The Smell of Grass
The smell of something and its imprint on the memory depends on its accompanying temperature.
Kuala Lumpur streets are wafting with the flavours of chillies, curries and garlic that washes over one and is remembered strongly by the body. Its after taste on the memory however, is like a blunt instrument and not like the smells that hit one in colder climes. It's as if the chill cuts sharper, more like a pin prick on the memory.
I arrived at 10 years old to the sounds of the Beatles, mini skirts, sex, milk and Pakistani food in a world sparkling clean after the rains that released the smell of grass - this I remember till today. London glistened with green but I always felt that it was the smell that somehow made it greener. Years later that same smell feels cool, like a thin slice of cucumber in a gin and tonic, always resembling a lawn more than wild potent nature.
And somewhere just before or around the same time, I was shocked, almost, by the taste that grass left on the skein of memory as it infiltrated the sweetish smell of sperm drying on our skins.
Perhaps the cold suppresses the bacteria that otherwise releases all aromas into the tropical heat.
Maybe that explains why European cities have less of a distinct smell than Asian ones. The heat apparently dissipates the aromas faster, whereas the cold arrests ones memory of the smell, reducing it to a frozen immobile state. A permafrost layered with love with hate with experience with life with age. Conversely, in a bustling, chaotic South East Asia, we use up everything. The life of smells is short and fast, replaced at a frantic pace.
The Smell Of Rain
It was a hot fleshy afternoon, thick like wading through phlegm.
All the days' aromas and sweat, sticky like palm sugar glued to one another,
like mosquitoes ripe with blood trapped in coconut oil on the lids of cooking pots ; that's how we caught them.
And then a hard rain washes the days layers, flooding them into the wide open monsoon drains.
That's how I will always remember the smell of rain, when it cleans everything away, it's as if water has a feel and a smell.
The Smell Of Night
The East Coast is dry and unbearably hot.
Pure white sand reflects light and at night houses on stilts floated on moonlight.
We arrived earlier than my father at his mother's house. I could only look at her from across the road even when she was a foot away from me. She had tied a small young goat as sacrifice for him, for the return of the prodigal son all that way from London to take his place within the walls of cengal wood, and asbestos ceilings.
He was the only son, my Father.
Lonely as the goat tied to its pole bleating day and night, knowing it was for slaughter.
He was late, as business and work made him push back his arrival. And as if a promise threatened to break, a promise his mother had made to the striped one, the spirit of the white tiger had guided and nurtured his persona, his gilded aura like a bodyguard that protected him from bad light, and the darkness.
The delay caused her pain, and she kept holding to the side of her neck, bleating at the pain 'it's biting me', it's biting' - We felt her choice of words, we felt scared.
The villagers said 'You mean you didn't know?' ' Know what' My mother said?
'His mother kept the spirit of the white tiger. She's been keeping it for years.'
'Why?' My mother asked. 'It will give her son power!'
She had the goat slaughtered and cooked as 'dalcha' and the world seemed right again, and his mother became his mother again.
What stayed was when blood spilt on white sands, and night infused with incense to appease the spirits and dalcha curry boiling for the next days feast.
This was the smell of sacrifice.
Finally his mother could sleep and the pain went away, and my father took his place within the wooden walls and asbestos ceilings of his childhood memories.
Courtesy of Danny-Lim-(c) Apparat-2016
Dain Said is an acclaimed filmmaker and actor best known for directing films such as ‘Dukun’ (2018), ‘Interchange’ (2016) and 'Bunohan' (2012). The Malaysian auteur fuses facets of Southeast Asian cultural history and context with sensuality, noir-magic and sci-fi symbols to build compelling narratives of love, sacrifice, and socio-political corruption in contemporary life. Read a recent interview here.