The Scent of Sandalwood

Smell the rich aroma of sandalwood and be transported halfway around the world—to India! Imagine the colorful silks, bright jewelry, and Banyan trees with chattering monkeys; or envisage gazing towards the Himalayan Mountains from the swaying back of an elephant. Can you see the Ganga river (a.k.a. Ganges)?

I haven’t actually been to India, but until I can visit in person, I’m grateful for two things: Basmati rice and books. I absolutely love sticky Basmati rice. I love the flavor, the aroma, and the bright white grains. In order to enjoy the scent of sandalwood, and all its exotic associations, all I need to do is cook a bowl of Basmati rice.

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While you probably won’t find chopsticks in India, I can’t imagine eating rice with anything else. It’s said that the aroma of Basmati rice is reminiscent of sandalwood—although I can’t assess the accuracy of that comparison, I can say that it smells divine.

Now for the books: The Far Pavilions and A Suitable Boy are two of the best, most culturally intense books I have ever read.

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye is an absorbing saga that’s a pleasure to read. Full of Indian culture and foods, the story follows a boy, caught between two worlds, in British occupied India.

            “From its beginning in the foothills of the towering Himalayas, M.M. Kaye’s masterwork is a vast, rich, and vibrant tapestry of love and war that ranks with the greatest panoramic sagas of modern fiction.”


A Suitable Boy (*) takes place years later, and is woven around the concerns of an extended family. The poetry hidden throughout this book was a real treat. After reading the book, go back and read through the table of contents—I was delighted with the cleverness of the chapter titles. Vikram Seth’s sequel A Suitable Girl is scheduled to come out in a few years…. I’m looking forward to reading that as well.

            “Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves… A complex, multiethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humor and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation…”

Do you like to travel? To seek out new experiences? Or do you prefer to journey through books? I’m enamored with both forms of exploration.


* I’d like to note that I don’t think this book is “G rated.” I thought a few of the scenes could have been omitted.

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