Where death holds life in grim embrace
its line etched on the sinner’s face;
where e’er the march of time is flaunted
Voices cry – ‘this place is haunted’.
The scarce blue of some five hundred years previously reflected off the mellowed wrath of the dying sun. Afar, the ancient temples stood, black, sand, and haggard, yet majestic, ever conscientious to the Gods they hosted in their wombs. The breeze picked up the quiet ripples of the Betwa and told its uncelebrated tale to the entire hamlet. The chhatris by the river stood like an assembly of white-clad monks, awaiting the divine behest that would allow them to prolong their presence and purpose. The Rai Parveen Mahal beside the elephant keeps stood dejectedly, yearning for the buskin-wrapped footsteps to walk up the winding path and wrap the awaiting courtesan in a royal embrace.
It was nearly dusk.
Hemnalini sat in one of the rooftop chhatris of Jahangir Mahal, gazing down on the sleepy town below. Her camera was perched on one of the stairs, exhausted after a day’s hard work. She took a drag of her mint-flavoured cigarette and with an artistic bend of her finger, shook off the ash. She watched intently as the somewhat-flagrant breeze caught the ash and whisked it away from her. Fascinated, she philosophised. On the art of whisking away. On the battle to retain what’s beloved. On the capricious apostate called ‘Time’.
She gazed around.
Indeed, time was a very funny thing. Especially here, at Orchha.
The monumental, lavishly-ornamented palace had been built to accommodate one of the Great Mughals in the 16th century. And like all one-night stands, he never looked back. The palace had fallen into decay; its stones, perhaps, irresistibly echoing the residual memory of that rubicund night, for decades, to travellers who had the leisure to court the obscure. Hem had read of phases, such as ‘time standing still’ or ‘capturing history’; today, she felt it. She sensed the ancient power of the past. Of the history bequeathed by the Dead’s footsteps across the deserted halls. In the tinkling of the vanished chandeliers. In the faint giggles and the opaque rings of the ankle-bells of the shadowy nymphs, who pattered to the king’s bed-chamber. In the clash of the imperceptible swords in the now-grey courtyard. She heard it all. And shivered.
In the cold. In guilt.
She felt like an unwelcomed eavesdropper to a secret hidden away in the depths of time. She felt their cold stares and evincing restlessness. They wanted her to withdraw her voyeuristic gaze. They wanted her to be gone.It was, after all, the sanctioned time of dalliance for the beings trapped in the shadows of time.
© Jhilam Roy, 2019. All rights reserved.