For years, I’ve experienced synesthesia, the overlapping of sensations. Essentially a neurological phenomenon in which the stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory pathway. For instance, smell will be coupled with a specific visual, or a colour will accompany a particular taste. I can taste the yellow of the sun and hence I recollect its barbaric heat.
And of all the ways to remember, I think I trust my senses the most. When I have to think back to a particular place or time, I always try to remember through my sense. Touch, the feel, the texture of things. Taste, the saltiness of air, the earthiness of food. Sound, the crowd, the horns, the dogs, the echoes, the silence. Smell, the perfume of the past, the sweet, the pungent, the lingering, the enveloping nature of smell triggers memory like no other.
When I was in London with an Englishman who was born in India in the 20s and served in the Rajputana Rifles during WWII, I asked him about his strongest memory from his childhood in the subcontinent. Smell is particularly evocative, he said to me with a faraway look in his eyes. I remember all the smells.
Geeli Mitti, right after the maali has showered the dry sandy land with the watering can, or during barsaat, the scent of the moist monsoon soil cannot be found anywhere else. And leather, I remember the smell of my father’s leather boots. The mustiness of leather, mixed with earth and heat and the fatigue of the day, that smell is unforgettable.
– Aanchal Malhotra
The above was previously posted on http://thehiatusproject.tumblr.com.
Aanchal Malhotra is a multidisciplinary artist, writer and oral historian living in Delhi. Much of her written and visual projects draw from banality, acts of recollection and the malleability of our memory. Her seminal work, Remnants of a Separation, is the first and only study of material memory of the Partition of India in 1947.