I Smell A Memory

Do you have a smell memory?

Every time I buy a used book, the first thing I do is part it in the middle and tuck my nose right in. Taking in the smell. The smell of all the hands it has changed, all the places it has been to, all the stories it has seen happen and all the hearts it has soothed. And the unforgettable, the smell of aged wood pulp. And you know, every time I smell an old book it takes me back to my school library. To a glass cupboard through which till then I had seen the books neatly arranged. I go back to 5th standard. To Nancy Drew. To the first book I got issued on my brand new library card. Every time! The old book smell is what I associate with my school. Hundreds of books have crossed my hands since then but the memory is of that Nancy Drew book remains.


Smell memories are said to be our strongest memories. Some are happy, some are sad, some bring smiles, some tears but the recall is quick and the impact unrelenting. It was B who first pointed out smell memories to me. He has a very sharp memory. It seems like he remembers everything from his childhood. And every time he narrated one of them to me, he relived those moments and for me it was a movie I was watching. Featuring his childhood, teen years or even some of his recent past. That day he happened to pass by a property that once used to be a cinema theatre. He had watched many movies there with his college best friend. The place was being converted to a mall now, but the construction was still going on.

When he narrated this to me, he said, “You know I can still smell the bondas and chai there. And you know old theatres have this typical smell of faux leather, wood and people. It is still there. Does it happen to you? I always remember smells. And every time that smell meets my nostrils. I remember the place or the person or the incident I associate with that smell.” I was amused. I could not recollect any smell memory right then. So we moved on to the next story.

But he was right. Smells bring back memories. And very distinctly. They have the power to change our moods right away. Swing to extremes. It was only after that conversation I realised now much we live through smells. If someone would want to write a life story through smells, it was possible. Every place, every person, every moment has a smell. I wonder, like there are blind people or deaf people, are there people who cannot distinguish smells? How clean would their slate of memories be? A pity.

I think the strongest smell memory I have with B is that of chicken fry 😀 Why, is an interesting story, an adorable one if you ask me. I plan to write it soon. Maybe if my editors don’t trash it away completely you should be able to read it soon in an anthology.

The smell of mud after the first shower reminds me of running home mid-play in Bhopal, that of omelette reminds me of the lane behind my first office in Mumbai, the smell of sea reminds me of Marina Beach in Chennai, the smell of fresh paint reminds me of my parent’s first home…innumerable smells, innumerable memories.

What if the storage space gets exhausted?
Will the old smells be replaced with the new ones?
What about the memories?

Leave me your smell memories in the comments. Maybe you and me have a memory overlap.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Vinay Leo R. says:

    Yes. Kind of like how the petrichor reminds me of childhood and Dairy Milk reminds me of my college society shop 🙂 It’s a trigger. What it brings up is something different each time. Never the same memory. Not usually.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Reshmy Pillai says:

      Ah, Diary Milk! That’s another smell that like you said is a trigger. It still smells of awesomeness.


  2. DhivyaBalaji says:

    It is a fact that a smell is the strongest of memory triggers and brings forth the memory most suited to your current mood. That is why poets and singers have romanticised the sense of smell so much. Great post. And for the record, the editors are actually looking forward to reading the story. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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