I – Contact

I come from a Protestant Christian family. On my father’s side, everyone had converted to the Jehovah’s witnesses thanks to my paternal grandfather who was the first convert. I don’t blame him completely, as the lukewarm church which was more interested in following deeply entrenched traditions and preached comfortable doctrines without responsibility. People who attended Church could go back home relieved that they had put in their offering, even though they dozed through the often boring sermon and felt that they had now magically earned some brownie points with God due to their presence in Church. It was just another religion, like every other religion in the world.

Of course the Bible was read in Church, but selected passages were used, often not in any context (unless it had to do with festivals), along with a black book called the liturgy which had the complete order of service, creeds, prayers etc for various occasions like baptisms, marriages, confirmations, deaths and various festivals like epiphany, palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, harvest, Christmas, New years eve, New years day etc (BTW, none of them are mentioned in the Bible. Easter is mentioned in the Bible, but not in a Christian context.)… coupled with man made traditions which once again had no basis in the Bible. (Such as taking home several dried stalks of rice to tie on your doorpost which was left hanging there till the next harvest) After all It was organised religion, man’s way of trying to reach or please God -if there is any such thing. Of course there isn’t any such thing as I was to learn later. If the government sets some protocol about how to do something for example for me to file my tax returns, it will be rejected by them and I will be penalized if I choose to do it the way I want to. How much more when God Almighty sets rules on how we are to approach Him. We can feel all warm and fuzzy inside feeling we have made peace with God and are following Him, but if it is not His way as we shall learn later on, it’s the highway for us -no matter how sincere we’ve been or how many good deeds we’ve done!

My maternal grandfather was a Roman Catholic. However when he started reading the Bible which he was forbidden to do, he renounced Roman Catholicism and became a Protestant as he found teachings in the Roman church unscriptural. As part of the Ecumenical movement which is basically mother Rome trying to regather her daughters lost at the reformation and form one big united false christian religion, (a precursor to the unification of the world into a one world religious system and marriage of the church and state) new ideas -Catholic ideas began to re-permeate into existing traditional protestant churches who mostly read their Bibles superficially and depended more on the preachers word than on God’s and the many comforting rituals. One of several changes I observed during my time in the church as an elder was that communion bread was replaced with the Roman Catholic ‘sun disk’ wafer. I remember our liberal pastor, who would tell us that this was easier to use as it wouldn’t go bad or become stale and it could be placed in the hand of the communicant and broken with a finger to signify Christ’s body which was broken for us. This is an example of how these changes were/are being slowly brought in.

However my grandfather having been a practising Catholic, immediately sensed where such changes were coming from. He put up a firm fight with other like minded people (or others who had something to lose) which then went to court. Several years after his death (typical in India) they won the case, but the church split into two and the assets were divided. Unfortunately, this was only a niggle in the plans of the Ecumenists. As soon as the dust settled, they resumed their infiltration in both churches as most if not all were/are nominal christians or christians by birth. For them, the feel good factor of religion and festivals did not change, or maybe changed for the better. It helps to believe a lie where you can go and sing, drop money into the offering box, pay your “church tax”, prepare a good meal for the priest when he visits and continue living your life as you did before. For example, if you hang some stalks of dried rice over your door threshold or let milk boil over onto the stove top to give you a year of abundance of rice and milk in your house, it is a very comfortable thing to believe in even if it has no basis in truth.

This is the kind of church my mother went to and hence my brother and me attended. My father was neither with the Jehovah’s witnesses which is very clearly a cult, nor with the nominal church. He was a bit of an awkward person, so he found it too embarrassing to go from bus stop to bus stop selling the JW publications or preaching door to door. He probably didn’t make regular appearances at their kingdom hall too. That and due to the additional fact of him getting married in Church, he ended up getting excommunicated along with one of his other friends. That wasn’t the end of his association with them though as his elder sister and younger brother were quite active and held high positions with The JW’s. (My uncle decided not to have children as both he and my aunt felt that it would interfere with their commitment to Jehovah!!) In spite of his excommunication, my dad would still argue from their point of view and would refuse to close his eyes if anyone prayed in the name of Jesus, indicators of how powerful the influence and indoctrination of a cult can be. My aunt continued to give us JW Bibles built to exceptionally high standards of quality and magazines such as Awake and Watchtower and their year books (to my parents) but things stayed at a standstill in their faiths. Although I read their colourful Bibles and the pictures are still stuck in my mind, it did not have any lasting effect on me. I found all religion boring and worshipped secretly at the altar of science, particularly physics, chemistry and electronics. I was terribly interested in the occult and how it worked and in mysteries and magic and almost joined the Rosicrucians. God would use these interests later on in life 20 years hence after He had guided and taught me how these things worked and about the forces that operated behind them.

Dad, even though he argued from the JW point of view (and never attended church after he got married till we got confirmed and later married) loved all the festivals. For him it was just another occasion to party with friends and relatives. It was exciting for us as kids too. For Christmas, we would go to dad’s cousin’s house in Parel (in an enchanting old building with cracks and decorative cast iron grills in the balcony and wooden staircases) against mum’s objections as she wanted to spend Christmas at home. I remember a hay filled dummy dressed in Santa’s clothes and mask, with a lit cigarette between his fingers. He was stuffed with rags, hay and firecrackers and would be set alight at midnight just before new year broke, to celebrate the passing of the old year.

We went to church only on special occasions, as the church was relatively far away (By Bombay standards) as it entailed a 45 minute journey by local train which was in addition to the 40 minute one way walk to the railway station. This was in the late 70’s when going by autorikshaw/taxi or eating out was a luxury and the only cars in Bombay (unless someone had them imported) were either Fiats (Premier Padmini) or the Hindustan Ambassador both of which are now out of production. Fortunately, or unfortunately, our pastor (we called him aiyya in our mother tongue) stayed not very far from our house on the opposite side of the railway track, so as soon as we were deemed old enough to cross the railway level crossing safely, we were forced to go to Sunday school conducted at his house.

I didn’t like it at all. I remember we had an offering to put at the end of Sunday school (to teach us giving) and we would also get a sweet at the end, I smartly deduced that we were paying too much  for the sweet. Since we used to put 10, 20 or 25 paise,  I would feel it was too much payment for the sweet so would buy some sweets on the way which were cheap (we would get 4 tiny paan golis for 5 paise) and then put the remainder in the offering box. There used to be studies and examinations and prizes at the end of the year during Christmas season. We would also get a brown paper bag with dry fruits and sweets among other things every Christmas distributed by someone dressed up like Santa Claus. Over time, things became so boring that I stopped going to Sunday school and started sitting on platform No. 1 of Vikhroli railway station and would spend the hour or so counting the passing suburban (local) trains and would come home when it was time for Sunday school to be over. One day when I came back home, my dad asked me whether I had gone to Sunday school and I said yes and when I turned my head, I saw my Sunday school teacher appear magically (whose nick name was Eagle eyes)  who had come to enquire why I was not being sent to Sunday school. I received a sound thrashing from my dad (who excelled at such tasks if at nothing else) and then the Sunday school classes resumed again. This went on till we were old enough to undergo the confirmation ceremony where our baptism (sprinkling of water on the infant) was “confirmed”. (both unscriptural practices taken from Roman Catholicism) Without being confirmed, we weren’t allowed to get married in Church or take holy communion.

Confirmation was a joke. We made jokes of our liberal and bald new aiyya who succeeded the old one and would hope that a crow would crap on his head when he was taking classes outside the church. His nickname in Hindi was gol mundi or round head. He was so fed up with our lot that he disclosed what questions he would ask us in front of the congregation so that we needed to memorise only one answer. (I think this became a regular practice after our batch) Many of them flunked that as well, but since it was just a ritual or tradition, all of us were duly “confirmed”. The Sunday after we had our first “holy” communion and we were all making fun of each other holding out fingers and asking each other how many fingers we held out as we had just drunk wine. There were also jokes cracked about the blood of Jesus. After that was the mandatory celebratory lunch at home with all the relatives. My Parsi neighbour took me to the terrace and gave me my first beer. A bottle was too much for me and I threw up. Over the years we had many more beers together until we vacated company quarters and moved to our own apartment and he retired from the merchant navy and moved to Grant road. We are still in touch.

Later on in life, even after getting a job and holding a season ticket all the way to VT (Victoria Terminus, now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) the seasonal church visits continued, even though we were fully capable of attending church regularly by ourselves. My serious church visits started when I got interested in a girl. Since there was already a shortage of regular attendees in Church, I got roped in for some of the responsibilities and ended up becoming an active member of Church. I sang Tenor in the choir and at times played the violin as well with my friend who played the old pipe organ and also during the door to door carol services. I hate the carol services now as I recollect how we played many more songs at rich people’s houses and how we played only one song at poor peoples houses as their contribution would be less. As we exited each house playing, some church member would go in and collect their Christmas contribution.

Once again for lack of regular members, I was made the youngest elder in the church. However this was when things began to fray. My job in the electronics division in my company ended as the division closed and was shifted to Pune. We were asked to either leave or accept whatever alternative employment they offered us. Since my dad too had worked for 38 years in the same company, all my relatives said I must continue there as it was a well paid regular job in a well established company. I was all skin, bones and prominent Adams apple at that time (I was that way right from childhood and could actually see my heart beat on my chest) and I got transferred to the refrigerator manufacturing division. From there I was transferred to the Office equipment division for the rest of my career with them which spanned a total 10 years of my life.

The work was back breaking in both jobs. We were on the assembly line and had to work with it at its speed. It now reminds me of the Charlie Chaplin movie, Modern Times. We had a 15 minute break for breakfast when the trolley from the canteen came over. By the time our turn came in the queue, we had only 5 minutes left to wash the machine oil off our hands, eat our breakfast, wash up and get back to our stations. At 11 am, the conveyor (called line) would stop for another 5 minutes and we had to rush to the toilet to empty our bladders and get back to work. At the 30 minute lunch break, we would queue up at the gates to get frisked by security before running at breakneck speed to the canteen like animals to get lunch on time so that we could finish eating and walk back the 15 minutes to our plant. People would sometimes get injured when the old second hand conveyor purchased from a German company broke and I remember several older workers who had missing fingers when the shearing press came down on their hand. Work went on from 7:30 to 3:30 and since we moved out of company quarters to our own flat outside the suburbs, I had to leave for work at around 4:30 am. There was a lot of pollution in the air inside and we would be coated with pickling (phosphatization) dust and machine oil and would need to bathe before changing and heading home. We usually used either dish washing soap or detergent soap as normal soap could not get rid of the grime and machine oil. We were forever oppressed to produce more and more cupboards, filing cabinets and book cases. Slowly it became too much and I started having trouble going to work regularly.

In spite of enjoying relatively good health, one day, I fell sick with jaundice and was laid back at home for about 15 days. I was totally exhausted and weak. I heard my mum say to someone else, probably my dad or wife that if I stayed home like this (in the long run) how could they survive. I realised that I had no one on my side then. They expected me to work even if I was sick and were of the opinion that I was too lazy to work and just making up things to bunk work. I understand now that they had their own concerns, but it was not a good time for me to overhear such conversations. I was always an avid bookworm since childhood. During my 15 day stay at home, I checked some books and realised that I had more or less read them all. Dad had a huge collection of them and even more in an old trunk in the attic. Then I reached for an NIV Bible (I don’t read this any more; more in another post) which was given to the church members at a subsidised rate of Rs 25 each. I started with Mathew and read several books like I had never done before.

After that, life continued as it was and I don’t remember if I continued reading the Bible. Mum and dad were telling all our relatives and neighbours that I wouldn’t go to work regularly and all of them would look down upon me condescendingly or advise me on how I was wasting such a wonderful employment opportunity. All they were concerned was that it was a big company and paid well and that the job was permanent. Things kept on getting worse from all quarters. One day dad now retired, as per his usual practice, went to visit his cousins where he had his regular booze fests. At around the same time, my mother went home to attend my cousin sister’s wedding so I was left alone at home. My brother by then had moved to my home state for his job.

I was happy to be left alone and was pondering life ahead. I felt like the most unlucky and unsuccessful person on earth. I didn’t know what to do. As an elder, I was sometimes conducting Bible studies at cell groups and mostly trying to stoke the fear of God and hell into the people and both the hearers and organisers were happy with it, but my mum probably was yakking to them as well. On account of my religious activities, I had a stash of song books with me. I even had a liturgy which was out of print but had managed to get one using some influence straight from the press. Since I sang in the choir, I thumbed through the pages of our English song book called the Golden Bells. I sang a few familiar songs and suddenly stopped at an unfamiliar one. Surprisingly, I knew the tune. I think I had heard it playing from a cassette tape recorder in my cousin’s house in Udupi. Someone who had been abroad had gifted it to them. The song was called almost persuaded. Here are the lyrics and its history. It is amazing how God used a man’s work even more than a 100 years after he had passed away!! Here is the history of the song which I recently found online.

“Almost, you persuade me to be a Christian.” (Acts 26:28). In 1871 Reverend Brundage expounded upon this sad story in Acts, and then ended his Sunday Morning sermon with the words “He who is almost persuaded is almost saved, and to be almost saved is to be entirely lost”.

Philip Paul Bliss (1838-1876), composer of many hymns, including The Light of the World is Jesus and Dare to Be a Daniel, was among the congregants listening to Reverend Brundage’s sermon. The pastor’s powerful closing words left such an impression upon Bliss that he set about composing a song with the same sentiment.

Almost persuaded now to believe;
Almost persuaded Christ to receive;
Seems now some soul to say,
Go, Spirit, go Thy way,
Some more convenient day
On Thee I’ll call.

Almost persuaded, come, come today;
Almost persuaded, turn not away;
Jesus invites you here,
Angels are lingering near
Prayers rise from hearts so dear;
O wanderer, come!

Almost persuaded, harvest is past!
Almost persuaded, doom comes at last!
Almost cannot avail;
Almost is but to fail!
Sad, sad, that bitter wail
Almost, but lost!

 At that time I didn’t know anything about the composer or under what circumstances he wrote it or his biography (There was no Internet as we know it now or it was barely starting out and very expensive) but as I sang the words of the song, I had a deep conviction that God was speaking to me and I felt that the song was composed about me. As I descended down each stanza, I felt the gloom of being eternally lost  increase and I felt that God was giving me a chance to come to him. I sensed that there were unknown people praying for me and then I was suddenly overwhelmed and started weeping. I am not sure of all that happened at that moment, but once I finished, there was a complete sense of peace, calm and joy which filled me which I had never experienced before. I felt so light that I imagined that I could jump through the concrete roof of the flat into the sky and through the other houses on top of it too. My experience was different from the rest who for example usually respond to an altar call at a revival meeting. I remember lifting my hands at a popular meeting and asking God to come into my life till my hands ached and nothing happened. God had a time and place to meet with me at the lowest ebb in my life -probably the only time and place where I would answer his call!   

Continued in part 2

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