In the stations and compartments of Bombay’s local train, there is a new smell offered up every second.Â These smells range from tantalizing to nauseating: one will make your mouth water, and the next will make you gag.
One businessman stands on the platform and has his shoes shined. He smells of slick coconut hair oil. The rag that is being brushed across his leather shoes smells of dirty, staining black oil. The man sitting and doing the work smells of salty sweat and unwashed undershirts.
Inside the compartment, a baby nestles against his mother. Together they smell of soap and sandalwood. They lean against the seats: old metal, sour and hot sweat.
Underneath the enormous clock is a young woman selling freshly cut fruit in beautiful sculptures on recycled paper plates. In the middle of her fruit arrangements is a big stick of dhoop to deter flies: incense, sweet and smoky.
Two rats rustle through the human and animal waste that lies beside the train tracks in a game of tag: filth, garbage, rotting food.
Another man sells snacks. He drops battered onions into boiling oil with a spatter: salty, hot, oil burning into smoke. A boy helper squats behind the oil vat chopping green chilies and fresh ginger: fresh, spicy.
A group of ladies rush past, whipping others in the faces with beaded dupatta and sari ends: red rose perfume and talcum powder.
The mix of all of these aromas smells like a scent you could never imagine.
Bronwyn McBride is from Vancouver, Canada. After years of circus school in Montreal and Quebec city, and then a long summer in Varanasi, she now lives in Mumbai. Besides working in communications and fundraising for an educational NGO, going for runs and sampling Mumbai’s fabulous variety of street food, Bronwyn loves to observe and write on all facets of Mumbai’s diversity, beauty and struggle. Her personal blog can be found at www.littlebirdbombay.com
What a mixture of great and disgusting – I’ve always thought of India as the home of colour and smells.
A Good Observation. I travel in Mumbai’s Local Train everyday from my home to office and back. In the evening, when the train’s get crowded and there was no antcross space, I do get a an unknown smell (a mixture of different people’s body smell garnished with sweat and what they ate during whole day). It’s a great experience, where you are one of them and no one’s complaining.
A Good read.
Hmmmm — the train stations sound tantalizing, and horrible. What will I do about my sensitive nose/stomach!
Am reading Maximum City, and it paints the same kind of contrasts.
Thanks, and keep on writing. H.
I had a bad experience in Mumbai travelling in those local trains,I prefer moving around in taxis whenever i visit mumbai..