SMELL – SHANTONU SEN
“O, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven” Hamlet Act 3 Scene 3 36-39 The King. So writes William Shakespeare the man who dreamed dreams . For him the sense of smell is so pervasive that it knows no barriers , boundless, limited by no dimension: its he who has expressed this human sense best. But more of that later. Suffice it to say at this juncture that scientists too were not far behind in their search to enhance their knowledge of smell. When this is so its no surprise to recall that they informed miners of their deficiency in the sense of smell and miners as late as till 1987, knew their deficiency in the ability to smell inside a coal mine could mean their death. Gas in the mine if not detected in time by smell was fatal . As homo sapiens did not have this acute sense of smell they relied on canaries to use their olfactory glands and warn miners to empty out the mines before the fatal gas did them in.
A recent study in the American University of Chicago published in The Guardian by Mo Costandi spear headed by an Indian origin scientist Jayant Pinto made public now, relates an experiment carried out in 2005-06 on the ability to smell. 3000 persons between the ages 57 years to 85 years all members of National Shape of Health and Aging Project ( NSHAP) were subjected to a test where their ability to recognize five items through their sense of smell was assessed. The items were rose, leather fish orange and peppermint. The finding gives an insight into the longevity which even diseases like diabetes, cancer , heart attacks may not pronounce with the certainty it appears to have done. After five years of the experiment by Pinto and his team an effort was made to find out the whereabouts of 3000 who participated in the experiment. It was found that 430 of them had died. The maximum 39% percent of the dead had totally failed in the test of sense of smell, 19% had partially failed the test and 10 of the dead were healthy the ones in as much they had passed the test with flying colours. This narration has to be read with the scientific knowledge that of all the nervous systems in the body the tip of the olfactory nerve that provides the smell receptors to the olfactory glands are the only nervous system in the body who continuously regenerate the stem cells that die in the olfactory nervous system . Other nervous system of glands are resilient . When the stem cells in the olfactory nervous system die and they are not regenerated then the sense of smell gets weaker and then death is stalking you is one conclusion.
It is not universally known but its true that women are better empowered with the sense of smell than men. In various studies they have out performed men with a better evaluation of odours. Many say that the differences perceived in social reaction between the sexes may be connected to their different perceptions with regard to smell as men’s olfactory glands are perceptual while that of women cognitive or emotional !
Animals and their sense of smell is the subject of continued research. Elephants with their long trunk possess the olfactory receptacle that blesses with immense capacity to smell. Tremendous research has been done to tabulate the ability of the canine species in this area. The dog has become our best friend only because has been able to utilise this animals unusual abilities to smell and alert his master in many different areas. It can smell danger , smell drugs, smell explosives, smell a criminal , smell fire and now its ability to smell diseases of certain kinds is being researched. Predators among animals prey on others after detecting its presence by smelling him out.
Literature is profuse with pithy phrases that epitomize the qualities of smell. The Great Bard , no doubt, set the pace in such use. Rank smell reaching heaven, smell of rose always remains the same even if rose is called by any other name, all the perfumes of Arabia were not enough to hide the bloody stank that troubled Lady Macbeth when she smelled her little palm are some that easily come to the mind. We also recall smell with other happenstances .Smell of victory , smell of defeat, smell of fear , smell of evil , smell of corruption are often spoken of. The question that must be asked is when olfactory glands loose the power to smell a rose , a leather, fish , orange and a peppermint are they also loosing the ability to smell the above attributes. What if they have lost this ability long before they are found deficient in the sense of smell by experiments designed by the likes of Jayant Pinto! The world will be ill served by such men and women , more so when they are in seats of power. Perhaps, its time to test the sense of smell in the manner done by Pinto of every one seeking votes and mentioning the result in his fact sheet for the knowledge of the voter!