Shrink's Views

ramblings of an unknown psychiatrist

Conversion Confusion: a story

Posted by Dheeraj Kattula on February 1, 2011

“Get the right mix before you get paint from your pallet to the paper”, I tell my students. This principle in watercolor painting applies to life as well. You may not be able to fully correct the things that you do in your life. Your acts always leave a mark behind. My days as a drug addict have left an indelible mark in my life. I am now clean. I search for meaning in my life teaching watercolor art to enthusiasts. I help them bring out their selves in their art. Letting others bring their thoughts and feelings emerge in colors, fuels me to live. My workshops are not expensive. So, I tour different countries, click photographs of subjects of my interest, convert them into paintings and sell those to cover my living expenses. This year I went to the incredible India.

India is too old, large and diverse for just an artist like me to understand in a month’s time. I stood amazed looking at the contrasts and the range of shades existing in India. After I landed in New Delhi, I went around in an auto rickshaw clicking photographs of the urban landscape. New Delhi had wide roads, big hotels, shopping malls that I never expected. When I traveled through their metro train, I saw silence. Passengers were all busy in their private world listening to their ipods or reading their newspaper. Globalized India has become so individualized and privatized like the west.

I randomly went to one of the lesser developed Indian states, after a week in New Delhi. I stayed in a small hotel in the corner room on the first floor. It provided good lighting for me to work on. I wanted to go into the villages nearby to shoot photographs. I needed help of someone to act as a guide. A large majority do not understand English in this part of the country. I found a man, in a tea shop. He helped me find some tourist spots nearby. I chartered a cab and visited those sites. On Saturday evening I met the same person again. I asked him if he could accompany me to some villages nearby to facilitate taking few photographs. He agreed to come the next day after 11 am. He gave me his home address.

I went to his house at 11 am. His family had come back from the Church. I had left the Church as a teenager. It was difficult for me to do it having come from a family of Lutheran ministers for five generations. I had to be faithful to my conviction. I could not believe in creation, virgin birth or resurrection. How could I stand the mumbo-jumbo of prayer and worship? I am happy in my atheistic existentialism, but I was happy to see this family happily engaged with religion.

We drank tea as he prepared to leave. The tea was served with warmth that was typical of eastern hospitality. His wife was dressed in sari, as any typical Indian woman of this region. His parents too looked no different. The only Christian marks of the house were a cross on the wall and a well used black Bible placed over the television set. I asked him for how many generations they had been Christians. I have always heard that religion is inherited in the east. He said he would share that story as we travel. I noted that New Delhi was secular and westernized, but this home was Christian and culturally very eastern.

He had a moped. It was good for rural roads. I offered to pay for four liters of petrol. It was a much more than needed for our travel, but I felt it would be good to give a small gift this way as he never asked to be paid for as a guide. As we travelled to the villages nearby, he told me his story.

His name is Harish. He works with an indigenous NGO. He lives with his wife, two daughters and his aged parents. He was from a Hindu family. From his childhood days he was interested in spiritual things. His father encouraged him to meet the holy men who frequented his village. Harish had few questions come to his mind time and again, “What is the truth? What is the way? What is life?” He attended many bhajans and meetings. He asked these questions to many holy men. They never answered him to his satisfaction. When he was 13 he told a sadhu, “If you are unaware of this yourself, how then can you guide us?” The sage blew up in rage. His disciples cooled him down. After all it was a village kid full of ignorance.

Few months later, Harish found a tract on a bus. It said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It was a statement made by Jesus Christ. His answer was found. Harish found his guru – Jesus Christ. When he announced that he became a disciple of Jesus, his father threw him out of the house. He was just 14 years old. His school teacher took pity on his condition and allowed him to stay in the verandah of his house. Harish did odd jobs for his teacher in return for the benevolence received. After he finished his tenth grade, he started giving tuitions for small children. With the money he earned, he managed an independent living. When he completed his M.Com degree, he joined an International NGO as an accountant.

Harish was a self made man. I feel so small, when I compare my life with his. In childhood he was searching for God and I ran away from God. In his teens he educated and fed himself shedding his sweat. I was addicted to drugs and was stealing to feed my habit. There was a strong, stable and intelligent man in the short, brown man that I saw. My respect for him grew within minutes.

I wondered how his Hindu family, which had opposed him, became Christian now. He told me the story after my enquiry. He said his father was a successful tantric, a black magician. People came to him for all sorts of problems. He enjoyed reputation in that region. He also had become an alcoholic. Harish’s mother fasted and prayed to all the goddesses she knew to change her husband’s alcoholism. Nothing worked.

One day Harish met his mother near the village’s water tank and told her to pray to Jesus and see the result. She followed her son’s advice. In a couple of days his father started encountering recurrent failures. So much so that even he was shocked. It was as if his power had come down. Harish’s mom advised her husband to turn to Jesus. When he prayed in Jesus’s name miracles happened. He stopped alcohol and became a Christian. These miracles became so famous that every Sunday around 40 people gathered in their house for prayer.

I could not believe my ears. All this is happening in 21st Century. I was so engrossed; I totally forgot to click photographs. I do not know how many good subjects I missed. The fact is I don’t care for it. What does that matter in comparison to a real life story like this? “How far from the town is your village?” I asked. He showed me a banyan tree few yards away and said his village was just five kilometers away towards the right. I made a suggestion to visit his village. He smiled and turned towards his village. It was a right turn in every sense.

He continued the story as he rode. His father had a property right adjacent to the road which led to the village. He wanted to construct a small house there so that they could pray and worship with people from nearby villages as well. The construction work began. By then, Harish had reunited with his family. He financed the construction as he was paid a handsome salary in the international NGO he worked with.

I noticed the approaching village as I could see a couple of houses about 100 meters away amidst the vast paddy fields. He slowed down and parked the moped at the first house. I could see from afar that the construction is incomplete. I walked closer and saw that nothing was done properly. The work had been abandoned for sometime. I could see dried cow dung in areas which were supposed to be indoors.

Aghast, I asked “Harish, what happened?” He smiled and said, “Our villagers were not happy with us praying to Jesus. They saw the miracles happening. They saw the transformation in my father. They did not want it for themselves. They felt we were converting people to Christianity. A political party and its outfits organized a mob of 500 people to come to our village. I had gone to the town on that Sunday. They demanded my father to forsake Christ and purify himself with drinking urine of a cow. When he rejected, they beat him up and forcibly fed him cow’s urine mixed with cow dung. My sister and mother went to his rescue and lay on him to shield him from blows from lathis. They did not want to injure women. So, they stopped. They left after they threatened to kill him if he was found praying to Jesus in the village again.”

I was shocked. He continued, “My NGO did not support me when I wanted to take legal action against those who were behind the attack. They made me feel alienated inside my organization. They were afraid that their proximity with me might harm them. I resigned as I felt my team did not connect with me the way I expected. I had worked with a vision. I was not working for a salary. In joined this indigenous NGO which pays me lesser than 20 percent of what I had earned earlier. It is difficult to make ends meet, but I am lot happier at work.”

It is the persecution that made his parents move away to the town. I asked him if I could visit the place where they were living. He started the moped with a smile. I noticed that the foundation of new building was made but there were no metal supports for the pillars to be raised. When I pointed it to him, he said, “They sawed the rods at the base. The foundation now is useless. If I have to build here again, I have to break this foundation and lay it up again.” They made everything useless with just few strikes of a hacksaw. They were not an impulsive mob. They were men with a clear agenda- to spoil the dreams and lives of fellow men because they practiced a different religion.

When I saw his house I was even more shocked. It was a hut with mud walls and roof thatched with hay. The hut they lived in was epitome of weakness, their lives showed strength. How can people who live low like this have strength to sacrifice even this? Why should someone feel upset with faith of someone who lives in a hut? They did not possess any assets worthy enough to attract jealousy.

I clicked few more photographs and then decided it was too much for me to take. He understood me and took me back to my hotel. On the way back we hardly spoke, but the noise in my mind was deafening. As we neared the town I asked him, what he foresaw in the future. He said, “I hope to complete construction of the building that we had started. I hope it becomes a Church. I don’t have resources now. We pray everyday that God would do it in our lifetime.”

I did not go for any more trips after that. I painted from the photos that I had shot. In 20 days I completed about 25 paintings. This would suffice for my travel and next year’s expenses. I could not get Harish out of my mind. As I board the flight and leave today, I wondered if he got his mix right when he plunged into belief. His life has never been the same. He has lost much. He has suffered much. Things have not settled down well even now. He does not have regrets.

I do not know where these religious people get their strength from. I could understand that the popular explanation to explain conversion in terms of monetary or social benefits is reductionist and foolish. Harish is a living example. I only wish there was a God who really heard prayers. I wish he heard these people who believe in him. If he exists and does make mansions above for men, I am sure Harish and his family would have a fine one.

Bhajans-devotional songs

Sadhu- a holy man

Dedication:

This story is inspired by real life events involving persecution of Christians in India. This story is dedicated to countless people who suffer persecution because of their religious identity.

 

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3 Responses to “Conversion Confusion: a story”

  1. Ronald said

    You did not allow the foreigner to become a Christian. You feared that the story would become a kinda Hindi movie. Ha ha.

  2. Manna, Bhubaneswar said

    Confusions can be eliminated if Christianity is not known like any other religion. Religions or denominations cannot save people. Anyone reading the Holy Bible with no bias will find that even Jesus was against the man-made religion or traditions. He did not come to introduce a religion called ‘Christianity’. He came to save mankind from Sin and it’s consequences, Satan & Hell. His claims and teachings are not only sensible but relevant to all generations. He indeed is “The truth, The life & The Way” and no one can come to God the father or Heaven without Him (Jn. 14:6, Holy Bible). I sure believe that this experience with Harish is God-ordained and if he and his family feel it is worth suffering for Christ’s sake, why not others too! What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world but lose his own soul!?

    • Dheeraj Kattula said

      Thank you for reading through the story and also writing this wonderful comment. I fully agree with you. It is my hope that the narrator of the story does think through more and come to saving knowledge of Christ.

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