In The Face Of Death
Sri Sri Thakur not only takes responsibility for the spiritual life of Fani Bhai but also solves many of his day-to-day problems with his advice. Once during a ‘Bhakta Sammilani’ in Mayanamati Ashram, Fani Bhai addresses all his fellow Guru brothers and says, “Do you think that your Thakur only guides you in your spiritual journey? He even guides you in your journey in this material world. On his way to Puri from Kokilamukh, he resides at our place for some days. Once he noticed that I was occupied. No one knew what was going on in my mind, not even my wife, Santosh. Thakur saw my worried face and asked, ‘Fani! Why is your face so sullen? What are you worried about?’ I replied, ‘Thakur! There is a hearing of a complicated case in the court today. I’m trying to find a way out to save my client. I’m unable to find a thread of argument and questioning. My winning or losing depends on this.’ Thakur said, ‘Alright, please tell me the history of this case.’ I briefed him about the case. After listening to all that I said, he gave me the lead on how to fight the case and said, “You will win if you interrogate in this way.” Surprisingly, this point hadn’t crossed my mind. That day, I followed Thakur’s instructions, defeated my counterpart and won the case!”
He takes a pause and looks at all the awe filled faces around him and continues, “He is not only adept in law, but also an authority on medicine. I had accompanied Thakur to Bastar. We stayed there for a month. What joy, what respect! Common people like us also were taken such good care of. The administrator of that princely state was Mr. Grigson, I.C.S and Sir Mitchell was the civil surgeon. One day the queen fell sick. Sir Mitchell observed her and wrote a prescription. Thakur wanted to take a look at the prescription. After going through it he said, “This medicine will react adversely on the honourable queen. Please ask the doctor to change the medicine.” When Sir Mitchell heard this, he said, “I see, your preceptor is not only a spiritual guide, but an efficient doctor also. He made me realise where I had gone wrong.”
While speaking about his Guru, Fani Bhai’s voice chokes with emotion. With each word he utters, his pride, self-gratification and his love for Sri Sri Thakur is evident. He holds Thakur close to his heart, his companion of joy and sorrow- a transcendental image in whom he pours out all his love. This is an outpour of his innermost feelings.
Chidananda Maharaj is very intimate with Fani Bhai and their hearts are connected. In any difficulty, he somehow arrives near Fani Bhai like a messenger from Sri Sri Thakur. Once, Fani Bhai goes on a trip to Mihizam during Puja vacation. The place is ridden with mosquitoes. Fani Bhai contracts malaria fever from a mosquito bite. At first, his wife Santosh, thinks it to be a viral fever due to a change in place and a change in climate. But the fever worsens day by day. Santosh gets very worried and sends his son, Dashu, to get some medicine from a doctor. She remembers Thakur and starts chanting ‘Jayaguru’. Fani Bhai is in a critical state and barring the small kids, there is no one nearby. Her heart is heavy. Sri Sri Thakur is their only hope. At that time, Chidananda Maharaj arrives unannounced. Santosh is startled and heaves a sigh of relief. She now gets her courage. Thakur has sent his messenger to take care of them in this difficult time. Chidananda Maharaj sees Fani Bhai’s condition. He consoles the family and sits down by his head. Fani Bhai recovers after a few days and starts taking food and medication. Both the spiritual brothers talk passionately about Thakur and spend some days together. Chidananda Maharaj goes on towards his destination and Fani Bhai returns to Kolkata.
Chidananda Maharaj and Fani Bhai: one a Sanyasi and one a simple family man, but both their hearts beat for Thakur in the same way. They lose themselves while talking about Thakur. They share with each other their innermost feelings, the out of the world states of love they experience for Thakur. They, in their exuberance, forget to eat or sleep. Thakur often validates this, saying, “Chidananda and Fani share a special relationship.”
The king of Bastar, Sri Prafulla Chandra Bhanja Deo, first meets Thakur at Fani Bhai’s No. 203, Panchananatala Road house. ‘Raja Saheb’ visits that house several times after that. He even goes to Fani Bhai’s new house at No.11 Panchananatala Road. When Sri Sri Thakur used to reside at Howrah, a motor car used to come from Mayurbhanj king’s palace in Kolkata, to take Thakur for evening rides. Thakur likes to stroll on the banks of the Ganga. One day, Thakur along with Fani Bhai is taking a stroll in the Princep ghat by the Ganga. It is almost dark. Both of them sit down on the bank of the great river admiring her beauty. Suddenly they notice two white sailors, fully drunk, shouting loudly and coming towards them. They are punching and striking everyone in their way. Fani Bhai, alarmed, gets up. He doesn’t care about himself but is concerned in case they misbehave with Thakur. When they come nearer, Fani Bhai says tensely, “Thakur! Let’s get back to the car. These two white sailors have lost their senses, they have started fighting, and they are so close.” But the person for whom he is so worried about is untouched, lost in meditation. Nothing is reaching his ears. Fani Bhai becomes impatient. He is well built and strong enough to resist the first attack. They can reach Thakur only if they pass through him. Still, it is a reason for worry. He calls louder, “Thakur! Can you hear me? Here they are. Let’s go.” Thakur answers, “Let them come. You may leave if you are scared.” Fani Bhai is dumbfounded. Will he be able to deal with two drunkards? Whatever comes, they will have to kill him first before they can proceed towards Thakur over his dead body. He is prepared. Thakur sits unperturbed, meditating.
At last, the white sailors approach them and come near the stairs of the ghat. Fani Bhai knows he can’t match them in strength. He starts contemplating on how to face the situation. At that moment, with the noise of their loud voices and heavy boots, sri Sri Thakur opens his eyes. He turns around and looks at them only once. As if a sleeping lion of the jungle has been hurt and has pulled his head up. The look is so fierce that both the sailors stand still. They bow their heads down and look at Thakur, then take a few steps back, scared of moving forward. Then the soldiers slowly turn around, continue their shouting at others and they walk away and leave the ghat.
Later one day, the Howrah Court Bar library room was heating up with a discussion among the lawyers on 'How to recognise a true saint'. Everyone is stating his view. Among them is present Sri Hemachandra Ghosh, who is an ardent devotee of Sri Sri Thakur. When he sees Fani Bhai silent, he asks, “Why are you sitting quietly. Please say something.” Fani Bhai replies, “If you want to really find out a true sadhu, then in an open space, in a vast field or near a seashore, make them sit in a line and release a tiger in their midst. The one who wouldn’t get up and move is a true saint. The one whose faith in God is deep rooted knows that the tiger won’t even touch him before his time. The one who has conquered the fear of death is a true saint.” Everyone laughs out loud saying how that couldn’t be possible. Replying to them, Fani Bhai narrates the ‘Princep Ghat’ incident.
He also describes another incident that he had witnessed. It took place on the banks of the cold, untamed Indravati River, when he had accompanied Sri Sri Thakur, on their way to Bastar, being invited by the King. The car with its passengers boards a boat built with six wooden planks to cross over to the other side of the river. But the car, unable to balance the weight of five passengers, starts to slide off and gets stuck in the wooden plank of the boat. River Indravati, roaring below, is flowing fiercely, when the rear end of the car gets submerged inside water. Sri Sri Thakur is upside down with his feet up and head down! When told to come out, he says, “No dear, I cannot step out.” Everyone gets worried. Fani Bhai and another disciple, Haren, sit beside the driver. Sri Sri Thakur and Pragyananda Maharaj sit on the other side. When the boat starts sliding, Thakur says amused, “Here we go.” Death is staring right at them and here, he is laughing like he’s having the time of his life! Everyone is shocked, their hearts pounding loudly against their chests. Fani Bhai alights from the car and once again requests Sri Sri Thakur, “Kindly come out now.” Thakur replies, “Why should I get down? I’m relaxing here lying upside down.” No one utters another word. Such amusing words in the face of such grave danger! After a lot of persistent pleading, he finally gets down, but with a disgruntled face, as if someone had barred him from having a great time. The fear of death can't touch him. What can you say of someone who is full of cheer and merriment at the doors of death?
Fani Bhai has put his feelings down into words in the book ‘Nigamananda Smruti’, “Many become restless to witness some miracles. These small magics are a hatha yoga beginner’s exercise. I can’t understand why man is so eager, so anxious to witness these. We are blind to the greatest miracle. What can be a greater miracle, a more heart-warming yogic feat than when a man doesn’t care for his life which is dearest to him, and embraces the terrible shadow of destruction in front of him with a smile. When the image of transcendental beauty is ingrained in your heart, the horrific roar of death seems like a sweet melody – this thought fills my heart with joy. What a beautiful and profound life that has conquered death! This is the greatest achievement of sadhana or spiritual practice – the pinnacle glory of the enlightened one.”
Fani Bhai's Home, 'Santosh Kutir'
Image Courtesy: 'Smruti Pathe Nigamananda'
Inspired by Krushnapriya Mohanty's essay, 'Sri Fani Bhusan Maitra'