It has been a while that I have been staying away from home. Put in Mom’s perspective, a “long” while. And yet, every time I return, my family of four is a fixture at the Delhi airport, complete with grins that go from end to end. We chug along in the now ageing car, letting the sights and sounds of the capital sink in. I discover new roads, a flyover where there used to be a dump and a new brand or two set shop in that corner my golgappa wala used to stand. When the house comes into view, I strain my eyes to see the house-cats – at last count there were four – and breathe in a gust of air that smells deliciously of – well, home.
The wooden front door is growing old, the polish coming off in multiple places. The chairs however look different. Did they acquire a new seat cover? “We changed the hand-rests.” Granddad puts in enthusiastically. “So you wouldn’t smell the rust.” It seems to be working, I say. He holds my hand and takes me to the lemon tree in the courtyard. “Look, it has grown almost as tall as you!” The lemons have just begun to ripen, their fragrance lending character to the yard. They would double up at the lunch table to give company to Granny’s special chicken recipe. Topped with fresh tomatoes, capsicum and onions. As a school-girl, I would get wind of the recipe right from the front gate. I would climb the stairs leading to the house squealing and clapping my hands in anticipation.
Mom, who has an active reporter-like alter ego, narrates to me what the society has been up to. “They got yet another dog!” she says. “Super-friendly he is. But that man in the house there continues to dump his foul garbage in the back-lane.” She hurries through the laundry-bucket as she talks and the verandah is resplendent with freshly-laundered clothes. Detergent, fabric conditioner and the warm winter sunshine. The man and his garbage notwithstanding, the flowers in the potted plants swing gently in the breeze. A humming-bird, even tinier than usual, trudges along to the mantlepiece inside and settles seriously beside the bed.
We smoothen the pink bedcover, Mom and I. Reminded of the pains of washing a bedcover, I beam. The upholstery smells of brown paper packages and waking-up-late-on-New-Year’s-Day. “Why all the pink though?” “Dad has also got you pink pastries and a new pink skirt.” Mom giggles. I open the refrigerator door to a strong whiff of strawberry, roses and…um, delight.
When stars glitter in the night sky and the wind-chime by my window jingles, I wake up to smell jasmine. Arranging the quilt closer around me, I gaze at the lit-up Christmas tree. I can smell Santa Claus’s white beard – he has been here, no doubt – the chocolates hanging from the top branch, the excited winds howling outside. The next morning, Dad would wake me up excited about a stocking packed-with-gifts. He would kiss his little girl on the forehead and it would smell of all things bright and beautiful, just like the nursery rhyme promised.
The eldest house-cat rubs against my feet and mews unstoppably. He then proceeds to sit crestfallen on the living-room carpet. He hates goodbyes. The air smells of impending rain. The house, however, smells of my world. The kitchen sink remembers leaves I had ‘fried’ for a Science experiment in grade four. The dressing-table smells of the talcum powder I had over-used for my carom-board. And oh, the Puja room? It can never forget the incense sticks that I took around the whole house. It earned me several brownie points from everyone, it did.
Well, as for the hours of camaraderie and laughter, they are packed in fragrance. They linger about endlessly, without a care in the world.