of the brain.”

“Sadaf, now I understand why my memories sparked by smell feel nostalgic rather than detailed or concrete. I still remember my first crush, the guy who used to ride his Royal Enfield, whenever I smell petrol. I remember roaming everywhere in raincoats whenever I smell onion pakodas or mud.”

“Yes Zoya, it may happen that you have forgotten an event completely but your mind can still instantly retrieve it because it has been stacked safely in some corner of your brain. Okay, tell me what smell makes you remember your childhood most?”

“Whenever I smell maggi noodles, gaajar ka halwa or tuna sandwich,  I remember mom because she used to make them once we returned from school. The smell of agarbatti sticks every morning reminds me of grandmother's sarees, tulsi and jasmine reminds me of grandfather's garden, sandalwood reminds me of Mrs. Mehra, nicotine reminds me of our school's rude watchman and finally the smell of coffee powder always makes me remember Abbu who used to start his day reading newspaper and sipping a cup of coffee."

“You distinctly remember what smell makes you remember your childhood the most because it was a period when you were free from responsibilities and anxieties of adulthood. So the mind remembers the good things very well. Without smell, an ocean of memories disappears.”

“Well enough about me, didi. Tell me one smell which you love the most?”

“With the recent rise of laptops and e-book readers, I miss the musty scent of a freshly printed book, the scent of wood pulp, ink and the gradual acidic breakdown of fibres. You know Zoya, it is the best smell in the world. The second best smell is the scent of an aging book, the combination of grassy notes with a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness. Books make me go crazy.”

“No wonder, you love your job as a teacher.”

The coffee stain on the coffee-table reminded Sadaf of the kitchen, warm, smelling of spices and she decided to make an orange juice for Zoya.

“It smells amazingly fragrant without giving an artificial scent and there is something very energizing and invigorating about your citrus juice.” Sadaf heard her sister shout from the living room and smiled, realizing that Zoya was finally happy and independent.


Shafiya Shaikh said...

Fragrant :-)

Rafaa Dalvi said...


aafreen mallick said...


Rafaa Dalvi said...


asteria's canvass said...

The lines about a bookish smell fits on me very well, n despite having kindle, tab , i still order books.
All d best.

Rafaa Dalvi said...

I still face my parents' wrath when the Flipkart guy delivers books :P

renu sethi said...

Ylang Ylang does have a very distict smell and I like it very much....and I love the smell of newly bought books too. :)

Loved ur post. All the best

Rafaa Dalvi said...

Thanks a lot Renu. Most of my friends were unaware of Ylang Ylang and I'm glad you know it :)

Arvind Passey said...

Crisp language... loved the post.

Arvind Passey

Rafaa Dalvi said...

I'm glad Sir.

vaisakhi said...

i loved the story...and smell of books, agarbatti and sandalwood!!! man...btw at sense of smel Ylang Ylang in the champ!...

Rafaa Dalvi said...

I'm glad you liked it. The fragrance of Ylang Ylang is exceptional :-)

R Miglani said...

Nice Post , Hey you have been Invited for an Interview with
Hope you have heard about it , Please Get back at for Details.

Rafaa Dalvi said...

Thanks bro, it would be my pleasure.

Namrota said...

Ah! newly bought books .. mmm.

Yay to your post yaar.. all the best :)

Rafaa Dalvi said...

Thanks Namrota. I believe that nothin can beat the smell of newly bought books

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