Myrrh, oud, rosewater, sandalwood, cigar, patchouli, vanilla, jasmine, and opium.
All of these sound like the olfactory delights that wordsmiths write about when they want to evoke an added sensory experience in their prose. And in a way, mixing perfume is a bit like writing a story. It distills the notes, the nuances, and the tiny whispers of memory into an identifiable scent that jolts nostalgia and puts you in a place where scents are associated with feelings and moods.
I arrived in Pushkar not knowing what to expect, so I basically just showed up and waited until the adventures began to unfold spontaneously, going where my feet took me. It was a blisssful two days spent in this spiritual lakeshore town. The moment I got off the car and set afoot to explore, I felt an immediate sense of calm with the lake’s serenity and the hundreds of devotees that flocked its steps so that they could bathe in its holy waters. The scene around the lake shore, with its innumerable shrines and temples, was that of devotional preoccupation. Every second, a tiny ceremonial bell twinkles, or a ceremonial dip into the lake is done by women in colourful saris and scarves flapping clinging to their bodies. Everyone was busy going about their rituals, but it’s an activity that is best done in a rapt, almost introspective sort of silence.
The activity in the bazaar nearby, though, is a different story. The bazaar, with its hundred stores for clothes, books, souvenirs, and leather crafts is busy and crowded, with people milling about, determined to make the best bargain. I was not really up for a lot of shopping, as I had very little space left in my backpack to begin with. However, when I chanced upon a perfumer’s store, I knew I had to dive into this experience.
Perfumers are important people in Indian culture. Apart from the scent oils that they sell that can be used as perfumes. people flock to their stores to buy incense and ceremonial oils that they burn during darshan and pooja, holy prayers where scents and vapours are vehicles for sentiments and wishes. India, it seems, has a lot of various rituals concerning scents. A guest is welcomed with a dab of aromatic oils and pastes on their foreheads. Flowers bring a heady scent to any Hindu ritual. Women go to the temples with jasmine and champa flowers in their oiled and plaited hair. People light incense and pray to their goods, with the sweet scents carrying their prayers as it suffuses the surroundings with beautiful and otherwordly aromas.
From the heat of the bazaar, I walked into the perfumer, Lakshmi’s shop and was seated immediately in front of his workshop. He had bottles upon bottles of distilled scents in oil form, concentrated oils of rich fragrances. I have never really thought much about perfumes before. I just took what I liked from any perfume aisle and I have gone through life without much of a signature scent to speak of. I know some people are obsessed with scents, and I know a bunch of guys who have really decided on their signature perfumes or scent elements that fit their personalities.
My mission was to look for a scent from the hundreds there were, so that I could find a scent that really fit the bill on what I love to smell like at any given time. Going to the perfume aisle is just not the same. Often, you sample several bottled perfumes, but commercial perfumes are often mixed and blended to have various layers. A perfumer’s store, however, will give you pure scents. Unadulterated, these scents really do have a lot of individual character. Soon enough, my whole arm was filled with dabs and swatches of various scents and mixtures.
Lakshmi Bhai obliged with samples and scents, giving recommendations here and there based on what kind of feeling or emotion I wanted to evoke. I want an air of maturity and elegance, I said. I have always gravitated towards fresher notes for daytime, something that is always light and refreshing to the nose.
This was something I didn’t plan to do but totally enjoyed anyway. I sat there in Lakshman’s workshop, watching him as he sorted through the many bottles as we worked together to zero in on what scent experience I would like to always bring around with me.
After several trials, waiting for the scent oils to reveal different nuances as I sat there waiting for the scent molecules to dissipate and meld with my skin’s chemistry, I settled for two different perfumes. I quite liked the smell of pure white musk, with it’s vanilla sweetness and its playful vibe. I could imagine myself wearing that smell as I go about my day. It is a soft, sophisticated, and understated sort of fragrance.
For the evenings, I wanted a woody and sultry smell, something that evokes a seductive sort of passion. What caught my attention was the robust and rich bottle of oud, which is easily the best scent that fit the bill of what I wanted – spicy, sultry. and woody. Oud, Lakshmi mentioned, is a very rare and expensive scent that is priced in the Middle East and the Mediterranean as it is sourced from a very specific kind of plant that emits a resin when it is brusised or injured. Oud comes from a mold in that resin, and it hardens and develops into this really rich and woody scent that is worth more than gold. It is a scent reserved for sheiks and royalty, but some grades of oud can actually be found, as some sources can produce them from lesser quality agarwood resin. However, it doesn’t mean that ruh oud, as it is called is any less fragrant. It is a very masculine, sexy and mature scent that I imagine will perfume significant formal evenings.