“A good fragrance is really a powerful cocktail of memories and emotion.” ~ Jeffrey Stepakoff, The Orchard
I was the apple of her eye, and she was my confidant. She was the one who bought me my first pair of heels, gave me tips on self-defence, spoke to me about love and heard my growing up troubles. She was strict when I was wrong but made every excuse when I was punished and I knew she always had my back. I remember her as someone full of life and a very large heart. But what I remember the most is her fragrance. She loved the Gardenia flower, commonly known as ‘Anant’ in Marathi and she would always have this flower tucked in her hair. I don’t know if it was the sweet and intoxicating fragrance of the flower or her warm personality, but where ever she went she surely brightened up the surrounding. I still remember the last time I saw her, dressed in a bright white salwar kameez, wearing her favourite pearls and her favourite flower, smiling radiantly like an angle.
I am not really a believer of fairy-tales or mythical stories, neither am I overtly religious or superstitious, but I feel like she is my guardian angel and always looks after me. We lost her in a road accident almost eighteen years ago, but every time I experience the Gardenia fragrance, I can feel her presence. It seems to waft into the white midnight garden like exotic incense from a secret place in my mind. It could be on a rainy day in Mumbai, on a busy day in Paris or on a crisp summer day in Atlanta; her fragrance always brightens up my day!
There are so many incidences in Mumbai, when this fragrance has brightened up my day. I remember buying these at a stop light in the mornings on my way to work from a little girl. I would put them in a glass of water at my desk. These flowers were not easy to get in regular flower shops; making them even more exotic and precious. And I feel they had mystical power to elevate mood, sooth the stress and build positivity. If I think of it now, the days I had the flowers on my desk I got work done better, felt happier and always had something great happening. The days I didn’t have the flowers, work was tough, productivity a little low and things seemed gloomy.
I also remember a night in Paris, where this familiar fragrance kept me strong helped me through a tough night. It was my first international trip, it was for work and I was in a country where language was a big barrier. I tried to remain confidant and travelled around the city and managed my work commitments. One night after a work appointment my taxi left me at a wrong place and I was left standing in an unknown corner of the city in the middle of the night with not too many people I could see who could guide me to where I needed to be. I was scared and all I wanted was someone who could protect me and take me home. That’s when suddenly it pulled me towards it, an intensive sweet floral, silky aroma. I walked in the direction of the aroma and in a few steps I saw the Gardenia bush, a symbol of love, harmony and grace. But when I picked up some flowers and held them close to my heart it felt like white blessings from up above. That’s when I saw a map and found the way back to where I needed to be.
Most recently I had a similar heart-warming experience in Atlanta. It was one of those random nights when I and Siri (the husband) were out for dinner around down town. I was telling him about my aunt and her family and I had a knot in my throat because after eighteen years I felt like things had changed so much that her image had become almost blurry in my mind. It was like I could see her silhouette but not her detailed features any more. It was a mixed emotion, I felt guilty that I was forgetting her, sad that I was losing her once again and angry because I felt helpless. We walked out of the restaurant with Siri still trying to wonder why I suddenly was behaving different. That’s when I was caught by surprise by the distinct magical scent which was like mix of jasmine, cream, sweet fruit and wet soil. As the scent of the Gardenia hit me, I could once again see her clearly just the same way I remember, dressed in the bright white salwar kameez, wearing her favourite pearls and her favourite flower… she was and will always be my guardian angel!
It was then that I realized that over the years we may not hold on to every little bit of someone we have lost, maybe we may muffle the pain of losing them too, but their memory is never blurred. All you need is a familiar fragrance and you can feel their presence! My aunt may have lived a short life, but she lived a fulfilled one and left behind her memory and her fragrance to brighten up my life.