I remember walking around the Lal Darwajah market in Ahmedabad on a blistering afternoon several years ago, filing past the riotous splashes of bandhni fabric and other ethnic stuff in the open roadside shops. I was there on a mission. To get ‘sondhi khushboo’. Now, that’s a Gulzarian expression for petrichor, the fragrance of raw earth. Some call it the scent of the rain.
My fixation with petrichor has a long history. I have been smitten by it ever since I have known rain in my childhood and my obsession only grew with age, as I learned to assign rain and its sweet attendants various connotations of romance, melancholy, mirth, passion and myriad other emotions that I can’t clearly define even today. It does to me things that the oldest wine in the world cannot do.
Many years before my trip to Ahmedabad, I had read in a newspaper article that sondhi khusboo was now sold as a scented oil in the Jama Masjid area of Ahmedabad’s Lal Darwajah market. It was a valuable piece of information to someone who had harnessed the scent to her soul, but I had dismissed it as useless knowing that my chances of visiting Ahmedabad was very remote. I had no way to lay hands on the monsoon elixir unless I found someone to fetch it for me. The improbability of it had made me shelve all thoughts of ‘owning’ some petrichor until an unexpected opportunity to visit the city came my way in 2014-15 .
There were other reasons to go there, but what topped my list was finding the object of my obsession; bottle and bridle it to my existence to be inhaled whenever I pleased. Rain or shine. Passion, craze, love, fetish – call it whatever.
The area around Jama Masjid is famous for its row of shops selling ‘attar’ and I had expected my quest to end in the first few minutes of landing here. But it turned out to be an arduous task, for no shop had anything called ‘mitthi ki khushboo wala attar’.
Flitting from shop to shop, suspecting I had got the information wrong, perhaps it was Allahabad, I made one last effort, combing the area, and viola! One guy indeed had what I had come seeking. Only the pilgrim knows what it means to be at the shrine after a long trek through the hills and ravines.
Eager and excited to sniff the essence of earth on my skin, I asked him to dab a bit on the back of my hand. I inhaled the oil with my eyes closed, feeling a mist spread on their fluttering fringes. So intimate was the experience of touching base with the rain elements that I almost wept.
What was the predominant emotion that I felt in that moment? A real, raw sense of myself. It gave me a glimpse of what I was behind all my sophisticated exteriors and a clear recognition of my earthiness. It was as if I had found my provenance in that one instance.
How can something so sensual, so material, so utterly transient provide such a profound experience? I fail to understand. But it brings to memory a few random lines I scribbled recently in another equally inspiring context. “From the lap of a hovering cloud, If not pouring rains may some drizzles fall, With every drop that lands, a scent will rise in the air to consecrate me.”
I revel in drizzles as much as in thunderous torrents whenever I have a chance to experience it in my land of rains. When I am in the arid desert, amid shifting sands, I open this little bottle of petrichor every so often, inhale to relive that old moment and feel anointed all over again.