The Scent of a Book by Richa Mohan

Have you ever smelt a book? Yes, the smell. Do you know what your favourite book smells like?

I grew up in a world, surrounded by books. My mother, a writer, introduced me to the world of fiction and my father, a voracious reader, to the world of non-fiction. I was always surrounded by debates on ideas, of great authors and classics. As is commonplace in the house of any book lover, most of our books would be stored in specially made shelves. The ones that were recent would occupy pride of place in the living room and then there were the favourites, stored in a small nook. This nook would be “cleaned” around New Year’s, every year, and the first thing that would hit you would be the smell. Heavy and intoxicating, of old books, which smelt of dust and age; or even of books destroyed by the eternal enemy of print, the fungi.

My all time favourite book is Jane Eyre. I have an old edition that my mother had bought when she was young, from a sort of flea market. It is a hardcover. I can still feel the rough pages that comforted and reassured me in difficult times, but above all I remember the smell of paper – distinctive, papery, like that of an old library, filling you up till you could feel lonely no more.

Few days ago, I wandered into my favourite bookstore in Delhi. It was the Midland in Aurobindo Market, for those of you familiar with the city. I was feeling a little out of sorts that day, but the moment I entered the shop, it was as if an old friend had reached out to me. I was instantly hit by the smell of books, of paper, of print and suddenly I felt uplifted. It was like being embraced by your Grandmother and being surrounded by her scent.

One hour later, and lighter by a couple of hundreds, I could feel my soul smiling. Small wonder I am who I am today – an editor. The moment a new book comes fresh off the press, the first thing I do is to pick it up and smell it. Much to the astonishment to those around me. But there are others who know, just like me, who have spent a lifetime with their noses buried in books – literally!

Richa Mohan is an editor by profession. She loves to travel, read, write.


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