Image provided by: University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries, Lincoln, NE
About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Feb. 25, 1993)
Sewer aroma swells in India
Americans often take the sweet smell of home for granted
I remember the smells, mostly,
of India. And thinking, as I photo
graphed some children playing by
a drainage ditch, that any picture,
even movies, can never tell this
truth about the third world: 11 smells.
The drainage ditch in my rainy
snapshot is a sewer.
It runs untreated to the river,
outletting near the place where
cattle are washed on their way to
market. Fifty yards downstream the
women wash their clothes against
Their whites are whiter, their
India isa tropical country. Things
don’t go sour there, they rot out
right. And everywhere there are
open sewers. Even in the cities.
I remember eating in a restau
rant in Madras; the food was excel
lent. When I went to the toilet I was
surprised by a Westernism I hadn’t
seen in weeks: a urinal. Ah, civiliza
Then standing over it I realized
the drain ended abruptly above a
trough cut into the concrete floor.
A stream of urine ran in through a
hole in the wall and out into the
alley to a ditch.
The smells of India awoke me to
a world of smells back home. Anti
septic, perfumed, covered over. For
weeks, back in the United States I
missed the heady smoke of sandal
wood burned along the Persian
carpeted hallways of a high
ceilinged English hotel.
A whole world of sense exists, as
it were, up our noses. So much of
the emotional impact of reality rides
the carrier wave of smell.
If you dpubt this, think of the
difference between the sweat of
sex and the sweat of fear. They
smell different. Totally different.
Only we have no words for the
u. Our vocabulary for dealing with
and describing these olfactory dif
ferences isskimpy—a poor cousin
to the facility of our language for
sight and sound; the word“chortle”
for instance, how descriptive! Or
the word “azure.”
But someone had to make up
those words; why shouldn’t we
make up our own words for the
neglected sense? Even the word
“smell” has negative connotations.
As if we would give up being
But I leave the demonstration of
this as an exercise for the reader.
Back to India! (And often I re
turn, in dreams, to the dust choked
streets of the dry season, to the
cacophony of car horns and the
smells of India.)
I remember, one of my strongest
memories of the place, traveling by
land through the crowded, chaotic
streets of Bevamaram: every inter
section a brush with disaster.
We passed a citrus stand on the
street. I never saw it but I know; it
smelled of oranges.
I may never recapture what I
knew then. Suddenly the smell of
oranges became a perfume that
spoke to me in volumes—a whole
world of pleasure. I knew that the
smell of oranges over feces, cattle
and 100,000 people was a kind of
gateway out of the noise and dust
and stink of the city.
A whole world of sense
exists, as It were, up
our noses. So much of
the emotional Impact of
reality rides the carrier
wave of smell.
That smell was like a glimpse of
a quiet garden suddenly tom from
me. I felt like weeping.
The people of India bathe often.
They considered their conquerors,
the British, smelly and dirty — and
it was probably true. And if you
think it’s a put-down, all my talk
j,-,,. i,,., j . i. i.j i........ i j i.. j . i.i.
about the smells of the place, you
haven’t read closely enough. But
One is choked there, the Ameri
can is, with the smell of human
excrement and rot. It’s a country
where a man (at any rate) can squat
by the side of the road for a mo
ment smoking a cigarette*and ride
away on his bicycle refreshed.
It’s a country that teaches the
Westerner just how much of what
we believe about the human body
and the human condition is as
sumed, without a whole lot of rea
Travel is broadening, they say. It
can open whole areas of sense and
sensibility to a young person who
is willing to undergo the shock,
which is always a shock of recogni
— Mark Baldridge is a senior English
major and Arts ft Entertainment editor
for the Daily Nebraskan.
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Top left: The Taj Mahall, bottom right, a taxi in India.
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