I’m in a state of delight. Physically and emotionally; the first triggers the second.
The delight stems from the fact that I’m sitting pretty in a state that has 130 species of wild orchids punctuating the land. There are also hectares of emerald fields lining newly built roads that travel as straight and true as Fakir Mohan Senapati’s lines. Where the meadows stops, rolling uplands and mountains, 58,000-plus sq km of forests, and rivers with poetic names like Subarnarekha and Baitarani, begin. There are lakes, the largest of which swells to 1,165 sq km in the rains and is a wetland of international importance owing to the variety of birds and the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin who call it home. Encircling all these goodies of nature is a 450-km coastline and an unruly sea that’s bluer than a robin’s egg.
It’s not just fascinating geography that’s on offer. There is history dating back to the Lower Paleolithic age. More recently, in 261 BCE, a bloody war in the area made Ashoka the Great put away his weapons and embrace Buddhism. The region’s most famous classical dance finds mention in Natya Shastra, the treatise on the performing arts written circa 200 BCE. Then there’s structural art in the form of a Sun Temple built in the shape of a gigantic chariot that Unesco lists as a World Heritage Site and a 12th century temple where, legend says, Ranjit Singh of Patiala wanted the Kohinoor to go after his death.
If that’s still not enough, there’s a capital city that offers clean urban living and a gentle, civilised way of life that’s died out in most of the country. Finally, and this is the killer proposition, there’s some of the best food that you can eat anywhere in the world.
In case you haven’t cottoned on yet, this is Odisha I’m talking about. I’ve suspected for a while but learnt for sure only recently that, much like the Seven Sisters, this is a state that’s not on the radar of many of my fellow Indians. While inviting participants for a lit fest in the state, I met with so many rejections that I began feeling like the parent of an unsuitable boy with no prospects. Many were frank enough to say they didn’t want to come to Odisha. One asked: “Will I be able to get there from Mumbai and back within three days?” Another invitee enquired if there were “any proper hotels” in Bhubaneswar.
The four original metros are an attractive destination for most. So is Hyderabad, in next-door Andhra/Telangana, without half as many features to offer. Why then does Odisha, which can legitimately fight with Godrej for the brandname of Nature’s Basket, fall through the cracks? Is it because the state hasn’t produced prominent Hindi movie stars or cricketers who strut their stuff off the field as much as on it? Or is it because no one markets the state; because the very attributes like laid-backness and modesty that make Odias so endearing keep them from doing so? (A few people in) the nation want to know.