Thursday 27 September 2018

Perfume Diaries (Part 2 of 4)

In Part 1, I shared with you how I went from knowing natural body odour surrounding me as the status quo to making acquaintance with the world of Chanel No.5.  So, this part is about my entry into the world of perfumes and finding my own.  

After finishing my management studies in Bajaj, I came to Portland State University to do my second MBA. Starting as a Research Assistant gave me $335 a month and a freedom to explore luxuries like perfume. The first stop was at Anais Anais. Like Chanel, it was French, but much more affordable.  I loved a slight spray of the flowery fragrance on my skin and used it sparingly on that occasional date that I went on. 

In all my departmental store perfume adventures, I learnt of a well known fact that remains a magical feature to me. Which is that each perfume smells differently on different skins. The same perfume may smell great on my friend and lousy on me. There are flowery perfumes that accentuate the feminine in you, there are the musky ones that bring out the sensuality in you and then there are the strong ones that smell a mile away announcing your arrival. You know a great perfume that’s right for you when you meet one.  

A full time job at Intel game me more financial freedom expanding my perfume collection. Anais Anais was followed by “Pleasures”. I loved it’s youthful, flowery fragrance. At the time of my punk haircut cut, mini skirt, black stockings, pierced nose era, the perfume seem perfect. During those adventurous years when I would go off on a week-long trek or river rafting or return from a long run or a hike, the scent soothed my stinky skin and made my re-entry into the real world from the weekend escapades. It gave me company on my many dates, often ending in heart ache but always starting with hope and smelling good. 

Over all these years, my hair got longer, skirt length came below the knee and my perfume experimentation expanded. There was Dune, Obsession and plethora of perfumes that paraded. I tried many with no real affinity to any one brand. It was a habit and not a special focus item.  Be it a visit to Macys or Nordstrom to pick up a bag full of clothes or taste food from different restaurants with friends or drink the best wines – it was a life of convenience and comfort and all those things that were once unattainable became routine.

My long adventurous single life came to a halt when I married Rajat. We moved in together to make our home in Milpitas, CA. I ended my gypsy life style and moved into a very organized home with my 10 cushions, one futon and 1,000 books. The marriage was followed by gifting.  Whenever Rajat went on a trip, he brought me back something beautiful – a pearl necklace, a pair of earrings and once, a perfume. I always felt perfume was a very personal purchase. I usually never gave it as a gift (except the ones I would take to India, often from Avon where I worked as a door to door sales woman) nor did I receive it as a gift. When I opened the deep golden mustard box with blue lettering “Poeme” the golden liquid in a beautifully shaped bottle stole my heart the second I sprayed it on my skin. It was as though it belonged. The next day at work, people commented saying that I really smelt good. There was something about this perfume that paired perfectly with my skin.

I got “Poeme” as a gift in probably in 1996 and I stayed faithful to it. My friends who would meet me years later would say that I still smelt the same and would ask me if I still used Poeme. They say that the strongest memory of people is by their smell and I wondered if my scent was completely intertwined with “Poeme”.  

And then, something happened that forced me to prepare to bid farewell to my favorite perfume. 

Thursday 20 September 2018

Perfume Diaries (Part 1 of 4)

Sept 20th is a very special day for me, as it is the birthday of my father, my best friend. Twenty years after his passing, I sometimes panic that I am forgetting him. At times, it feels like it was just yesterday that he was with me and at other times I wonder if all my memories are just a faction of my imagination. His presence seems so distant and almost foreign and I forget the exact contours of his face, the warmth of his embrace and the sound of his voice. So, to hold on to the memories, I thought that I would do what he loved to do the most and what he always wanted me to do – which is, writing. As a homage to him, I want to give it a try to write something every week and post on “Lakshmi’s Lounge”. These are random thoughts, insights, experiences that I want to express. So, here is the beginning.
Sept 20, 2018 (Thursday)
Part 1 of 4 – Perfume Diaries
My introduction to the concept of “perfume” was through Telugu novels, especially by queen of romance novels, Yaddanapudi Sulochana Rani. In all her books, when you enter a luxurious five star hotel, smells of “foreign” perfume floated in the air. Or when a very modern woman with short hair, chiffon saree and a sleeveless blouse appeared on the pages, she would be accompanied by the scent of “foreign” perfume. I grew up in a middle class family and none of the women in my home or the homes of my families in Hyderabad, Eluru, Guntur, Kakinada or even Mumbai, had any perfume bottles in their homes. Some of them smelt like naphthalene balls because they were kept along with the sarees to keep them from insects and some of them of camphor because of the amount of time they spent in their puja room offering camphor lit fire to the Gods. On summer evening, I learnt how to wrap a thread around my toe and hold in and make long garlands of jasmine. Those evening, my feet, my hand and my hair smelt like jasmine. When I walked past the rose garden my grandfather planted in our home, the scent of dark red, yellow and pink roses floated just the like the foreign perfume did in those fancy fictional hotels. My grand father in Eluru would massage his long moustache with a special perfumed oil and once in a while an Afghani attarwalla would come to someone’s home and open up the large box with small vials of attar. The bottle cap would unscrew to reveal a long, thin tube attached with the end tapering out into a flat area. You would dip the flat tip into the attar and dab a drop of it on the wrist and the smell stayed that way for days on end. Into my world, the ide of “foreign” perfume was exotic, exciting and it did not even occur to me that these perfumes could have names.
Long after summer holidays in my aunts’ home gave way to going to IIT Mumbai and then to Jamnalal Bajaj, I came in touch with another “foreign” perfume and this time, it had a name and a story. We did a case study about Chanel No.5. I do not remember the details of the case but the name and the luxury it has come to stayed with me. Later on, when I moved to US, I would walk the department stores spraying myself with sample perfumes. I would always walk past the Chanel No. 5 counter but something would stop me from spraying it on my wrist. Even when I could afford it, Chanel no.5 stayed somehow unattainable and elusive. I did not want to buy it for myself nor did I ever buy it as a gift to anyone else. And then a new perfume entered my life that made me forget Chanel No.5 altogether. Wait until next week to know the story of this new love.


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