The human brain is a very interesting organ.  Among the many things that it is capable of doing , what really amazes me is its ability to bring the sense organs together and perceive things that go beyond the  the normal action of that organ. Let me explain this a bit more.

We all know about how the sense of smell can trigger other senses. For example when we smell something delicious we automatically start feeling hungry.  This sense of hunger can also be triggered by pictures of food. But the most amazing thing is that sometimes even words describing food can make us salivate in anticipation! The credit goes as much to the person who wrote those words as to this wonderful organ inside our head!

I have always been a person who is very susceptible to the  imagery  of words. When I read a book I actually see the characters in my mind. I can almost taste some dishes simply by the descriptions.  But I must say that sometimes the real thing is a let down! I  used to read a lot of Enid Blytons as a child and one of the things that I thought might be the  most delicious dish in this world was – buttered  or jam muffins. I used to read those parts over and over again particularly the sections about how the butter or jam would be oozing out of the muffin. But unfortunately, when I actually tasted a muffin, it was rather disappointing!  Of course, I tried to console myself saying that maybe we don’t get the real thing in India.  

My grandmother was a great one at creating imagery by her mere words. She often described to me how as a child, she and her friends used to take tamarind and roll it on the mortar used to grind spices along with some salt and chill powder and then stick to the end of a “irkuchi” ( the mid rib of a dried coconut frond often used in the making of broom sticks) and suck it like a lollipop! Believe me folks, no lollipop tasted nicer than what this tamarind one tasted in my mind. Ofcourse I tried doing it at my grandparents place but once I dropped the pestle on the ground and  was scolded badly  I never again went near that piece of granite! But the longing remains.. even today.

And no it is not just food that is susceptible to imagery. Good imagery can also trigger our sense of smell. I remember reading a book by Anita Nair about a Kathakali dancer who had to spend a few years in London. He misses his home and everything about it. There is  a section where she describes beautifully how he misses bathing in hot water “fragrant with the smell of burning firewood”. It took me back to my childhood at my grandparent’s place in Srirangam where there used to be a huge copper pot in which gallons of water would be heated  on a firewood stove for all of us to have our oil baths. The  entire room would smell of burning firewood and so would the water.  Of course you might say that I was able to relate to it because I had a previous experience to fall back on . But one must give credit to the writer for triggering that memory.  And yes, in the same book she describes how our hero misses eating hot rice with “ More kachi” .. comfort food at its best! I could almost smell the coconut being ground to make that curry and the smell of mustard seasoning it after it was off the fire!

But are words the only medium through which imagery is created? I would say not. For me music is another medium which does it. The ear hears more than mere sound.  For those of you who have heard the Hindustani Raag “ Pahadi” ( literally meaning mountainous) may understand what I mean. Whenever I hear this Raag I am transported to the mountains. There is one instrument that creates in my mind the image of  flowing water– the Santoor!  I have never been on the Dal Lake but whenever I hear Shiv Kumar Sharma play his Santoor I can see myself on that lake. Similarly are there are raags like Poorvi, Yaman,  Pooriya which make me  watch the sunset in my mind. I also see the cowherds coming home with the cattle. Raags like Lalit can almost  make you see the first rays of the sun while Raag Megh can bring the dark clouds of the monsoon sky in front of your eyes! Ofcourse if you are so inclined you may even feel those droplets touch your eye lids!

While music and words can trigger the imagery, there are times when it happens rather spontaneously. How many times have you listened to a person with that lovely voice at the other end of the phone and been disappointed by the way s/he actually looks?

The human mind is very creative. We just need something like a small trigger to set it going in a certain direction. Ofcourse how far it would travel depends on the mind’s own desire to travel that path.  The ability to associate a thought with an image is a kind of coming together of the senses. This is what I guess  makes humans so special. 
And with something like this between our ears, who needs a magic wand?

( Do share with me what triggers your mental images and what are those images)


  1. This so holds true for me. when I read any book, it's like I am watching a movie in my mind. I can see the characters, places, situations etc. and I see the same images when I re read the book.

    don't even get me started on food images. Those cookery shows that my mom watches, has and still makes me drool. You will understand when I say I can smell as well as taste it!

    I wanna share this with you. When I first came to the US, my husband drove me back from airport to home and went to office. Since it was summer, I could smell a combination of fresh grass and air con. to this day, if I close my eyes and concentrate I can smell that and kind of transport myself to that day. (That day is special to me since I had so many mixed emotions, happy, sad, excited, in awe that I had made it this far all alone)

  2. Primate as some say. And restless.
    Your examples were nice. The smoked water from the burned firewood is so realistic. I could feel it when I read you.

    Smell, sight, sound and certainly the written letters can trigger the brain into action. But wonder even if the most tempting picture of food or the smell can alter the mind when one is satiated.

  3. Yes things can be triggered off by smell/taste/thought. The flip side of it is, Once I happen to smell a rotten egg, and the smell lingered in my senses for more than a week. Just the thought of it bought back the smell. :-(

  4. @ Purnima, I can just imagine your sense of smell triggers off some special memories. I spent my childhood in Calcutta where there are summer storms called Kalboishaki. I don't know why it happens but every time mother cooks a particular Bengali dish made of ridge gourd and poppy seeds ( called "Jhinge Posto) I am reminded of those lovely dark evenings with inky skies and heavy winds!

  5. Anil, you have raised a very valid point.. Is it our sense of longing and lack of satisfaction with the present that makes us long for something nice in the past?

  6. @ Haddock good or bad, smells remain in our memories. You know when I first went to Bombay to do my PG studies, the train passed through some really filthy places just outside of VT before it pulled into the station. There was such an awful smell that I was smelling for the very first time.. I don't know I can't describe it.. can only say that it was something like asafoetida mixed with sewage! It has stuck in my so much that I refuse to use asafoetida in my cooking and I NEVER eat anything which has asafoetida in it .. Strange for a South Indian :) you may say!

  7. True the images trigger thoughts in minds.The picture of a sweet delicacy makes one drool. In the early morning the flavour of rasam boling in the adjacent house wafts in the air and makes me yearn for it.Some music evoke feelings of happiness while some kindle baser instincts depending on the type.
    Some fragrance like sambrani associate women drying her wet hair while jasmines and sandalwood generate a wedding ambience..Could some of the rapes and assaults on women be the result of titillating images of young things shown in the media and working on the minds of men under influence of alcohol?
    It is a fact that what one sees,hears,tastes and touches do produce some effect on the mind,good or bad,as the images or objects are.

  8. Women in general are susceptible to imagery of words. Nicely written post.:-)

  9. @ Rahul, I hadn't thought of that.. maybe this is a woman thing?

    @ KP there is no excuse for rape, titlating mental images or otherwise!

  10. Meera,

    Caught up with all pending current posts but could not navigate to older ones. Please do let me know how to do so. I will come back tomorrow to offer my coments.

    Take care

  11. Watching professional chefs cooking on television makes me hungry. Want to taste that or at least smell that dish. If only someone can invent smellvision. That is send the smell from TV to your living room.

  12. Meera, you know, just the sight of autumn clouds on the bright blue sky sends waves of thrill anticipating Durga Puja and no sound is sweeter than the first 'Shaankh' sound on a dark morning of Mohalaya, to wake up for the Sharodiya Puja. And then when the eternal sound starts "Jaago..Jaago Durga", I have always been in tears.

    The lingering sweet smell of Raat kee Raani transports me to our Coimbatore home and my heart longs to be there, in the serene beautiful place we call home.

    When, from hostel, I would arrive at Ranchi, the first sight of the quarters would send a trill down my body, much before I would arrive near my home. The other day someone posted photographs of those old quarters in Ranchi and I cannot describe the feeling. I had a heart beat that would match an express train.

    Sad memories are also part of the same heart and mind. Each year, on 6th Oct, at 2:30, I re-live my Dad's death. The similar weather, the kind of sunshine and the date..I dread 2:30 and try to be in some meeting or elsewhere and then when I look at the watch, I tell myself, Dad is gone, and this happens each year..

  13. Oh Ani, i can completely understand how you feel about your dad's death. My late MIL used to fee like that in July when her husband passed away. She also used to feel similarly on his birthday. But yes, raat ki rani's is a beautiful smell, I related to my childhood - the house we used to live in.

    @ SG that is a new idea that scientists have to do research in :) I would like that too!

    @ Jack Uncle. Good to see you here. Tells me that you are better now

  14. Meera, the sight of the tricolour being hoisted or fluttering in the air transports me into an unknown ... like climbing the tallest peak ever or diving deep into the ocean or being sucked into the black hole (no negativity) to explore the unseen...a rush of adrenalin bringing tears whenever the national anthem is sung or played....
    Liked this interactive element of your post, and interesting to read different imageries..
    even "theertham" from a Vishnu koil is indeed manna for me and something divine...

  15. Meera,
    Here I am as promised. I could not have said better for Flesh Trade. However by making it legal, one may be able to put an end to forcing girls by trafficking into it. I may write a post on how that can be done. Very few persons have quality of motivating subordinated in the right manner. You have been lucky to have such person. It is true that a lot gets lost while translating. However one can keep main theme in sight and adapt screen play to local needs. Some of the messages on t-shirts are really vulgar. I could never use such t-shirts, maximum I can tolerate is manufacturers logo. It takes a lot to make a marriage interesting after some years have gone. Both need to work on it and be loyal. At times reservation in Toilets is needed for valid reasons other than just discrimination. It is not said without a reason that mind travels faster that light even. A moment one is here and next he or she may be billions of miles away. Some songs or writing do make one wander off.

    You have not told me how to navigate to older posts.

    Take care

  16. Hi meera, I wanted to say thank you for visiting me after one year, I decided to come back to blogging. I missed you, so happy you remembered me, looking forward to seeing more of you xo


Post a Comment