She would like to smell ripe mangoes and the wet earth after it rains. Shachina Heggar, a woman who has lost her sense of smell, makes up for her sensory deprivation by indulging in nostalgia
For Shachina Heggar, tea is coffee is hot water. “It all tastes the same,” she says, sipping a chai latte. Long after I have finished my fragrant cappuccino, Heggar takes her time with her now-tepid tea. “Right now, I can smell water. Can you smell it?” she asks. “It’s a fresh smell. I don’t know how else to describe it.” Heggar can’t smell anything. Hold a jar of Vicks Vaporub under her nose and she won’t know it from goo. But, every now and then, a heady nostalgia interrupts the sensory deprivation and she finds herself surrounded by imagined aromas — of wood burning at the farm in NR Pura, Chikmagalur district, where she grew up; of hot akki roti; of jasmine on the vine.
Most of us have a range of about 10,000 different smells that we recognise, take for granted, and appreciate or wrinkle our noses at. For 27-year-old Heggar, who lost her sense of smell about a decade ago, only a handful of olfactory memories remain. These phantom smells surface at will, nesting in her mind for weeks and often months, as real to her as the smell of the coffee on the table is to me.
Heggar wears a T-shirt, a miniskirt and Burberry’s Weekend perfume. She has never known its fragrance, but a friend she trusts picked it out for her a few years ago, and it is one of only two perfumes she wears. It is flowery and bright, with a hint of musk and fruit. “That sounds like something I would wear,” she says. Her vivacious personality does match the scent. She flippantly attributes her disability to three accidents in her childhood, a small scar from a particularly bad fall still visible on the ridge of her nose. “I was about seven or eight months old, playing on my dad's chest, when I fell and hit the edge of the cot.