Monday 18 August 2008

Why you should always carry two hankies

This was 4:30-ish. I was with a bunch of people at Saravana Bhavan (the one ACJ students flock to, in the Shanti theatre complex on Mount Road), and, inexplicably, decided to forgo my customary large watermelon juice (without ice) for a coffee.

The coffee changed direction somewhere in the region of my epiglottis when I happened to burst into laughter. As I held my blue hanky to my face, unable to arrest the coffee’s progress up my nasal passage, Lakshmi – who had made the remark that started it all – was apologising profusely, and Amruta almost collided with a man sitting on a table diagonally opposite ours in an effort to avoid being splattered.

She – and the rest – didn’t get splattered. I managed to get off my chair, turn around, and run to the wash basin – at a mercifully short distance from our table – all the while clutching my hanky against my nose and mouth.

As I spat the liquid into the basin, I heard laughter from the direction of our table while not being able to see too much through watery eyes, and all I could smell was the decoction and – mostly – milk floating around my nostrils.

Smell is a very direct sense. Smellers smell smellees because volatile odour molecules from the smellee bind to hair-like cilia attached to neurons in the nostrils of the smeller. That's right kids, it’s not some passive, formless signal that your nose picks up from that (insert appropriately abhorrent-smelling substance), but molecules possessing mass and physical form floating off the surface of the thing, sticking to hairs in your nostril.

And in my case, it wasn’t merely volatile molecules of milk, but large, viscous droplets clinging to my cilia like Cliffhanger.

What I smelled wasn’t the not unpleasant smell of milk in a glass, but this:

If you, like me, live in a part of the world where milk is delivered to your doorstep every morning in plastic packets, pick one up tomorrow morning and smell your hands. You won’t thank me for this, but it’s the only way I can get the olfactoriness of it all across.

I began typing this two months back, while still an ACJ student. I finished it today, and well, let’s just say it’s a weird tribute to the Shanti Theatre Saravana Bhavan for all the great times we had there.