A Throat-Catching Odour

"I was used to the lush chaos of Colombo's Pettah market, that smell of sarong cloth being unfolded and cut (a throat-catching odour), and mangosteens, and rain-soaked paperbacks in a bookstall. Here was a sterner world, with fewer luxuries. There was no overripe fruit in the gutters. There were in fact no gutters. It was a dusty landscape, as if water had not been invented." (103)

Ondaatje, Michael. The Cat's Table. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

First saw him on Babel. What few costume references there are here are beautiful. What sort of odour can sarong cloth give off? Oh, experience! It's a subtly exotic reference; we all know, in theory, what a sarong is (or a 1970s, Hawaiian version, or whatever), but how many of us knew that there might be a smell to the Sri Lankan cloth so distinctive that it brought one back, was identified with the markets at which it was sold?

I really like that he didn't describe the smell, although I want to know very badly what it is...

Photo Credit: Sarong, Sri Lanka, 1950s-1960s. From the Canadian Textile Museum.