One of the undersung joys of travelling in India are the signs. Not because they misspell English words -- if they do, that's only good for a weak chuckle. It's the way they speak of fertile imaginations at work that's such a delight, the stretching that takes the language into uncharted realms. And Orissa is a greenhouse for this stuff. Or maybe I mean a "Dreamed Greenhouse", which is how a builder's ad on the way to Konark described his properties.
I mean, wouldn't you be extra cautious while trying to negotiate Bhubaneshwar airport's "Slopped and Polished Floor", even while scratching your head over what it might mean? Well, that's the point: you must be extra cautious. You pass a huge hoarding that says "Let Trees Grow, Get Leprosy Go" and it's bang on target precisely because it is so wildly off, if you get my drift. And if the restaurant in Keonjhar lists both "Paneer Saucelik" and "Lemoterian Soup" on its menu, that's probably just to assure you of a fascinating meal. Though my sis-in-law, convinced that "Saucelik" really was "Sausage", couldn't make up her mind whether being vegetarian meant she was also Lemoterian. We comforted her with "No Book Without Cover, No Girl Without Lover."
Then there are the variations on the venerable "Horn OK Please." Two are "Awaaz De Do" and "Chilla Do" -- we'd let out a collective yell, but the drivers never moved over. So when we came up behind my favourite, "Po Po Horn", we did just that and sailed past.
In Keonjhar, tucked away down a leafy lane, there's a fabulous old Circuit House. At least, it must once have been fabulous. Today, it's fading, the paint is peeling, the floorboards have gaps, the lovely furniture is falling apart, cobwebs and pigeon-shit and crumbled plaster lie everywhere. Cables trail inexplicably about, bare electrical wires are twisted together here and there, the occasional window pane is broken. And there are corners that certainly have not felt the weight of a broom since the time of Mountbatten. Maybe Clive. Who knows.
Yet two features of the Circuit House defy this aura of neglect. Behind is, of all things, an immaculate tennis court, sparkling in the afternoon sun. Apparently Keonjhar's budding Mirzas and Federers cavort on it every morning. And on the outside of the building, much elbow grease is in use. It's getting a new coat of paint, so what if it's a queasy combination of pink, green and pale yellow.
Spruce up the outside, let the inside go to hell: I just know there's a metaphor for something somewhere in there.