Off the Betwa river, the skyline of Orchha is marked by the pinnacles of the cenotaphs constructed in memory of the Bundela kings and lords. The chief hobby of most kings and lords in the olden days was conquest. The victors and the vanquished fill the pages of our history books in the colour of blood.
Orchha’s cenotaphs have stood for centuries reminding us of the futility of all victories. All cenotaphs and mausoleums remind us of the ultimate fate of all human beings: “Out of dust, to dust again,” as Bahadur Shah Zafar wrote after being imprisoned by his British conquerors.
But the last Mughal Emperor also wrote the following lines in the same poem.
You pressed your lips upon my lips,
Your heart upon my beating heart...
Life is a love affair. A series of love affairs, rather. We love people, things, and whatever else adds delight to our life which would be a dreary enterprise without these love affairs. Political power and sublime art, religious piety and worldly pleasures, racial smugness and facile miscegenation... contradictory forces meet and mate in the process called life. That’s how life is. That’s how it has to be, perhaps. Because life is an endless lesson until the inevitable lesson descends upon us.
“But things cannot remain, O Zafar,” to quote the Last Mughal again.
Flesh merges into dust in the end. Only cenotaphs and mausoleums will remain on the dusty pages of history.
The Betwa will continue to flow. While it carried the blood of the vanquished in the erstwhile years, now it will carry the plastic waste dumped by careless visitors. However, you will be relieved to see that the Betwa looks much cleaner than most holy rivers in the country.