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Sunday, May 8, 2016


Smells, fragrances, aromas, odors are like fever, head ache and happiness.

They signal the presence or excess or absence of something and therefore must not be masked by something else or a counter odor.

It is like treating and masking the symptoms like fever or head ache without addressing the root cause. Every smell signals something and we need to find out what it is and address it.

Once we are sure about the real reason then we can use air fresheners, lemons, baking soda and so on.

Smell like color and sound has too many shades and nuances and it becomes more complex because we do not have adequate vocabulary to define various smells.

Sometimes the aesthetics involved in smell is as enjoyable as distinguishing ragas with subtle variations in frequencies of sound vibration.

To call all or most of the smell one felt after Chennai rains under one term musty must be avoided.

It was a combination too many stinks and if we decide to describe the ones generated by dampness in closed rooms it was probably more due to fungus or algae on the outside plus many more things.

Like raga smell gets its life through how it is related to something else.

For example the same Urad dhal will smell differently in Vada and Appalam and a Dosa.

It is always the combination that is perhaps why that the nerves system involved in sensing smells is called as 'olfactory' producing many odors.

It is unfortunate that human intellect has decided not to come up with enough words for every smell that we feel.

Guy Murchie in his excellent book The Seven Mysteries Of life writes,  “The primary smells, it turned out, are seven in number: camphoric, musky, floral, minty, ethereal, pungent and putrid, each of them produced by various molecules approximating a distinctive shape or having a definite electric charge, and each smellable only when it is received in the right one of seven different kinds of complementary cavities distributed among seven corresponding areas in the molecular walls of the olfactory nerve cells. If these are olfactory lies, it is because smell too is a kind of language.”

“Furthermore a dog who has sniffed, say, a man's cap can later recognize any other part of him and easily follow his trail because there are recognizable olfactory relationships between body parts as well as between species, races, sexes, ages, diets, diseases, neighborhoods, occupations or almost any other classifications of life”.

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