It was questions about India’s scent tradition that led writer and historian William Dalrymple to collaborate with Monika Ghurde on a long-form piece for an international news magazine, which will be out in print next month. Dalrymple, who first met Monika and her now estranged husband, Bharath Ramamrutham, in Goa five years ago, says the 39-year-old perfumer knew a “phenomenal lot about scents”.
Dalrymple’s interest in “ittar as a phenomenon” also saw him take a 10-day trip up north with Monika last November. “We started off exploring ittar in the gullies of Old Delhi, and then went to Lucknow, Kannauj, Jaunpur and Varanasi, where we met several ittar manufacturers. She was my adviser, interpreter, and sort of a knowledge bank,” he says. “She had a brilliant nose. She could instantly tell if an ittar had been adulterated. During that trip, I learnt so much from Monika. She was my guru on the subject and a dream person to work with,” the writer says. The two were also planning to collaborate on a book.
Like most perfumers fascinated with certain fragrances, Monika, too, was infatuated with jasmine. “Jasmine was her passion. She felt strongly about it and had many plans to work with it. We also talked about a different trip to go and see the jasmine plantations in Mysore and Bangalore. Unfortunately, with her death, it has been cut short,” he says. “This is an unbelievable tragedy; a beautiful life cut off in the most horrible way,” says Dalrymple. “I will miss her desperately.”