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Life stories > A Rat in the Temple


A Rat in the Temple (Telugu)

A Rat in the Temple (Hindi)


I was born in a Hindu home. My parents were fairly wealthy. My grandfather, my mother's father, comes from one of the top industrial groups of India. I was born in a very, very nice home. I was the second son to my father.  My father had a china factory. We made cups and saucers, and we supplied cups and saucers to the British armies that fought in Europe in World
War 1 and World War 2. My dad employed as many as ten to twelve thousand people in his factory. It was a big factory.

I remember lots of things about my childhood, but one of the things I remember is that I never had to ask for anything twice. Whatever I asked for, it was provided. You may say I was spoiled. Maybe that's true, but I did get whatever I wanted, and my Dad never said No. We never saw Dad, really, because he was busy with his work, and my mother ran our home. She was very kind to me, extremely kind to me. My Dad was a very good Hindu in the sense he didn't know anything about it, but he believed in it. He was a traditionalist. He believed that Hinduism was the religion, and he did the right things at the right time of the year. However, I was one of those children who had questions. I wanted to know. I wanted to ask him questions, and he got so tired of them that one day he said to me, "You will not talk to me unless I talk to you first." And in those days of India, parents could say that and could demand that. Things have changed, but when my father said, "You don't talk to me," I didn't. I would only wait for him to ask me a question, and then I would interject one of my questions before I responded to his. But he caught on to that, and he would talk to me through my mother, which was very clever of him, but I had questions, and he tired.

Two things happened to me. I must have been about seven or eight. He hired a teacher to teach me Hinduism. This man would come at 6 a.m. in the summer or winter, and he had a very strange style of teaching. He made me memorize Hindu texts. He would give me a portion to memorize, and when he came the next morning, I had to regurgitate and reproduce everything that he had asked me to memorize. If I did it right, it was okay. If I didn't, I had to do it more, and we would go on. We wouldn't discuss the texts per se.

While this was going on, we used to go to a temple every year. This temple was about ten miles from the place where we lived. Now, I don't know if you know this or not, but in India, you normally walked to a temple to show your devotion to the god of the temple. Now my Dad didn't have the time nor, I believe, the physical energy to walk ten miles. So what we would do is take the car. I didn't realize it at first, but later I caught on to it. We would drive the car almost to the temple, but not to it. We would leave the car a few yards from the temple, get out of the car, and then we would all walk the remaining ten or twenty feet to the temple. I think in my Dad's mind he was of the notion that God wouldn't know that he hadn't walked all the way, that God would think he had walked all the way from his house, and, of course, then He would be very impressed. I loved to go to this temple because there was a special sweet that was the offering, and I loved that sweet. It was white, and it was absolutely delicious. There was nothing like it anywhere in the world. And I would wait for that annual feast to get a share of that sweet. I loved it at that time. My Dad would carry a huge, big bowl full of these sweets as an offering to the god. We would walk up the steps to the temple, sit down, and make the offering. Then, of course, we would get the chance to enjoy that annual pilgrimage: to me, the sweets; to them, the temple. On this particular occasion we walked into the temple and sat down. The priest was there and his associates were there. Because of my Dad's position, they all paid special attention to him. After we had rung the bell, we were supposed to close our eyes and expect the god to accept the offering. Now, while they all had their eyes closed, I would keep my eyes open and on that bowl of sweets because I wanted to make sure that nothing underhanded was going to happen to that offering. After all, I was very keen that I got my full share. On this occasion, and while they were all sitting with their eyes closed and I had my eyes focused very sharply on that bowl of sweets, a rat appeared. This rat had the audacity to go straight to the bowl while they were all sitting with their eyes closed in a form of meditation. I was horrified because I thought the rat should not touch the bowl that I was going to enjoy later on. So I screamed. I said, "Look, there's a rat here!" They all opened their eyes, the rat scampered away, and my Dad was furious with me because I had been extremely disrespectful in that service. I got a real, royal spanking for my misbehavior in the temple. I was locked up in my room for three days and was told no food or drink. Fortunately, my mother ignored those instructions, and I got fed. But I didn't get to eat those sweets that year. The question in my mind was, Why do I go to a temple if God cannot protect His own property against a mere rat and why, because I spoke up, was I penalized for something that shouldn't have happened in the first place?

And while all this was going on, and I had that big question in my mind, I went to my teacher and asked him some questions. The teacher went into a state of shock because I had the nerve to ask him a question. Now, please, listen to his response very carefully because his response is very, very indicative of the whole process that went into my mind. This guy, as you would say in America, looked at me eyeball to eyeball, stared at me for a few minutes and then in a very deep voice said, "Son, if you knew the answer, you wouldn't have asked the question." I went back to my room, and I thought about it. I was very impressed. I thought I had really heard something very deep, very philosophical. And then I analyzed what he said to me as a child, and I realized this guy really hadn't said anything at all. So I went back to him the next morning at 6 a.m. and said "Sir, you didn't answer my question," and out came the same response, "Son, if you knew the answer, you wouldn't have asked the question." After a couple of attempts, I decided that the guy was not wise. The teacher, in the meantime, thought I was a useless pupil, and he resigned. He told my father, "I cannot teach your son. Your son is going to bring disgrace to the family. He's totally beyond education." That was considered a great insult to the family for a teacher to resign. I was duly chastised. Of course, much later on I understood the philosophical implications of his answer, but at that time I thought he should have answered my question. And the whole thing stopped. I didn't learn any more Hindu texts.  I finished high school at a relatively early age. I'm not boasting about this, but I finished high school at the age of twelve. I was a good student, and I wanted to get out of school. When I finished high school, they, seeing my interest in Hinduism, let me study Hinduism for three years at University. I studied  Hindu philosophy and Hindu religion at Oxford in England, and I enjoyed that. I had a very good time in England. I was away from my Dad, and I thought I really had it made. I wrote to my Dad and said, "Dad, thank you very much for sending me to Oxford. I'm having a great time." My Dad was furious, and he said, "I didn't send you there to have a good time. I sent you to study. Come back!" I went back to India, and my Dad wanted me to join his business. I had no interest in his business. I said, "Well, I'll go back to college." I did so and studied mathematics. I fell in love with math. It's a great subject. I went on to finish my Masters in mathematics, and my Dad thought, Now what are you going to do?

There was a Christian school in India, and this Christian school was looking for a math instructor, and they offered me a job. The school was run by Southern Baptists. Their headmaster was an Australian missionary from Sydney, Australia, and he gave me the job. I was the only non-Christian ever hired to teach in their school. My Dad let me go to that school knowing that after a couple of years of teaching in a Christian school, I would realize that there was not enough money, and I would come back to him and beg him for a job. What he didn't  realize, and I didn't know, was that that was where I would hear about Jesus Christ. I went there in May of 1960, and it was in that school, in July of 1963, that I became a Christian, three years later. What happened? Well, there was an American missionary from Wheaton, Illinois, who came to me and said, "Believe in Jesus and you'll be saved." And I asked this dear man, "What does it mean to believe?" He could not really answer my question. He talked to me for about forty-five minutes, and then he said, "Well, I'll pray for you, but I can see that you are not ready for the truth." And he left me alone. The principal, the Australian Baptist missionary, liked me for two reasons: he also liked mathematics, and he and I both loved tennis. So we got along well. Then he invited me to his house for a Bible study. I asked, "Well, who wants to go to a Bible study?" But I went. In that Bible study, the first time I went, there was this British girl, a missionary, who also came to the Bible study. When I saw this British girl in the Bible study, I was fascinated. I asked her if she would go out with me, and she said, "No, I only go out with Christians," which I thought was very arrogant. But, since she was there, and she said, "I'll talk to you," I decided I would go to the Bible study just to sit next to her and watch her.

There were two things that happened in this Bible study: people were not afraid of asking questions and people were not afraid of saying, "I don't know the answer."  They were very honest about it. They were all explorers: looking, seeking for answers. I have a hard time, even now, of talking to people who seem to indicate to me that they know all the answers. I find it almost incomprehensible to believe that somebody has reached that stage in his or her life that no more answers are needed. I don't think that ever happens, if you are a true seeker of the ultimate truth. Three, they accepted me as a part of the group. They didn't say to me, "Well, you're not a Christian, you don't belong here." I would ask all kinds of questions, and they would very patiently try to answer, and those they could not, they would say, "We don't know but let's explore it further."  The principal of this school gave me a copy of the Gospel of John, and the first three words of the Gospel are "In the beginning." Now, if you are a Hindu, those words are very intriguing because Hinduism doesn't talk about beginnings. In Hinduism everything is a continuum. So I couldn't figure out, what does it mean "In the beginning."  But the Gospel of John really spoke to me. And one other thing happened. The questions I had from the Hindu texts, as I studied the Gospel of John, seemed to be answered. As I kept looking, I saw a fit that the explorations of Hinduism were answered very satisfactorily in the Gospel of John. And yet nobody talked to me. Now this was interesting. Nobody in the Bible study said to me, "Become a Christian!" They wanted me to be part of the group, and there was no pressure put on me to be a Christian.

At about the same time, after I'd been doing this for some time, a man by the name of Major Ian Thomas came to town. He was holding a week-long set of meetings in one of the churches. I didn't know Major Thomas. But, as the Lord worked it out, this English girl said to me, "Would you like to go and hear Major Thomas?" I said, "I will if you will go with me." She said, "Of course I'll go with you." How could I refuse? So we went to hear Major Thomas at this church in town. Oh, that was one of the most delightful evenings of my life. We even went out for a cup of coffee afterwards. Major Thomas is a very impressive speaker. I listened to him very carefully. He talked about an hour, and when I met him afterwards and asked, "Sir, could I come and talk to you?" he gave me time. We talked for four and one-half hours in that private session. He answered my questions diligently, scholarly and very lovingly. Now I don't know if you know this or not, but Major Thomas never asks you to become a Christian, and he didn't. But, he left me with no alternative but to explore the hidden dimensions of Christ. The Gospel of John, the Bible studies, the lifestyle of the people, the encounter with Major Thomas--all led to the ultimate question, "What do I do with Jesus Christ?" I said, "Well, I have nothing to lose. If Christ is true, my search leads me to Jesus Christ. If Christ is not true, I haven't lost anything." And so with that kind of intellectual rationalization in the middle of July, 1963 at two o'clock in the morning, I said, "Jesus, I want to accept You" or some such words.  In other words, I became a Christian. A week later I was baptized. There were about two thousand people present at my baptismal ceremony because people didn't believe that I really had become a Christian. They had to see it themselves. And then I called my parents because I wanted to give them the good news. And, brave as I am, I didn't call my father. I called my mother, and I told her what had happened. There was dead silence on the phone. She said, "I'll have to tell your father about this." I said, "Well, I expect you to." I believe she told my father, but I didn't hear from them. I believe my father literally hit the ceiling. He was furious, very angry, and I was disowned and disinherited. From that day in 1963 to this day, I have had no contact with the family. My family took my name off the family tree as if I don't belong. My uncle, also a very prominent person, my father's younger brother, tried to poison me. In sheer desperation, nobody talked to me, my friends left me, my relatives ignored me, nobody would have anything to do with me. The missionaries all working with me pulled away because they were afraid that my family's influence could affect their presence in the country, because in India your visas can be revoked.

When a family member passed away, I flew out to India. I was not allowed to stay in the house. I was not allowed to participate in any of the family functions. Actually, my brother said to me, "You are a disgrace to the family. Why are you here to disgrace us further?" So I came back to America because, obviously, I was not wanted. A year later my mother passed away, and I didn't hear about her death for almost a year after she had died. The only letter my sister ever wrote to me was after my mother passed away, and these are the exact lines in the letter in which she said, "Incidentally, mother passed away." I was very close to my mother. I loved her very dearly. She was a very special person in my life. For me not to know that she was sick, I still take it as an affront to my membership in the family. It hurts. Believe you me, it hurts very deeply because I had not done anything to deserve that kind of treatment.

Why should becoming a Christian take that kind of toll from a person? My children are grown up. My daughter is going to be a senior next year at the University of Illinois, Champaign. When she was a young girl, one day she asked me, "Dad, what's a grandma?" How do you explain a grandma to a child. Grandma is not a concept you talk about. Grandma is a relationship you enjoy. My children do not know what an uncle is, what an aunt is, what it means to have cousins to play with. Yes, the Lord has taken a very big price for what I found in Him. On one side, yes, there is the loneliness, the treatment of the family, but on the other side, God is there, and He does meet the needs. He does provide, and He raises people to stand with you. You're never alone because He is always, always, always there. Somebody asked me the other day would I do things differently if I knew what my parents' reaction would be. I thought about that. Yes, I would rather have stayed with the family, but if a choice had to be made between God and the family, my response would have been exactly the same today as it was in 1963.  

Dr. Mahendra Singhal


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