Friday, June 01, 2012

Proust, Sarson, Smells & Memory

During a conversation with colleagues, I was talking about how the beautiful, pungent smell of sarson tel involuntarily triggers childhood memories.

Just a whiff sends me back to my train journeys in second-class compartments where snack-sellers would walk by in the aisles, peddling their wares in newspaper cones. One of the snacks was jhalmoori, the East Indian equivalent of the ubiquitous bhelpuri.

Jhalmoori, unlike bhelpuri, tends not to contain the delicious red and green chutneys. It's purpose is to have jhal — spice. It is soaked in mustard oil whose sharp smell drowns out the assorted smells of the chanachur, chilly, diced potato, peanuts, onion, and sometimes coconut.

The taste of the oil and raw onions sting the tongue, but not enough to stop you from going for another palmful of the assortment.

My colleague Princy James then pointed me to these words by Marcel Proust in Remembrance of Things Past:

When from the distant past nothing remains, after the beings have died, after the things are destroyed and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, yet more vital, more insubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of everything else; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the immense architecture of memory.

Yet again I had recalled the taste of a bit of madeleine dunked in a linden-flower tea which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long await the discovery of why this memory made me so happy), immediately the old gray house on the street where her room was found, arose like a theatrical tableau…

Do you experience these involuntary memory triggers too?