Friday, October 12, 2012

Do you smell what I smell?

Let’s just say it… Guwahati smells horrible.
Right when you step off the plane, you smell Guwahati, as if Guwahati is saying to you, “Welcome! We are so glad that you are here!” Guwahati smells like a mixture of unfortunate aromas: Trash, sewage, cooking outdoors, fires burning in people’s backyards, spices, exhaust, animals, incense from the temples, people going to the bathroom wherever they want, and who knows what else.
An open fire.

Incense burning outside of a temple.

Although I am used to the smells, I pass by pounds and pounds of trash spilling out of a dumpster and remind myself what Guwahati smells like. Twenty feet after you pass by the dumpster, you might smell the droppings of the animal eating that trash. Yummy.
The classic scene: birds flying all over the trash.

                                           More trash...
Little concrete ditches filled with sewage run along the side of the street and when they clog, just run for the hills.
The sewage system pouring out next to a food stand.
The meat market smells absolutely horrendous. It might be the worst of all because it smells like live chickens, dead chickens, dead dogs, eggs, and I do not even know what else.
And then there is what I call, the “house smell” of Guwahati. You know when your friend’s house has a specific smell… their clothes smell like this, their couch smells like this, their stuffed animals smell like this? And you can never explain what the smell is or why the smell is like that? The aroma is neither bad nor pleasant. It’s just there.
Well, the “house smell” of Guwahati is betel nut (pronounced Beetle nut). A month ago, Dad and I discovered what betel nut was after eating dinner here at a nice restaurant in the Hotel Dynasty. In India, after eating a meal or drinking tea, different sorts of spices are served in brass or metal plates that are mounted on a bota stand. The purpose is for diners to clean their palates. As we began to smell the different spices served, Dad and I both looked at each other and proclaimed, “This is what Guwahati smells like!” I have yet to figure out why Guwahati smells like betel nut and why it is the “house smell” of Guwahati.
The "house smell" of India: Betel Nut!
Although the smells are certainly unpleasant, together they explain Guwahati in some way. If the honking is not enough, and the monsoons are not enough, and the complicated bureaucracy is not enough, the aromas surround you to remind you even more of Guwahati’s craziness. Frankly, the smells signify how many people (from the very poorest to the upper class) are doing so many different things. As a man cooks his food in an open fire and another man walks into a temple with incense to pray and a bus stuffed to the gills with people belches exhaust, the smells remind you that you are but one person in a world of billions.
Sending smiles and smells from India,

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