July 10, 2020
వాసన / Smell
After ravaging dinner as a child, I ran to the bathroom, and rinsed my hands quickly. I headed to the laundry room, and laced up my sneakers in the hopes of catching the scant sunlight left in the Cleveland autumn evening. As I stepped one foot outside the door, a stern voice called from the dinner table.
Slinking back, I looked down at the turmeric smudged under my nails, knowing that I would soon be betrayed. My dad was still finishing his food, his fingers forming a ball of curd rice and deftly mixing in mango pickle. I raised my hands to his face, and my dad’s nostrils flared, intaking the surrounding atmosphere with the acute sense of a bloodhound. In one breath, I knew he’d sense the fenugreek, the mustard, the dhaniya, and most of all, the powerful tang of the freshwater fish that had soaked in all these elements.
He looked at me, head tilted after the breath, saying nothing. I walked to the bathroom, thoroughly scrubbed with soap until a lather built, and headed out, five minutes less sun for basketball.
As the COVID-19 pandemic broke this year and I worked as a doctor on the frontlines, I suddenly saw the practices that I grew up with in a new light. As handshakes withered, I thought of the intimate salutations at a distance, the namaste or aadab. In an Asian household, I had been trained to leave my shoes at the door and shun double-dipping. I started seeing these childhood practices as part of my new normal.