Chai, biskoot, air pollution
We are having so much fun!
As editor of the Bagh-e Hind catalogue, I sporadically commission fragrant essays that take a left turn away from academia and plunge into a richly sensual realm where we can all smell-taste our way through art history and delight together!
“Glowing Embers: Sensorial Contexts of Smoke” takes us straight into the exploding phatakas of pre-colonial India! Through a witty, meaty, chewy piece of writing, Pune based American academic, Lily Kelting, flits in and out of historical paintings, to present day contexts of breathing in pollution and eating smoke. She also weaves in the local context of where we live, through flavour-filled anecdotes of how quaint Pune is since it runs on nostalgia of a newly independent India that likes to keep its biscuits English and buttery.
Reading this will make you hungry
In order to give readers a feel for the famous Kayani Bakery experience through visual documentation, Lily and I went to take photographs. We also stood in the usual winding queue by 9 AM, and bought ourselves the signature Shrewsbury biscuits. Seeing as how Lily discusses smoke-licked bhakri in her essay, I also went to take photos of what this flat bread looks like at the famous mutton thali place, “Surve: Pure non-veg”. Pune does not do irony. Stop laughing.
“Tuberoses on fire”
For a synesthesia experience of Lily’s essay, I have combined incense from our Smoke chapter, Wearable Anger (soap + parfum), the Shrewsbury cookies and some special assam cardamom tea that I source from my boutique trader. I checked with my shipper and FedEx will take those cookies! BTW, some of my “Tuberose” EDP is still available, and when combined with my “Smoked Patchouli” it reproduces an approximation of my “Wearable Anger” perfume.
Hit reply to order these items— but I also want to emphasise that anyone can recreate the experience of this essay on their own:
Put a bunch of fresh tuberoses in a vase, light up some camphor, prepare cardamom tea, smoke some English shortbread/ butter cookies in the oven or on a pan for a few minutes - read this essay, dip the biscuits in tea, enjoy all our photos! A quiet evening post-nap moment is the best.
Odorbet.com is a digital, open access smell-compendium built by artist and author of Nose Dive, Catherine Haley Epstein, in collaboration with olfactory art historian, Caro Verbeek. Catherine so kindly invited Nicolas and me, as curators of Bagh-e Hind, to contribute smell-words of our choosing to expand our understanding of art and history through naso-centric readings. We decided to skip the obvious and go with two intertwined words: Dimāgh and Mufarriḥ
In order to illustrate the contextual nuance and significance of these two Urdu words, we brought out our favourite painting from our favourite chapter “Narcissus”. This early 17th century Mughal painting is in the MFA Boston (not on view). In truth, it is Nicolas’ discussion on this very painting in my 2020 interview with him that made me think about a collaborative possibility for a “Bagh-e Hind”. To know* the fragrance of the flower is to see* the meaning of the painting hidden in plain sight - and this still makes me giddy with butterflies! Access our article on Odorbet here.
For a deep dive into this painting-genre and perfume/synesthesia translations, we co-wrote a gorgeous essay last year for Aeon Psych.
I have never seen, nor encountered narcissus flowers in my life. This nature-garden-deprived-dust-pollution-life is really starting to annoy me. My friend took me to the Osho garden once. It smelled of sewage. I pretended to be momentarily happy.
I always thought what I wanted was cultural footprint. But now that I have that, it is not enough. I want total supremacy. Soap Supremacy.
Below is a soap-translation of a 16th century Indo-Portuguese mother-of-pearl relic box from our Narcissus chapter, that I crafted, sculpted and hand-painted with iridescent soap-pigments. It smells of narcissus and lotus flowers. I like this idea of having and holding a piece of art history one cannot otherwise access. The actual box is in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches museum in Vienna, and it is my favourite “happy” place.
Perfumes of the season: Imported Cherries, Exported Mangoes and Rose