Using the Five Senses to Write About India

Jasmine FlowersA couple weeks ago I posted a comment on my Facebook site:

“How can I write about India when I’m not in India?” And then I went on to explain that my photos help me recreate scenes. Sight – that’s probably the easiest, but how can I describe the other senses when I haven’t heard, tasted, touched or sniffed India in two years?

One person commented: “Go into a public restroom and all the memories will come flooding back.”  That would be true of my first backpacking trip to India, the one where dysentery ruled and I saw little of India.

Thankfully, the aroma that takes me back to India now, is that of jasmine. I have a small bottle of jasmine oil on the kitchen counter, and every now and then I dab a little onto my wrists and breathe it in. It takes me right back to India – walking down the street, catching a whiff of something sweet and floral. Looking around for the source, it always took me by surprise: a group of sari clad women walking ahead of me; little strings of jasmine pinned to the back of their hair.

As I write about India, there are so many things to describe – what does a dosa taste like, smell like, feel like? What does a sari feel like – to touch, to wear? How many senses does one use to cross the street? And on and on.

I am lucky, because we have a large Indian population just outside of Vancouver. We have sari shops and Indian restaurants. Indian families gather in the parks and at the beaches. The women wear saris and salwar kameez; the men wear kurtas – too cold for dhotis I guess.

There’s no place like India, but little things do pop up to jar my memory. What else takes me back to India, to help me write using all five senses? Here are a few things. (Got some ideas of your own? Please add to the list in the comments section):

Sight

Masala Dabba

  • My masala dabba – one of my favorite things.
  • Scooters.
  • Women in saris – there’s a big Indian population close to where I live!
  • Traffic jams –at rush hour, sometimes it’s just as bad.

Taste

Chicken Tika with Mint Chutney

  • Cooking a good biryani or chicken tikka at home.
  • Eating dosas at our favorite Indian restaurant in N. Surrey.
  • Fresh mangos between March and June (imported of course).
  • Overdone vegetables – I recently did this and it reminded me of the ashram.

Hearing

  • Fireworks – the sound of Diwali.
  • Horns honking – almost impossible to recreate the real thing.

Touch

Silk Fabric

  • Fabrics: my saris, silk scarves and bed linens from India
  • Hot weather.
  • Dirt.

Smell

  • Jasmine oil.
  • Raw meat.
  • Incense.
  • Spices used for Indian cooking.
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