Everyone loves a good rags-to-riches story, and mine is unusual—the humble teacher who becomes a property tycoon by buying up blocks of apartments across England.
At the pinnacle of my real-estate career, the customers were lining up, credit was easy, and I was becoming filthy rich. It was everything I was supposed to ever want.
Like good Indians, my parents raised me and my sister as Hindus. Our family regularly visited the Hare Krishna temple, and for a time a corner of my bedroom was made into a small temple where my father placed Hindu gods and worshiped them. But the economic downturn of the early 1980s had left my father out of work. In 1981, our household uprooted from London to start a new life in Kenya, where my father had been offered a steady job. When we arrived in Nairobi, my parents enrolled my sister and me into a Christian primary school.
With small classes and an emphasis on perseverance, Cavina School was no place for the shy. Before long I found myself engaging in school life as well as becoming fascinated with Christianity. I was intrigued by the teaching that God took upon himself the judgment of our sin by dying on a cross. So moved was I by this message that I regularly argued with my father that there had to be something in this Jesus character. I could see it in the way my headmaster talked about him, like they were the closest of friends.
While my fascination with the Christian faith continued throughout my primary schooling, I never made a commitment to Jesus. On my final day at Cavina, I was given a biography of the great evangelist George Whitefield. But it would be more than 25 years before I would read it.
Catching the Money Bug
In truth, my father had to do little to curb my interest in Christianity; it waned of its own accord once I reached secondary school. With financial pressures growing at home, a small seed of enterprise began germinating within me. Seeing my inventive mother baking cakes to make ends meet diverted my attention from God to money. I was fed tales of my grandfather’s rise to riches. He had built an entire office block in Nairobi, and was brazen enough to buy a large house opposite the British High Commission. I wanted to be just as audacious and successful. With this in mind, I dabbled in selling alcohol in school under the radar. Though my business was short-lived, I had my first taste of making money, and it tasted good.
In 1986, my parents scraped together their hard-earned savings and sent my sister and me back to the UK to continue our studies, returning themselves some months later. Though I had arrived with a strong African accent, I quickly discovered the power of generosity to earn me friends. I put to use the money I earned as a part-time cleaner to buy rounds of beer and share cigarettes. Money was a real-life magnet. As I played the generosity card, I began to appreciate the power of money to gain control.
This fascination increased after my parents separated. Money worries had ripped a hole in their marriage, completely breaking their will and energy to hold things together. Deeply upset, I was adamant this would never happen to me.
I chose to study English at university, going on to teach English briefly before becoming a drama teacher. But then came a realization: I wanted success and recognition, and I wanted money! So I turned my hand to writing. Within months, my debut play, BBA and Proud (about a group of mixed-up British-born Asian kids caught in the East–West dichotomy), won an Edinburgh Festival Fringe first prize and went on national tour. Then came a contract to write with my wife the Emmy-nominated children’s television series My Life as a Popat. One would think winning a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award or being flown to New York for the Emmys would have brought great excitement. In reality it left me numb.
Then the break I was craving suddenly arrived. I had taken a gamble on buying my first property in a scabby part of South London. As house prices rose and the street became more desirable, I sold it for more than double the purchase price. Having caught the property bug, I quickly invested my profits into buying apartments to rent.
My eye was caught by the idea of investing in “off-plan”: buying a property while it was still on the architect’s drawing board, then, thanks to rising property prices, selling it at a profit before it had even been built. Before I knew it, I had a queue of investors wanting a slice of the property pie. I was an overnight sensation. One moment I was dabbling in a few properties, the next I was buying whole blocks of apartments across the UK.
The more media recognition my company received, the greater the risks I took. I was on a treadmill moving at a reckless pace. I had become addicted to risk-taking; growing success failed to bring me the satisfaction I craved. My wife bore the brunt of my addiction. I was spending more time away from home, eating out at expensive restaurants, spending thousands on entertaining clients, and ultimately cheating on my wife. I had become a bad husband.
Unlikely to Live
The credit crunch of 2008 was quick and brutal. With some 900 apartments coming up for imminent completion, I suddenly found myself in the firing line, facing a queue of creditors demanding their money. Any value in my business disappeared overnight as the property developers stripped the company of its cash. The next two years were the hardest of my life as our family adjusted to the dramatic change in our finances.
That same year, my 2-year-old son became critically ill. Ishaan was a sickly child and had been hospitalized many times with severe breathing difficulties. Now, with the nebulizer failing, he was rushed into resuscitation. Within minutes the ER teemed with doctors and nurses fighting for his life. His airways shut, and he was intubated to keep him alive. He was later transferred to a hospital in London.
Over the next four days, my wife and I wept uncontrollably. An American couple whom we had recently befriended began praying for Ishaan. They even got their families’ churches in the United States to pray for him. On the fourth day in the hospital, the doctor stated that it was unlikely that my son would open his eyes anytime soon. We were distraught.
But as the consultant continued doing her ward round on that fourth day, Ishaan suddenly sat bolt upright in bed. The only explanation was that we had witnessed a miracle.
After all the elation and joy, I vividly recall turning to my wife and committing to attend our friends’ church to thank them for their prayer support. A few weeks later we did just that. Yet how was I to know that I would feel the urge to go back again? And how was I to know that one Sunday a few weeks later, I would feel stirred to walk to the front and give my life to Jesus, the One who gave his life for me?
For months I sat at the foot of the cross in the church, weeping. How could he save a wretched sinner like me? I couldn’t get my head around the immensity of God’s grace. After I gave my life to Christ, my wife didn’t recognize me; she felt like she was married to a new man. I found myself saying sorry, becoming gentler and caring for others, laying aside the pursuit of money in order to serve God. I remain involved in real estate, but on a smaller scale. Part of my week is spent working for the Evangelical Alliance–UK, where I lead the South Asian Forum team to equip the church to reach South Asians of other faiths.
In those early days I often sensed God saying that he had heard the prayers of our Christian friends and had saved my son, but that his Son he had not rescued and instead had allowed to pass through death. His Son died so that I—indeed all who will believe—may have life.
Manoj Raithatha heads up the South Asian Forum team at the UK Evangelical Alliance and runs Instant Apostle Christian publishing house. His autobiography, Filthy Rich, is distributed in the United States through Kregel.
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