He started off blandly, our guide at Konark. He spoke of the Sun Temple's various geometric features, its idol that was once magnetically suspended, the young boy who installed it and then committed suicide, that sort of thing. All this is OK, guide-sahib, but where's the other stuff ? Show us the erotica, won't you?
Well, I didn't actually say that. Maybe I thought it. But not halfway around the temple, guide-sahib began doing the nudge-nudge wink-wink. I don't know if it was because we were drooling, or if it was his usual routine: He now steered us only to the erotica, explaining in a whisper that grew steadily hoarser what each sculpted scene was about, breaking into English for the especially titillating parts. "Here lesbians", and "there two men one woman", and "that is dog, heh heh". The man had it all down pat.
Every conceivable sexual variation, and every not so conceivable one, is on display at Konark. It's such an unabashed celebration of sex, love and life that you wonder: Where did we get our modern attitude towards sex? How did we evolve culturally from passionately entwined figures on a temple wall to arresting smooch-happy couples on the rocks at Bandra's Bandstand?
I don't know, but I noticed that our guide was now making frequent and sibilant - use of the word "sucking." After a point, everything, but everything, involved "sucking." Yes, unless my memory is playing tricks, he also said that of the panel with a giraffe. Don't ask.
Soon after Konark, my mind in an understandable whirl, we got on the road to the upper reaches of Keonjhar district, iron mining country on Orissa's Jharkhand border.
We arrowed inland from the coastal plain, then wound through muted hills and silent sal trees. Strangely lovely country, even once you realise that some of those hills are actually enormous piles of slag from the mines. Everything is in shades of ochre and red.
The roads that are more mud and rocks than tar, the cars and buses, the faintly menacing stands of abandoned mining machinery, rusting peacefully into oblivion. The air itself seems heavy with rust, though it's really just the promise of rain.
Yet it all grows on you. With each mile, things slip away: grand expectations of travel, the need for unsullied comfort. You begin delighting in the small joys: a pheasant peeping from a tree, a long line of cattle tramping through a field, the truck ahead that advises "No Book Without Cover, No Girl Without Lover."
It was thus that we reached the hamlet of Belda, to look in on an AIDS workshop. It was in Oriya, but I didn't need that language to know why a spate of shy giggles rippled through the audience of young women soon after we arrived. The lady conducting the session had just described, with unmistakably explicit hands, the use of a condom.
No sibilant mention, thank you very much, of sucking. No Girl Without Lover that night? What a thought.
Dilip is a Mumba based writer and journalist