Recently the impressive library of a Chicagoland suburb decided enough Body Odor was enough. It issued a prohibition of "offensive bodily odors" on its patrons, subject to eviction from the library.
"Director Stephanie Sarnoff said the aroma would have to be so overpowering that it interfered with others' use of the facility. And while the policy stemmed from complaints about an apparently homeless person, Sarnoff said it would apply just as much to an overuse of perfume as an underuse of soap."
There is some minor controversy about how this targets homeless people and perpetuates all kinds of stereotypes. Mostly inane and boring stuff.
But speaking of stereotypes - I wonder how many people have shared this experience with me.
You go into a grocery store to shop. Suddenly the delicate aroma of Chicken Vindaloo fills the air. Wow, you tell yourself, since when did Dominick's start selling fresh Indian food? So you follow your nose (and I have a pretty sharp one) hoping it will lead you to the newly laid out Indian Groceries aisle. No more going to three different stores just to get groceries done! you smile to yourself. Only you reach the end of the trail and you find yourself staring at the rear end of a guy buying a 30 lbs bag of onions. The guy IS your Chicken Vindaloo.
Come on now, it has to be said: a number of desi people (and they probably have no clue who they are) smell like mixed vegetable curry. You run into them everywhere: the office, the store, even the library. Pretty soon you can tell from across an aisle the exact dinner menu of the person you'll surely run into when you turn the corner.
This phenomenon is exacerbated in places like Chicago because of its harsh winters. Cold weather means shuttered doors and windows. Poor ventilation. The aroma of delicious Indian food swirling around the house for weeks. Until it gets into your hair, your clothes, your jackets, your couches. Heck it probably gets into your soap as well because after a while I've noticed people just smell of the same food no matter what the time of the day is.
Once during my graduate studies, the place where I was working as a Research Assistant started hiring more students. The number of desis in our unit trebled. A perpetual aroma of desi cooking settled down in the Lab and refused to leave. I remember settling at a mainframe terminal, sniffing the keyboards and making a mental note to stop by Apoorva's home later for batatavadas. Our Professor stopped coming into our Lab. A month later she issued a memo that outlined basic courtesy to fellow lab rats. One prominent addition had been made from the memo we had all seen previously - buried under copious verbiage to cover liberal guilt was this message: "Please DO NOT smell"
Indian cooking comes with its set of challenges. Fry onions, singe some masala, roast some garlic - and you've pretty much created an aroma issue in your house. And as anyone who cooks can tell you, getting that stuff out of your house is hard. Especially if its 30F outside. Worse yet, desi aromas love fabrics! They love engulfing them, settling in them - I think there might be some molecular level bonding going on.
I remember buying rotis from a friendly neighborhood gujjuben a few years ago. I had fine tuned the entire routine - from entering the house, asking about the family, grabbing the rotis and handing over the cash - to under 3 minutes. And still I would have to dump my clothes in the laundry after I got home and shampoo furiously the next day.
Indian food aromas are like Lindsay Lohan: fast and clingy.
So what is a desi to do? I've seen people exercise a number of options.
Stop Cooking! Although you'd think this isn't a realistic option, some people actually do use it. Snooty cowards! Let's ignore them and carry on.
Bake Cookies After! This is not a good option. Cookies vs Indian Food is basically a no-contest. There is no cookie on earth that can stand up to Indian cooking. Often people will have to bake dozens of cookies just to counter the rassam they just made. These cookies, when consumed later, create their own set of issues - but those are peripheral to this post.
Use an Air Freshener! Another option used frantically by many desis but largely ineffective. Air Freshener vs Indian Food is another no-contest. Plus you pump the air in your home full of all kinds of chemicals. Pretty soon even the roaches start coughing.
Invest in a good vent! This is a reasonably sensible option, probably mostly because I've settled on it. We have two types of vents in our house. One 3000 cfm Vent Hood Fan that spits the air out of the house via a duct. And a Whole House Fan that does reasonably well in terms of clearing the air from the entire house in under 15 minutes.