Faith Stories: A Prayer and a Book
As a 20-year-old man in 1982, I felt the presence of God for the first time. A pastor of a church in New Delhi, Roy Smith, stopped me from ending my life. He counseled me for two hours telling me that God loves me and doesn’t want me to die. Roy told me he too felt similar and learnt it from a couple called Carlos and Saroj Welch that his life was precious.
The second time I felt the presence of God was when that couple opened their home to me and embraced me as their son-of-the-heart.
The third time was almost 20 years later in their church in Baton Rouge.
After being accepted as their son, I decided to become a psychotherapist. I finished my graduation with their support and worked in a rehabilitation center for mentally ill people. Then I moved on to work in prisons and with post traumatic stress of survivors who had faced war, genocide and religious violence. My work involved providing psychological support, and I heard daily stories that were brutal, poignant and often made me question the goodness of man.
It was at that stage that I came to visit Carlos and Saroj with my family. Now I was married and had a beautiful daughter. We all came to St. John’s to be present during worship. When I was in India, I always found it a spiritual experience to go with Carlos and Saroj and didn’t want to miss it this time when we were all in USA.
After the service was over, I saw my 6-year-old daughter sitting with other children listening to stories about God’s love. Looking at me she smiled that told me not to come near. “I am fine and God is taking care of me.” Where had I seen that look before? I realized I had felt it in myself long ago and was feeling it again.
Carlos and Saroj went about organizing the choir. Sitting there I was suddenly filled with gratitude for what God has given me. The work that I was able to do with disadvantaged people. Suddenly the stories of refugees, survivors no longer seemed to weigh like a boulder on my mind but like a beacon of light that God wanted me to carry forward. And there was one more thing God was telling me. You have an ability to write, to express yourself that everyone talks about. Write about the suffering of people you work with, the hatred, the bigotry that you see in my name and let everyone know.
I didn’t realize I was sitting alone now and everyone had left, but I had found my mission once again.
As I came back to India and shifted through my voluminous notes and began to read them, they seemed to come alive in my hands. The pages no longer felt heavy in my hands but alive with something I never had felt before. I found about different events I had written, different voices I had heard, the people who wanted their stories of suppression to come out. I felt as if God wanted my writing to do that. It was a moment of reckoning that perhaps comes once in a lifetime. God, I realized, had made me aware that I needed to express the lost voices of the people through writing so that it is not lost and people read them to stand against violence in the name of religion.
I don’t remember when I picked up the pen and started writing. I began to write now but in a different way. Ideas that I had expressed as a psychologist in a few words, in neutral way, gave way to express as an author through crafting of words that came to encompass larger realities of history, memory and identity of a country that is India.
As I finished I named this book The Infidel Next Door.
It revolves around two boys Aditya and Anwar who live in a temple and a mosque next door to each other and their relationship marked by hatred and finding the profound humanity that bounds them despite belonging to different religions. When Islamic fundamentalism threatens a land and everything the infidels there stand for, they confront their inner selves and conscience to find an unknown path.
People from all religions are reading this book. Its themes of forgiveness and redemption is finding an echo with many.
This book is a reflection of that gratitude of what I felt as love of God from two people who opened their home and their hearts to me.
Because of its references to bigotry and religious violence no publisher in India agreed to publish it. Though they called it a book of courage and a voice against the fear that is being created in the name of religion they felt it would invite trouble. I published it on my own and spreading the word. I want my book to be read by people and institutions working on interfaith healing and reconciliation. That will be my deepest reward.
Persecution in the name of religion is nothing new in this world. Hearing one such story of a man who lived and died two thousand years ago, changed my life and will do to many other lives. There have been millions who have died upholding what they believe is God’s love for us. Many voices which tried to say that were silenced. My voice may be suppressed too but not silenced. Please pray for me so that the strength I found ten years ago to live and write this book never leaves me, so that I do not falter and find the strength to carry on with my mission.
New Delhi, India