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Five Scents

Looking is not enough. You must run this beauty between finger and thumb.

Fiction | Flash Fiction
December 3, 2021

Hi! Please find enclosed the odors we have collected and bottled as per your request. We use a classified combination of captivity spellwork and high-fidelity sensory technology in our collection process. Unfortunately, we cannot be held responsible for the memories or revelations that may be sparked by your neural pathways. Nor are we liable for any actions that may result from your sensory travels herewith. This ends our contract with your nose. Sincerely, etc.  

Book of Shadows 

Baji! Just look here. Zakhmi cheez hai ye. I swear by my mother’s grave, just test me. But don’t test me, baji, because these silks are too wounded for your classroom. Haye! This one is so luscious against my unworthy skin. Yes, of course, this seat has been waiting for just such a personage as you. Oye, get the kind miss something cold with a straw. A straw, you hear me? All right, baji, you sit back. I’m going to show you some of our absolutely unique supply. Just watch your eyes, please, baji, this may blind you. Oh no! Don’t you worry. We would roll out the whole store for you, and it would be no trouble for us. What are we here for but to serve you? These colors, have you seen anything so haseen? And this one. Look at the painstaking gold thread on this pari. This hoor. No, I refuse, looking is not enough. You must run this beauty between finger and thumb. See. Transcendence in the palm of your hand. Could any other man in this whole mar-keet promise you a spiritual experience?  


Oh, it’s none other than Sami bhai! I didn’t know Aunty invited you this evening. What a pleasant surprise to relieve the tedium of these daawats. December feels never-ending, doesn’t it? One grows weary of all the ban-na savar-na required. And oof, the boys at the silk bazaar! They are too much right now, I swear. Getting frank and all. They know they’re in demand. The tailors, the jasmine sellers, too. All of them are insufferable this time of year. You know me, Sami bhai. If it were up to me, I’d be here in my nightie with my uncombed hair loose and I’d be barefoot, too, most likely. You wouldn’t mind, haina? Yes, you’re very sly like that, but Aunty demands some respectability at these things. And the other girls—this season is all they have, the simple ones. You wouldn’t deny them the pleasure of dressing up for an evening. Would you? You’re a ruthless businessman and all but you aren’t so cruel, I know. It’s a good facade, I grant you, but you can’t fool me! Anyway, it’s all very well for you to get impatient with our primping. When all you have to do is throw on a shirt and some gel and you look like Shashi! Of course, of course, Merchant Ivory era Shashi, naturally. Silly bhai. We’re not all so blessed, are we? Yes, you would say that, but then you’re my elder after all, and you have to extend these kindnesses to us little girls. You are such a tease. 

Deadly Nightshade 

C-rrr-ack. Is it true you’re marrying a milkman? If you say so. What can I say? It isn’t what I imagined for my granddaughter. But it’s a new world, this country. C-rrr-ack. Can he read, at least? Money can’t buy everything. Your grandfather was a teacher, you remember, so maybe you can teach your in-laws something—some manners, some civility for these people. C-rrr-ack. When have you ever wanted to know about him before? Your grandfather didn’t care for this country, what else is there to say. He left this world with a hand on his nose. “I don’t care for this frontier. We might as well be on the moon.” So. Now you want some betel nut, do you? Here, I’ll break you a piece. C-rrr-ack. Don’t pretend you want to hear these stories. I know you’re changing the subject. But what can an old woman do with such willful, modern girls. Here, have your fill. There won’t be any betel nut or elaichi or poetry in their house. You may as well savor all this culture now. C-rrr-ack. One thing’s for sure, I’m not leaving you my silver paan box. It’s wasted on a milkman’s wife.  

Sultan’s Reverie 

You won’t understand, yaar, you’re still living your bachelor dream. What do you know about the cruel world of women. Pillow talk doesn’t count! Well, I’ll tell you then. It’s this old woman and her tongue. I mean, here I am, setting up offices in Abu Dhabi and organizing call centers for those Spanish choothias I told you about—yes, they did come through, and you accused me of going to Barcelona just to play. Your brother never plays without purpose. But anyway, what I was saying is—I can’t win with this khoosat old woman. Milkman, she called me. Yes! The prejudice. I’ll tell you, firangs can’t hope to match our own self-hatred, bhenchod. Anyway, joke’s on her. Her little precious will soon be jetting around on my arm when she’s not cooking kormas and bearing sons. And the old bitch will still be here in the old city cracking betel nut. How is that harsh, yaar? Harsh is calling your granddaughter’s pasand a lowly peasant. Peasant pasand, yes, yes. Enjoy your little laugh. I’m the one who scooped up old money while you were waking and baking with the boys. What bullshit, yaar! You know I had my fun at night. Why should that change now? 

Rondeaux d’Amour 

These curtains? Oh, these silly things. If you must know, Sami ordered the fabric from France through one of his business contacts. Once my husband gets something into his mind, it just happens! But please, try these pastries, won’t you. Exactly right—they are from that new Viennese bakery. You really do have a nose for imports, I’ve always said. My guest? I suppose you could call her an import, too. You really are too cheeky. And I swear, how you heard about Kate’s upcoming visit when she only called me last week herself. The grapevine in this city is remarkable, isn’t it? It will be delightful to see her, of course, we were in college together in London, you know. I was such a scamp in those days, you wouldn’t believe. I only wore Salome—that perfume with the nangi creatures writhing about together in the ads. Imagine. Kate and I used to run around Europe together in a cloud of perfumed flirtation. Oh yes, but I only saw Sami during my December holidays at all those endless weddings and dinner parties. We weren’t even officially engaged yet. What he didn’t know couldn’t hurt him! Anyway, Kate is still running around today. It’s a business trip that will bring her here. Qasam se, I don’t know how white girls do it. Why do they do it? It must be exhausting to look after yourself. She’s not staying long, thank goodness, because I hardly know what we’d talk about. She’s still looking for Mr. Right, she says. Bechari. You have to pity them, really, trapped in their freedom pinjra like that.