The great stink of capitalism


  Had a lovely sensory experience outside Trident five star hotel  at  Bandra Kurla complex last evening. Visual treat as well .The front portion of the hotel  has   white Champak flower trees on both sides of the entrance.

Similar  champak trees in the garden on the other side of the road in front of the hotel  means the whole area has such fragrance.

   Quite a contrast to the Ambani cultural centre on the other side of the road.  No flowering trees welcome you. In fact inside there are large artificial flowers which is such a  pity because a group that maintains  a private  zoo with elephants in Jamnagar can easily  create a nice ambience with flowers and plants, it costs so little. What you need is an  aesthetic   outlook. In fact, machine gets precedence  at the centre with  a display of a Mercedes car  under an agreement reached with the  automobile company.

  The Godrej complex at the  other end of the road has  a lovely little garden with  champak flowers and sitting space,  free , accessible to the public, it is so rare and such a pleasant    surprise

   As the Ambani centre completes a year this month end, one notices that the art gallery and a huge exhibition space in other areas is closed , reportedly for some renovation.

   Instead,  there has opened  in the adjoining premises  now a very luxurious  Jio plaza mall with  top international brands, glittering and very expensive.  So  there  were hardly any customers visible in any of the  outlets thought it was a Saturday evening.  There was a tiny box of chestnut cream priced Rs 2500 plus taxes, a key ring at Rs 6500 plus taxes.

   They also seem to have a sense of humour because   amidst all this there were also  some ten books including two on the importance  of simple, frugal living,  recycling etc.  one  Simply Living Well  by Julia Watkins and   Minimal – for simple, sustainable living by  Stephanie Mandreu.

   Several  outlets are still empty and are covered with A  huge wall to wall   black and white posters of  heritage properties mainly from Rajasthan and Gujarat. These include Patwon ki Haveli from Jaisalmer, Kaiser baug of Lucknow, Chand Baori stepwell of Rajasthan, Adlaj step well of  Gujarat.

     Amidst the   most outrageous  conspicuous consumption of  fashionable brands, food seems to take the priority. There are  restaurants  all over here and in other  parts  of BKC for the  wealthy. For workers here there is no  outlet, even remotely affordable, they probably bring their own  food.

 Coming back to the subject of fragrance,  it is always  nice to inhale the  scent of the forest and garden and other places and scents in he bazaar as in  Istanbul and other countries.  There is also the  Japanese system of forest bathing where  you immerse yourself  in the smell of  so many trees and plants and it has such a health benefit.

 Unfortunately, our ignorant authorities in charge of gardens  are planting  mainly  exotic  plants and flowers ignoring the rich potential of indigenous varieties.

   My interest in the subject was  aroused  with a recent post by  river expert  Parineeta Dandekar  about  her inhaling  various kinds of  smells and fragrances in her journey from around the world including  the  river  named Perfume in Vietnam . It has that name as  it  is a source of fragrance because of the flowers it carries from trees upstream.

What are the dominant smells of cities in India ? According to one observation these are :

Bengaluru: Of Mysore Sandal soap, sambar, open garbage dumps, cigarettes stubbed in water

Delhi: Of saptaparni flowers, slow-burning plastic, incense, rotis, rotting corpses

Mumbai: Of salt, sea, sweat and fish.  In Mumbai the Mithi river close to the business district of BKC, Bandra Kurla complex,  is a source of much stink so are the  numerous river streams which have become cesspools with floating plastic.

Kolkata: Of phuchkas, chhatim flowers, and fried fish

Chennai: Of filter coffee, jasmine flowers, detergent, the aroma of a home or office is big business. Scent branding is in vogue across a range of industries, including hotels that often pump their signature scents into rooms and lobbies, noted the authors of a 2018 Harvard Business Review article.

 Internationally, no other smell in the last  couple of centuries has evoked so much writing as the  Great Stink of London in the 19th century when the riverThames was black and dirty, all  effluents going there.   It became intolerable for members of Parliament too and then came the great sanitary reforms and building of the underground  sewerage system.

 In Mumbai the latest all pervading smell is of cement, wet cement from construction sites with the  huge concrete cylinders providing an ugly sight due to the  current redevelopment  epidemic. Good buildings are being torn down so builders can make money and the expanding rich class can acquire more property.

When the textile mills and the Bombay Gas company, manufacturing domestic gas were functioning, the working class areas suffered from  serious  pollution, breathing problems , the nose was the worst affected.

Right now there is also the big stink from garbage dumps  which mainly affect poor people in the vicinity, the  municipal authorities and the political class have  failed to solve a problem ignoring simple solutins. With a  little initiative, it is easy to  turn wet garbage into  gobar gas, use dry for recycling and so on.

The affluent  can isolate themselves from the stink and ugly sites  sheltered in their luxury cars and gated communities. Ordinary people encounter the bad odours  every time they step out of the house.  Ultimately, the poor pay  a heavy price for the  garbage generated in a huge quantity by the rich by  the pollution their cars cause.

To end on a more positive note  here is a little joy of smell  though one can get it occasionally. Babies have a unique scent that is often described as sweet and fresh. This smell is usually most noticeable just after a baby has been bathed. However, this smell can change or fade after a few hours due to several reasons: Natural Body Oils: Babies produce natural body oils, just like adults.

In the past, many hospital births resulted in baby being bathed and cleaned immediately after birth.  This is still policy in some hospitals.  However, these days we are beginning to understand why delaying a bath and leaving the vernix on baby is important.  The World Health Organization recommends delaying the first bath until at least 24 hours after birth.  The longer you wait on the first bath, the better.

Delaying the baby and leaving the vernix caseosa intact, helps contribute to that new baby smell, but it also acts as a natural moisturizer and barrier on baby’s skin.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport

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