Monday, December 13, 2004


The other day I stopped off at the Katmandu Trading Company up in Hokah, Minnesota. (I hear they've also got a store now in downtown La Crosse.) It's a very nice little import shop, with items from all over the world, and an interest in fair trade. I feel like I'm stepping back almost 30 years, to a store on State Street in Madison back in the 1970s.

I picked up several varieties of incense at the Katmandu Trading Company. Laxmi Pooja, from Nikhil Products ("No. 14/2, 2nd Cross, S.S.I. Area, 5th Block, Rajajinagar, Bangalore"). Super Hit ("Since 1964"— manufactured by Shrinivas Sugandhalaya, in Bangalore). Tulasi brand Patchouli, Tulasi brand Amber, and of course with Christmas drawing near, Tulasi brand Frankincense (all from Sarathi Perfumery Works, Jayanagar, Bangalore). And Dragon brand Naga— Durbar Bathi— "Each bathi burns three hours!"

I'd been running low on Amber incense, and had run out of Patchouli— my last incense bought from a shop on State Street in Madison. Those were Swagat Natural Incense Sticks by R-Expo India ("Estd. 1932"), in heavily decorated oval envelopes, tied shut at one end with a multicolored string: "They are free from any toxic substances. This mystic aroma is specially formulated to worship GOD, to destroy smoke and bad air and to create a fresh, pleasant and peaceful atmosphere for everyday activities."

I also got at Katmandu a new wooden incense burner box. Stained black. Lots of little holes cut into the top, for the smoke to waft up out of. Brass decorations, including brass sun and moon and stars set into the sides. Does this take you back to the 70s, or what?!

I've always been fascinated by how smells and odors can create a mood. There's also a powerful tie to memory— the right smell can evoke powerful memories like few sights or sounds can. On a more practical level, incense becomes a necessity around the house when they spread manure in the field across the road, or when a mouse dies inside the wall.

I remember when I was a kid my dad dug out some incense— probably dating back to when my folks were living in Chicago— "Originated by Dr. Satish Ghose of Calcutta, India." Incense always has to do with the East, doesn't it? India. Persia. Arabia. Myrrh. Frankincense.


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