Smells like Sri Lanka

by Delilah

When I was 9, my cousins who were born and bred in the US came to visit. We were driving through Maradana one day when one of them daintily crinkled her nose and drawled “Sri Lanka stiiinks”. My little patriotic heart bristled and I almost punched the “American” nangi in her face. Don’t think I ever really forgave her.

For a few months this year I had to take a tuk-tuk to work. During the 15 minute ride every morning, I would usually turn up the volume on my iPod and close my eyes. But after a few days I realized that there was one sense that I simply could not shut down. Smell.  And I started paying attention to the splendid and not so splendid, but intrinsically Sri Lankan scents that wafted my way.  What an olfactic cocktail it was!

Eau d’ cologne & talcum – Passing the neighborhood pre-school. I believe the little people are marinated overnight in a combination of the above.

Jasmine – Real ones off a tree. Beats the cheap air freshener kind hands down.

Kiri hodi/ karavala/ fish (mirisata) – Passing a house where I can see smoke coming out of the kitchen as they cook over a wood stove. My favorite bit actually. Kiri hodi is such a comforting smell methinks.

Cow dung and garbage. Near a corner dump which is the cow’s equivalent of Coffee Stop I assume. Well the poor cows do have to poo all the time considering all that they eat is garbage – literally.

Fresh bread – Passing a bakery. I always like to imagine that it’s the Roast Paan I smell.

Wood – The timber stores. I can smell fresh wood shavings.

Warm, putrid smell of a huge canal. Like rotten eggs.

The strong clinical smell of disinfectant – Passing a state-owned hospital.

Petrol fumes and engine oil – Petrol Shed. I like a long whiff of this too. Yes I’m weird.

Steamy smell of Kola-Kenda. – Near a little Petti kade

That’s only just some of it. I haven’t been to any country where I can experience such a myriad of scents within a span of just 15 minutes. Clean and fresh it may not be always, but rich and interesting it definitely is. And sure kicks American ass where you can walk down the street and only smell the Starbucks.