As his eyes closed, the world was destroyed.
As his eyes opened, it was created.
Confused, he rubbed the last of the dust out of his eyes, careful not to blink again.
Shiva stumbled mid-step in his dance of creation and destruction, surprised by the untimeliness of Brahma’s blink. Where his foot slipped, earthquakes shook Europe and the people fell ill.
Vishnu the Preserver summoned Narad and Saraswati. “Play for Shiva so he may find the rhythm of Creation and Destruction again.”
Bowing to Him, they took up sitar and drum then started playing and singing praises to Vishnu.
Shiva regained his footing and so only part of the world was destroyed.
Turning from Shiva’s dance, Vishnu asked his consort, “My beloved Lakshmi, why did you throw dust into Brahma’s eyes?”
Lakshmi smiled and answered, “My Lord, I did not like how the world was moving. Are you not bored with these cycles? Must we watch the same Age of Kali each time?”
Vishnu smiled in return. “How would you have it change?”
Lakshmi said, “I shall be born on Earth and show you a new Divine Play.”
Vishnu looked up at Ananta Shesha, the immortal multi-headed snake upon which Vishnu reclined. “It seems we will follow Lakshmi this time.”
The Sage looked up at his audience to gauge their reaction thus far to his poem. He was mildly disappointed that the Rani, queen of Bharat, was focusing on her own writing. Her prime minister, the Peshwar of Bharat, was staring out the window in consternation. The Sage drew a breath and relaxed, letting it be what it was going to be. He queried, “What do you think?”
“So now you are saying that Rani Lakshmi Bai was an avatar? That Shiva himself caused the flu epidemic that killed three quarters of the population of Europe?” Dayaram Rao, Peshwar of Bharat, shook his head. Gray accented his dark temples and he had softened about the middle as he approached fifty. “Asha, tell him this funeral service must not be so steeped in Hindu mythology.”
The Sage said thoughtfully, “Perhaps you’re right. Kali is more likely to start an epidemic.”
Exasperated, Dayaram turned to Abilasha, the current Rani Lakshmi Bai of Bharat, for help. “Asha! Say something.”
Abilasha chuckled as she looked up from her own writing. “That flu epidemic is commonly called Kali’s Scourge.” She laughed at Dayaram’s sour expression. “Sage Sundara is only doing my bidding.” Her own dark hair had a few strands of silver in it. She was still trim and a few lines around her eyes were all that gave away her 39 years of age. “Come now, Rama. It is my prerogative as the current Rani Lakshmi Bai to commission poetry, especially in honor of my predecessor. Please continue, Sage Sundara.”
The wizened Sage inclined his head to Abilasha. “May you live as long and rule as wisely as she.” He carefully adjusted the pages in front of him. He grew more animated as he continued, “This opening is for the funeral service. I have not yet finished the saga, Rani. From here, Ganesha permitting, I will tell of Lakshmi Bai’s life and her triumph over the British. The crowning jewel of the piece will be the reuniting of Bharat under one rule. Her wisdom on the subjects of religion and politics will fill an entire section. Ah, it will be a saga recited for thousands of years to come.” He sighed deeply, closing his eyes in rapture. “Glory to Vishnu.”
Abilasha smiled warmly at Dayaram, softening his skepticism. “We are a predominately Hindu nation.”
Dayaram scowled. “There needs to be balance between the four major religions as well as a nod to the minor ones. I think it needs to also be grounded in reality. A secular, rational approach best reflects the first Rani’s philosophy.”
Abilasha nodded. “And it will. She would also say that this is for the people and must, first and foremost, meet their needs. We rule by their consent, Dayaram. See to it.”
Dayaram inclined his head. “As you wish, Rani.”
A herald appeared in the arched doorway. “Peshwar, the President of the United States has arrived for his appointment.”
Abilasha raised an eyebrow at Dayaram. “So soon?”
Dayaram spread his hands apologetically. “He has had just enough time to bathe and refresh from his journey. I suggested waiting until tomorrow for his audience but he would not be put off.”
Abilasha sighed and stood up, smoothing her sari. “I had heard Americans were quite impatient. Very well. Show him in.” She moved to sit in her royal chair.
The herald waited until the Rani was seated and the Sage had left the room. Dayaram moved towards the door to greet the President. He glanced back at Asha then tugged at his jacket hem.
The herald announced, “The President of the United States, Mr. Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” He bowed as the President entered.
Mr. Roosevelt walked slowly into the room, his aide carrying his crutches, cane, and a sheaf of papers. The ends of his leg braces peeked out around his stocking feet. Another aide walked at his side, hand ready at his elbow, as he moved from marble to lush carpet.
The herald whispered to Dayaram, “He was not happy about removing his shoes.”
“Then he is desperate for these talks to succeed,” Dayaram observed.
Roosevelt smiled charmingly at Dayaram and said in English, “Mr. Rao, it’s good to see you again. Thank you for arranging this meeting.” He held out his hand in greeting.
Dayaram hesitated briefly then accepted the handshake. He replied in heavily accented English, “I trust you found your accommodations adequate. I regret we couldn’t provide you with something more elaborate for your stay.”
Roosevelt laughed. “Eleanor would say you’re spoiling me. No, it’s just fine.” Dayaram said, “Please, come. The Rani is looking forward to your visit.” He walked towards the chairs, pacing himself to Roosevelt’s slow but steady gait.
Abilasha took the time to study the American. Her sources had told her about the weakness in his legs from childhood polio. She admired how well he hid it from his countrymen and his determination to walk with minimal aid. She inclined her head when he was close and indicated the chair on her right. In English, she said, “Welcome, Mr. President.”
Roosevelt eased himself into the chair, his aides moving to take the ones next to him after getting a nod of approval from the Peshwar. Once they were seated, Dayaram sat down at Abilasha’s left.
Roosevelt said, “Thank you for your warm reception, Rani Lakshmi Bai. I know this is a busy time for you. My condolences on the death of the first Rani.”
Abilasha replied, “Thank you, Mr. President. I trust your journey was not too tiring.”
“It was fine. The sea crossing was smooth. Couldn’t ask for better weather. Eleanor sends her regards, by the way.”
Abilasha smiled. “Give her mine in return. I enjoyed her visit last year.”
There was a pause then Roosevelt said, “She said your English was good. I’m relieved because my Hindi is quite weak.” He flashed a smile then grew somber. “I know it’s the custom here to do a certain amount of small talk before getting to the meat of the conversation but I’m feeling pressed for time. I’d like to jump into the heart of the matter now if you don’t mind.”
Abilasha’s smile faded. “Your reputation for direct and earnest speech is well deserved. Please, continue.”
Roosevelt leaned towards her. “As you know, the Japanese bombed The American Naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7th. America has officially declared war.”
Abilasha looked to Dayaram who clarified, “On the 22nd day of Margasirsha by our calendar.”
Roosevelt continued, “Right, last week. The Chinese tell me you’ve remained neutral in the war so far.”
Abilasha replied, “I was sorry to hear about the loss of your base. So many died.” She paused to choose her words. “Bharat has remained neutral in wars between other nations. We have focused on rebuilding our own.”
Roosevelt nodded. “America was the same way. We needed time to rebuild after our War between the States. It occurred in 1861, not long after your predecessor won your war for independence and drove out the British. That’s something else we have in common.”
Dayaram quietly translated, “The year 1783 by our calendar.”
Roosevelt continued, “My apologies. I don’t have my chart comparing our calendars handy. My point is, we share the common bond of shaking off colonialism and British rule.”
Abilasha nodded her agreement. “As do China, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan …”
“Yes, yes. That’s true.” Roosevelt sat back to regroup. “Don’t you fear this Asiatic Empire Japan seeks to build?”
Abilasha exchanged a look with Dayaram. He studied the slight tension of her brow and the rigid set of her shoulders. Leaning forward, he answered on her behalf. “Bharat fears no nation. Peaceful relations with others is our goal.”
Roosevelt scowled then composed himself when his aide leaned over and whispered something in his ear. He nodded, “Yes, alright.” He drew a deep breath and focused on Abilasha. “Rani Lakshmi Bai, I admire and share your vision for world peace. The second Rani, your immediate predecessor, made Bharat a charter member of the League of Nations. That organization exists to help prevent wars. This is a fact the Japanese are deliberately ignoring.”
Abilasha answered guardedly, “The Japanese claims on Manchuria are being examined by the League. Ambassador Ghandi keeps me informed of their progress.” She looked again to Dayaram, her frustration mounting. No one pushed the Rani Lakshmi Bai into war.
Dayaram nodded his understanding and Abalisha closed her eyes in reply. Standing, he said, “Mr. President, perhaps you would care to rest now. We can continue this discussion another time.”
Roosevelt started to argue but his aide whispered to him again. He sighed. “Thank you for your time, Rani. I hope we speak again very soon.” He refused the crutches but accepted his cane from his aide. “I believe I remember the way back.”
Abilisha opened her eyes smiled graciously at Roosevelt. “Until next time.”
Dayaram watched him leave. Once he heard the doors of the Rani’s suite close, he turned to her and said in Hindi, “We won’t be able to remain neutral for much longer, Asha. General Chiang Kai-shek will continue to press America with the goal of pulling us into the war.”
Abilasha scowled. “I know. I’m annoyed that Japan attacked America and brought them into it. It was easy to remain neutral during the first Sino-Japanese War.”
Dayaram sighed. “Or so the first Rani would have us believe.” He sat down heavily. “There have been disturbing reports of dangerous new weapons being developed by both America and Japan.”
“Then the rumors of atomic weapons carry substance. Perhaps it is time to create our own.”
Dayaram said tentatively, “Dr. Raja Ramanna has been reviewing the theory behind it. Shall I tell him to pursue the program?”
Asha mused, “A strong weapon is a powerful deterent.” Frowning, she thought for a moment longer then concluded, “Very well then.”
copyright 2011 by Kimberley Long-Ewing. All rights reserved