Sillage, writes Shweta Bachchan Nanda

Sillage: The scent that lingers in the air, the impression made in space after something or someone is gone. Year endings make me contemplative. The chill has set in (at least for those of us up north) and I find myself spending more time than usual bundled up sipping hot beverages and thinking about life. Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration; I’m basically holed up in bed, too cold and lazy to get out from under the sheets.

My mind is as frozen as the bathroom floor, and my editor has sent me a polite “gentle reminder for the column” message. My son has just been in my room, roughhousing me, it’s his way of showing love, and I’m resettling the bed when I am overcome by the memory of my grandmother, my Daadi.

I summon my son to ask what he just had in his mouth; he obviously thinks I’ve lost it…big time. “Halls” is the staccato reply, as he turns and leaves. I get back into bed, tucking my hot bottle in closer, and there she is, my Daadi; not physically because it has been years since her passing, but in essence, brought on by the scent of a mentholated cough drop.

Suddenly, I am my six-year-old self, nestled against her on the drive back home from the airport. Her long fingers, nails painted to perfection in a pearlescent pink, rummaging in her bag. My eyes urge her on in anticipation. She pulls out a hanky and waves it at my face feigning disappointment, and then with the final flourish of a magician – a fistful of Halls cough drops. I can feel the heat of that day, the itch from the label on the dress I was forced to wear, and the bumpy drive back home from the airport that always made my tummy churn.

Her soft arthritic hands fascinated me, they were never still, later I would emulate their gestures in front of my mirror, a chiffon scarf, stolen from my mother draped around my shoulders, a makeshift sari. Of all the senses, smell is the most underrated. The sillage of a cough drop conjured up my grandmother today.

Perhaps these are the ghosts we leave behind when we are gone, and very possibly they knew, our ancestors, that this great celebrated and much deliberated life is a shape shifting of states – first liquid then solid and finally dissolving into a miasma but never gone. This is why they lived big bold lives, lives of too much hairspray and Shalimar perfume, pipe smoke and Brylcreem. You can selfie your way to kingdom come and Instagram every waking moment and then some, but it’s a cheap substitute for a hug given or a phone call made.

Why not resolve to be more present physically in all your interactions in the new year, leave your essence behind so it can be conjured up, when you are long gone, on a cold winters morning by the ones you love?