Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Joy and Sorrow of Hindu Conversion Stories: Review of Brahmin Reborn by Bhaskar Sreerangam with Esther Sandys

The publisher 10 of Those kindly sent me a sample of this book to check out.

I confess I was reticent. As I expected Brahmin Reborn fits neatly into the genre of Hindu conversion stories, alongside others such as Death of a Guru, by Rabi Maharaj, and Found by God by Rahul Patel.

Like those others, Sreerangam's story resonates with authenticity. One is brought into the life of a young man in a very different setting to the experience of many of us. You marvel at the concerns of the family, the punctilious nature of their attention to ritual purity, the enormous respect that people have for the boy simply on the basis of his pedigree - a high-caste priestly family, and their devotion to the gods.

I was struck with young Bhaskar's spiritual wrestlings: how from a young age, he badgers his relatives and other respected people to show him how he can achieve eternal life. His dismay at his devout uncle's despairing death cry is very moving. How sad indeed that people leave this world without hearing how they can be made right with God and have a hope for eternity.

And so, if, like me, you read this book, you will enter into the heart-felt spiritual quest of a young man who is desperate to have that assurance but completely without any hope that he will gain it.

And as you read, you know, because of the sort of book it is, that there is [spoiler alert!] a happy ending. Sort of. A happy ending indeed for young Bhaskar who fulfils his quest. But not for his father, who disowns him, or his mother, who weeps at his abandonment of the family tradition, or his Akka, or his brothers, or his sisters, or his uncles and aunties, or anyone else in his community. Indeed, it is a bittersweet ending for Bhaskar himself.

But let me back up: young Bhaskar the engineering student in 1960s Madras (now Chennai) is handed an invitation to an event put on by the local group of UESI (IFES). He has never heard the name Jesus before and is intrigued by the talk about this person. And just in the nick of time - but I won't give it all away.

Love, community, kindness, long conversations, and in six weeks Bhaskar is brought to faith in Christ.

But then his troubles begin. And if, unlike me, you were not prepared for that, you are now. It was a train crash waiting to happen. Why the secrecy about the baptism? Why drop it all on the family as a fait accompli? I hope I am not being unfair but this is my take: it is necessary for Mr Giri to advise Bhaskar in this way, in order to satisfy Mr Giri's own psychological need (p. 103). And so a clean break is arranged for Bhaskar, though he doesn't realise it until he reports the momentous news to his parents.

And that is how these testimonies go. The agonising spiritual journey, the release, the conflict, the break. So glad, but also so sad.

So will I be recommending this book (or that of Maharaj or Patel) to the Hindu students I meet in the coming months? What do you think? If I believed that faith in Christ required a complete severance of one's family ties, then sure. But I don't. That may happen in some cases, even when the new Jesus devotee is wise and sensitive. In such situations, I think, Jesus' well-known words apply most acutely (Luke 14:26-27). But for most, happily, such a social death is not inevitable (1 Cor 7:17, 20, 24). 

And, I would contend, that applies to the most devout Brahman of all. Sreerangam didn't come to understand that. But a few others have. Take N. V. Tilak, for example. Tilak went through all the same agonising spiritual and social contortions that Sreerangam did. But later he came to understand that he had let his people down as he responded to the gospel and sought to make up for his mistakes.

My prayer is that those mistakes are not made in the first place. And that demands careful communication of the good news of Jesus that is sensitive to the respondent's social and cultural situation.

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