Faith and business, charity, politics

By Robin Thomson . Published 2020-09-10
The second in the Robin Thomson faith series, here he interviews Ram and Sunita Gidoomal

Ram and Sunita Gidoomal live in Cheam, Surrey. Ram was in business for many years and then moved to charity work and also politics, running to be the London Mayor in 2000 and 2004. Both their families were originally from the Sindh area of what is now Pakistan. They have three adult children and seven grandchildren. I asked them some questions about faith:

Everybody lives by faith. What are the important things on which your life is based?

Ram: Family is more and more important for both of us at this stage. Before, I have to say that work took priority, though I tried to balance family, work and our church involvement. Now, if I am asked to take up a work project we will ask whether it supports our other priorities. For example, recently I was asked at short notice to do a seminar in India, and I did it because it fitted into our desire to engage South Asians with faith.

You were in business, Ram, for a number of years and very successful. Then you moved to charity work – why?

R: The trigger was a visit to the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, the largest in Asia. When I came back I couldn’t get the sight out of my mind, particularly a five year old boy, the same age as my son. I had to do something to respond to poverty. Sunita: We had talked about this for some time and now we were at a point when we could make the change. R: It started for me when a close friend died very suddenly, at around 35 years old. I was shocked and asked myself how much longer I had. What was I going to do with my life? S: We realised we didn’t really need the extra income. Somebody said ‘Enough is always a little more’. On the other hand, there had been times when Ram wanted to make a change but I felt that he was still needed in the family business. So it was ‘Yes’, ‘No’ for a while, until the crisis of that slum visit.

And then you became involved in politics – why?

R: It was the continuing desire to make a difference. First I had tried to respond to poverty, in South Asia and other parts of the world. Now it was injustice, back home. S: It just happened. We could see huge needs on our doorstep in London. And when Ram was asked to get engaged we could see that his breadth of experience gave him the right qualifications. R: We wanted to call people back to the Christian foundations of our society.

Which was the hardest for you?

R: The politics – we encountered corruption, a range of needs, people at their best and worst, opposition, including, to our surprise, from within the church. The pressure was relentless.

How did your faith impact you?

It was faith that kept us going. Without that we wouldn’t have survived. There is so much poverty, so much injustice. You wonder if there is any point. But faith tells you there IS meaning. You do have the ability to make a difference, however small.

How did you come to this faith?

R: Faith has always been part of life in my Hindu family. You have faith in certain pictures, books, gurus, temples. God and the supernatural are always there. The question is where, or in whom, do you put your faith? My decision to become a follower of Christ crystalised when I was a student at Imperial College in London. I was reflecting on life after our family was forced to leave Kenya, and I heard about Jesus. I argued with people, read the Bible and did my own research. It made sense: a real person in space and time. It was very simple – extraordinary but true – and I committed myself. S: I was born and brought up in England and always believed in one God. I was familiar with Hindu scriptures as well as the Bible from RE lessons. At boarding school I went to church and I liked it. At 17 I was impressed by a Quaker meeting. But I didn’t have any personal faith. When I met Ram and started going out with him I told him that I wouldn’t go to church with him until we were married. There were enough hurdles in the way my family viewed our relationship! When we moved to Geneva I attended all the church activities but realised at one point that I wasn’t a part of it. A friend explained how I could make a personal commitment to Christ.

And how have you grown in your faith? Do you view it differently from 20 years ago?

R: it has grown stronger. We have seen more of the power of prayer, in our own lives and in our work. We are constantly challenged to more faith.

What would you do differently if you were starting out today?

S: It’s very hard to look back and say you would have done things differently. At the time you did what you thought was right. R: I had no choice but to go to the nearest college with the cheapest bus fare! S: Everything you did then leads to where you are now. I perhaps would have been better suited to do accountancy rather than a secretarial course. But if I had I would never have met Ram.

Looking back, I don’t think there is any major decision which we wish we hadn’t made