by William Page
Kolkata, 15 July 2096—It was when a little Finnish girl began speaking her first words that the world first got a hint that Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the great nineteenth-century Indian saint, had been reborn.
The little girl’s name was Anni Makinen. She lived in the town of Kittila, in northwestern Finland, not far from the Swedish border, with her parents, Jussi and Leena. Jussi was a computer engineer working for Nokia; Leena was a housewife. In 2090, Anni was two years old, an adorable, blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl with nothing unusual about her. Except for one thing.
When she spoke her first words, they were in Bengali.
Her parents were mystified. They didn’t know that the words were Bengali. To them they sounded like gibberish. The neighbors thought they sounded vaguely Indian. After some searching, Jussi managed to contact Asit Banerjee, a Bengali businessman who lived in a nearby town. When he met the Makinens, Mr. Banerjee was amazed. Anni was a little chatterbox, and once she started talking, she went on and on in a stream of fluent Bengali.
“Well,” Mr. Banerjee reported, “she’s speaking Bengali. But it’s not Kolkata Bengali. It’s a rural sort of Bengali, the kind a country bumpkin would speak, and really old-fashioned.”
“What is she saying?” her parents inquired.
“Oh! Don’t ask me,” Mr. Banerjee replied, throwing up his hands. “It’s all about religion, and I’m an atheist. You need to telephone the Vedanta society in Helsinki. The swami there is a Bengali. He can tell you everything you need to know.”
The Makinens did that, but they couldn’t reach the swami. His name was Swami Satyeshananda, and he was visiting India. So they left a message on his answering machine. By the time he got back to Finland, a month had passed.
But when he learned that they had tried to contact him, and why, Swami Satyeshananda’s curiosity was piqued. He knew about the prophecy that Sri Ramakrishna had made, that he would have to be reborn in two hundred years, somewhere northwest of Kolkata. (See Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play, p. 360.) Sri Ramakrishna had made the prophecy in 1885, so two hundred years meant sometime around 2085. Anni had been born in 2088. Sri Ramakrishna’s contemporaries had assumed that he might be reborn in the Bengali city of Burdwan. But northwest of Kolkata covers a very large territory indeed, and if you go far enough you might end up in Finland.
So Swami Satyeshananda went to Kittila to investigate.
The Makinens welcomed him warmly. By then Anni had stopped speaking Bengali and was starting to speak Finnish. But when she saw the swami, her face lit up. “Sadhu,” she said. “Nomoskar.” And she got down on her little knees and prostrated.
The subsequent conversation, as later recounted by Swami Satyeshananda, went like this. It was conducted in Bengali:
Swami: Hello, Anni, do you know who I am?
Anni: You are sadhu.
Swami: Do you know who Sri Ramakrishna is?
Anni (squirming uncomfortably): I know. But that was then. Now is now.
Swami (gently): Can you tell me who Sri Ramakrishna is?
Anni (after a long pause): That was my old name.
Swami (still gently): Are you Sri Ramakrishna, Anni?
Anni (after another long pause): I was once. Now I am Anni.
Swami (suddenly prostrating himself before her, bursting into tears): O Lord! We have been waiting for two hundred years! What is your mission this time?
Anni (changing her tone; severely): Don’t do that. I’m just a little girl. Give me time to grow up. You’ll know everything when the time comes.
After that, she refused to speak further. But Swami Satyeshananda couldn’t let it end there. He prostrated himself before her and begged her to bless him. Anni looked exasperated, but when he wouldn’t get up off the floor, she relented. “All right,” she said in Bengali, and now her tone was tender. “I bless you, Dhruba Maharaj. You will attain the goal.” She raised her little hand in blessing.
Swami Satyeshananda’s face lit up with joy, and when he left the house he was fairly floating on air. When he arrived back in Helsinki, they say his face was shining like the sun. His premonastic name had been Dhruba.
And that was the last time Anni spoke Bengali. From then on she settled into life as a normal little Finnish girl.
Her parents were relieved. “It was crazy, that Bengali stuff,” her mother said later. “But she finally stopped, and from then on, all she’s spoken is Finnish. It’s a big relief. We were afraid those Indians might want to take her to New Delhi or somewhere, and we want to keep her here with us.”
Swami Satyeshananda reported his interview to the trustees at Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission north of Kolkata. Those wise old men deliberated, but in the end they decided to leave things alone. “Let her grow up,” declared the President of the Order. “Thakur has his own plan and purpose. We mustn’t meddle, lest we upset the applecart. If she really is Thakur, he will reveal himself at the proper time and place.”
Now it is 2096, and Anni is eight years old. So far as anybody can see, she’s just a normal Finnish girl. She goes to the local Evangelical Lutheran Sunday school and is devoted to Jesus. But her parents have noticed that on their rare visits to Helsinki, Anni likes to go to Little India, the neighborhood where most of the Indians live. At one Indian shop she purchased a small image of Kali, and when she saw a sweets shop she went straight for the jalebies.
William Page has been associated with the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of Massachusetts since 1960 and is a member of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Association of Thailand. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.