On the road again: Orissa

In case any of you were waiting to hear about my tooth, it’s fine now. Great dentist. Lots of testimonials from embassy, and she was particularly kind to me because of my friendship with Diana (my Gurgaon hostess in absentia). Very professional, well-run office. She and three helpers had me fixed up in about half an hour. She took a quick look at what felt like a gaping hole in my back molar and said “oh, that’s not so bad.” We decided against Novocain because little drilling was involved. I winced a few times but soon that part was over and they were busy with the new filling. $50. Haven’t had a filling that cheap since – the 1950’s?

Photo of Dr. Poonam Batra and a patient.

Now I am in Bubaneshwar in my hotel room with my laptop passing time until a train this afternoon to Sambalpur where I’ll meet a water/river activist I met at the wonderful Water-Energy-Food conference in Kathmandu three years ago. Thanks to the US State Department, all participants received a copy of my book. Oxford’s best sale of DSR to date probably. See my Facebook page for a photo of us at the conference.

I also met another researcher/practitioner/consultant in land and water last night. He took me to a fancier hotel than the one I’m staying in where we had beers by poolside and talked about the issues in this region. It’s a new watershed for me, one I mentioned in my book because of some parallels between it and what had happened in Bihar (which is part of the greater Ganges watershed), but one I otherwise know nothing about.

As we were talking (me mostly listening, as that’s what I’m here for) I could see the echoes of what I see in other parts of India: the terrible pollution of rivers, the struggle of farmers and fishermen in the face of India’s frantic industrialization, the discounting of what rivers need to thrive. And the disregard for the people who depend on the rivers being healthy and alive—not canals for barges or channels for irrigation water.

The man I met last night, Pranab, says he is optimistic because at least some of these issues have become subjects of conversation where before they were completely ignored. Even if what people are saying and thinking is rubbish (fake news?) it’s better for rivers and pollution to be talked about than not, he thinks. He believes there is a growing movement to use fewer chemicals in agriculture and get pollution out of the rivers. I hope he’s right!

I, frankly, am not an optimist. Partly, no doubt, because of what is going on in my own country in the Trump era. But I wasn’t particularly optimistic when I was working on my book, and I’m even less so now. I believe in the commitment of the Indians and Nepalis and Bangladeshis and others who are working on these problems, however. There is much to admire in their work and their persistence and dedication. I just fear the problems are too big and getting out of control too fast for the antidote to work.

I would, of course, like to be wrong.

My plan for the next few days is: learn about Mahanadi River and Hirakud dam and conflicts between Orissa and Chhattisgarh over the river while I am in Sambalpur.

For those of you who know I wasn’t looking forward to this trip, I have to say I am feeling more cheerful and curious now that I am back on the road and away from Delhi—even though I was having a good time in Delhi with Kanchan and Snehi. And after my tooth was ship-shape again, I sped off to meet Eklavya (whom some of you know of from my book and from last year’s disastrous visit to Bihar) for a long lunch and catching up. We always have great conversations.

My main worry here is the heat. I hope I can manage a week of it. I’m sitting in air conditioning right now. I have no real goal for this trip, but I can’t help but compare what I’m doing to what I did to produce the book over several years. I was quite focused, but loose enough to take in new information and incorporate it. Now I’m pretty unfocused, almost aimless by past standards, but the looseness is bringing me interesting encounters anyway. What I will do with it, who knows!

After the visit to Sambalpur, since I am so close to some very famous sites—Konark and Puri—I’m going to come back to Bubaneshwar and play tourist for a couple of days before going up to Meghalaya.

I make my train and flight plans as I go, so it’s a good thing my time is flexible. By the time this trip is over, I will have seen quite a lot of India over my years of visiting here. Quite enough for one lifetime, I’m thinking.


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