Khushbu … fragrance

“Rang baatein karen, aur baton se khushboo aaye

Dard phoolon ki tarah mehake agar tu aaye”

[Colors speak, and this tête-à-tête exudes a fragrance

The (heart) ache evokes a bouquet of flowers if/when you arrive]

– Zia Jullundhari

“Humne dekhi hai in aakhon ki mehakti khushbu

Haath se chhuke inhen rishton ka ilzaam naa do”

[I have perceived the fragrance of these eyes

Let not a touch by the hands impute a relationship]

– Sampooran Singh “Gulzar”

“Mere pehaluu mein woh aaya bhi to kushbuu ki tarah

Mein usse jitanaa sametuun woh bikharataa jaaye”

[He sidled up to me, redolent (like a fragrance)

Which tends to dissipate, the more I try to embrace/gather it/him]

– Alamtaab Tashna

“Woh ki khushbu ki tarah phailaa thaa mere chaar soo

Mein usse mehsoos kar saktaa thaa chhu saktaaa naa thaa”

[(That) presence was, like fragrance, spread all around (me)

I could experience (it) but not touch the essence (of that being)] – Adeem Hashmi

Language helps us to communicate, although words can be constrictive. An eminent ghazalsara observed, “Colors are their own introduction.  Khushboo ko lafazon mein sametaa nahin jaa saktaa (Fragrance cannot be described/circumscribed by words)”.

This week I have selected random asha’ar composed by four poets. Ghazal composition is a very precise form of poetry with strict rules governing the form and content like the rhyming words of each two-line sher, its length and meter (“beher”) etc. It is therefore admirable, while crafting words which must adhere to nomenclature, that a poet’s thoughts can soar unrestricted and like the curling wisps of fragrance from a lit incense stick, disperse and permeate those that they reach.

All five of our senses are essential. However, I find it interesting that our body is constructed such that our ears and nose do not have any covering to block our ability to smell and listen. We can shut out sight, taste or touch by closing our eyes, mouth or hands but the nasal and aural passages remain open naturally. While we might shut out sound by using blocking devices, the ability to smell is unhindered until our last breath.

Strolling down a side street off the Las Ramblas a couple of years ago we were overwhelmed by odors that triggered memories of the times one landed in Delhi, before the new airport came into being. The very mention of the Underground Tube in London reminds me of the commutes from over 40 years ago shared with this particular resident of the City who frequently used the same service and the same aftershave each day that failed spectacularly to mask his lack of interest in toiletry.

Khushbu (literally “happy smell”) is a very powerful sensation. It manifests itself in many ways.  Walking in the neighborhood on different evenings, I have taken to guessing the ethnicity of residents by the wonderful flavors emanating from their homes. I salivate when a cake is being baked, onions and garlic being sautéed, or parathas fried. Summer is a special time and the different barbecue flavors add to the challenge of identifying the meats on the grill.

However, a particular khushbu always takes my mind back to an early winter morning in January 1988 in Delhi. To celebrate their 150th anniversary Times of India group had organized a daylong Indian classical music concert. Starting before dawn, several maestros were scheduled to perform ragas, in accordance with the time of day. Shamianas (ceremonial tents) had been erected on the huge lawns of this massive Lutyens colonial bungalow and pristine white sheets covered the carpets, barely adequate to keep the socked feet from freezing. A low dais at one end had been adorned with fresh marigold and jasmine flowers. On four corners of the platform stood brass lamps lit with sesame oil and cotton wicks, giving out rich plumes of fragrant smoke intermingling with the heady fragrance of the fresh flowers and sandalwood agarbatti (incense stick). Starting with rag Darbari by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, we sat enraptured by renditions of Jogiya, Bhairavi etc., by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Kishori Amonkar and others. Both the senses – smell and sound were replete!

As an indulgent grandfather of three I confess to being partial to a special khushbu, of babies and the tight embrace of sweaty, playful rambunctious children. But, I do miss the one khushbu that was associated with toddlers in an earlier generation. Talcum powder for babies!


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