Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The fragrant balcony

My parental home is a 2 bedroom flat on the ground floor of an old building with 2 good-sized balconies, a rarity in Mumbai. The first balcony faces the main road, L.M. Road as it is known, and is ingloriously fumigated by vehicular exhaust. The second is on the opposite side: eastwards and facing the sister building. And more importantly, it was the one attached to my room. It was *MY* balcony.
And it has created a perfume that defines childhood for me.
25 years ago, though LPG cylinders were the norm, we still had an old tin of Kerosene and a sigri stored in my balcony, just in case. That subtle yet heady smell set the base note of my balcony's fragrance.

I had planted my very own Zhipri: a rather wild, non-flowering hardy plant with a pine-like fragrance, and my granny had planted a tulsi plant and a marigold plant. Those were my middle notes.

The top notes differed at different times of the day, during different seasons.

Early mornings, an uncle in the neighbourhood would pray to the gods in the east. Camphor and agarbatti, accompanied by the sound of the conch.
On lazy summer days, around 11:00 am, the aroma of tempered curry-leaves and chilly-garlic-ginger paste wafted in from other kitchen windows, evoking flavours of 'kaalvan' (Maharashtrian fish curry), Kokum kaddhi, and freshly grated Koshimbir (Maharashtrian salad dish with grated coconut, cucumber, carrot, onion, and coriander).

By the end of June, monsoons would set in. The freshness of the drenched soil would always come to me first, before it floated up to the higher floors. Being on the ground floor, the mosaic floor tiles would get a little damp. The teak jambs of the balcony door would emit that classic, woody, musky smell. And I had a bookshelf that absorbed the humidity from the walls, and gave out its own brand of fragrance: polished plywood and old yellowing second-hand books bought on a frugal monthly allowance. Occasionally, the smell of a wet dog as it sought shelter from the relentless Mumbai showers under the chhajja of the balcony. I would drop down biscuits and roti, smile at those eternally grateful, puppy eyes and day-dream of teenaged romance in the rain.

I now live in my marital home and visit my parents around once a month.
The Zhipri plant still survives, the Tulsi and marigold are no more. The teak door still there, the kerosene can is no more. The aroma of cooking still persists around but is not familiar. The uncle who prayed to the sun no more. The fragrant monsoon returns each year. That plywood shelf is still there, but my books have been packaged away and it is now a make-shift cupboard for my daughter's toys and clothes.

There are new smells now- of budgie feathers, and bird-seed. An orange sapling that my brother planted. The smell of rusty old iron window grills. I sit there for around 15 minutes doing nothing, just breathing deep. My daughter is yet too young to understand: it's my fragrant balcony, and memories of youth.


  1. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. So nostalgic. I always envied you for having a balcony of your own. This just filled me with some very warm memories.

    1. We're a lucky bunch that we have so much to share between us! :)

  2. This is beautiful, Malavika. I think you should do two things:
    - Write more often
    - Get over this allergy towards vowels

    1. Thank you. :)
      I do write a lot... in bits and pieces on scraps of paper and as drafts on blogger.
      As for the allergy towards vowels- aiieeooooouuuu! tht's gng to b dfclt :/


Itna sannataa kyun hai, Bhai?