Sunday, April 12, 2009

This khus thing

- by Deepa Krishnan
Just opposite Mangaldas Market, under the shadow of the Jama Masjid, there's a little attar shop. My friend Shoba wanted to buy sandal extract, so I went along with her to have a look.

I have never bought attar in my life - actually, I've never bought any perfume at all, apart from the mandatory deo - so I was a complete novice. Shoba seemed to know what she was doing though, so I stood quietly watching while she talked to the shop owner.

He was young and good looking - and with the kind of acquiline face and glossy black hair that belonged in the movies. Once he figured we were really going to buy something, he warmed to us and gave me a tiny smile for my camera.
While Shoba tried different extracts and essences, I tried to read the labels on the crystal decanters. What interesting names they had - Jannatul Firdose, Kasturi, Estanbul Gulab, Black Musk, Tea Rose, Mogra, Majmua, Ajab...
The one that interested me was a dark coloured liquid on the back row - Ruh Khus, or Soul of Vetiver.

I know what khus is - have you seen it? It is a sort of long aromatic grass. We've got khus incense sticks at home - the smell is woody and smoky. For those who are not big fans of floral essences (like me!), Indian vetiver or khus is a good alternative.

Khus is widely used in India, and not just in perfumes. In the summer months, it is woven into mats, and hung on the doorways of houses to keep the sun away. Water is sprinkled on the mats, and when the breeze blows through it, it keeps the house cool and fragrant.

The most interesting thing I've read recently about khus is how the Konkan Railway has used it to safeguard the rail track against soil erosion and mudslides.

The Konkan Railway runs between Bombay and Goa, on the foothills of the Western Ghats. Of the 740 kms they cover, one-third of the route has been either tunnelled or cut through the hills. There's also heavy rainfall here in the monsoons, so keeping the tracks clear of mudslides is critical.

On the Konkan Railway website, they've actually written two pages of stuff explaining why they picked vetiver for their embankments:

1) It is easily available all over India.

2) It is cheap and easy to establish as a hedge.

3) It can be easily maintained at little cost.

4) It withstands wide range of climates – from 300 - 6000 mm rainfall and from 15 - 55 degrees temperature. Moreover, it can withstand long and sustained drought for more than six months.

5) It is totally free of pests and disease, and does not serve as an intermediate host for pests or disease of other plants.

6) Its strong fibrous root system penetrates and binds the soil upto 3m depth.

7) It is perennial and requires minimal maintenance.

8) Over a period of time it helps in changing the PH of the soil from about 2 to 8 i.e. from acidic to alkaline.

OK, I'm thoroughly impressed! Not just with khus itself, but also with the Konkan Railway (just when you think everything is going downhill with the government, you find out they're doing some very cool stuff).

Anyway - I'm off now - I'm going to get some vetiver for my home garden!


Anuradha Shankar said...

That was very interesting. I had no idea that vettiver was called Khus. is khus-khas the same or different??
incidentally, there is a place called Idagunji in karnataka which is famous for vettiver... there is a ganesha temple there, and all around the temple are shops selling articles made from vettiver. i have a beautiful Ganesha mask i got from there....


Deepa said...

Khus Khus or gasa-gasa is poppy not vetiver.

Anonymous said...

You mentioned in a previous post that your dad'd 80th birthday falls in April. Hearty Wishes.

Deepa said...

Yeah, thanks, I'll let him know.

"Dad, Anonymous sent you 80th birthday wishes"



- Deepa

suni said...

i came across your blog and i found it just fabulous.
Do continue, good luck

Nirmala from
réunin island indian ocean

Anonymous said...

Why are you are not writing as often as you used to?

Anonymous said...

I also wrote a post about the Konan Railway and its use of Vetiver in my Vetiver Solutions Blog. See it here:

Sudha said...

bumped into you while on a search..loved ur blog!!

Sudha said...

PS: I am using your embankment pic for a post in my blog...hope you dont mind..with due credits of course!

Anonymous said...

Great article you got here. I'd like to read more about this matter. Thanx for posting this material.
Joan Stepsen
Wise geek

Anonymous said...

You never bought fragrance when you live in hot Mumbai?

Woah you might smell!

Deepa said...

I still don't buy perfume. I buy deodorant, but when I was growing up, there was no deo either. You showered daily, used sweet-smelling talcum, and you put flowers in your hair. Every morning you made paste from a little block of sandalwood, and you rubbed that on you wrists, and used it as a mark on the forehead. Westernised households used eau de cologne, but that's about it. In any case, we couldn't afford either that or any other fancy perfume and had to wait for someone to gift it to us.

Unknown said...

This is the most amazing information!! I was randomly looking up Khus because it is an ingredient in a fragrance oil I would like to try and found your blog. I've always wanted to visit India (I am in U.S.) and this makes me want to come even more. I wonder if Vetiver would grow in my little slice of the world... I love the idea of hanging it up and misting with water in the summer to cool and scent the house. I strongly dislike airconditioning except in the very hottest parts of the summer and this sounds like such an intoxicating solution.

I am well and truely blown away!

Anonymous said...

so where can one buy khus plants to grow in the home garden?

Unknown said...

Hi - was trying online to find a place in Delhi to buy Khas attar and your interesting post came up in the search results. Though your blog is quite old - I wonder if you remember the name of the shop in Mangaldas market and if you could let me know the same?

Unknown said...

My father was a khas attar fan and he used to buy it at the Khadi Gramodyog shop in Connaught Place, Delhi. It used to come in a cute aluminium bottle.
I always liked its enchanting fragrance and so went to the Khadi shop to buy a bottle for myself. Alas - they don't have attar any more.

While looking online or attar sellers, I came across your interesting blog. Though it was posted quite a fe years ago, could you l me know the name of the attar shop you visited in Mangaldas market?

aakanksha said...

Where can you buy khus plants in Mumbai/India

Anonymous said...

Do you have any idea as to where Khus Curtains are available? I intend to buy them for protection from Indian summer' heat wave.

Anonymous said...

So' os naturais como canela, gengibre e pimenta.