Chandrika

“Time Machine”

There are few pleasures in life more particular than opening a new box of Chandrika soap—it comes in a cardboard box and then is loosely wrapped in white, waxy paper—it's a flat sided oval, dark green, with the logo: “Chandrika” stamped in the soap, the “C” twice as big as the rest of the letters, which recalls the logo of Chowards Violet candies (intense, square, violet-flavored candy, often only available at filling stations—the name confusing, because the company is C. Howard, but the candy: Chowards). The first thing you notice, though, is the rough-hewn quality of the cake—it's got rough edges and imperfections, which makes it seem like it's either manufactured by machines from two-centuries previous, or actually by hand. (The box says: “Hand Made”—I'm inclined to believe it.)

This soap comes from India—and the ingredients list such things as: coconut, patchouli, lime peel, orange, sandalwood oils, wild ginger, and hydnocarpus oil—and is an Ayurvedic soap, which uses knowledge and practices from ancient Indian medicine. But in this case, this sum is much greater than any of the parts, because on the whole this soap evokes something very hard to describe. How does it make me feel? I'll try to describe it here! I keep going into my bathroom to smell this soap, and every time, without fail, it transports me somewhere—I don't know if I'm time traveling, or if it activates some part of my brain otherwise not activated; if it's about memory—it could be childhood, a relative, or a teacher, or maybe it's about the future, or sex, or some experience otherwise forgotten. Regardless, I can't seem to place it, or describe it; nor am I able to communicate how this smell makes me feel. This may be its power and allure, after all—maybe being just beyond my grasp is what makes it all the more powerful.

I try again, but I still can't nail it down. It occurs to me that it's easier to describe something that I don't like than something I love, especially if the thing that I love has a subtle appeal, which is often the best kind of appeal. The new shampoo I have (I won't name it) reminded me today of grade school lunch—I don't know why, and it's not exactly a pleasant memory, yet it is evocative, and in its own way, nostalgic. So that mindset permeated my latest attempt to describe Chandrika—and what came to mind was the Bookmobile—an old, mobile-home decked out as a mobile library that would park down at the end of the street periodically in the summer so kids could check out and return books and generally explore. There were metal steps going up to the door, and the interior was dark (at least in contrast to the hot summer day) and cool and mysterious. Why Chandrika made me think of this, I have no idea. Then it also brought recollection of riding bikes—past NASA, farmers' fields, and a dilapidated haunted house—out to this semi-rural, general store which contained several aisles of candy—much more candy variety than in stores today. No favorite that I recall—I wanted to sample it all—though the tiny, wax bottles with colored, sweet liquid inside kind of stand out in my memory. There must have been a definite smell in that place—the candy mixed with produce and fertilizer and old, wood floors—all as vivid, right now, as if I'm there—thanks to this Chandrika soap.

Addendum: I saw a box of Chandrika in a store but realized it was somewhat different than the one I had bought and reviewed, so I decided to try it. I didn't have any of the previous one left to compare the two, but I'm going by memory. It's pretty much similar art and logo, but not quite the same, and the bar of soap is square and not oval, but it's the same dark green color. I tried to read online if anyone discussed the differences between the two—and I came across all kinds of bizarre opinions, so I abandoned that investigation. As far as I can tell, from using it, it is the same Chandrika. I've been making it last for the past month, and every time I use it, it gives me the same evocative, nostalgic, magical feeling. Nothing has diminished. If I had to choose today—my favorite soap—it would be Chandrika.