Krishna reached Dwaraka to be welcomed by his family. His parents Devaki and Vasudeva looked at him with the same mixture of love and devotion. Bhadra had given birth to a son in his absence. Lakshana’s son who was around two years had begun to run around the house and Krishna had to give him quite a chase before lifting him up in his arms. Pradyumna, his oldest son who was around eight years old proudly explained to his younger siblings that Krishna was their father. Subhadra, his sister was there in Dwaraka with her infant son Abhimanyu for a prolonged stay.
Amidst everyone, Krishna’s eyes sought out Rukmini, the princess of Vidarbha and his senior most wife. Everytime he returned from any important trip, she welcomed him back only after a worship of gratitude offered to Tulasi, the holy plant she held in great devotion. After duly exchanging pleasantries with Mitravinda who was interested in the recent happenings, he walked towards the chambers of Rukmini.
She had apparently completed her worship and stood before the mirror adjusting her dress. Krishna entered the room and saw her trying to place a string of Jasmines in her plaited hair. Noiselessly, he went behind her and helped that flower string to stay in place. A startled Rukmini turned around to find herself enveloped in his hands.
“Lord, I.. was about to come..” she stopped as he placed a finger on her lips. She saw the same captivating smile that had ushered her into a new life, nine years ago. These moments were not for exchanging formalities.
“Your bewitching eyes stop me from even falling at your feet, Krishna.”
“After all these years do you still find me so enchanting, Vaidarbhi?”
“I would even after tens of years.” With that she put her arms around him and let him lift her and place her on the couch. She saw him turning serious.
“We are about to face testing times, Vaidarbhi. A lot needs to be done.”
“And you would achieve what you aim for.” Her faith on him remained unfazed.
He proceeded to explain the happenings in central and southern Aryavarta. Vidarbha and Avanthi were planning to combine their forces to defy the Pandavas. Jarasandha and his allies were already a big challenge in the east. Sishupala would join them. Those who did not swear their allegiance to Jarasandha but had a rivalry with the Pandavas could be swayed over to this side. Duryodhana’s faction of Kurus, the Northern Kekayas belonged to this side.
“So Jarasandha sill seems to hold the key.” Rukmini observed.
“He very much does. So if we can overcome him first, the others won’t find the same confidence to defy us.”
“Can the Pandavas, Yadavas and Panchalas get together to attack him at once? No that would give the other sides a free hand. We need to be spread out to take on multipronged attacks.” Rukmini remarked.
“Lord, don’t keep on reminding me that I am the daughter of the family that hates you.”
“Rukmini. Happy?” Krishna gave in with a smile. “This means I am needed back at Indraprastha soon. I have a different plan for Jarasandha.”
“Would you go before the rains stop?”
“I need to go as soon as possible.”
Ruukmini tried hard to hide the disappointment of seeing her Lord go. But she also understood it was inevitable.
“In my absence, I don’t trust Shalva at our North. Over South east, the Lord of Anagha promises to hold Avanthi at bay. But he wont be able to do it for long.”
“Anagha is too small a province to offer any decent resistance.”
“Rukmini, would it make you happier if I said I refused to marry King Dharmasena’s daughter?” Krishna smiled naughtily.
“Stop teasing me Krishna!” Rukmini exclaimed before asking for details. Krishna recounted the happenings at Anagha.
“Would the Lord of Anagha continue to support us after you refused her hand?” Rukmini asked thoughtfully.
“He knows better than give in to self centred egos. What worries me is his reluctance to request for help when things go out of his hand. He is the one who holds his ground till he wins alone or….. he reaches the high heavens. ” Krishna assured.
“That does not make things much better. Goddess Gauri forbid, if there is a combined onslaught, he can provide us a relief of a fortnight?” Rukmini thought aloud.
Krishna nodded before going into a meditative mood. Then he looked at Rukmini. “Vaidarbhi… Alright, Rukmini, The Yadava Maharathis would station themselves over the highway to Kekaya. Some are also needed to keep a watch of Shalva. Then, I would want the old, women, children and other dependants to move to Indraprastha temporarily.”
Rukmini’s heart sank at the prospect of seeking refuge elsewhere. She knew that they would be received heartily by the Pandava women. Subhadra would be overjoyed. So would be Aunt Kunti.
It would take six to seven months more for the traders to wind up their assignments. The migration to Indraprastha has to take place in batches. Rukmini reached out to a table where she had placed a map of Aryavarta drawn on a silk cloth.
“Lord, let Subhadra and Abhimanyu leave with the first batch, accompanied by Mother. This would be immediately after the rains. Let Revathi and the children proceed in the next. Lakshana and Bhadra would go with her. Mitravinda too if she wishes to. This should be before the winter sets in”
Rukmini looked up to confirm if Krishna approved. “And you?”
“Lord, your Vaidarbhi would be the last woman to leave Dwaraka. Not one of the Yadavas should ever feel that their Vaasudeva has forsaken them.” Rukmini smiled. Krishna moved the map aside and edged closer to her, placing his palms over her face. His eyes spoke volumes of the pride he felt over her. Rukmini was overwhelmed with the sense of fulfillment. She had truly become an arthaangini – the woman who shared his mission, his burdens and strengthened his faith as well as that of others on him. Moments passed seeming like ecstatic lifetimes of ultimate one ness. They were not a husband and wife. They were inseparable and complementary aspects of the universal wholeness.
“Krishna!” Passion replaced the ecstasy as she put her arms around him and buried her face into his chest.
Krishna let out a deep sigh and laid back holding her over him. They both knew it was time to let the political worries aside. The lamp by the side of the couch was put off.
“Lord, Would I be letting you down if I ask you more about that princess?”
Krishna laughed out aloud, his right arm tightening around her. “Oh she is more beautiful than Rati, the consort of Kamadeva. Her face could shame the moon and whatever, Imagine the rest.”
A peal of laughter followed his words. “Lord, If you were trying to make me feel artificially jealous, you did a miserable job.”
“So you are relieved that I refused her hand?”
“In spite of the distinctive importance you give me, I shall continue to feel insecure about any new bride of yours. But when you refused a bride, my heart goes out to her.”
“So either ways, I can’t make you happy.”
A small chuckle escaped him as Rukmini’s clenched fist landed lightly on his shoulder.
“Lord, that one night before you came to take me away was equivalent to a penance amidst the five fires. I would not want any maiden to pass through such a time ever.”
Krishna said nothing but remembered the way Abhaya looked at him when he parted. “She was heart broken. I could sense the pain and void behind her non expressive mask she put up.”
“Lord, why did you refuse her?”
“I have dragged enough women into the vortex we are facing. Rukmini, did you ever think the peace you would have enjoyed had you married Sishupala instead of me?
In reply he felt her angry sigh, blowing hot over his bare chest. He remembered asking her this question a couple of times before and also remembered how she had reacted. Pacifying her in that mood was a test to all his endearment skills.
Instinctively, he held her tighter lest she pulled away from him. She did try once. But the comfort of his arms had become far too dearer to shove it away in anger. He relaxed as her weight came back on his chest.
“Krishna, for all the care and concern you have for women, do you think we are all so puny minded? Do you think we can enjoy the palatial comforts when the rest of Aryavarta is burning? Do you think we can be so blind in the shade of our homes while the good men toil to make this world better?”
“Is it not the man’s Dharma to provide a secure shelter to his family?”
Rukmini lovingly brought her fingers to dig into his curly hairs.
“Krishna, I don’t mind running from anywhere to anywhere with you. Why? Because I know you care for the universe the same way you care for your people. Someday the world shall worship you for every hurdle you are facing today. Call me ambitious, that day, I want to be seen as the goddess worthy of being by the side of a God like you.”
“Do you brave this vortex for the uncertain fame that might come say after your death?”
“No, I brave this vortex as it enables me to cling to you for all I am worth. Lakshana, Bhadra and Mitra have done the same. If what you speak of this new princess is true, she shall head back to this vortex sooner or later. That is what you are to us Krishna. I beg of you Lord. Never ever insult and injure my self by bringing the name of the prince of Chedi again.”
Krishna closed his eyes, touched. He had always taken the name of Sishupala in jest never realizing it hurt her like nothing else. He felt for her face and eyes holding back the moisture and placed his fingers over them. He smiled as he knew what he could do to atone for her pain.
Rukmini gasped as she felt herself suddenly turned around and laid on her back. She relaxed smiling to forget everything else for the night.