Spice Sensorium smell Walk

Happenings

Spice Sensorium smell Walk

KNMA and Sensing the city team organised a Spice Sensorium smell Walk on 24 November, 9-11am in Khari Baoli, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi. This smell walk is part of a larger research and community project ‘Smells of the city: scents, stench and stink’ supported by Kiran Nadar Museum of Art under Incubator Projects curated by Akansha Rastogi

Smells surround us. Sometimes we can recognize one from the other. But mostly we can’t. A little subtle and they are ignored altogether. A little louder and they become intimidating. People have their own smells. So do houses. Streets too. And the cities, cities are known by their smells – different for different areas and changing with the time of the day and even seasons.

But, how much do we know about smells. Do we have enough words to talk about them? Surely we can distinguish some by their names. But most we know through some or other associations. Smell of this or smell of that. As if cultures never thought of having dedicated words for distinct smells. Smells are intimate. They are like whispers, hence the emphasis on subtlety. To let a smell go wild is to shout out a secret in public.

Project is anchored by Dr. Ishita Dey, food anthropologist and faculty of Sociology at South Asian University & Dr. Mohd. Sayeed, urban anthropologist and Faculty at Department of Sociology, Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi.

About the walk

Each culture has a unique relationship with spices. Wars were fought over control of spice routes. Cities maintained armies to guard spice loaded ships. Spices determined the rise and fall of cities. Many cities across the globe host spice markets. The spice market in Shahjahanabad is known to predate the history of the Shahjahanabad. Though the area is known as Khari Baoli, there is no sight of step well but a series of shops lined with spices.

In this smell trail we will walk through the by lanes of old Delhi and engage with how cultures have adopted and adapted spices in their everyday food, rituals and festivities. In this smell walk we take you to Khari Baoli and share spice smells. Welcome onboard ! Sensing the city is organising this walk in collaboration with Pallavi of Delhi Galiyara.

Spice Sensorium Itinerary of the walk is as follows:

For this smell walk we collaborated with Pallavi (of Delhi Galiyara), who is a photographer, runs a digital platform and she is trying to document Delhi from the perspective of a flaneuse. She specializes in organizing night walks.

Each culture has a unique relationship with spices. Wars were fought over control of spice routes. Cities maintained armies to guard spice loaded ships. Spices determined the rise and fall of cities. Many cities across the globe host spice markets. The spice market in Shahjahanabad is known to predate the history of the Shahjahanabad. Though the area is known as Khari Baoli, there is no sight of step well but a series of shops lined with spices.

In this smell trail we will walk through the by lanes of old Delhi and engage with how cultures have adopted and adapted spices in their everyday food, rituals and festivities. In this smell walk we take you to Khari Baoli and share spice smells. Welcome onboard!

1. Sense & the city

What is the relation between heritage and spice smells? As our engagement in Old Delhi deepened we realised the smell object our team was working with had close connections to the trade history of Chandni Chowk. As we brace ourselves to walk through alleys and by lanes it is important to relive the space of Shahjahanabad which is commonly known as heritage. Walking is a political act. Recent debates on access to infrastructures of walking also reveals that there is a need to have open spaces. Spaces where people could loiter, gather for a cup of tea, have a meal break, buy their necessities and also release themselves. Each of these activities has a smell. Lanes of today’s Shahajahanabad embodies these sensorium. Yet, there are spaces also that evoke a distinct smell. A walk to Khari Baoli remains incomplete without sensing how spices are used across lanes of Chandni Chowk. A walk to Khari Baoli is about Khari Baoli. A walk at Khari Baoili is about Chandni Chowk.

2. Spice of everyday

Our first stop is at a nondescript eating place by the name Vinod Dhaba. Popular with byaparis, what caught our attention was the bottles adorning their tables. Why do we keep certain spices as condiments? Is there a variety of spices that are used as condiments? We will introduce you two spices commonly known as namak and mirch. There are various versions of namak and mirch across regional cuisines in India. We smell, taste and sense one such version of namak and mirch.

3. Sniff and tell!

We stop at a spot which has been known to preparing smell objects since 1816. Since a year, we have been sniffing around the making of smell objects in and around Chandni Chowk. Spices inform a key component in smell objects such as essential oils, and attar.

We share with you a glimpse from our field diaries and we play a small game – Sniff and tell! It is said our brains can store smells for a year. We hope if you are able to guess the smell it stays with memories of sensing the city.

4. Smells of association

Walking has always been associated as a solitary exercise. Loitering or strolling has had a negative connotation. People who loiter or stroll around have been looked down with suspicion. However, loitering allows us to take unchartered pathways, there is no fear of missing a stop and there is a luxury of haulting where you wish. It is the pace that makes walking leisurely. As we walk upto Khari Baoli we get to sniff around the morning smells of bread pakora, kachori being fried in ghee. A bit of fragrance of betel leaf might also intrude your senses and there is always a hint of milk tea, the quintessential of an Indian Street.

5. Smells of conquest

Spices were always items of conspicuous consumption. Taking inspiration from the book Taste of Conquest by Michael Krondl we give you a glimpse of spice world that were central to the spice route and the spices that caused the rise and fall of three cities – Venice, Lisbon and Amsterdam. This book probes us to think how spices were transported through waterways. Cloves and nutmegs were brought in from Moluccas (or Malaku islands), writes Krondl. Indians, Chinese, Arabs, and Jews exchanged silver and gold for nutmeg and pepper along the Indian coast. After loading pepper ships would travel from Indian Ocean to the Red and Arabian Seas. Spice was so precious that Venetians decided to transport spices in armed convoy designed to safeguard spice laden vessels. They were called Muda. Pepper, Krondl emphasizes was the king of spices. These light jewels did not need much attention, could be easily stored and transported by ‘ship, camel, and mule’.

6. Smells of secrets

“Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.”

― Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Mistress of Spices

Each smell has a secret. Can we represent smells? We invite you to loiter along the main lane of Khari Baoli dotted with shops. Take 15 minutes to loiter around in groups of three and think of corresponding smell lexicon. It can be in any language of your choice. For instance, Asfoetida : Fishy, Jeera : Bland, Chilli : Fear

7. Smells of healing

Smelling spices was also considered to have therapeutic value. It is no wonder that Michael Krondl comments “ In Byzantium, as the connection to ancient Rome faded, spices began to leach from the apothecary’s cabinet to stew pot… Spices remained important in the physician’s medical kit, their therapeutic value appreciated …”. Are spices used in healing practices?

8. Smell-notes

Smells, our study has shown has notes. It can be low, mild, slightly mild, intense and too intense. Our last stop would be an encounter with burst of intense smells. Be prepared to wear masks!

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