The summer rains are here, “…mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots….” And, an old noun is back in the news thanks to an Indian connection. Petrichor, the smell of rain in the air. The word is a portmanteau of two Greek words: petra (stone) and ichor (blood of the gods).
Petrichor was coined by Isabel Bear and Richard Thomas, scientists at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency. They were inspired by an Indian perfumery, which isolated and absorbed the smell into sandalwood oil. They called it mitti ka attar (earth perfume).
The phenomenon works thus: tiny amounts of water on warm, dry rocks release a yellowish oil. The air bubbles in the water aerosolise the oil. The resultant smell is petrichor, or blood of the stone.
Now, of course, you must have guessed the connection between petrichor and petroleum. Petra + oleum = rock oil. Other words like petrophysics and petrified, too, are rooted in petra. Remember the victims of petrification in Harry Potter? It was tough to say if they were alive or dead. We mostly think that stones are soulless, but then how petrichor, eh?
Petra is also used as a first name for girls; Peter comes from petra. So does Pyotr and Piotr. Petra is also the name of a famous, ancient Jordanian city. It is situated in a valley and is hewn from red sandstone cliffs that form the walls of the valley.
This should be an easy one: what is the name of that Hollywood actor who went looking for the Holy Grail in Petra? Of course, Petra was not called Petra in the movie. And, if you please, the name of the poet from whom I have borrowed parts of the first sentence.
On a more sentimental note, what is your best petrichor memory? For some it is adrak chai, and for some it is about snakes and superstitions. More about all that when you come on the chat on Monday, between 4pm and 5pm.
Psst, I am petrified already.