The first thing you think upon arrival is: “This place ought to be called ‘The Boob.'” Then you take a drive into the town that bills itself as “The City of Temples,” and you take a look at the sculptures and you think to yourself, “How exactly would you say voluptuous in Oriya?”
Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa after it was moved from Cuttack, reminds me of the South of India. Or as one gentleman explained to me, Orissa remains much like W. Bengal along the coast, but as you go inland it turns into Andhra Pradesh. The hotel we stayed at reflected this mixture — it was built around a large lagoon, which kept the humidity on the hotel grounds at a sticky 90%, but as soon as I wandered outside for my meetings, I grinned happily at the red and tan earth tones that reminded me of Hyderabad.
Work took up too much of the trip. I’ve gotten another perspective on the State Department by visiting the churning administrative centers of Indian bureaucracy, and can’t decide which I’d prefer. Stacks upon stacks of paper full of grime and sweat fill at least every third room in govt. buildings here. Paper so heavy that even fans on medium-speed (there is no high speed govt. fan that I’ve seen) can’t blow them from their piles? The chair of every important IAS officer covered by a cheap towel that has seen better days at KMart? But what about each officer sitting in their office, a wooden plaque the size of a small coffee table on the wall behind them, inscribed in hand-lettered white ink with the names of every officer to hold that post in the past 100 years? Oh the puffery of it all! Makes me want to be British and live in the 1920s, sipping a lime and soda concoction as I ponder the setting of the empire sun…
…until the 3rd or 4th cell phone that this bureaucrat owns goes off. It’s not who you are, it’s who calls you that makes you important.
Before leaving Orissa, with a promise to return and see the sandy beaches and the famous Sun Temple at Konark, I wanted to buy some statues. And in a small place, things really are as close as they seem to be. As in on the road back towards the hotel. This was the Arts and Crafts Village of Sudarshan Sahoo. A master craftsman, teacher, and artist with an eye for business. My FSN colleague didn’t understand the western fascination with statues, and probably knew that I’d end up paying a higher price because of my lack of bargaining skills and the suit I was wearing, but no matter. I ordered up home delivery of two “danshing ladees” as Sudarshan called them, each about two feet high and made out of red Orissan stone. Perfect for outdoor gardens, or for flanking doorways. I said to him, “You share a name with my father.” He smiled and charged me the foreigner’s price.