Fani Bhai’s early life was full of struggles. He grew up in the midst of poverty and hardship but that couldn’t distract him from his goal. He established himself and made his birthplace proud. He was born in a village called Gopalpur in the district of Bagnan. No one from that village had ever been to a University in Kolkata. But Fani Bhai, with his own effort, had graduated in Law and was a renowned advocate in Kolkata High Court. There are many events in his life which showed his determination to stand out as a duty bound, principled, fearless and ethical person. To arrive at his goal, he didn’t even care for his life, let alone heed to any obstacles on his way.
Every summer, the villagers get together to sponsor a Puja for Maa Rana Kali. This year, the villagers decided that since Fani babu is affluent, he would have more earning capability and therefore, he should take care of most of the responsibilities. Fani babu acknowledges this happily. He has to get all the Puja requirements from Kolkata. On the day of the Puja, Fani babu finishes his work early, brings all the necessary items and starts for the station to take the train to his village. In a hurry to reach home sooner, he hops on the nearest train that is just about to leave. Tired after a long day’s work, his eyes are already drooping. Suddenly he shakes himself up, and becomes alert. Where is he going? What is this route? He asks his fellow passengers and finds out that since it is an express train, it didn’t stop at his destined station ‘Bagban’. It has gone past and it wouldn’t even stop at the next station. He makes a decision, and collecting all his Puja commodities, he stands near the door of the compartment – the intention is to jump out of the running train. He is least bothered about his life. His villagers have so much faith on him. They would be expecting his arrival. The Puja will commence as soon as he reaches. How can he ever let them down? The fellow passengers became anxious. What’s this? Is he planning to commit suicide? He won’t survive if he jumps out of this train. He can alight at the next station and board a train back to his village. But nothing reaches his ears. The puja materials need to reach on time by any means. There is no time for deliberation. The only thing to ponder over is that there should be no hinderance in Puja. He meditated on Sri Sri Thakur and is about to jump when the train slows down. Maybe the train might have stopped as the signal is not down? Whatever the reason may be, Fani Bhai jumps with the commodities.
Everyone at home is restless, waiting anxiously for him. What can the reason of this delay be? Is the train running late or has any danger befallen him? The auspicious time of Maa’s puja is running out. At that very moment, Fani Bhai arrives, tired and dishevelled, with two bags in his hands. Everyone lets out a sigh of relief. Without any further ado, Fani Bhai engages himself in Puja preparations. The Puja was completed on time with pomp and gaiety.
He has undeterred faith in his Guru. He has surrendered his body, mind and soul to the man of his heart. He is also rewarded for this strong belief – the various instances of his life bear witness.
One day, after a day’s work at court, he is returning home in a horse driven coach. Suddenly he sees a bus lost control because of brake failure and was advancing towards him with a great speed. He knows death is imminent. But he doesn’t try to jump out. Rather, he sits there with eyes closed and hands folded, meditating on Sri Sri Thakur. The bus crashes into the coach. The coach driver is thrown away, the horse is injured. The coach is broken. The accident takes place not far off from his house. The news spreads quickly. His family comes rushing to check on him. They straighten the coach, open the door and look inside. Fani Bhai sits there, deep in meditation, without a single scar on his body. They try calling him back to his sense, but don’t get any response. They bring him home. After a little care, he opens his eyes but he is in an emotional state. Later he wrote down his experience, “I knew death was staring at me. I couldn’t think of anything else. I saw Sri Sri Thakur infront of my eyes. I thought of him. At that time, he embraced me tightly as if he was trying to protect me from a grave danger. I cannot explain the state I was in – an exquisite feeling. A shiver ran down my whole body, an unexplained joy. I cannot tell if I had lost my sense or I was absorbed."
A while later, on a bright sunny day in Puri, Fani Bhai and Haren Brahmachari decide to go to take a bath in the sea together. Haren Bhai is a good swimmer. Fani Bhai is no less. After bathing, everyone returns home, one by one. But Fani Bhai is not to be seen anywhere. Thakur asks, “I see everyone here but where is Fani?” Haren Bhai answers worriedly, “All of us were swimming. When I didn’t see him, I thought he must have come back earlier.” At Thakur’s order, everyone starts searching for him along the sea shore but he is nowhere to be found. This time, Thakur, himself stands up, puts on his slippers and starts walking towards the sea. Everyone is restless, anticipating when Thakur would finally return. Fani Bhai’s mother, who has accompanied him to Puri in that visit, begins crying, beating her hands on her chest. Her most affectionate, devoted son, Fani. Is he still alive? After what seems like forever, Thakur is seen walking briskly towards the Nilachal Kutir, with Fani Bhai right behind him, his head bowed low and his body covered with sand. Later, Fani Bhai narrated his experience.
“While swimming, I got pulled into a whirlpool of some sort. The current of the sea started pulling me in. I used all my strength to come out of the whirl, but was unable to come up. I was being pulled far far away. I was slowly losing my strength to resist. I began to drink in the water and kept sinking lower. I knew death was near. There was no escape. For the last time, I painted an image of the man of my heart in my mind, raised my right hand up and said, “I’m going, Thakur!” I stopped trying to resist the current, chanted ‘Jayaguru Mahamantra' and went into a meditative state. At that instance I saw the sky illuminated and a radiant figure appeared from there, picked me by my right hand and threw me on the sands on the seashore. I opened my eyes and saw my Guru in front of me, looking at me steadily. 'Get up' he ordered. So I got up and followed him back.”
There is a deep connection between Sri Sri Thakur and Fani Bhai. The relationship is more like that of a lover and his beloved rather than of a master and servant. Love dominates the feeling of holding in high esteem. Fani Bhai’s regard for Thakur is not because of his greatness, power or strength. He is full of love and is immersed in this loving exchange in his heart. Quoting Fani Bhai in her book ‘Nilachale Thakur Nigamananda’, his granddaughter Narayani Devi writes, “I have no idea how great a saint or mystic or scholar Thakur is! I love that man. I have never come across such a man so full of love. I haven’t received so much love even from my wife, son or family. But I am so worthless, avaricious, hungry for money that name, fame, wealth became great for me. I couldn’t love him with all my life.”
His play of emotion, outpour of heart, pride, anger, dejection with Thakur is beyond ordinary. When emotional, tears flow; When angry, turning away from each other; And when anger subsides, the overflow of happiness and joy is noticed not only in the disciple but also in the Guru. This interplay of emotion beautifies love.
Sri Sri Thakur's sandals at Fani Bhai's home
Image Courtesy: 'Smruti Pathe Nigamananda'
Inspired by Krushnapriya Mohanty's essay, 'Sri Fani Bhusan Mitra'.