Friday, 22 February 2019

Enoch at 16

Dearest Enoch,

I am starting this note to you on 11.04 - on the night before your first paper of your 10th standard board examinations.

You are fast asleep, having reviewed your English language for tomorrow, as well as your English literature which you will do on Monday and a bit of Hindi for your Tuesday test.

I am still awake, looking back on the day and saying a small prayer for you as you step into another rite of passage.

1985 was when I did my 10th boards.  They were quite different - with a written section - and then an oral portion for some tests.  The setting was the Deutsche Schule Bombay (German School Mumbai) where I was capping off 5 years of German-medium schooling.  On the day, I limped into the oral section with crutches and a bandaged ankle from a rock-climbing accident the weekend before.  How my parents allowed me rock-climbing before my boards is a mystery.  But then each generation of parents have their quirks, don't they?

We have already had our own little bit of genteel adventure here in Mussoorie in the run up to your boards.   Mummy and I decided that we would spend our annual leave time with you as you start on this 5 week set of tests, which is why I traveled up with you to Mussoorie, arriving on Monday.   To be here at Shanti Kunj in winter is something new for me - and to have you 'out of boarding' is a special treat.  You know that as parents we have been starved of your presence for the past two years...

You turned 16 the next day, the day that you were to report to school to pick up your hall-ticket for your ICSE exams.   Your dear Oma prayed you a birthday prayer at the crack of dawn.

We left bright and early, but the clouds rolled in, making the beauty of Mussoorie go monochrome.

The now trusty Eicher scooter (Black Beauty 2) brought us to Wynberg Allen well in time.  And then the hail fell.  And with the hail, snow.  Pretty soon all the ground around your school was covered with bridal-sari white.

After an hour you came back and told me that school had been cancelled.  We waited for sometime and then decided to push back as the hail and snow had stopped falling.  As we slowly drove the scooter higher, we found more snow and more slippery roads.  You wisely got off at the bottom of Mullingarh and I continued fishtailing up the hill for far longer than I should have.  Guardian angels watch over the Eicher men don't they?

We finally had to park the scooter outside Doma's restaurant and walk the last 3 kms cutting through snow with sopping wet toes and frozen fingers.  Thank God for the warmth of the Shanti Kunj bukhari!

Studying next to a wood-fired heater has its own joys - even on an unusually cold winter in Landour!  

Your preparation for these exams have been a joy for Mummy and me as we had you with us in Lalitpur for the past 2 months!  

Quick question, Enoch:  where did the years go?  Why is it that we seem light years away from your childhood in Thane?  

And who are you becoming, our wonderful son?  As I look at your examination hall ticket which we successfully got yesterday, I can see a bit of the future.  I see the subjects that you will be tested on over the next few weeks, and I can see that you can fly.  You can step into multiple different directions using the God-given talents that you have.  You are good at math, and your English is excellent.  It's only too bad that the curriculum does not have a subject on English Premier League football! 

Blessed son of ours, 

You have given us so much joy over these 16 years.  When you are in boarding school, and your name comes to mind, I inevitably break out in a grin.  

And over this last year I have noticed some new elements emerging.   A wonderful sporting spirit to start with.  You have always been fascinated  by sport, especially professional games, even  though we did not have a TV in our home.  Becoming a sports commentator was one of your earliest "serious" careers that you expressed  an interest in.  Did Mummy and I pour too much of a bucket of cold water on that idea?

Your current idea of architecture has much merit to it.  As your uncle Stefan told you the other day, applied design is an exciting way that you can do things beautifully and help lots of people too!

I love your calls from earlier last year where you told  us about competing in debate competitions at school, or in the speech contest, and the choir contest.  You talked about how much you enjoyed taking part in these competitions. You told us that you had not won first prize in such a cheerful way.  Instead of sulking, you were so positive about having been a part of the different competitions in the first place.

And you did manage to get into the soccer team at school (I still am puzzled why at your school they call it "soccer", when 99 percent of our countrymen - and women - use the worldwide standard name of "football").   Well, you told me that this evening.  Practice, practice and more practice with your friends.  Plus you ran in half-marathons.  I get tired just thinking of you and the other boarding boys getting up early for your cross-county runs every single day during the running season.  Amazing! 

When you were small, you and your sister were so competitive in board games that many of our games ended in tears.  Today those childish ways have evaporated.  Our series of 'Settlers of Catan' with Mummy over the last 2 months have shown that loud and clear: Mr. Enoch is able to some of the rough with the smooth.  That's a building block for maturity.

And when will you stop growing physically dear Enoch? 

At Shanti Kunj on your 16th birthday, next to a painting of Opa that Stefan uncle did.
Already people are asking me if you are taller than me.  Till now each time we measure I seem to be just that little bit taller, but its only a matter of time before you become the tallest Eicher in India (for some time at least (remember you have a lively cousin who will turn 14 at the end of June!).

Are there still areas of your life that need shaping, refining, moulding?  Of course.  As your father, I can see a number of places in you where God needs to do His amazing work of inner transformation and re-structuring.   As a son who has personally received much love from my parents, how much I also need to be constantly reshaped and remoulded.  Please keep us in your prayers.  As much as Mummy and I are praying for you that you will live up to your name with means 'dedicated,' we would also like you to pray to Jesus on our behalf.  I need to practice what I preach, I need to continually be cleansed from within.  You have seen how angry I have been over this past year, your Daddy wants to give all of this back to King Jesus and live the joyous life He wants from me.

And so dear son Enoch, here's to an amazing year that stretches out before you.  Grab each day and live it to the fullest.  Spend time listening each day to Jesus speaking to you.  Talk to God and make conscious decisions that express God's character in your life.  That's what dedicated means.  To be set apart for a special task.  To be set apart to be used by the Master in whatever way He wants too.

Your Mummy and Daddy are so very thankful to God for you.  We know that you will be providing life-long joy to us and to many others.

The board examinations that are now just a few hours away.  They are just one small (but of course important) step forward for you.  And you have shown that you are super capable in various different ways.  

Our prayers will be with you as you write the papers, and the prayers of the many others who love you too.... God is so good.  And one proof, is that He has made us (also a sign that God has humour).  and is making everything beautiful in His time.  

Thanks for the joy that you are to all of us,  Enoch.  We really pray this year will be a golden one for you, where you are full of joy and share this joy with so many others.

Lots of love,

Your  Daddy and Mummy

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Landour in Winter

Landour in winter. 7000 feet up in the Himalaya. Recipe for coldness to reign.

But so very often it is 'warmer' in Landour than in Delhi.

The reason is that Delhi winters are smoggy foggy afairs.  When you have cars of this magnitude you are not surprised that days go by without brother sun or sister moon being seen.

The above picture is at 11 AM - hardly rush-hour by any stretch, and yet enough vehicles to finance a small Gulf state's annual oil selling targets.

And then you add Delhi's cold concrete cake of houses where you would be lucky if any sun hit the street level, you know that you are in for a cold, miserable set of months if you live in our dear capital of a city.

But we still have to make the case that Mussoorie can be warmer in winter.  And make it pretty convincingly, since it seems a large number of folks pack up and head down to the plains when December ticks around...

The key to winter in Mussoorie is where you are on the hill... and how many clouds come in. 

If your home is in the shadow of the mountain - on the northern side, or on the top of the ridge, well then you are in for a very cold time.

And then there is the question of clouds.  If there are clouds, you know its going to be cold.  And then if you have clouds which have moisture, and they decide to hit Mussoorie, then you have a winter wonderland.  Like what happened at Landour two weeks ago (picture from Mum's window at Shanti Kunj):

It doesn't snow often in Mussoorie.  Maybe 2 or 3 times a year max.  But when it does, it makes up for the lost time.

You can hardly believe that you are still in India when the snow comes down silently and blanket everything.  Oak trees, pathways, houses, monkeys (well they go somewhere during the snow at least).

You almost expect to have one of the Pevensies wander by, or maybe haveTumnus the fawn call you to his cave for a cup of tea and a tale of the sorry state Narnia is under - always winter and never Christmas....

Yes gentle reader.  When it snows in Mussoorie, it is rather cold.  And then you have also the electricity lines going down and so no power for 2-3 days, and when it comes back it is rather intermittent.   Those who have the luxury of being able to stay indoors use their little electric heaters, or if they have, use iron bukharis heated by wood that was stored away many a moon previously.

But thankfully, this is India and not the Artic Circle.   We have a fine friend called the sun - and he shows up pretty soon.  A day - maybe two - max three.  Then our dear friend Ravi shows up and does his magic.

The monochrome world takes on the hues of green again.

And pretty soon the pristine whiteness which covered the landscape with powdered sugar, is reduced to some slushy bits that linger on for some weeks on the shadow side of the hill.    The snow-tourists have of course rushed up from Dehra Dun and points south (including those chattering away in Delhi who want to throw snow balls).  Usually by the time the tourists are here the sun has melted away the snow.

We weren't able to speak much with Mum over the previous 10 days.  We knew it was snowing in Landour because of the steady stream of pictures Mum sent over whatsapp (of which a few have been shown and the odd email giving updates.  Phones and mobile connections between Landour and Lalitpur are spotty at best - and in the time of our mini-blizzard in Mussoorie are operationally nil. 

So yesterday when I was in Delhi, and I read in the paper that more snow is expected next week, I really did not know what to expect.   Especially as Delhi lived up to its reputation of a dismal cold grey city in winter (the bright orange of the Kinu oranges on sale by the roadside being almost the only splashes of colour).  Asha was due in boarding school to start her final board examinations for her 12th class on Wednesday.  Would we be stamping our feet in the snow?

We need not have worried.  As the rusty (and not very trusty) Ambassador taxi trundled up the winding roads to Landour, Asha and I were greeted with this sunburst of a welcome at 8 AM on a sunny winter morning. 

When we arrived at Sisters Bazaar, we stepped out into the crispness and exhilaration of the eternal snows wearing a lovely new layer of whiteness. The twin peaks of the magnificent 'Bandarpunch' stood out in their glory, welcoming us back to Landour arrayed in early morning white.

As we walk down to Shanti Kunj there is narry a drib or drab of snow to be seen (on this sunny-side of the hill of course).  Instead, our eyes are fed with plenty of green, with the sun illuminating the world as if it were just born.

The breakfast table is already basically laid - with food for the body and spirit laid out and waiting for us to finish our hugs and get down to working on our vittles.

Ahem, did I mention something about this sun?   As this morning wore on, we were blessed with the radiant orb giving us a good dose of vitamin D.

Net result of all this solar brilliance?  So much joy to the soul to see so much beauty all around.  And though we were not walking around in shorts, it certainly was very unwintry.

After the haze of Delhi, to see the unreally cerulean blue of the Mussoorie sky just takes your breath away.  You feel close to space.  The air is thinner and the sky a darker share of blue than we see in the plains.

So there we have it.  A few days after everything was white, it almost looks like summer in the hills.

We are of course still bundled up in layers.  This is Mussoorie, and we are still in winter.  But Landour in the cold season clearly has its charms.

After dropping off Asha at her sparkling new dormitory at Wynberg Allen School - it was time to savour the remains of the day. The golden wash of sun from the East is always a treat.

And what a better way to end a Landour winter day than a still clear Himalayan snow vista - with our dear Mum very much in the foreground.

Winter in Landour can certainly be more than gloomy chill.  Thanks to the sun (and being on the sunny side of ye olde Pahar) it can be a joy.   I wish I didn't have to go back down to Lalitpur tomorrow night!

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Signs o' the times

And now for something slightly a bit lighter...

Some of the signs that I saw over the past few months of travel (mainly between Lalitpur and Delhi with a dash of Mussoorie and Mumbai thrown in). 

We start at the public facilities at Lalitpur Railway station.  I had passed them many times, but recently looked up and there was the old urdu-style word for women still in use: "Zenana" (the men's side used "Mard").  The lady in the accompanying plaque helpfully points in the direction of the ladies loo.  Her facial expression seems to indicate that she may be unhappily waiting in line.

We move next to the bright lights and big city of Mumbai - and that too the the posh n plush suburb of Powai.  At the heart of the Hiranandani mini-city is a shopping complex.  We had gone shopping and I had misplaced my wallet (it was later found safely at home).  Thinking that I may have dropped it, I was retracing my steps when I looked up and saw the following shops cheek-by-jowl.

It seems most likely that a family that was running a successful electronics shop had some kind of a fight, and one faction decided to open up a competing establishment right next to the original.  Or perhaps the first shop with spilt in two - like an amoeba multiplying?

If you want to be successful, you have no further to go than your local coaching centre.  This gem was seen on an early morning walk in Okhla, New Delhi.

I for one do not want to have a failed life!

The idea seems to be that my inherent talent is likely to be stifled and snubbed because I don't know the 'trick' that will unlock the gates of success.  Clearly our friends Vital Math are willing to help you (for a sum of course).

Help is also present in an ancient form of medicine.

In India we still have a form of healing with the gospel writing Dr. Luke most probably practised two millenia ago.  We are talking about Yunani (or Unani) medicine.  Yunani is Hindusthani for Greek.  Dr. Luke was culturally Greek and probably practised a form of medicine similar to what writers such as Galen summarised.  The collapse of the Roman empire meant that most Greek medicine was lost to the western world, but the Islamic writers translated the Greeks into Arabic and it spread East with Islam.

And so though I don't know Urdu, the helpful English phrases helped give me a quick insight into what this Yunani practitioner is staking his (her?) credibilty on.   The poster was stuck on one of the pillars upholding the metro railway near Sukhdev Vihar in Okhla.

I am not sure what "Regimenal Therapy" is (perhaps Regimental Therapy), but the pictures of 'cupping' show that blood-letting is still in vogue in some parts of our country - even in the capital it seems.

The steam bath looks interesting, but what really caught my attention was the advertisement of leeches.  We know that doctors are sometimes called 'leeches' - more often than not by disgruntled patients who have had to shell out a pretty penny for their therapy.  But to see that we still have practitioners putting leeches on people to drain off excess blood is fascinating.

My final sign is one of my favourites.  Just outside Mum's home in Landour.  A sign that rest lies just ahead. 

Friday, 25 January 2019

Two lost boys

At our Bible study tonight, which was held Rajesh and Anita's home, we heard two stories of lost sons.  One has ended happily, the other is still open.

The stories came out before we actually got into the actual study - which was on "blessed are the peace-makers, for they will be called the children of God"  (Mat. 5.9).   We were sharing things that we wanted prayer for.  There were the usual prayer requests for mothers who were sick, work related challenges, family members whose hearts need softening to the Lord.

And then Lukash and Neeta shared their stories.

They had gone yesterday to meet Laxmi, one of our support staff at the HBM Hospital who tragically lost her husband three months ago in a road accident.  When they got to the home, however, the place was abuzz about what had happened to a neighbour of Laxmi.

Some six years ago, their young son had disappeared.  He was mentally a bit challenged, and the neighbours looked high and low for him.  No trace.  He was gone.  As the years have crawled by, they gave up hope and considered him dead.  We will call him Sachin.

Last week Sachin returned.

Sachin had somehow ended up in Mumbai.  And at some railway station, someone had brought him to a place of safety, where the boy had been cared for.  Being mentally unstable, Sachin had not been able to tell where he was from, till just recently.  When his caregivers found out that Sachin was from Lalitpur, they brought him here, and found his amazed parents.

"The people were Christians" said Laxmi.  Sachin's family are just thrilled that he is back.  They are so touched that there were people looking after their son. "How could they look after someone who is not their own family" was how Laxmi reflected what Sachin's parents had said.

Lukash and Neeta plan to visit Sachin's family to find out more about what happened.  I have my guess about who it might be - having been blessed by some amazing people in Mumbai.   SEAL Ashram would be my first bet.  Pastor KM Philip and his team have rescued so many destitute people over the years.  Some have died in their ashram, surrounded by love in their last days.  Others have survived, many of whom are mentally disturbed and disoriented.  And then, amazingly, some start to remember where they are from.  The SEAL team then takes them home and reunites them with their families...

The picture below is by the wonderful Indian artist Frank Wesley.  It's called the "Forgiving Father" and is of course a picture of the Father welcoming back his vagrant son.  When I heard of Sachin coming home, this picture came to mind.  The joy of the father reunited with his boy, no matter what had happened.  The son is home.

The other story was also told by Lukash.  This is fresh and still in process...

Our HBM Hospital Community Health and Development Programme (CHDP) organised a meeting between our village committee leaders and government officials today.   One of our stars is a lady we will call Latha. 

Latha is part of a Self-Help Group which with the help of the CHDP has started a store in their village which sells bangles and other petty items.  The store has done so well that the members have gone further and further afield to get the materials.  Amazingly, Latha has now started to go to Delhi to pick up whole-sale items to stock the shop.

Recently she was at the Delhi railway station and was talking to someone when a young man came up to her.  Did he overhear her say she was from Lalitpur, he asked.  Yes, she replied.  Then he told her his story.

We will call him Manoj.  Manoj can't remember exactly where he is from, but he knows it was Lalitpur.  He had been separated from his parents some years ago and found himself on a train that ended up in Varanasi.  There Manoj saw some terrible things and in great fear somehow got onto another train that brought him to Delhi.  From what Manoj told Latha, it seems that he was taken in by a gang of professional beggars, and their conversation ended when a man came up and asked roughly who he was talking to and what he had told her.   Latha sensed that Manoj was not fully in his right mind.

Latha has written down the names of  whose first names Manoj told her about.  He thought that his father was a rickshaw puller.  And now to the real exciting part.  Manoj gave Latha a photo of himself.  A photo of himself as a little boy.  He asked her to try and find his parents.

We are going to see if we can also be used to reunite Manoj with his family.  We already prayed for him tonight, along with thanking God for bringing Sachin home.  Since we just found out about Manoj today, the next step is to get a full written statement from Latha about her conversation with Manoj.  We will probably reach out to the Child Welfare Committee and the police.  If we don't find a likely match with their missing children reports, we may put up the story to the press.

Of course we have to verify and link up with Manoj too.  Is this just a wild story, or is it the terrible reality that so many broken lives testify to in our vast urban wildernesses.  Manoj seems to be another story of a young man who is mentally unstable, but very precious. 

Our prayers on this cold night are centered around a young man in the biting cold of a Delhi night... and for whoever and wherever his relatives are in and around Lalitpur.  May they be reunited.  And may the happy news spill out all over the neighbourhood, with people marvelling at how Manoj has returned against all hope to his family.

The story of the two lost boys is not over yet.  Sachin is home: Praise the Lord for His grace.  We hope that for Manoj his part of the story will end, and continue, in joy.

Thursday, 24 January 2019


Asha is 18.

Her grandmother is 81.

As of today, the world has turned 6582 times on its axis since she was born at a mission hospital in the village of Tumbagara in the Palamu district of Jharkhand.  It has done 18 big long loops around the sun since that cold foggy morning of the 16th of Jan 2001.

In the eyes of the law - Asha is now an adult.  She can vote.  Can drive.  Can enrol in the armed forces. Can work.  Can marry.

Deep breath time for her Dad!

The birthday cake this year was a simple one.

As with much in life, I wish it could have been much more (memories of birthdays-past come to mind).  But it was made in the very nick of time, and I am learning to accept the minor messiness which so often underlines our days.

More important than cake is our amazing daughter.

This is a year in which she will fly.

Asha is currently with us here in Lalitpur, burning the midnight oil preparing for her 12th standard board exams.  I will (D.v. of course) take her back up to Mussoorie in 10 days from now.  Then she has a month of exams and in mid-March her schooling is over!

After her exams, we are hoping that Asha will do some travelling.  We would love her to visit Thailand or South Africa - both places where we have dear friends.  But at present the focus is squarely on her studies.

Later in the year... do we dare say the word "college?"

Asha has applied for higher studies 'up beyond the village border' and she has been accepted.  There is only the small matter of how much financial aid she will be getting.  We will have to see - and are praying.  At the same time, we are also very willing for her to study in our dear country.  There is the small matter of what course to take - and the lakhs of folks who will be vying for the same admission seats, but our Father can take care of all of that!

In the meantime, Sheba and I are delighted to have Asha around with us for such a lovely chunk of time.  It is such a luxury to come home for lunch each day and find her and Enoch studying away.  So lovely to see them head off for their daily football knock-about.  Such a pleasure to have family prayers at night with songs sung by the four of us (and assorted instruments too).

After these last 3 years of boarding school and with a quite plausible largish chunk of 'awayness' looming ahead, we covet every morsel of time we have together.

So here is to our amazing daughter.

Our arrow, about to whizz off into the gloaming
Sharp as a tack, yet gentle and kind
Quiet, you blossom with those you trust
Dear sprite, elusive minstrel 
Deep music calls, 
New doors await your hands  
As the inner you, so lovely 
Is being shaped by our Lord

Picture credit: Enoch Eicher

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Deutschland Diaries: Die Bahn and other things railway

The train I am on is trundling into Agra station.  It's a cold January night and I have two blanket covered forms sleeping on the floor next to me as I type away. Perfect time to pick up a blog post from our Germany trip a year ago (I started it by uploading photos but never finished it)...

And so we fly back in time to January 2018 when the Lalitpur Eichers and their Oma went on a 1 month exploration of Germany.

During the amazing Deutschlandreise, the Eicher clan clocked in 2300 kms of German roads (including some serious autobahn coverage) in the reliable Black-Beauty of a VW Sharan which we were so kindly loaned for the trip.

But we also did a bit of train travel as well.

We started off with a bang... or maybe better put, a whizz of high speed.  Our dear friends in Frankfurt Barry and Steffi Hawthorne arranged for us to get a rail connection directly from Frankfurt airport.  And so early on a winter morning in Germany, we got into a sleek superfast ICE (intercity express) which can go upto 250 kms per hour.  That's just a little faster than the Nizammudin-Jabalpur express that I am currently on, click-clacking through the night between Agra and Gwalior!

The ICE train left us at the industrial city of Mannheim, where we were to taken an S-bahn - the regional train that wound along the Neckar river to the small town of Mosbach where our black-beauty was waiting for us.

Our first sunrise in Germany was at Mannheim station.

We had a small misunderstanding as the connecting S-bahn that we were to take was changed that day.  I walked up and down the platform and enquired in my rusty German about what had happened.  A helpful man told me that he too had 'missed' the other train and was going to go on the next S-bahn train.  It turns out that he was the ticket-collector and later he came and duly punched our tickets!

Staring out of the window at the winter landscape, we could not help noticing that every village or town we passed had the steeple of a church poking up prominently, and not a few had a fort or castle of some sort reared up above the town.

The S-Bahn is bright red like this train which we saw near ********** (photo taken from the car).

Yes the train was spotless (pretty much as expected).

And so, just a few hours after flying into Frankfurt, the Eichers were deep in the South German countryside, drinking coffee with our hosts at the OM base in Mosbach, marvelling that we were in a different world.

Germans love trains. 

Besides the swift sleek expresses, whispering across the countryside, there are many trains that are found at smaller scales.

The names "Marklin" and "Franklin" are well known to German hobbyists as they are the two main companies making model railways.

Here is the model railroad of Bernd, one of our relatives in Stuttgart.

We saw this amazing setup in his study.  A labour of love with hours of work going into detailing every small aspect of a scene.  The turn-table revolves, allowing locomotives of various vintages to move into their sheds.  Tiny figures are seen in this miniature world.  All is controlled from outside, with engines coming and going based on the servo commands given.

The hallway of his home has display cases showing racks of miniature trains - engines of different eras and countries, passenger and goods carriages.   Other cases show hundreds of small cars, in the same scale as the railways.  Calendars and books show where our rail enthusiast relative had gone on his precious vacations over the years...

Here is an antique steam engine and carriage which has been turned into a restaurant.  It is in the town of Geyer, deep in the Erzgebirge region of Saxony where my grandfather Willi Fischer hails from.

The restaurant is near a club where hobbyists from the area have converted an old station into a magical world of miniature railways...

The main display was an amazing miniature world of painstakingly detailed scenery, complete with towns and villages, linked by train tracks on which the model trains whizzed around.

Do you ever want to feel like a Gulliver?  Then make your way to your local model train club in Germany and feel what it means to be a giant!

After peering down at a church - complete with a tiny wedding party going into it - you might like to take in a working landscape, where a hill is being quarried out and a hard-working mountain railway is taking the ore down to an industrial town where the main express and goods lines pass by.

Tiny houses, roads with cars and lorries on them, meadows with tiny cows and people having picnics...  the attention to detail is astounding and must have taken the club members months of work to put together.

And of course, the main attractions are the trains themselves.   They whiz around traversing their varied landscapes, coming out of tunnels, climbing up inclines, all controlled from the centre of the their little world - by volunteers from the railway club who take turns to be the controller of this miniature planet.

And that control also extends to turning day into night!

Every 10 minutes or so, the lights go down in the hall, and a myriad lights start to shine in the tiny houses, streetlights, stations...  the trains whiz through the night scenes

You feel like you are in an airplane, coming into land and seeing a well-lit city open up under you.  complete with spacious well-lit stations...  And then you see a Gulliver looming over the scene in the background!

When you leave the railroad club, you are invited to have a snack at their own restaurant which is decorated with various historic railway memorabilia.  You can't help thinking that some of our stations here in India are living museums - and that what is put up for display at the club is still being used day in and day out!

For kids there is (of course) a large railroad set to play with!

Speaking of stations - our next main use of the die Bahn was towards the end of our stay when we spent 5 days taking in Berlin.

We saw a lot of stations there - some quite grand like at Berlin Alexanderplatz which is smack bang in the very centre of the grand city that Berlin is.

Our multiple rail trips in Berlin were a conscious choice.  Since there was so much to see, we decided against driving around unfamiliar streets and constantly having to use the 'Navi' to get us to where we wanted (and then trying to park our largish brute of a Black-Beauty). Instead we took day-tickets that allowed us to use local trains, underground trains and buses all over the city!

Needless to say we could see a lot from the comfort of the trains - and helpful guide maps such as on this "Berlin Bear" (the symbol of the city) showed us where to go and which connections to make.

I forget who the life-size Playmobile statue is representing - maybe a worker for the Berlin Underground?

The stations themselves were worth seeing - with many of them brilliantly decorated.  Here is one of the underground stations we passed through.  I think it was when we had to go to the Indian Embassy to sort out an OCI related issue for Mum.

My train has brought me to Gwalior station.  It's 10.28 PM and the automated announcement system is telling endlessly which train has just arrived (in this case our 22128 Nizammudin-Jabalpur Express).  A man is shouting 'cutlet, cutlet, cutlet' to get customers.  I am about to step over sleeping bodies to get a cup of tea before the train trundles me off to Lalitpur where I am due to arrive at 1.10 AM.

Die Bahn seems a world away now, but our dear Indian railways is a distant cousin nonetheless!

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

3 Funerals

I started 2019 standing on a pile of freshly excavated dirt.  Men and women standing in somber concentric circles around the open door in the ground. The coffin ready to be lowered.  The grieving family members holding each other and being supported by relatives and friends and neighbours.

Neele Aasman ke par jayenge, mera Yeshu rehta wahan...  the combined voices of the gathered crowd soared into the foggy sky on a cold Lalitpur morning.  "I will go above the blue skies - where my Jesus lives"...  I had the privilege of being asked to pray near the end of the short service at the graveside.   Shortly afterwards the coffin carrying Mr. R.A. Paul, a local Christian leader whose funeral we were gathered for, was let down in to the welcoming earth.  "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust" said the presiding minister.  "We commit this body into the care of the Lord till the resurrection" he concluded, taking up a fist full of earth and throwing it on the coffin 5 feet down. 

We took our handfulls and added more dirt to cover the coffin.  Then young men took shovels and filled up the grave.  Closing the chapter of this man's life, ending a portion of his family's journey.

A few days earlier, Mr. Paul had been celebrating Christmas with his family.  Just before New Year's a young man on a rashly driven motorcycle knocked him down.  Mr. Paul suffered a brain haemorrhage.  He was rushed to hospital in Jhansi, and then taken to Gwalior for surgery.  But he did not survive.  We buried him on the first Saturday of the new year, with 2019 only 5 days old.

Even a the funeral, I couldn't help replaying in my mind the hopeless wails of the women at a village funeral that I attended 8 months earlier.  Couldn't help heart still echo with the terrible cries of one of our young support staff members who suddenly lost her husband in a traffic accident 2 months ago. This funeral in the cold of winter was one where through the tears there shone hope.  Everyone was sad.  People were standing in solidarity to the family and comforting the immediate members.  There was real sorrow.  But the words of Scripture rung through: "the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised, and we shall be changed."


A few days earlier we heard that our dear Dr. Symon (Cy) Satow had been called home to his beloved Jesus - 90 years after he was born in 1928.   

It was my deep privilege to be welcomed into the Satow family during my first year of boarding school.  As a shy 11th grader, this family was a life-line to me.  Their love for me continued through my college years in the US and beyond.

The beautiful smile that so often creased Dr. Satow's face remains etched in my memory (I could just never called him by his first name).  How I wish I had the privilege of working with him.  But at least I got a bit of it vicariously, being thrilled to hear him share some of his experiences as a missionary doctor on lazy Saturday mornings with mugs of tea in hand.  

Dr. Satow's gentle, irenic conversation, his deep wisdom and love for people, the joy he had in his children and colleagues shine bright as the memories of him and the sparky Mrs. Satow bubble up.  

I have a small pet theory:  everyone needs a second set of parents. 

The wonderful parents that God gave as our own flesh-and-blood-ones are such a blessing.  But we also need to drink deep of the air of another family too.  To see a different world, to plunge into other depths.   Such were the Satows to me.  A fresh faith of a different flavour to my childhood one.  A world of medical service which we had not experienced (other than using 'Where there is no doctor' for our own home-treatments).  New lands of what conversations can be.  The Satows introduced me to a bracing sabre-fight of repartee around the table quite different from what could be rather staid (though full of love) conversations that we had growing up as Eichers.  The gentle one-on-one conversatoins with Dr. Satow and Mrs. Satow also probed my sometimes brash statements of faith (many of which were actually just parroted from what I heard growing up - not having been discovered myself).  And of course I drunk in the many stories that flowed from a life-time of service in rural India that the Satows were living out.

And so when on the last day of 2018, I got the first news of Dr. Satow's death the day before, I felt a small sharp twisted knot of pain somewhere ''within" me.  My eyes misted and I took a deep sigh and just thanked the Lord.  If there ever was a "life well lived" is it is Dr. Satow's.  A proof of the divine, this side of eternity.  "Well done, good and faithful servant." 

Truly his children - both his biological and spiritual legacy will rise and call him blessed.  A life lived with no regrets.  I was not able to be at Dr. Satow's funeral - but I will see him at the resurrection!

Dr. Satow and Mrs. Satow and their children and grandchildren at the 90th Birthday celebrations in the summer of 2018.


A third funeral, this time direct flesh-and-blood. 

Ten years ago we went to Sheba's mother's ancestral village of Lankalakoderu  in West Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh.  The patriach of our family was her brother David - or "David Mama" as we called him.  He was the last surviving brother of Amma, as her other two brothers had already died earlier.

And then Amma  unexpectedly died in October 2017.  We never dreamed she would be called home on the day she was.  But God our good Father had prepared her over the previous year - and knew when to call her peacefully to Himself.  Her death was unexpected to us, but her life had not been 'cut-short' - she lived a full 70 years and then was called home.

Ourselves a decade ago - just after Christmas 2008. 
David Mama is second from left in front.   Sheba's parents are to his left. 

On New Year's Day 2019 we got the news that Uncle David had died the night before.   

He had been worshipping with others in the local Hebron assembly in the village.  As is the practice, everyone in the congregation took turns to pray aloud during the 'Watch-Night Service' - the last worship time of the year.   

David Mama also worshipped aloud, thanking God for 2018 and praising Him for who He is.  And then we had a massive heart attack.  David Mama didn't live to see 2019 in this body.

How much we wish we could see David Mama again.  We know 'that day' will come - and sometimes wish it would hurry up, other times we want the present future to stretch out of a loooong time more...

I deeply appreciate David Mama's deep love for so many.  You could see it from his honest smiling face.  Having lived in North India David Mama could speak Hindi.  This was good for us, as were able to communicate with each other since sadly I do not know any Telegu.  I remember our times together fondly - even though they were too few and far between.   Sheba told me that David Mama had talked about coming to visit us here in Lalitpur.  His prayers back in the ancestral village were directed to this part of the country too. 

The sudden calling home of David Mama while attending the Watchnight service was a real shock.  But again, once the initial bit of sad surprise wore off, I just had to thank the Lord Jesus for His faithful goodness to us in the person of David Mama.

As with Dr. Satow, we were not able to be "present" at David Mama's funeral in the village.  And though that saddens us and makes us wish we could just soar like swans and be in so many more places at once.  But we have Jesus.  He is able to help us through all our sufferings.  A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

It has been our consistent experience to experience hope in Jesus in these times of sorrow.  A funeral does not mean a defeat, does not mean shrinking back from God.   But it does mean that who have run their race for him will not be put to shame.


3 funerals.  One attended by me in the spirit and flesh, 2 others only in spirit.  But in each one there were clear sparks of joy mingled with the tears.  Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning!