Practically Marzipan: In which I am revealed to be a fraud TamBrahm…

…rejecting a symbol of our culture almost as central, as relevant, as thayir sadam.
In my defence, I cannot help it. Also, I had a traumatic childhood.

[A version of this was published in today's New Indian Express]

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One of the few real problems I have with my cultural heritage is my extended family’s love affair with jasmine. We love the stuff. Everyone wears it in their hair at every opportunity, and when a cousin is so insensitive as to cut her hair short the major protests that arise involve the difficulty of properly attaching mallipoo in the future. There are crushed, dead flowers on people’s pillows in the morning, and sometimes more fall out when hair is being brushed. I think I might like them if they weren’t so omnipresent. Even in Delhi, where most people walk around flowerless, three huge jasmine plants grow on the terrace and provide a constant, if not huge, supply to those who want them. Sometimes they are picked and then put in the fridge to keep fresh, and this is almost the worst of all because the smell permeates everything. It is, I suppose, possible to think of jasmine as a pleasant smell in most circumstances. When the items that smell of jasmine include your slice of left-over pizza and your bottled water, this is no longer the case.

As a result, my dislike of the smell of jasmine has grown intense. It’s a pity, because I do like looking at flowers in other people’s hair (while they’re fresh and alive, at least). And while I don’t mind picking up other people’s dead flowers, I find myself coughing and choking at anything that smells intensely of jasmine. A couple of years ago an unfortunate set of circumstances led to some jasmine perfume being spilled on a book I was reading. Unable to read the book for several days as I could barely breathe near it, I finally resorted to desperate measures and stuck the book in the microwave, hoping to toast the scent out. I can find no reasonable scientific explanation for the fact that it actually did alleviate the smell.

While one flower smell effectively cuts me off from a huge chunk of my heritage, two others provide strange links to it. Roses have a definite claim to being part of Our Culture, as evinced by the quantities of rose attar used by our ancestors. The smell is slightly spicy, deep and not particularly sweet. It is as complex as (and far more pleasant than) most perfumes. I’ve never encountered actual roses that smelled quite like that, and if I did I’d by them in an instance.

The other flower I refer to connects me to a chunk of my heritage that is rather more humble. It’s the smell of violets. I do not think I have ever seen a violet flower actually growing and alive, and all I really know of them is that they’re kind of purple and kind of shy. I have certainly never smelled one, as far as I know. But they can be sugared and put on cakes, too. I’m not sure how big their role is in the confectionery industry as a whole, and whether they are a common ingredient in many sweets. All I know is that when I was washing my hands with violet-scented soap a few years ago I breathed in and felt like I had come home – I was a five year old in a sweet shop again. I do not remember actually loving or even noticing this smell when I was a child, but now it means any number of things to me. Perhaps one day jasmine will do the same.

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Oh look, I am only one of a generation of Degenerate Youth. Who knew?

3 Comments to “Practically Marzipan: In which I am revealed to be a fraud TamBrahm…”

  1. Mallige!! that smell which drives me nuts-and I too have suffered from Jasmine-in-the fridge syndrome-Bread is often the worst sufferer,imbibing the smell thoroughly.

    What is worse is the whole maggina jade wearing and getting photographed ceremony.Sometimes even young boys are not spared.I have several such photographs of myself like that.sigh.

  2. I totally TOTALLY understand.

    Love your column in IE!

  3. Gammafunction – Bread! That's horrible, I'm sorry you've had to suffer it.
    Luckily I grew up mainly in the Barbaric North and have never had to do the maggina jade thing. I think you should embrace the experience and put the pictures on the internet.

    Ashwini – I'm not alone!
    And thank you :)

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