Another contest post for AmbiPur India, that asks us to talk about the nostalgic memories we associate with different smells or fragrances in our home.
This is a story from some years ago, back when I had first moved to Hyderabad from Dubai. I remember we’d moved right after my eighth grade annual examinations were done, which meant that I had many months of holidays before I had to join the ninth grade at my new school. Most of these days I spent at my cousins’ place.
Every other weekend, my mother would pack my brother and me up into an auto, and we’d make our way to our uncle’s house. My mother spent the weekend with her siblings and relatives, many of whom lived in the same area. My brother and I preferred to spend the days and nights at our paternal uncle’s place – because we got the chance to run wild with our three cousins – two girls in college and one boy a little older than me, siblings all.
Of my three cousins, the two elder cousins – obviously – didn’t have as many holidays as the younger kids. While they were off at college, I was left to hang around with my brother and male cousin K, who preferred to pretend-fight like wrestlers from WWF, or see who had the bigger muscles, or who could jump higher/leap farther/some other meaningless comparison of strength and stamina. Which wasn’t much fun.
My elder cousins, S and V, taking pity on me, took me to their local lending library, where, for a security deposit of seventy five rupees (a fortune to me in those days), you could borrow yellowing, old Mills and Boon romance novels covered in clear plastic dust jackets, at a price of two rupees per day. S and V paid the deposit for me, which forevermore earned them my love and undying gratitude.
That was my first introduction to romance novels, and for the next few months, I systematically went through all the books at the little library. That was also the first time I realised just how fast I could actually read.
I’d spend my days reading, and intermittently playing carrom or watching movies with my brother and cousin, then the evenings and nights would be spent playing cards, gossiping and laughing with my female cousins. They were a wonderful few months, mostly because everything worked out so well for everyone involved – my aunt was happy that, unlike my brother and other cousin, I wasn’t up to mischief everyday, but that I spent the whole day feverishly reading so that I could finish off my book before my older cousins came home from college. I was happy because I loved – and still love – books, and I got the chance to read a book a day. And most of all, the library owner was happy because I borrowed a book from him EVERY DAY.
The library was something of a side business to the proprietor – I can still recall his face in my mind’s eye, a white haired, clean shaven, middle aged man who only spoke in gentle murmurs – and mainly dealt in groceries, specifically coffee powder. He ground the coffee beans himself in the store; it was the first time I’d seen coffee powder being ‘made’, the first time I realised that something called chicory was added to what South India calls ‘filter coffee’.
The library-cum-shop was a small little place the size of a smallish bedroom, hardly ten feet across. With the coffee machine in one corner and the revolving book rack in the other, every book imbibed the heavenly coffee aroma on its every page.
Of course, it took me some time to realise that the wonderful smell I got from the books I read everyday was coffee. I was still a kid, with a kid’s limited palate, so it was only when I actually saw the coffee being ground in the shop when I visited one day, that I finally realised what that lovely aroma was.
And then, of course, my fascination with coffee started. I’d never had much of an interest in having coffee before, but after that, I started adding spoonfuls of instant coffee to my milk instead of the usual Bournvita – with the result that my mother, like all overprotective Indian parents, was worried I’d develop a caffeine addiction at the tender age of fourteen.
But in my mind, coffee was firmly associated with books and books with coffee, and my love for one only fed the love for the other.
And while I never thought of myself as a coffee snob, I do admit that one of the reasons why I now prefer filter coffee to instant coffee is the wonderful aroma that floats through the whole house. For me, instant coffee comes a pale second, it’s only for those days when I need to be awake in a hurry, and I don’t have some filter coffee decoction on hand. It can’t hold a candle to my love for what I now think of as ‘real’ coffee.
As for the library? It was sadly demolished some years ago in a road widening scheme. I was heartsick for a few days after I saw that empty spot on the main road.
Even now, the smell of coffee being brewed takes me back to those wonderful days – reading books, laughing, gossiping, playing cards and carrom – the perfect way to spend the summer holidays.
And I get them back, every time I curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of coffee.
[music|In My Life: The Beatles]