I took a beginner's class in perfumery this weekend with Rajeev Sheth of All Good Scents to get to the heart of what goes into making a perfume: accords and notes and how they play together to create scents that trigger memories of people, places - the ones we love and the ones that got away. Here's what makes this world of intrigue and mystery such a draw: A scent is a memory and emotion - you and I will NEVER experience a smell in the same way.
I ended up creating 3 scents to capture in 20 drops the memories of these places - Pondicherry (for that elusive bakery by the sea), Malabar (luscious rainforests, water-drenched leaves, hairpin bends) and Kyoto (salted seaweed, cloyingly sweet umeshu, stillness).
Which brings me to Mahmoud Darwish who speaks lyrically about Arabian and European cities and their smells:
“Cities are smells: Acre is the smell of iodine and spices. Haifa is the smell of pine and wrinkled sheets. Moscow is the smell of vodka on ice. Cairo is the smell of mango and ginger. Beirut is the smell of the sun, sea, smoke, and lemons. Paris is the smell of fresh bread, cheese, and derivations of enchantment. Damascus is the smell of jasmine and dried fruit. Tunis is the smell of night musk and salt. Rabat is the smell of henna, incense, and honey. A city that cannot be known by its smell is unreliable.”
Shoba Narayan takes it a step further and tries to figure out the scents of Indian cities:
Damascus is the scent of luscious roses, not jasmine. The best jasmine comes from Tamil Nadu in my view: there is Madurai jasmine, mogra and Ambur mullai, each of which smell different and can be layered by stringing them together on wet hair. This is what Tamil women do on wedding days.
Delhi is the smell of garam masala, wealth and fetid desire. Bangalore is the smell of red earth and falling rain. Mumbai is the smell of speed (not the drug but the verb), sea, and petrol fumes. Pune is the smell of goda masala and tanpuras. Kolkata is the smell of fish, addas, and maverick sweat. Jaipur is the scent of wafting veils, pearls, chiffon, and kachori. Amritsar is the scent of langar, water, and service. Vadodara is the smell of banyan, baithaks, and artist’s oil paint.
On that note, Bombay Perfumery's take on cities is a heady indulgence.