Posted in Prose

The “Foreign Smell”

A very Indianised fiction piece that elaborates on the view of native Indians on the hyped facts of the other side of the world.

I overheard Appachan and Ammachi.
Ammavan was coming home from America tomorrow with Ammavi, Mariakutty and Johnkutty. America!!!! Wasnt America somewhere at the other part of the world where people lived in white homes, walked on clean streets and spoke English even at home and not just in schools? Hadn’t the people there to cross oceans to reach India and fly in airplanes that I see high up in the skies every afternoon from my verandah?
I was thrilled, my joy knew no bounds. I stayed awake all night to simply wake up to the smooth, gliding sounds of their suitcases on our rough verandah going creek, creek, creek in the early hours of the morning before even the village woke up to see the morning sun. They came home every year at dawn, they slept all through the morning and when we had breakfast they gave me some of their corn flakes with milk and fruits when Ammachi’s appam and mota curry stared at me from the far distance on the dining table. They wore clean clothes, pressed, neat and fragrantful that the morning they pulled out their clothes, the smell of their foreign lands touched my brick walled house so strong and personally it refused to smell different anymore even long after they have left our house. There was something graceful and fragrantful in Mariakutty’s hair, it didn’t smell like Ammachi’s home made coconut oil nor did the fragrance of her hair leave the bedroom, the pillow covers and the bed sheets. Long after she went back home, it stayed put and close in our bed sheets and bathrooms when only drying these sheets under the blazing sun could expel that strong smell to some extent. But did I actually want that fragrance of their foreign lands to leave the premises of my house that also hung a little bit in my yellow worn out petticoat and paavada and blouse? In school I let my friends smell the lasting fragrance of their Yardley and Dove soaps that stayed on my body like a graceful layer of “Luxury” unlike Indian Medimix, Hamam and Mysore Sandals.
While Ammachi beat and pressed our clothes on the washing stone, hanging them on the terrace to be sun kissed and pit pat dry by evening Ammavi talked of washing machines that tumble dried and came along with bottled liquids that smelled more divine than our Ponds powders. She wore clothes that flowed down like the water over her body, which smelled nothing like the newness of our Indian garment shops but strangely divine and untermable, something that I call the smell of “Foreign”. When she opened her large suitcases, she opened up that fragrance that was so distant yet come close to me once in a while. The bars of chocolate she got home, the clothes she bought for me and the packets of dry fruits she got us smelled different unlike the smell on our tiny packets of broken cashew nuts from Joychan’s thattakadda, our bags of new clothes from Mammachan’s shop and the cosmetics we buy from our little town smelled very less of course than the ones Ammavan and Ammavi got but didn’t even equal with the fragrance they were accompanied with.
When they came home, my relatives who never visited, visited probably with hopes that they would receive something from the treasures in the bulged, tightly packed suitcases (now unpacked and scattered all over). Ammachi, the relatives and Ammavi would talk all day about old days when they ran through the fields and aimed for mangoes as Mariakutty and Johnkutty sat in the corner in awe and absolutely unwilling to mingle with their Indian cousins. They spoke in their anglicized Malayalam and a twang that made me want to stare at their lips all day long. While we cousins danced around in the muddy courtyards Mariakutty and Johnkutty hardly knew games like Kala Kalli, Goli or Kuttiyumkolam, they watched from a distance often smiling a little but very soon bored and rushing to play their video games. At the end of the day when we smelt of the dust in the courtyard, drenched in sweat with mud smeared clothes, worn out and dirty they still smelt of the fragrance they brought along with from their foreign lands. They smelt divine while we smelt like the fields and the cows in our backyard. While their foreign smell never left our walls so did the talks of their smell and luxury leave our heads and conversations. We talked about them long after they left, for months on end, relished the fragrance of their foreign smells that clung onto our towels, bed spreads, pillows and brick walled home. The smell stayed on long after they left, lingering in our nose. Sometimes we yearned to have one more bite from their bars of chocolates, yet one more cold bath with their shower gels and one more video game from their mobile phones. The foreign smell wisped around the house for long and I missed the fragrance and loathed the rather boring smells of my land. And then yearning for the fragrance, I asked Ammachi,
When will Ammavan and Ammavi come next?”


Writing relieves down my bad moods and awakens and fires up my spirits.

4 thoughts on “The “Foreign Smell”

  1. The roots to our Mother, our land reside in the depths of our soul. It is our place of comfort of security. Your story rings all these emotions. Our children, who are overseas also feel the same.
    A beautiful piece of writing

    Liked by 1 person

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