I never knew traffic could smell so sweet

The World
Heavy traffic along a busy road in New Delhi

In India, there’s always some kind of smell in the air, and it’s usually a strong one. Growing up in Lucknow, I’d wake up to the aroma of a cotton wick burning, doused in clarified butter. My mother used it to pray in her little temple. The house would be filled with the scent of boiling rice, fried bread and turmeric oozing out of a pressure cooker.

When I got out of the house, I’d be hit with the fumes of car and truck exhaust. If I happened to enter a government building, the smell of betel nut and tobacco would engulf me people chew and spit on every landing. On the bus and train, I’d be surrounded by the odor of sweat. And often, I could smell all of the above at the same time.

I live in America now, and the smell in the air almost never reminds me of home. Even when I go to an Indian restaurant, the food doesn’t smell the same.

It’s hard to find an authentic Indian scent in America. But the other day, when it was hot and humid, I caught a whiff of something in the air. And this transported me back to India.

It was the smell of a truck idling nearby.

I stood there and inhaled the fumes for a few minutes. I hated the traffic pollution back in India, but I never knew that truck fumes on a humid day could smell so sweet in America.

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