What is it about the olfactory sense that seems to hint at absences as much as presences? Why does one recollect so many peripheral details about ‘that particular smell’ but not quite the odour itself? Perhaps smell forms the base, the foundation, for our sensory memories, sending out tentacles into visions, hearings, giving then nourishment, yet ultimately laying hidden, subterranean. It is only when, for some reason, one does not use a particular sense organ that one gains faculties related to the others. This seems especially true for the sense of smell.
This piece is the first in a series of reflections on and conversations with interpreters who have embedded themselves in the city they translate to others. Their imageries and imaginations provide ways of seeing the past and present of the city as also forms of caring about the city to future generations of interpreters.
‘So you want to know who Maya is?’ he breaks the awkward silence. Trying not to look frightened, she clears her throat and manages to mumble a ‘Yes’. ‘The problem with you youngsters is that you don’t know the stories that rule this city. Never mind … you’re probably the only one of these people dying to meet me who’s not interested in some quick-fix solution for health, prosperity or love. You may not be aware, but you’ve come searching for a story … and I’d love to tell it … it’s been such a long while since I've told a story. But I have a condition.’ ‘What?’ she asks. ‘You cannot interrupt my storytelling and you cannot ask any questions after I’m done.’
Vasu was off to a great start today. She was ready for office, well in advance to relish a steaming cup of chai and eat two parathas at an appreciate-each-morsel pace. On most days, breakfast was a paratha–jam roll, gobbled on the march to the bus stop. Today she had fifteen opulent minutes to reach the bus stop instead of the usual eight minutes that commanded dusty shortcuts, hasty footsteps and frantic waving to stop the bus. If only any of that had made a difference.
This time Nana Saheb seems to have picked up a bigger stone than before. He aims it at the dog barking from the opposite terrace. The dog has been watching this drama of fistfuls of air being aimed at him for a week now. And he is no longer afraid of the old man’s fake… Continue reading Donkey
‘Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.’ —James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room What is a home? Is it a feeling, a habit, a set of relationships or a combination of materials and floor plans? The idea of this essay was triggered three months back, when I was asked to shift from the… Continue reading Homing and unhoming: taxonomies of living
The hour from night to day. The hour from side to side. The hour for those past thirty. The hour swept clean to the crowing of cocks. The hour when earth betrays us. The hour when wind blows from extinguished stars. The hour of and-what-if-nothing-remains-after-us. The hollow hour. Blank, empty. The very pit of all… Continue reading Corona Diaries
They’re selling postcards of the hanging They’re painting the passports brown The beauty parlor is filled with sailors The circus is in town Here comes the blind commissioner They’ve got him in a trance One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker The other is in his pants And the riot squad, they’re restless They… Continue reading If on a winter’s night, azadi…
Is the future odourless? How would Delhi’s zealous planners chasing the idea of world-classness imagine the future of Khari Baoli, Asia’s oldest spice market? Would it be in the form of an ordered set of malls rising in the midst of Old Delhi, reeking of heady European perfumes and caramel popcorn, with clean marble corridors… Continue reading Smell and the City II
In the Foreword to Alain Corbin’s The Foul and the Fragrant: French Social Imagination (1986), Roy Porter writes that ‘Today’s history comes deodorized. Thanks to experts in art, architecture, and artifacts, our eyes have been opened to what the past looked like; and all who have immersed themselves in diaries, novels, and letters will have their… Continue reading Smell and the City I
Grafting utopias The annual festival of Delhi’s oldest architecture school is called Utopia. When I ask the students why it is called so and if they know what it means, they look confused. One exclaims, ‘Utopia is what we will create... it’s the perfect place, the perfect city...’ So I ask them, ‘But does it… Continue reading Et tu, brutalism: of anxious rooms and modernist architecture