Into Your Face

Two minutes in Mumbai:

You walk past a sugar-cane juice seller and catch a whiff of an incense cone: rich and smoky, a Catholic scent that feels out of place amidst the noise of the streets. You look to your right as you pass a side street and you almost gag as the stench of rotting fruit and stagnant water rises from the collection of rubbish that’s been dropped from the flats above. Next comes the bhel puri wallah, with his bags of chilli powder, coriander chutney and sev. Your nose detects green herbs and peppery spices. Moments later, as you cross the street, you have to hold your breath as a passing bus releases a cloud of petrol fumes right into your face. Then you’re in the midst of stalls selling multi-coloured fabrics and you breathe in the soothing cleanliness of pressed cotton. The humid breeze carries the unmistakable scent of fried onions. Sure enough, a few seconds later, you see a mountain of pakoras, glistening with hot oil. And then, someone opens the door of an attar wallah’s shop and you close your eyes to enjoy the dusty richness of sandalwood, the green smokiness of vetivert and the near-indescribable animalic sledgehammer of oud.

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