I cannot imagine an earth without Its perfumes or stinkypoo patches, and Mini Karuli’s house I will never forget. She lived with 2 cats and some dogs , there was a watchman and a gardener.
Mini insisted on being called by her first name. She cooked horror meals, they said,and had four rooms decorated like Chocolates. We were very young then, and colours, smells were things that got our attention. Mini K was easily over 65. She wore flowers in her hair, mehndi in her fingers, a bride forever waiting…
Oneday she called my sisters, parents and me to her home for lunch, it was sunday, 12 noon, and a few minutes of sitting in her living room under a deer head and pictures of forests somewhere, we realised something. Karuli ‘s kitchen smelt …. different. Like salt fish and coconut oil. Ripe guava and biriyani.
My father grinned at us, Ma looked worried. Tia and Lin my older sisters sat tall in the red divan by a brass pot filled with fruit. Over ripe apple , banana, orange and grape. Pineapple and green mango, uncut.
The lunch, when it was finally served was an event I will never forget, not to mention her perfume hovering around us all, like a low roof. The biriyani was green chilly spiced with mint leaf and roasted meats in ghee, salt fish & coconut , paneer sunk in coriander sprigs, tomato soup – deep red in white bowls steaming hot.
No one spoke; we were hungry and intrigued. Karuli waited on us like an Empress with her babies. Dad’s chin near got wiped, before he quickly moved ; his fork and spoon clattered off the table. We were not exactly spoon- eating people, though here we tried. Karuli was from Sri lanka, which explained the salt fish shredded with coconut. The whole thing was right out of a beautiful – scary terrace garden book. Cane chairs in the veranda outside her kitchen, low lamps in mud pots swollen with oil and black wick as we watched the sun set later. Her clothes rich with moth ball, woody scents, old leather. Karuli sniffed constantly at the air as if checking for error.
Ma ‘s eyes had never looked so wide, and for me Ma was / is the best cook on earth. At home we ate off a wood table next to our kitchen, dhals or ghee rice, roasted fried gravies spiked with curry leaf and cinnamon, pickles, cakes, breads, desserts, marinades and chutney – Ma had it all. Curd pots and pudina delights, idli – dosa , udhin Vada and sambhar – oh the scramble for food as aromas pulled us by the nose to the dining table…
but here, it was assault of a kind we were not used to. Wines, and smoke from Karuli’s long cigarette holder. She wore a kashmiri tunic and a silk dhoti ; roses & champa in her hair and it all looked so good…
As we left she took me aside and pushed something in my hand. I must have been 10 ? Before I could ask her or reply, I knew it was a box of chocolates. A deep round box of Belgian chocolates, inside four silver paper trays separated six chocolates in each row, from the ones below. I near kissed her in gratitude, but was too shy. ‘Thank you’, I said carefully hoping she would not actually kiss me , but it was too late. I was swooped in her long bony arms, enveloping me in a cloud of her perfume. For hours and hours and hours I smelt like a lavender field. Today every time I get Lavender, am reminded of Champa. And roses. And terrace garden with purring cats and dogs altogether, in a thick happy silence. How odd associations are ; these are contrary perfumes, and yet. Lavender also reminds me of salt fish and coconut, her cigarette smoke and Kashmiri tunic.
It was just a couple of hours there with Mini Karuli, but how deeply it sank in my memory. Her sleepy animal – paws and furry tail, the gardener with sparse white hair and paan. Her chocolate coloured rooms inside, candy striped curtains. …
Karuli was a war – widow, forever in love with love, I guess. She left me with a strange legacy – how do I put this ? She made homes a kind of art space , left soul prints here and there, loved people and fragrances. Later we learnt that she had lost her sense of smell entirely after a brain surgery, and that she surrounded herself with the things she remembered… fragrances she clung to in her memories, in her world without olfactory senses.
On our way out of her house that day she laughed about how even if she smelt garbage, she would be grateful. I never forgot that. Or how she made me love Lavender, more than chocolates.
Today I use it too, especially on days with kids that are hyperactive ; some respond to Lavender so well. Recently I learned, this is the perfume medically used to calm hyperactivity.
When Ambi pur asked me which of the perfumes I would choose, you know by now, my favourite. Lavender.Unsure whom to thank for this Post : Mini Karuli or AmbiPurIndia