In all his travels, Fani Babu’s house was Sri Sri Thakur’s resting place. He enjoys staying over at his place and appreciates the way Fani Bhai and his wife, Santosh, serve him. Whether it’s the rented house No.203 at Panchananatala Road or his own house, No.101, Panchananatala Road, the joy and celebration is always centred around Sri Sri Thakur. When he was residing in a rented house, Thakur had once said, “Fani! You are a family man. You have children. How long will you stay in a rented house? Build a house for yourself.” Fani Bhai replied, “I get along well. I don’t have that much wealth to build a house.” Thakur didn’t say anything more but since such a wish had come out of his mouth, it had to take shape.
After a few days, Fani Bhai got a big case. There was a fight between the brothers of a Marwari company, ‘Ballabh Das & Brothers’. One of the sides appointed Fani Bhai as their lawyer. At first, Fani Bhai tried to solve it amicably. But after all the discussions came to naught, he took the case into his hands. The Marwari party paid him a hefty sum. After searching a little, he found a piece of land to his liking adjacent to a big road. In two years, a beautiful, one storey house was constructed there.
Fani Bhai entered the new house with his family, tightly holding an image of Sri Sri Thakur. When Thakur heard the news, he arrived at his new house. After getting off the car, he stood there for some time, looking intently at the house. He softly exclaimed, “Wow! Fani’s house is beautiful.” and stepped inside, as if he was accustomed to this house from long ago. The room on the east side was decorated for Sri Sri Thakur. He didn’t wait for anyone to show up or guide him to the room. He entered as if he knew about it from before and went straight to the kitchen. Santosh (Fani Bhai’s wife and treated like a daughter by Sri Sri Thakur) was busy cooking prasad for him. She was startled hearing his voice from behind. Sri Sri Thakur said, “I’m famished. Please give me something to eat, quickly.” Before she could turn and touch his feet, Thakur left heading straight towards the room meant for him.
A month before Thakur’s arrival, the preparation started and an atmosphere of festivity got built up in the Mitra family. The house was thoroughly cleaned. The servants, head of the house and every member in the family became alert. The devotees, saints and disciples started arriving beforehand. Fani Bhai got busy trying to please everyone. After Sri Sri Thakur arrived, Fani Bhai got up early every morning, bowed down at Thakur’s feet, took his bag and left to the market for vegetables and the day’s grocery. He couldn’t delegate this job to anyone. He chose fresh vegetables himself. Even when Thakur was residing in Nilachal Kutir at Puri, he would pack the first vegetables and fruits of every season in baskets and send them for Thakur. Sri Sri Thakur also enjoyed inspecting each and every item sent by his Fani. When Thakur would plan to come to Fani Bhai’s residence, the children in the household jump with joy. They would wait for Thakur to take prasad and then enjoy the leftover food.
Some incidents in Fani Bhai’s life show the intimate relationship between him and Thakur. Their behaviour with each other was just like that of children. One time Fani Bhai receives a telegram informing him that Thakur would arrive at their place during Durga Puja. Fani Bhai calls his wife saying, “I have a month’s leave during Dussehera Puja. I work day and night and hardly get any time to rest. I wish to go east for a change of climate. I can’t wait here for anyone. You also have to come with me to take care of my food. Let the children be here.” He is insinuating that the children would take care of Thakur! His wife understands that there is definitely some ego drama going on between the Guru and the disciple. She says aloud, “Thakur will come and you are saying that you want to go on a vacation. Can you enjoy your outing keeping Thakur here?” But Fani Bhai is adamant, “Why should I waste my holidays and sit here for someone.?!” His wife replies calmly, “I have received the news of Thakur’s coming. I’m not going anywhere. You may go if you wish.” She knows how difficult it would be for Fani Bhai to manage alone without her. She still refuses to go.
His wife, Santosh, gets busy in all the arrangements to welcome Sri Sri Thakur. Everything is done perfectly to take care of Thakur’s comfort. Thakur arrives and hears that Fani Bhai has gone out to spend his vacation. He doesn’t react. But who knows what’s going on in his mind? After three or four days, Thakur is sitting outside in the morning, surrounded with his devotees. Suddenly, he takes the pipe out of his mouth and says, “Who? Fani? Must be going off to the market.” Everyone is surprised. Fani Bhai is away in Mizoram. Who is Thakur mistaking for Fani? They ask Santosh and find out to their utter surprise that Fani Bhai had just arrived, and without any exchange, silently took the bag and has gone to the market. There is a smirk on everyone’s face. Everyone was aware of these intimate pastimes.
Narayani Devi, another disciple of Thakur, has explained this heart touching episode very beautifully in her book ‘Nilachale Thakur Nigamananda’. The depth of the love that emanates from Sri Sri Thakur’s heart for this devotee is clearly visible. She writes, “Thakur’s face brightened up. He looked at me and said, ‘Fani is here. I know his steps. Go, find out.’ I came back and delivered the news of Fani Bhai’s return to Thakur. So much joy on his face! Fani bhai was supposed to spend the entire Puja vacation outside. But he came back after ten-twelve days. Thakur was sad when he didn’t see Fani on his arrival and his happiness knew no bound when he found out Fani was back. This is a demonstration of the bonding that hardly anyone would understand. But Fani Bhai understood. His eyes swelled up when his wife narrated that morning’s incident before him. Sri Sri Thakur even recognises the sound of his footsteps. Fani Bhai was at a loss of words. He bowed down to Sri Sri Thakur in the afternoon and continued chatting as if everything was normal. Even though Fani returned, Thakur had thought that he would still stay away from him and was deliberating on how to tame this stubborn disciple. But when Fani came to him without any effort, he was overjoyed.”
One of Thakur’s close disciples, Ashwini Kumar Dasgupta succumbed to Beriberi. When the devotees are discussing the incidents during his demise, Sri Sri Thakur abruptly prophesises, “Fani will also suffer from this disease.” Fani bhai trembles hearing this. Sri Sri Thakur’s words would surely come true. He has seen it in several instances. The prophecy comes true. Fani Bhai falls sick from the disease. The pain is intolerable. He stops going to the court. Everyone is advised not to let the news reach Thakur’s ears. He even cautions his wife and children. He knew he had to abide by what’s written in his destiny and doesn’t want Thakur to worry unnecessarily. Beriberi is not an ordinary disease. He has to remain bedridden for a long time.
The disciples who visit Puri to meet Sri Sri Thakur, often travel via Kolkata, and stop by Fani Bhai’s home. Fani Bhai’s doors are always open for the devotees. While Fani Bhai is suffering, one of the devotees comes to visit him on his way back after meeting Sri Sri Thakur at Puri. Fani Bhai is in intense pain. His wife is always by his side taking care of his every. The devotee asks, “Is Thakur aware of Fani Bhai’s condition?” His wife replies, “No. He has instructed not to inform.” “Oh!” the devotee exclaims, “Thakur was telling us about him then. One evening we were all sitting around him when he said, ‘My devotees and disciples don’t know what to ask. Everyone prays for material advancement, wealth, possessions, to cure them of a disease or to remove obstacles. But there is one disciple who is going through a lot of pain right now but hasn’t told me. Even his family members have not yet disclosed it to me. He is tolerating and suffering, taking it as his destiny and doesn’t want to agonise his Guru. This is the characteristic of a superior disciple.’ Giving up one’s own happiness, tolerating all the difficult situations and being devoted to your Guru is precisely, the behaviour of a beloved disciple,” the devotee goes on praising Fani Bhai. Hearing this, tears run down from the corners of Fani Bhai’s eyes.
... to be continued
Image Courtesy: Divya Bhat
Inspired by Krushnapriya Mohanty's essay, 'Fani Bhusan Mitra'.