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Carrom
Photograph: Delfina Utomo

Scent memory: Local candle brand Carrom evokes dreams of South Asia

With these fragrances, home is just a whiff away

Cheryl Sekkappan
Written by
Cheryl Sekkappan
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Things are looking up on the travel front, but for the better part of two years, border closures and travel lockdowns have made going anywhere overseas a pain. For our diaspora communities, that has meant heart-wrenching separation from home and loved ones.

The four co-founders of the new local candle brand Carrom can certainly relate. Though Manasa, Aditi, Adithya and Lathika grew up variously in Singapore, Thailand and South Africa, each has extended family in India. For them, Covid-19 has spelled at least a year away from family and friends overseas. 

Now, we catch up with two of Carrom's founders to find out more about the vivid memories of South Asia that have inspired this unique candle and fragrance brand. 

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Carrom
Photograph: Lim Pin Han/Carrom

Manasa, Aditi, Adithya and Lathika launched Carrom in July this year as a sort of collective remembrance. "Carrom was born out of the pandemic and feeling distant from home," says Aditi over a video call interview. "All of us have strong ties with our extended families and we're now living quite far away from them. Starting Carrom was a way for us to feel close to them."

Carrom's first release consisted of hand-poured soy wax candles in powerful and distinctive fragrances. The candles – Alamari, Beeda, Lalbagh, Malgova and Thillana – each bring up rich memories of South Asia for the four friends.

"When we started experimenting with the scents, we went at it feeling first," says Manasa. "We wanted to recreate a specific moment or feeling, and what's amazing is that it was such a universal thing for the four of us that when we got the right fragrance, it clicked immediately."

Take the best-seller Alamari, which combines sandalwood, oudh and ylang ylang in a soft and comforting scent. It evokes nostalgia for the wooden cupboards that are a staple in Indian households which, as described on the Carrom website, hold anything "from grandparents' clothes and linens, to books and items used in prayer." 

As you can imagine, the candles have been well-received among the Indian diaspora community in Singapore who have an immediate emotional connection to Carrom's fragrances. But what was surprising and flattering for the founders was the warm reception they've received among those who may not be so familiar with Indian culture. 

"Having others outside the community reading about the background to our scents, how we came up with them, and relating to that has been really special to see," shares Aditi. 

Carrom
Photograph: Carrom

Rooted in intention

Aditi and Manasa half-jokingly admit that they're taking things very much one step at a time, with no concrete plans for the future. What's clear, however, is that each step so far has been taken with intention.

The team have not compromised on a few points: the type of jars to use for the candles, using sustainable soy wax over paraffin wax, choosing cotton and organic wicks, selecting reusable canvas over bubble wrap, and producing in small batches to prevent wastage of raw materials. 

Carrom's partnerships also demonstrate the founders' pride in Indian culture and heritage. They currently work with Boond Fragrances, a brother-sister business based in Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh, India, to produce incense sticks for the brand. This partnership inadvertently highlights Boond Fragrances' art – which is in making organic fragrances, or attar, with a technique that has remained unchanged since 1000AD.

And in a chic, modern twist, the heady incense sticks have stylish incense holders resembling molten metal, designed by the founders' friends at the Danish-Singaporean design studio Christian+Jade

You don't want to miss the brand's latest partnership with luxury home essentials brand Sojao either. Carrom will be stocking their products at Sojao's first physical store in Joo Chiat. "This is really exciting," says Manasa. "People have reached out to ask if they can smell the scents in person, so this is their chance."

Carrom
Photograph: Delfina Utomo

Scent memories 

After all this talk about memories and nostalgia, we had to ask Aditi and Manasa just what they miss the most about India. It's hard to pick just one, but both of them light up when they describe fond memories that centre around food.

For Aditi, it's enjoying steaming hot paneer fry and chaat while sitting in a car on the main shopping street of Bangalore. She describes the wonderful contrast between the cold air outside and the warm food in front of her. Meanwhile, Manasa recalls snacking on treats prepared by her grandmother while watching MTV India with her sister late into the night to burn off the excitement they feel every time they arrive in Chennai. 

Now, they get a taste of home at favourite haunts like Vatan Se in Tanjong Katong (Manasa says they have "bomb" Indian food) and Moghul Sweet Shop in Little India (Aditi raves about the incredible palkova). 

And of course, now they also have the warm blanket of memory from the evocative scents of Carrom. 

Shop Carrom at the official website or head down to Sojao's first physical store in Joo Chiat to explore the candles and fragrances.  

Scents for every mood

Malgova
Photograph: Lim Pin Han/Carrom

Malgova

For a warm afternoon

Malgova is a fruity scent that brings together mango and bergamot on a base of ginger. According to Manasa, this is great for a "warm afternoon". Aditi wasn't a fan of warm scents before, "then we made our own and I was very much a fan." Give it a try, and maybe you'll fall in love too. 

Lalbagh
Photograph: Lim Pin Han/Carrom

Lalbagh

For a springtime atmosphere

This beautiful floral scent carries the fragrance of rose, lotus, jasmine, marigold and mogra over a base of sandalwood and vetiver. "It's floral, very spring," says Aditi. "It's weird because it's not light, it's not the kind of floral scent that just dissipates. In contrast to Beeda, this is a daytime scent."

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Beeda
Photograph: Lim Pin Han/Carrom

Beeda

For those cosy nights

Beeda is a distinctive and spicy scent that's recommended for the adventurous. Consisting of betel and rose fragrances on a base of patchouli and myrrh, it is named after a combination of betel leaf and areca nut that's rolled into a post-meal snack called paan. Aditi and Manasa recommend lighting this up for a heady evening. 

Thillana
Photograph: Lim Pin Han/Carrom

Thillana

For rainy days 

Thillana is a blend of patchouli and jasmine balanced against a base of oudh and frankincense. It was named after a piece of Carnatic music, rhythmic pieces that are widely used in Indian dance performances. 

"I lit it up today and was very impressed. It's perfect for this monsoon season, which is also perfect because Thillana was inspired by Carnatic music, and now is the season for that as well," says Manasa. 

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Alamari
Photograph: Lim Pin Han/Carrom

Alamari

The scent for every mood

Alamari is without a doubt the crowd favourite among Carrom products. Sandalwood, oudh and ylang ylang combine in a scent that Manasa describes as "powdery". We reckon that it must be nostalgic and comforting too, as it recalls the wooden cupboards used to hold clothes and every day items in many Indian homes. 

More to explore

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