SMELL – SHANTONU SEN

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SMELL

“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!

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