The baby who did not smell of Johnson’s

Advertisement of Johnson's talking about "the smell of every baby", the smell of Johnson's baby powder.

This ad from the newspaper this morning is no exaggeration. If there is a baby around, you smell Johnson’s. If you smell Johnson’s, there is a baby around.

Except when I brought Mishti home. It was the first time I was holding a child who did not smell of Johnson’s.

She was the daughter of the watchman of our building. His wife had just returned from her village with their new baby.

Mishti carried the smell of some strong oil. Maybe something herbal that they applied to her regularly?

Soon, she was walking in and out of almost every apartment in the building. Oblivious to language and social barriers. She just loved company. She was all over the building, so was her smell.

They lived in a nook near the terrace. I would go near Mishti’s “home” every evening to water the plants. She would join me, helpfully point out the pot I was supposed to water next. She would patiently wait for me to finish so that she could hold my finger and come back home with me.

Some days she would smell of fish. If that was not lunch, she would smell, well, like Mishti.

I often called her “naughty girl” whenever I interrupted her mischievous dash down the stairs and delivered her to her mother. She would repeat “naughty girl” as if she was memorizing it.

One evening, just to tease her, I did not return home after watering the plants. I just sat on the stairs. She promptly sat next to me. When she saw that I was not moving she got up and tried to drag me to my feet. When that didn’t work, she stood behind me and put her hands on my shoulder. I turned to see what she was up to. She pinched my bearded chin and told me very sternly, “naughty girl!”

She loved bananas. Once I got out of the car and was walking towards the lift with a few bags and a big bunch of bananas when Mishti suddenly appeared. She spotted the bananas and ran towards me. She loved grabbing whatever anyone carried. But the banana bunch was too heavy for her, and I was asking her to stay away when she ran up, broke off one banana, said a quick “thank you” and went away. She left me standing there, looking a little foolish, all bags and bananas.

The building does not smell of Mishti any longer. We had to dismiss the watchman without notice, because he was caught stealing. We were all happy to let him go. Except that Mishti had to go with him, too.

Now, when I smell Johnson’s, I think of the child who did not smell of Johnson’s.



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