28 Margasirsha 1863, Hindu solar calendar
Abilasha glanced over her speech notes one more time as she waited for Sage Sundara to finish reading the opening verses of his epic. The funeral service had gone well thus far. The readings and prayers by a variety of religious leaders had been delicately balanced for time and content.
She leaned over to Dayaram and whispered, “I’m glad Ganesh used a light hand of Inspiration for our speakers. With so many of them, the Elephant-headed god could have kept us here for days.”
Dayaram raised an eyebrow in mock offense. He whispered back, “Abilasha! Do you give your very own Ram no credit?”
The twinkle in Abilasha’s eyes reflected his. “I know well the hours you spent negotiating every aspect. It is still going to take the entire morning to complete.” She looked at the assembled crowd. “How are our foreign guests holding up?”
Dayaram looked over at the gallery where the foreign heads of state or their ambassadors were seated. Translators were whispering in ears. The Chinese ambassador caught his eye and gave a slight nod. Roosevelt was whispering with his aide. for the event; the last thing they wanted was an international incident.
He whispered to Abilasha, “They seem well. At least this is the cool, dry season. I regret the Japanese didn’t feel they could attend. It is a lost opportunity for peace.”
Abilasha nodded then stood to deliver the eulogy. She paid her respects to each of the religious leaders as she made her way to the podium. She paused briefly to exchange greetings with the second Rani, Padmavati, who now lived in retirement at the summer palace in Jhansi.
Adjusting the microphone, she looked out over the hushed crowd. Thousands of her people, the citizens of Bharat, had come. More listened to the radio, crowded together around village or family units. Others would be crowding into the stores and cafes. Her beloved country was in mourning.
“Manikarnika, the first Rani Lakshmi Bai, believed in peace through strength. She was trained in defense and archery, in warfare and philosophy. She raised an army at Jhansi to create the safest region in the country during the War for Independence. She questioned the need for war at first, preferring to attempt to work with the British. She wrote eloquent letters to the British Crown asking for fair treatment for herself, her family, and her people. It was only when she was granted no quarter that she fought. No one expected her to survive the British attack on Jhansi but she escaped into the night with a handful of her most trusted bodyguards. She was thought dead when she was injured during battle at Kotah-ki-Serai near Gwalior. The quick thinking of General Tantya Tope saved her life then. She led the armies of our people to victory after victory over the following years, driving out the British and reuniting Bharat. She lived 106 years and saw the coronations of two generations of successors. She handpicked these successors on the basis of merit and whose philosophy of strength and peace were consistent with her own. Bharat has and will continue to seek peaceful solutions to conflicts before resorting to war. I am honored to follow in her footsteps as your Rani.”
She had only read half of the speech. It was enough. The crowd cheered her praises for Manikarnika. More important was the message she sent to the Chinese and Americans. She saw them talking to one another as she took her seat.
copyright 2011 by Kimberley Long-Ewing, all rights reserved