Transitions and Translations – 4: Seekers’ Sanctuary

Bhubaneshwar. Temple city. Education hub. State capital. Etc. Etc. One could probably list out a bunch of 2-word descriptors for virtually any city. Somehow or the other, writers of the past had discovered that naming a place and then describing it in 2-3 word sentences (not connected by a conjunction) raised the status of the place being named. For life of me, I can’t imagine why such a technique would work and yet, somehow, it does. Those of lower status often hanker after letters and titles to put after their names so they may seem distinguished. In truth, it only ever makes them seem narcissistic and pretentious. The ones with real class (in the best sense of that word) choose only one title and that suffices. And, among them, the more famous ones make do with just their names, finding the enumeration of awards unnecessary.

So what of this city, then? It is an education hub, but then I have a strong dislike for most institutional education. It is a state capital, but then I come from a bigger one – Chennai. It is a temple city, but I’m wrong kind of tourist for it.

I confess to never having had much interest in temples. This isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate their architecture. But temples never struck me as buildings so much as sculptures. They seem hewn out of rock rather than built of them. To be sure, they are beautiful sculptures, but sculptures are not my passion. Architecture is. And, for me, that means a structure where I can see clearly the role of its constituent parts in making the whole work – where the flow of the buildings’ weight through its various support structures is both evident and, hopefully, elegant. Unsurprisingly, therefore, my preferred religious building is the cathedral – specifically, cathedrals constructed in the Gothic style. Temples seem stable by default, with no separate parts – like a perfectly satisfied rock that has been chipped away to form some pretty statues, with no change to its underlying stability. Cathedrals look like things that have been made to stand despite themselves. I can point to a structure on a cathedral and say, “That’s a flying buttress.”, but I’ve never found anything of that sort to point to in a temple. Also, elaborate ornamentation does not appeal to me. Stark beauty does. The insides of temples often feel claustrophobic to me, as if the sheer weight of the stone were pressing down on my head. I like space. And, leaving apart the tanks and other things that aren’t actually in the temple, I’ve yet to find a temple that felt particularly spacious. Mosques are nice too, but I confess a preference for spires over domes – which is why the Gothic style in particular appeals to me. There is, of course, a certain spiritual significance which attaches to such places as well but, not being a spiritual person myself, that never made any difference to me.

All of the above is strictly a matter of personal preference, dear reader, and not meant to disparage temples in any way.

My my. In all this, it doesn’t look as if I’m ever going to tell you of my time in the city. But frankly, there isn’t much to say. I arrived at the office and stayed at the office. A suitable accommodation had yet to be found for me. And so it would remain for quite some time. The office, for its part, was comfortable enough so I wasn’t complaining about that. Although I’m not one for travelling a city extensively, I did see parts of it in my subsequent travels through for work. It seemed a nice enough city. As expected, the govt. area was plush and well-made and the rest was far less polished. I particularly liked the fact that there was plenty of greenery everywhere. Indeed, the city looked like it had been positively carved out of the forest. It certainly didn’t give me the immediate negative impression that the previous one had, when I had first visited there.

My new workplace-cum-home already seemed to serve as the virtual home of another, however – my supervisor. He had a home and family, but spent far more time at work. There is a stereotype about those in the social sector – that they are workaholics who refuse to have a personal life as they have dedicated their lives to their cause. Like all stereotypes, there are plenty of counterexamples. No one in the Delhi office had struck me as being like this, for instance. But my supervisor here seemed to fit that image to a T. Whether it was the blasé expectation that everyone would work on Sundays when called upon or the lecturing of grown adults like they were errant children in school (on values more often than work), he seemed to almost be an incarnation of whatever god watched over the social sector. To be fair to him, he had the necessary moral high ground to be like this. Having almost single-handedly built up the state operations for years, he definitely had whatever justification was needed.

The rest of the staff pretty much revolved around him. Although there was a basic delegation of responsibility, there was little to no delegation of power here. Apart from that, they were nice people and once again I was struck by how welcoming these perfect strangers were of an unknown outsider. This was particularly important here as it was just a small team of 7, so I would be interacting with all of them much more than in Delhi.

And so it was that I found myself amidst the mottled greenery and dirty puddles (it was monsoon) of a city both unfamiliar and yet comforting. I had no idea what I was going to do here and, I decided, that was just as well.

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5 thoughts on “Transitions and Translations – 4: Seekers’ Sanctuary

    • I don’t deserve credit for that. Although I know it’s meant to be there and would put in my writing, on computers it’s added automatically by MS Word. I don’t actually know how one adds accents on Word manually. 😛

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