Scents of the City

By Prashanti Chunduri

I know of a tiny city by the sea
whose tread is a little slower than Father Time's.
Its womb is the one I grew up in
and it's old-school heart beats
in tandem with mine.
In this city, we write letters by hand
and read the words out loud, 
rounded by the warmth of our tongues.
We let our nibs explode ink onto the paper 
and with it, our love, our laughter, our tears.
I don't know how it works in the cities 
which have left us behind, but here, 
we hold hands when we fight. We let our 
rage sink into our skin, in real-time,
so that when it scabs over, it does so with grace.
We paint portraits that preserve the caress of paint
instead of selfies that evaporate by the minute.
We develop photographs in the dark room and 
slip them into albums, labelled and dated,
but most, we carefully preserve them behind our eyelids.
We eat with our fingers in this city of mine,
let the juices drip down our wrists, nary a care about etiquette.
The moans and groans of pleasure that accompany 
chilli powder and turmeric stained-fingers
are worth more than Michelin stars, says mother.
Sometimes, we forget our GPS at home,
and let our senses guide us, as in the days of old.
We pick up less-than-perfect bouquets of wildflowers,
a little brown at the edges but signed carefully with love,
so that no fancy florist knows to set up shop here.
I hear you worry about my untrimmed edges,
a little wilder -- but a lot less weary --
than the world as it flashes by.
But worry not, I am more than fine,
with this old-school heart of mine.
I come across a strange meaning
to words I thought I knew
because when I ask my brain about 
life, she leads me 
by the nose.
The first scent that drapes itself
over me as I toddle around on wobbly feet
is the yellow scent of summer mangoes 
caressed by the burning fingers of Indian summers
and here, I find the fragrance of my conscience.
The black miasma of new asphalt
as my city grows taller than me.
My nose is forced to cradle cement dust
but I long for the pollen, allergies and all.
But thankfully, home is smaller than my city,
infact, it is the five-by-five of my mother's kitchen,
for it houses the aromas of roasted chillies and garlic,
caramelised onions and curry leaves in hot oil.
But once again, I renew my definition of home
as the twin caves of my sign board lead me to another.
I lose myself in the musty aisles of libraries, the minty walls of bookstores,
the scent of paper and ink -- a forever home I can carry with me.
I find home easily enough now
in the cherry blossoms that still fight to rise above the asphalt.
My leaking pens sing me lullabies on paper,
the old family recipe book that is more whiff than words.
And I trust that I will never lose 
my way back to my homes,
for they gift my nose a piece of themselves 
so that I can always Hansel and Gretel it back

Prashanti Chunduri is a self-proclaimed aesthete and armchair globetrotter. Her poetry, prose and micro-fiction have been published in Terribly Tiny Tales, Poems India, Mad Swirl Poetry Forum, Women’s Web and Verse of Silence.


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