My awareness of the relationship between an aroma and a place began around twenty years back in York. We were here because Specky was a Commonwealth Scholar at the University of York and working for her DPhil then. Out of India for the first time, every little whiff of any sort of fragrance that came our way entered straight into the folded portals of our mind. Well, not just fragrant whiffs… every little sound byte too made an impact. The sights too were absolutely mesmerizing and fought with smells and sounds to capture their own space in our memory arena.
But it isn’t the mid-nineties that I intend to talk about in this post. What came as a perfect surprise was the easy rollback of time when we were in York a week back. The past reaches out as easily as a raindrop hurtling in space to reach an eager lip poised to lap it up… and yes, a gap of almost twenty years shrunk into a wondrous pathway of identifiable and yet quite different fragrances. I am not so eager to use the word ‘smell’ here as every sensation that tickles the sense of smell doesn’t have the power to evoke memories.
The FAT RASCAL fragrance
One of the first tantalising whiff that wafted towards us was when we were walking past Betty’s Tea Rooms in York. Specky stopped and said, ‘Remember this? I can even visualise a variety of cakes and pastries and the utterly irresistible Earl Grey tea now.’ So we entered and had scrumptious bites of the Fat Rascal that Betty’s bakes… and they are the best in all of Yorkshire, I’m sure. But the important fact is that it was that very special aroma of a mix of cakes, pastries and steaming tea that transported us back to the York of the mid-nineties… and we were able to see ourselves gorging on platefuls of York confectionaries. Yes, this was so special that I couldn’t resist calling this smell ‘fat rascal’.
Specky, my wife, looked at and smiled, ‘Fat rascal? Sounds like a rather appropriate name for a fragrance. This is what gifted us a lot of calories too.’ So yes, this great calorific aroma is what always takes us back to the tea rooms of York. Even when we are in Delhi, the slightest hint of the aroma of pastries and cakes, especially when we are walking around Wengers in Connaught Place or in the quixotic lanes of Hauz Khas village, we look up and actually expect to be in the Parliament Square of York… or walking in front of Betty’s… or entering some tea room there.
The KING’S ARMS fragrance
During the three years we were there in York we must have walked hundreds of times on the river route from King’s Staith to either Frances Street or to Blackney Place. This walk from the City centre to our home there always began with that slightly tipsy feel you get when you pass a pub. The first pub as we descended on to the river walk was King’s Arms and the great aroma of all sorts of beers mixed with all the ghost stories that we had heard during our ghost walks that started from this haunted pub.
Even during this 2014 visit to York, as we stood on Skeldergate bridge we looked down towards the walk on river Ouse and instead of ‘seeing’ King’s Arms we were literally buffeted by a generous wave of that very special haunted beer aroma that lifted us and flew us back in time! So it was all the beers from Yorkshire breweries and breweries all across Europe that stood up and shook hands with real and created ghosts to suck us into this ever tipsy vortex of ‘King’s Arms’ fragrance… and we loved this ghostly abduction, if that is what it was.
The YORKIE fragrance
We were in our thirties then and must have gorged on tons of chocolates in that winter of 1994! Amongst all the different types of chocolates we had, our favourite was Yorkie… I believe it was made in Yorkshire and we liked this region so much that this one tasted better than the much more expensive Swiss ones or the more popular brands like Lindt. This was invariably combined with a can of coke. I must point out here that in 1994 most of the Indian students we met in York were equally fascinated by these fizzy drinks and preferred to eat a lot of chips as well as chocolates.
That fascination for a combination of coke with Yorkie was indescribable… and I remember having this as we walked back from the university to our student family accommodation. Imagine a family of three (including a small child in Class IV) spending hours in the computer labs of the university discovering the virtual world… those were the days when Windows 3.1 was being introduced in the machines there and we were spellbound by this transition from the boring as well as confusing black screen with that blinking line called a cursor! So after hours of struggling with the rudiments of how to save a file or draw something tangible in Paint, we always found a bar of Yorkie with coke more than just fascinating. Now imagine a can opening and the fizzy mist of coke hitting your nostrils that are already inundated with the thick yumminess of caramalised chocolate… this is what overpowers us even now.
And even now in 2014 when we walked through the deserted corridors of UofY, we stood in front of the vending machine in Goodricke College and watched our bars of Yorkie and the coke cans sidle out of their resting place and fall into the slot waiting for us to pick them up. One bite of Yorkie and then the misty fizz from the can was enough to transport us back to the years when we were in our thirties and discovering the idyllic vistas of the Yorkshire dales.
These times come back to us every time we happen to be munching a chocolate bar and then open a can of a fizzy beverage… this is a strange aroma that takes us whizzing through the massive library at the university, through lines of books, and through the corridors that led us to the computer lab there. No wonder then that I have decided to call this unique fragrant sensation ‘Yorkie’.
The SPURIERGATE fragrance
Imagine sitting inside an old church that has been converted into a small café that encourages its patrons to have sandwiches, muffins, and coffee with the facility to meditate. There is light that is calmingly filtering through beautiful stained glass windows that are towering way above you, the resident mustiness that the interiors of a church always have, and the intricately carved angels looking down benevolently… and you are having muffins and gulping down strong coffee. You will probably say, ‘This is not possible!’
But hey, this is possible… if you’re at the Spuriergate church café in York. This is such a strange sensation for the olfactory lobes that even in India when I entered the eatery in ISCKON temple in Delhi, I remembered all the brunches we had had in the Spuriergate café in York!
So when you combine religion with food, what we get is the ‘spuriergate’ fragrance… and I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that such a connection isn’t altogether improbable. This is the fragrance that connects stained glass windows, ancient architecture, medieval rituals, and a very modern existence. Can any fragrance really be better than this?
A fragrant conclusion
Well, fragrances really ought to help us all connect our past, present, and future… and if they do that they help us connect with life in a more fuller way. The fragrances that I have talked about do help me connect the tenses of my life and transform all the tension in it to a calm acceptance that is so much close to a perfect definition of happiness.
Indiblogger asked: ‘Can you inspire us with your evocative travel experience to help us create the first crowd-inspired fragrances for Godrej aer? Share your stories – of the scent that hit you during your walks in a blooming garden, or the fragrance that the morning breeze brought with it while you wandered in the hills. As a thank you for inspiring our new fragrance, we will reward you with some fantastic prizes.’
This post is my answer to this challenge. Thanks to Godrej aer for making us connect travel with fragrances!
27 July 2014