Sunday, 7 February 2016

Mumbai Darshan (again)

“We must make a list of things to do before we leave Mumbai” said Sheba to me as we were out for a walk yesterday afternoon, “things that we can only see here, or places we haven’t gone yet.”

“I don’t really think there are many places that I really ‘want to see’ at this point” I replied.  “I would rather we make sure we spend some time with key people from our time here” and then we made a mental list of folks that we ‘must meet’ before we shift to Lalitpur in April (if God wills and sends the miracle of Yohan’s adoption papers).

Later in the evening, Enoch mentioned that he wanted to go to the aquarium.  A school friend of his had been there and spoke highly of it – and said there were piranha fish there.  I broached it with Sheba and she broadened the trip to take in the current wide-screen science film at the Nehru Science centre.  Quick check on the internet: yes, both places open on Saturday.  Google maps:  not too hard to get to.  Saturday so kids are not in school – parents are around (including yours truly freshly arrived from Lalitpur).  Picnic lunch?  Why not up on Malabar hill!  I scooted off to D-mart to get supplies and was back in time for supper at 9 PM and prayers afterwards.  Another Mumbai Darshan was been started.

As they say in German: gesagt, getan!

This morning broke bright and slightly foggy.  We bundled into our beloved Papaya and were soon zipping down to Mumbai town.  The first bit of the ride was mundane for Asha and Enoch – they drive it every day as it is part of their way to school – but we had good company with Sheba reading out to all of us from “Charlotte’s Web” – a book that Yohan can understand too.   And so we were transported from the stench of Mumbai’s large landfill to the pleasant farm smells of a rural US set in the middle of the last century.  Books have the power to take you places don’t they?

The book was put away as we came up to the beauty of the Worli Sea-link Bridge.  A huge suspension bridge that sends us shuttling over the waters.  On a clear day you get a broad sweep of the Mumbai skyline in the back ground, with the tiny Mahim fort jutting out on a peninsula in the foreground (surrounded by – what else – the standard Mumbai shanty-town of course).  This morning wasn’t clear – so we saw the dim shades of skyscrapers through the haze – and the Mahim fort looking underwhelming – a dark shape riding on a small hill of slum.

But the sheer beauty of the massive cables holding up the bride, cream yellow, curving up and swishing symmetrically by as we drive through the middle of the road, a dream of lines. 
It’s a pity there are so many reminders that ‘photography is forbidden.’  Whatever ‘secrets’ there may ben have long evaporated in an age of google maps, but here once again the latent influence of the Indian state (and the baggage for ‘secrecy’ from our erstwhile colonial masters) continues to linger on.  Maybe it was good that we were not able to snap the shots.  The images are probably crisper in my headl.

Soon we are pulling into the worli sea face and I see a statue of the cartoonist R.K. Laxman’s ‘the common man.’  “Who is that?” the kids ask and I give a quick recap of reading the Bombay edition of the Times of India religiously every morning and looking first for a political cartoon by Laxman (usually on the front page) and then down at the small daily ‘As you Like it’ panel which he drew every day – and which usually had ‘the common man’ which his glasses and dhoti and lower-middle class scruffiness silently observing the lives of those around him.

As we come to the beginning of Peddar Road I make a quick decision – how about seeing if we can visit the Deutsche Schule Bombay?  The family says yes and we are scooting through early-morning Breach Candy (since when did everything become so small) and soon are outside Lincoln House which was the old US Consulate building – bought from a maharaja for a princely sum just after independence.  The good consular folks have long since moved to a spanking-new purpose-built place in Bandra-Kurla complex and they recently sold Lincoln House for an absolutely obscene amount to one of the maharajas of today - the jet-set that continues to rule the roost in our dear nation of India.

Our days were more innocent.  Of sorts of course.  To get to the school you have to enter the gate of a housing complex and walk along its side till you come to the two-story building that houses the Deutsche Schule.   In my day some enterprising chaps had actually got up to the top of this building and thrown some kind of a bomb into the US consulate.  No one was injured: this was decades ago,  well before the now sadly normal levels of lethal attack that the terror brotherhoods (and sister-sets) have sadly scaled up to.

But for us the task was more pleasant.  We were standing before the entrance of the school – now heavily guarded with a revolving gate opened by security cards, multiple CCTV cameras and a guard on duty.   We explained that I was an old student and requested a quick look-around.  It was a holiday and later in the day a parents carnival was being readied for, but the person on duty graciously allowed us a quick peek in.

Wow, does the place ever look attractive.  Every inch of space is covered with beautiful drawings, words, thoughts.  The building is now only used for preschool and classes 1-4, other students are in a separate building.  In our days the whole school - kindergarten to class 10 – were only 75 strong, with the largest number in kindergarten!  My class 10 graduating class of 1985 was a ‘big class’ with 7 students.  The class bellow us had 4.   All of our courses were taught with two classes together.  In half the subjects  you were a year ahead of your normal curriculum – and in half the lower class who was with you were a year ahead of theirs.   An amazing school with wonderful teachers.
We left after our quick tour of a place bursting with colour and learning (and a lovely library) with Enoch telling me “I wish I was studying here.  You can drop me off.”

But the aquarium beckoned and so we were soon tootling along up the hill to Kemps corner, covering the distance that Stefan and I used to ride our bicycles (or take the local busses) while Mum did her prayer cover thing sending us off and waiting for our return.

Our Papaya took us to the aquarium and we joined a dense line of tiny-tots  (and their continuous high decibels of chatter) from at least 2 local schools in a room lined with fish-tanks and many kinds of finny friends.

The place has been renovated as is better than before, but again the gap between this dear aquarium and a truly world class one is still large.  The fish looked faded and jaded.  The displays were spotty.  The tanks turbid.  So much more can be done, but we are mired in murk it seems.  Excellence in public seems to have gone a.w.o.l.  for many a year.

At the same time, the sheer beauty of creation can just not be dismissed.  How amazing to see colour and form in so many ways.  How much of the marine world is deeply hidden from sight, with only the eye of the Maker to behold and enjoy it?  

There was a piranha, but he seemed a bit out of sorts.  His teeth looked like they were ground down – but maybe he had not been brushing well?  I wished we could watch at feeding time…

Back outside we were peckish and so decided to drive up Malabar hill to the Kamala Nehru park.   It was the first time for me to drive there and so I found myself following the vaguely-familiar roads of youth with new eyes.   We got to the top and found an empty bench right next to the iconic boot house that generations of kids have trooped up into.  The sign said entry was for 12 years and below – but that did not stop many an older soul from popping out at the top.

We had our cheese-n-veggie sandwiches and multinational kala-paani and watched the tourists go by.  One group of 3 Japanese (?) men had a young Indian guide speaking to them in their mother tongue. 

Sandwiches done, Yohan went up the boot and showed up at the top (like I did many a time in my growing up years)

A quick look out from the viewing deck showed that the Marine Drive can still be seen from there (and family photos taken too!).  

We then explored the rest of the park and found swings and climbing things.  A lot better than when I was growing up.  There was even a fenced off special park which we figured out would be opened for children in wheel-chairs so that they could also o on swings and use jungle-gym kind of bars.

Since we were on top of the hill I couldn’t resist a quick peek at two other areas of childhood.  My first school – the infant section of the Cathedral and John Connon School still stands.  The futuristic architecture has been wonderfully painted with cheery frogs and other welcoming words on the front. 

Next to it is the All Saints Church where I occasionally attended and where the German School children had their confirmation service.    I thought we might be allowed into the compound – and was pleasantly surprised when the caretaker allowed us into the church itself.

We not only looked at the beautiful little church, but had some quiet time of individual prayer in that beautiful peaceful congregational hall, with the gleaming brass plaques commemorating the departed gleaming the words of sorrow and celebration of lives well lived.

Walking back to the Papaya we finally got through on our mobile to the Nehru Science centre.  When was the English show of “Adrenaline Rush: the Science of Risk” which was being shown on the big screen projection?  1 PM.  A glance at our time: 12.40.   We have 20 mins to get to Worli.   Into the Papaya we bundle and off we go.   We are in our seats at 1.08 PM.

The film is a blast.  A total thrill.  We fall out of planes with sky divers, fly with wing-suits, recreate Leonardo Da Vinci’s design of a parachute, and then go base-jumping with people who live on adrenallne.   The camera takes us on these “base jumps”  including a 4000 foot jump off a cliff over a Norweigian Fyord.   The images are lyrical, balletic, hypnotic – and all so mouth-stoppingly crazy.   We emerge jubilant.  I still have the pictures looping through my head, and will do so for some time hence.

We have had a smashing time, and as our Papaya wends her way through traffic we pass the Worli Sea face and our iconic ‘common man’ statue.  We stop to pay him a visit!

Then back over the beautiful Worli Sea-link (alas again –no photos allowed) and up the long high-way back to Thane.  Most of the car is now dozing beautifully when we slip into town and arrive alive at home – 7 action packed hours since we left!

We got back home and got spaghetti and sauce and garlic bread for the evenings guests.  Our Indonesian friend Alva and our old colleagues Emmanuel and Mokshaa who we have not seen for a long time!  It was great to be together and fellowship and sing! Alva is stopping through on the way back from the Comprehensive Rural Health Project in Jamkhed,  

It's been a wonderful day.  One that will linger on for a long time to come.  Thank you Jesus for giving us your strength and your long-suffering to carry on!

A final pic of our common friend seated at Workkus :

Friday, 5 February 2016

Please pray for Mahesh

Our life seems hospital centered - at least for the near future!

After lunch I stopped in at the Bethany Hospital today to see how our amazing successor as leader of Jeevan Sahara Kendra - Jolly Phillips - was doing.  Turns out he is doing great.  Its his first full week on the job and he and the staff just finished their monthly review meeting - so it was wonderful to see all the lovely smiles of our old friends!

One of them was Mahesh Kamble, who along with his wife Bhavani are looking for a new place to rent.  We had a short chat before I had to head off to try and meet Dr. Stephen to schedule Dad's next appointment and a possible hernia operation.  I waited outside Stephen's clinic for some time - but there were plenty of patients so I had to push off since it was time for me to do my turn of the car-pool and pick up Asha and Enoch and their 2 friends from school at 3 PM.

Just before 6 PM I got a call from Jolly.

Mahesh has been admitted at Bethany Hospital.   I was in the car (our beloved and slightly battered 'Papaya'... ahem - we interrupt this blog to note that Asha has corrected me to say that there are 'huge dents in the side') with Enoch having just done an errand.  I dropped off Enoch outside our complex headed back to the hospital to meet Jolly who was also driving to the hospital.

While waiting for Jolly, Dr. Stephen walked up.  He says that the patient load at Bethany continues to rise and that he now starts working at 6 AM on many days.  The challenges of success.   Jolly joined us as we were talking.  He had been trying to meet Stephen for a week!  Life in the fast lane.

We went up to see Mahesh.

He is not only admitted in the hospital - but into the ICU.  It seems that he has had a mild heart attack.

At 34 years of age.   1 year into his marriage.   2 years into his work at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.  A quiet pocket of dynamite of a man.  A deep convictions.  Sacrificial living.  A faith in his sweet Lord Jesus that galvanizes all that he does.

Now he is the the ICU.  We understand that he is not in serious danger, but that the doctors want to monitor him.  Its hard to have a heart attack before you are 35. 

Mahesh's life has taken a totally different turn today.  Will you please uphold him in prayer.  Pray for his wife Bhavani who is spending the night with friends.

As a family during our evening prayers we sang a simple but powerful reminder of whom we serve:

Ah Lord God, thou hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power
Ah Lord God, thou hast made the heavens and the earth by thine out-streched hand
Nothing is too difficult for thee (no, no, no), nothing is too difficult for thee
Great and mighty God, great in counsel and mighty in power,
Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing, nothing is too difficult for thee.

Thanks for praying for Mahesh and Bhavani.


Post-script:  Saturday 6th Feb. 2016

Mahesh has been discharged.  The ECG showed that something was wrong with his heart and so he was admitted for observation and treatment.  The other tests, however, such as 2D Echo etc. did not find further problems, so Mahesh was discharged from Bethany hospital this afternoon.  Thank you Lord!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Heading back to Thane

I am going back to Thane.  Literally.  As I tap these words, I am seated in the chair car of the ‘Garib Rath’ train (thank you Lalu Prasad Yadav).  The engine, some 15 odd carriages ahead of me, is pulling us valiantly along the tracks towards Mumbai.  My seat – and those of my passengers around me – is facing backwards so I can see lttle glimpses of green fields outsider our window as the two seat-mates on my right and left tap into their smartphones.

We were taken through the nitty gritty of writing up our proposals.  Putting out the basic issues that we want to address.  Figuring out the most important way we would like to address this.  Working on what outcomes will be most likely to see the big dream achieved.  Going through the careful business of placing specific tasks to see us complete the objectives.  Looking at what risks are there, finding out about the other stake holders, looking to see what each activity will cost….

The three days are now behind us – and I am very grateful to have been given a shot to get back into the swing of things with my colleagues.

The participants were a varied bunch – from urban livelihood programmes in Agra and Delhi, to interventions that work on mental health and children at risk, to rural livelihood and landscape management programmes like our work at the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital CHDP and a similar programme in the Kishangarh area of Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh.

At the centre of things were our facilitators – our three deputy directors for the Community Health and Development programmes of EHA.   Robert is an old friend – and still bears his gentle boyish face though he now has white hair (at least he has some – my follicles have deserted me long ago).  Dr. Jubin is in charge of the mental health programmes of EHA.  Somesh has a mind as sharp as a tack – and many years of broad experience in community change to boot.   For most of the time Dr. Ashok Chacko was also with us – my first boss at EHA and currently serving as the leader of the EHA community health and development programmes.  He is now a grand-dad and his goatee makes him look very much like a Catholic Priest – something that he is regularly taken for.

Somesh leading a session of the Proposal Writing workshop at Navinta
One of the basic concepts that was brought before us was the idea of a “Theory of change.”  How do we expect change to happen?  What precise sequence of events need to take place?  What are the conditions that need to be fulfilled at each step? 

At first I thought we were in for a colossal waste of time.  We are practitioners.  Surely we know what is wrong with the world, and how to set it right.  But then I realized that they were not looking for an overarching theory of everything.  The task is to strip down our work to a set of clear steps that we are committed to, that we are passionate about, and that we believe work.  If it doesn’t, well, then its back to the drawing board.

For example to set up a programme to help reduce child trafficking in northern Bihar, we talked through the following steps.  We will need to train the project staff in the nitty gritty of the juvenile justice act and the needs of children at risk.  If the staff have adequate knowledge of these issues, then we can survey villages that are especially vulnerable to the issues.  If they choose the settings well (families who are landless, families from the dalit communities, families living in places prone to flood) then they can approach the local leaders for permission to start the programme.  If they successfully get the permission, then the staff can do focus groups among young girls, landless laborers etc. to see what their experiences and vulnerabilities are.  If the staff get key information from these groups, then they can call a general meeting in the villages and share the issues at hand and suggest the formation of village child protection committees.  And so on.

If… then.   A clear set of activities, leading to a clear outcome which sets the stage for the next step in the chain.  Not so much a ‘theory’ as a practical (and testable) set of steps that we hope to follow to experience the change we need to see.

A women's Self-Help Group meeting in progress in our area
Lukash Prakash and I were trying to update our annual work plan and budget for 2016-17 for the watershed management programme.  We have just received the initial findings of an evaluation which had been done late last year.  It was a daunting set of suggestions – mainly focused on going beyond just ‘delivering the goods’ to actually seeing community based organisations make real and lasting choices on their own.  

How many of the village meetings by the Village Watershed Committee are attended mainly because there is a hope that through the project some of them will get work, others will have access to new agricultural techniques, and others will be helped with goat rearing etc?   It’s hard to know – there will definitely always be an element where a person or community buys into something because they want the benefit that comes with it.  But at the same time, the process of working together can really bring change, genuine change.  We have all had so many things invested in us. How grateful are we? What outcomes are there in our lives?

I am heading back to Thane.

Heading back after 2 weeks ‘in the field’ at the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital in Lalitpur.  Having already immersed myself in lots of different tasks – seen different issues up close and personal – and seen the deep difficulty of seeing change take place.

As of tomorrow, I shall have two and a half weeks in Thane in which I would like to write about Mum and Dad and have lots of organizing things to do.

I carry back with me lots of questions.  What are the long-term impacts of our water-shed management committees?  Why is it that we have drought for many farmers and yet others have patches of green land?   How can we better understand the maternal and child health work done by our village health volunteers?  Which ways can we incorporate local churches more in reaching out to the people we serve?   How much is the palliative care work of the hospital different to our work of caring for people with HIV in Thane?  How should I best use my time?  How will we fit in as a family in our new home?  What things should we take from Thane – and what things to leave?  How are we ever going to get the adoption formalities for Yohan done?

Lots of questions as the train takes me ‘back’ to Mumbai.  The vendor is walking through the train announcing ‘Garama garam tomatar soup’ and urging us to take his fare.  Dusk has fallen outside our tinted window.  My two seat-mates on either side of me are not tapping their smart phones now: one is fast asleep while the other is gazing contemplatively out the window.

The window-gazer is called Siddharth.  He has been ogling dancing girls for some time on his mobile.  He wears a NYC black hat and chains.  He is from Patna but was born and brought up in Nagaland.  An IT engineer for a famous builder in Delhi, he is on his way to his sister’s marriage reception in Surat – and also to meet his girlfriend in the same city.

I feel the window blinds of my eyes coming down and so close the computer for a short nap.


Persistence pays off!

I had asked the ticket collector earlier about whether he had any berths left.  He said to come after 6.30 or so.  And so I obediently sought him out again.  After waiting for some time, he told me that yes – there was a berth.  I followed him to the coach, wondering if we was going to ask me for a bribe.  He asked me where I was from and I gave my little story and told him what I was doing.

All he asked was the difference in fare between the chair car and the AC sleeper – Rs. 170 – for which I was given a receipt.

And so for the past two hours I have been horizontal, with the quiet whir of the airconditioner lulling everyone to sleep in the darkness, and the dull rattles of the train going down the two shiny rails towards Mumbai.

I am no longer ‘going back’ to Thane … I am going forward to meet my loved ones again!  And every minute brings me closer to them.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Drought and Famine - then and now...

I am reading about famine.  Seated in a comfortable push back chair in the Bhopal-New Delhi Shatabadi express.  Having been served coffee and snacks… and knowing that a chicken dinner and ice cream to top it off is on its way in an hour or two.

The train is currently stopped in Jhansi.  Chinese tourists have just boarded and are watching a movie in Chinese on their tablet.  Other passengers are sleeping or tapping away on laptops (like me) or swiping their smart phones.  An young Indian man talks with the ladies in fluent Chinese.  I ask him later how he knows the language and he said he did an advanced diploma in Chinese from Delhi University.

The book I am reading is a digitized copy of “A Narrative of the Drought and Famine which prevailed in the North West provinces during the years  of 1868, 1869 and the beginning of 1870.”

I am still a bit of a romantic I guess, still a bit old-fashioned perhaps, so reading something digital for me is still a bit off-putting and vaguely plastic.  But the good folks at Google who have digitized this (thank you dear ones!) have truly scanned the pages, and so I came across two stamps showing where this book had been. 

Firstly there is on an inside blank page this stamp.

I don’t think I will ever get to the “Indian Institute” at Oxford University, but digitally at least I have touched a book that was housed in their library.

The second stamp comes on the first page of the text.  It is more mundane, but also more specific.  

The book was published by the British Raj government in 1871.  It had clearly entered some kind of govt. library or document repository that year.

Why am I interested in reading about famines which took place 150 years ago?  Well, because Lalitpur, where we are in the process of shifting to, is in this very area and the whole Bundelkhand  experienced less rainfall than expected last year.

The very first task I had, on the very first day of joining the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital was to listen in on a meeting which Thomas John who helps out with the climate change programmes for Emmanuel Hospital Association had with our HBM Hospital Community Health and Development Team here.   He had come to check out the modalities of the ‘Cash-for-Work” programme that our team was doing in the watershed management progamme.  He had found that the proper procedures had not been followed.  So my first task was to agree with him and have our staff go back into the field, and redo what had not been done.

So let us go back to the basics of famine.   Reading a 150 year old book is quite enlightening.

The author – a certain Fredrick Henvey – was an ICS man who was tasked with documenting what had happened during the famine years and understanding what the British govt. in India had done about it – and what the results were of these actions.

He starts out his tome by mentioning the two causes of famine. 

The obvious one is the deficiency of rain which means that crops sown in rain-fed agriculture systems fail.  This can be exacerbated by ‘false hopes’ when it seems that a deficiency is over, and farmers happily start sowing only to find their plans ruined with the rain deficit kicks in again.   Perversely, sometimes the farmers lose their hopes for a good harvest when unseasonal rain damages standing crops.

The second reason has to do with prices.  Henvey points out that “there are large and, it is believed, increasing numbers of people who are dependent for a livelihood on daily wages, and liable to be thrown out of employ as the pressure of high prices grows.”  

Henvey goes on to say “The tendency of famines is to bring the prices of all food, whether coarse of fine, to a commonly high level, and it will therefore be readily understood that, when wheat is selling at 8 seers, or 16 lbs., for a rupee, a man who earns a rupee once a fortnight must be hard pushed for a living.”   

We will translate this into metric units.  Henvey had earlier said that in years of plenty, at times a single rupee could by 80 seers (or 160 lbs.) of coarse grain.  That would work out to 1 rupee buying something like 72 kgs of grain.  So if as a labourer you earn 2 rupees a month you could be purchasing at least a quintal and a half of grain (of course there would be other expenses, but for a labourer it would be enough to live on).   However, in times of famine, the price of grains shoots up, so that instead of 72 kgs of coarse grain to the rupee you are now only able to get 7 odd kgs of grain.  The cheaper varieties have disappeared from the market long ago.  Prices of food have shot up 10 times what they were during seasons of surplus.  Staying alive becomes a lot harder.  Starvation looms large.

But here is the kicker.  As Henvey brings it out clearly:

“Nor is this all.  When prices rise to famine height, the employers of labour contract their expenditure and discharge workpeople, whom they can no longer afford to support.  Thus the weavers, chumars (i.e. leather workers), village artizans, and field-labourers are deprived of employment.   Not only is bread dear, but there is no money to buy bread.  It is a family of labour rather than of food.”

What happened in 1869 was that the previous year 1868 had already seen drought – and in 1869 the rainfall deficit widened to encompass a major portion of the North West Provinces.   Migration was futile, because work could not be found in any place.  And since the Bundelkhand did not have any irrigation worth speaking of at the time, the epicenter of famine took place there.

The writer points out that there had been 3 previous famines in the 1800s already.  In 1803 (when hailstorms, scanty monsoons and failure of winter rain lead to a famine), in 1837-38 (when the culmination of 5 years of poor rains lead to 800,000 lives being lost) and in the same decade the entire failure of the monsoon caused a famine in the year of 1860-61.

It is fascinating to read about our own Lalitpur district;
Henvey clearly sees the district as hardly being worth its salt.  With only 1/5th of the area cultivated, the district has poor soils and few wells and tanks (dug out water-retention ponds).

Ironically, today it is said that Lalitpur has the highest number of dams per district for the entire mega-state of Uttar Pradesh.   But the ground level issues that Henvey talked about 150 years ago still has resonance.

Lalitpur in 1868 saw far less than hoped for rain after June, a false hope when some rain fell in August, only to stop again and basically ruin the Kharif (monsoon) crop.  Then a bit of rain fell in December, but the Rabi (spring crop was poor) leading to even rich land-lords being willing to work for bread and the poor being pushed into terrible distress… and then the next year being even worse with no money to sow seeds, few animals left to plough the fields and many having died.  And then the terrible onslaught of cholera in Lalitpur as the abundant rains fell during July 1869.

[It is horribly ironic that after writing the above paragraph, I have been served a delicious chicken curry meal, with curd and a mixed rajma dal.  I am part of the privileged few, those who are able to travel and eat with God-like freedom.  The recipient of grace upon grace.]

How many died in Lalitpur during those dark days?   The writer notes that 500 were officially notified to have died of starvation, but points out that epidemic diseases did their terrible damage and so the true number of starvation related deaths will be higher.  Here is his summary of the mortality from those crucial years.

The population of Lalitpur district was 2.5 lakhs 150 years ago (it was 12 lakhs in 2011).  But almost 12,000 died in 1869, which was 4.7% of the population of the time.    And cattle died too.  According to the government reports, 95,543 head of cattle died that year (41%). “The stench arising from  thousands of carcasses polluted the air, and contributed to the outbreak of cholera, which was the last plague that visited the district.”

Strikingly, the government of the time seems to have done quite a bit to alleviate the sufferings, with poor houses being opened for those too weak to work, and large scale public works being done so that labourers could work for food.   Some of the works done were later found to be expensive for the quality of work done, and given the feeble condition of many of the workers, this is not surprising. 

What do we have different today?

We are in a situation where there is a deficiency of rain for the past year.  Will people migrate and leave their fields?

Our community health and development team has been working for the past 2 years with a watershed management programme in the Bar block of Lalitpur district.   It’s stated aim is to help vulnerable communities be able to remain in the village and not migrate and thus put themselves at risk of being trafficked.

Over the course of the last few months our staff found that the situation in the villages has meant that some are leaving to try and work in other places.

This issue was found across the Bundelkhand area.  The western UP and western MP regions recorded ‘scanty’ rainfall for the October and the first half of November last year.  Rainfall was 80% less than normal for western UP (of which Lalitpur is part of) and 72% less than normal in western MP.

Our colleagues in EHA and EFICOR swung into action and did a rapid needs assessment of the Bundelkhand area and found that the drought conditions are actually causing people to leave the land in search of work in other places.

And so based out of this assessment, they suggested the ‘cash-for-work’ scheme.  Given the drought situation, our normal watershed management activities of doing treatments to the land to improve water retention and combat erosion etc. should be strengthened by an additional component – a special fund to target the most vulnerable and allow them to get cash for work.  The idea being that if they are able to get work in their own village, that they will not need to leave and get work elsewhere. 

Based on this finding, our main funding partner very graciously allowed us the reposition our programme to address this need – and so we have implemented a cash-for-work component into our watershed management work in the Bar block of Lalitpur.

So I find myself trying to understand the situation of today.  How much drought is there really there?  On the hospital campus we see so many trees and greenery, it is hard to imagine that there has been any deficit of water.  But our staff tell us that the challenges that the vulnerable, especially landless labourers are facing are real.   And so we are in the business of helping out the villages that we are working with work through their village watershed management committees and identify those who are at risk – and help by offering a specific number of days of work.  

And what will happen from now on out?  Are we looking at a repeat of the terrible years of 1868 and 1869 when a deficient year was followed by a total disaster?  How should be plan for all of this?

Being only 11 days into my new task as the Director of the Community Health and Development programme of HBM Hospital in Lalitpur, I am very early in understanding all of these things. 

The questions that crowd my mind are about how effective is this work?  How sustainable?  How well are our village watershed committees making decisions?  What is the role of our staff… and the money that we are able to bring to the table?  How much should we push for our villagers to use the government MNREGA programme (a minimum rural employment generation act) – even though the field reality is that it is usually ‘bought out’ by the local corrupt(able) powers and even when given the payments sometimes only come 7 months after the work was done!

In addition, just this week my email delivered me with the ‘preliminary results’ of a mid-term evaluation of our work (and 3 other similar programmes in the Bundelkhand region) – the data for which was collected from our project late last year.   The report is dauntingly complex, feeding back the findings of a 7 person evaluation team – I have 30 plus pages of small text to work through… and I am to use these findings to redesign our work to reflect the learnings of the evaluation! 

It is now 10.16 PM and my train is just easing into Mathura junction.  This dear Bhopal-New Delhi Shatabadi (I think I will be getting to know this quite well in the future) is taking me to Delhi where I am due to spend the next few days hunkered down over this self-same computer, helping to design the coming year’s action plan for our Watershed Management work.  Our community health and development leaders of EHA have invited us all together for a hands-on proposal writing workshop.   Joining me is our HBM Hospital CHDP project manager Lukash Prakash (whom I had the privilege of working with many years back in Jharkhand) and our colleagues from other EHA community health projects, who will also be working on their programme proposals.

Much prayer is needed for the next few days.

Oh, that we will find real answers to drought-exacerbated hunger.  And that we will never walk through the valley of famine again.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Unearthing some of Lalitpur’s History…

Last night we had a prayer meeting at the Bacon Bungalow.  It was Republic Day so we spent time – a small group of 20 odd folks – praying for our nation and for our district.

The Bacon Bungalow has been wonderfully renovated thanks the path-breaking rural Palliative Care programme that Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital has developed over the past five years.  Today the hospital runs a nationally recognized Palliative Care course out of this building, and this afternoon Dr. Ann Thyle and Sister Leela Pradhan used the same room to share with us a potential scaled-up programme which would include 13 EHA hospitals in Palliative Care over the next 5 years.

I had been wondering about the Bacon Bungalow.  It was named after Mrs. Elizabeth Mercy Bacon who came to India as a widow in 1890 and purchased it that year when she established the Reformed Episcopal mission work in Lalitpur.  But who did she buy it from?  No one seems to know. 

Many of the early missionaries did not last long in India.  Mrs. Elizabeth Mercy Bacon was added to that number. 10 years after she arrived in India, on the 4th of Sept. 1900 she died of cholera in Lalitpur.  Her grave is still there in the small Christian cemetery in Lalitpur town.

(Pic courtesy Yohan Malche)

The Bacon Bungalow is clearly a British colonial structure – the inside reminds me of my early boyhood when we occasionally went to the Alliance Mission bungalow in Akola.  My grand-parents had lived there occasionally as the Christian and Missionary Alliance kept moving its missionaries about every 3 years so that they would ‘not build up their own empires.  However, since they retired and went to the US in 1972, my visits to the mission bungalow was to be with our ‘adopted grandparents’ – Uncle Gerald and Aunty Sarah Carner.  I well remember the long dining room table and the cloth napkins we were each assigned, and the brass bell to summon us to dinner and the cook bringing in pigeon squabs for our khana.  And cold oranges for breakfast.  And the clean gravel in the driveway.

Lalitpur was clearly an important colonial town, and Mrs. Bacon had bought her house from folks of means who lived in the civil lines.  On my initial trips through Lalitpur I was told that some of the ‘empty land’ belongs to the military.  And yet I do not know of any active army base in the vicinity.

How to find out about the past?  Well, since I cannot go to India house in London, I decided to start with the internet.  Google ‘Lalitpur’ and most of what you get are articles about the city and district in Nepal.  Bless them of course but I want to know about the Lalitpur here in the Bundelkhand area, and currently part of Uttar Pradesh.

A few days ago I found an Imperial Gazeteer which had a short and pithy history of Lalitpur – published in 1909-10.

Are you itching to read a bit about Lalitpur’s past?  Here goes:

Lalitpur Town.  Population (1901) 11,560.  Tradition ascribes the founding of the town to Lalita, wife a Raja Sumer Singh, who came from the Deccan. It was taken from the Gonds early in the sixteenth century by Govind Bundela and his son, Rudra Pratap.  A hundred years later it was included in the Bundela State of Chanderi.  About 1800 an indecisive battle was fought close by between the Bundelas and Marathas; and in 1812 it became the head-quarters of Colonel Baptiste, who was appointed by Sindhia to manage Chanderi.  On formation of a British District of Chanderi in 1844, Lalitpur became the head-quarters, and it remained the capital of the District, to which it gave its name in 1861 up to1891, when Lalitpur and Jhansi Districts were united.

Another part of the internet took me to Col. Jean Baptiste Filose who seems to have been one of the white Mughals – soldiers of fortune who sold their services to various Maharajahs.  Baptiste is said to have given the princely sum of Rs. 1 lakh to set up a school in Agra – which continues to this day as St. Peter’s school.

You almost wonder – would it be too romantic to imagine that the Bacon building was once owned by Baptiste himself?

The story continues:

The story of the Mutiny in Lalitpur has been narrated in the History of Jhansi District.  The town contains a number of Hindu and Jain temples, some of which are very picturesque.  A small building, open on three sides save for a balustrade and supported on finely-carved columns, obviously derived from a Chandel building, bears and inscription of Firoz Shah Tughlak, dated 1358. 

So we have the answer to why so much land seems to be military.  Lalitpur was one of the key places for the 1857 uprising against the British.  We are after all only 100 kms away from Jhansi.  

And now we are about to get something very close to our very own Bacon Bungalow.  The next sentence tells us that: “Lalitpur is the..

There we are.  American Mission.  The colonial short-hand for the Reformed Episcopal Mission (“RE Mission) which Mrs. Elizabeth Mercy Bacon had established in Lalitpur in 1890.   The gazeteer refers to it as having an orphanage, something which was run for many years by the RE Mission.   

The dispensary mentioned may be a British one or may refer to the nascent medical work of the RE Mission which later becomes the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital.

Skipping a few lines we come to the end of the entry about Lalitpur town:

Lalitpur has a large and increasing export of oilseeds, hides and ghi, besides considerable road traffic with the neighbouring Native States.  Large quantities of dried beef are exported to Rangoon.  There are four schools with 247 pupils, including 25 girls.

Fascinating to know about beef exports.  And to think of all the 247 students in the town being able to comfortably fit into a single year of any of the many schools that are all over the town today.  The RE Mission school on our campus has over 1000 students alone.

Here is what the Lalitpur students of today look like – or should I say yesterday since this was the prayer at the Republic Day event that took place at the school while we were on our Hospital Republic Day picnic:

(Picture courtesy  A. Masih)

As thrilled as I was to get this information – and especially to see a reference our hospital campus, I wondered why I didn’t seem to be getting more hits about Lalitpur from colonial times. 

Then I had the thought – let’s use an archaic spelling.  If Kanpur was called Cawnpore during the Raj, wouldn’t Lalitpur be known as Lalitpore?  That helped… and a few documents later I was led me to an even older spelling for Lalitpur: “Lullutpore.” 

Bingo.  I now have a small treasure trove of information – and will be digging for more.

Coming up in a later blog post (I am pretty sure) – an amazing look into the past history of drought and famine in this area.   Today’s breakthrough was getting digitized versions of the Census of the North West Provinces from 1872 and a Raj era government account of the famine of 1868-70.  “Lullutpore” lost 4.7% of its population in 1869 the peak year of that famine.

Stay tuned.  History is being … unearthed.

Monday, 25 January 2016

One year with Yohan

A year ago today, on the 24th of January 2015, this little fellow joined our family.

And what a year it has been since Yohan entered fully into our lives.

We look back on the 365 days he has completed with us with much gratitude.

Here is a picture of Sheba and Yohan on the first day that he came into our home.

Who would have thought that we would be with three teenagers in 2016?

Who would have expected that I would be writing this from Lalitpur, while Yohan’s first anniversary of his joining our family was with Sheba and Asha and Enoch in Thane.

Yohan has grown taller and put on more weight – though he is still on the thin side of the spectrum.  
But his appetite is a wonderful thing to see.  Where all that rice disappears to is a happy mystery for us.

Each day over this year he has taken his medicines very faithfully.  With a big smile.  And a prayer.    His immunity has improved dramatically.  We do not see the runny eyes that he had when we first came to our home.  His skin sores have cleared – though some of the scars remain.  

Here in Lalitpur, my mobile alarm goes off every evening at 9 PM and I remember that it is medicine time for Yohan – and offer a small prayer on his behalf.

There are still lots of things to pray for.  We have extended our foster care and are now in our second 6 month period of caring for Yohan - but the adoption formalities are caught in an on-going swirl of papers and steps yet to be taken.  We have worked hard to do what we are told, but there seems no clear end in sight.  Miracle needed right now!

And then there is the whole life-long project of filling the 11 years of Yohan's life that the locusts have eaten.  How to build up what has been lost to horrible experiences.  How to guide and structure Yohan's personality into one that allows him to blossom into the person he was created to be.

We as a family are also still growing and adjusting to being 5 instead of 4.   All things considered, Asha and Enoch have done very well - though this year has had its hard spots too.  We are proud of Asha's maturity and deep love for Yohan, and her patience with him as she helps with his learning at different time.   We are thankful for Enoch's friendliness and willingness to include Yohan into games and the good brother he is to his new younger bro.

Looking back on the year, it has been Sheba who has been the prime instrument of blessing to Yohan. Her love and prayers and care and teaching and multiple constant and continuing inputs into our son has brought him to be the person that he is today.  I am so amazed and thankful for all the ways that she has expressed our love to Yohan and know that every loving word and act is shaping and forming Yohan in many foundational ways.  Who can measure a mother's love?

Looking back to a year ago, we are just so grateful that Yohan is alive, and with us.  The biggest challenge medically has been his seizure disorder.   We have had an episode about every 2 months or so.  The fits were generally fairly mild and lasting not longer than 3-5 minutes.   

Last month, however, we understood just how bad his seizures used to be.  We paid a visit with Yohan to the family who had rescued him from the streets, and Sheba went and saw the places where he had grown up.  The neighbouring lady told us that Yohan used to have multiple fits - almost daily.

According to this lady, during one of the epileptic episodes Yohan actually fell into this open gutter:

So we come to our first anniversary of Yohan joining our family with so much gratitude.  What a miracle he is with us.  What a blessing to have so many praying for us in this journey.  What challenges are there to help him grow in his basic literacy skills and develop into the person that our good Lord wants him to be.  What a privilege to walk together as a family.


Sunday, 24 January 2016

New doors

Sunday afternoon.  Sun outside. I am indoors, under a razai, tapping away on the acer.  A short nap is past.  My system would be happy for some caffeine about now…

I have been catapulted into a new world.  A world very, very different from the 13 years that we have spent in Thane, but a part of our Father’s big world and big plan none-the-less.

Having arrived on a misty rainy morning on Tuesday, I am crossing 125 hours of being in Lalitpur as the director of the community health and development work of the Harriet Benson Memorial Hosptial.

Early days in this role, but I am already aware of some of the challenges in store.

How to bring about transformational change in a dry and thirsty place?

How to work with communities that are riven with deep caste divisions?

How to see change happen when we ourselves are so limited and have so many flaws easily visible?

How to work with a system that is already in place, and yet help all of us achieve the long-lasting results that we all so very much want?

How to manage the expectations of the different stake-holders – our local hospital employees, our funding supporters, the community volunteers and workers, our central office supervisors?

How to hear what the Spirit is telling the churches?   How to encourage broad-based cooperation and mutual prayer and understanding between God’s people?

There is much to learn.  Much to hear.  Much to understand.

As I look back on these days I remember an image from the village where we stopped on our way back from meeting the community health and development activists involved with our work in the Bar block.

We were invited to the home of one of the men who has been quite active with the programme.  His village was on the way back and he insisted that we stop at his home.

The local panchayat elections had just been held a few weeks earlier, and many of the walls were painted with a slogan urging people to ‘vote for imli’- the tamarind fruit being a symbol of one of the contestants for the post of sarpanch.

In our friend’s home a 2016 calendar was on the wall – courtesy of the ‘imli symbol’ candidate.  

Tellingly, the image on the calendar was of a man.  A greying, heavy-set man whose photo looked impassively at you.  Next to his picture was his name – and the name of the official candidate – who was his wife.  No picture of her.  We can tell who will be calling the shots in this political family.

Our host’s wife came to us and tried to touch our feet.  Her face was covered with her saree as she served us water and brought out a plate of various sweets – jiggery sweetened balls of puffed rice, various kinds of heavy gram-flour based laddoos, small fried dough sticks.  There were no children, because the couple have not conceived in the decade-long marriage.

We drank sweet ginger tea while talking about the village and what has been going on here before we bundled back into our jeep and drove back the 45 minute journey we had taken earlier in the day.
One of the neighbouring houses had this door – which was the image that has stayed in my mind.

First of all, the beauty of a heavily carved wooden door.  In a world of the instant and the plastic, to see something carved, something solid, something that has weathered time and tide is a joy. 

How many years have gone by since this handsome wooden carving was first fitted into its frame?  What history has it seen over the seasons in that home?  Which generations have come and gone while stooping down through its low opening?  What sorrows and joys have happened through that frame?  New brides welcomed, dead bodies taken out, youngsters starting school or old men coming home after days of toil?  If the door could tell stories, which ones would it choose to regale us with?

The striking blue paint that the householders chose for their wall colour (other buildings were painted even more brightly – I saw some bright yellow homes) is decorated with maroon flowers and ‘shub labh’ is written in the decorated masonry above the door itself.

“Good luck” – or “may fortune smile on you” would be a rough translation of this word.  A kind of blessing on those who come in and go out. 

How much ‘luck’ will this family have experienced in the course of their lives?  Where do we seek hope for the challenges of living every day.  For the big issues and small tasks that make up a life?
I would like to talk with the householders of that door, but on this short visit that was not possible.  

The door was locked.  The family who lived there was not at home.

And so I am left with this image of a beautiful door, which is locked.

I had earlier in the day met with the community activists and shared with them the story of a crippled man who was brought every day to a ‘beautiful gate’ of the temple in Jerusalem.  Two penniless disciples of our Lord had met him as he asked for alms.  But instead of giving him the expected coin or two that he was begging for, they gave him Jesus and transformed him from a helpless beggar to a walking and dancing worshipper who with joy joined them in the temple for prayer.

The single beautiful locked door could be a picture, I believe, for this whole area of Bundhelkhand.  So much potential.  So many locks.  The very purpose for which the door was made – to be a portal to welcome people in being halted by… a whole list of different issues and complications.

Our task at this point is to learn humbly and act wisely and seek God’s mercy and love to help touch lives.

Encouragingly, the Spirit has something to say about doors.

In the book of Revelation we read about how the Lord speaks to a church in the city of Laodicea (now part of Turkey) and urges them to come back to Him.  He says to them “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone years my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.”   How true this is of all of our lives.  We have doors which we have bolted and shut from the inside.  Our loving Lord is knocking still and gently but firmly asking us to open up.  Would that we would do so – and would that many doors across this region would open up that way too.

But there is another message too.  This one is given to a group of Christ-followers who were gathering in the city of Philadelphia.  Here the Spirit tells them that ‘see I have placed before you an open door that no-one can shut.’  Now our beautiful brown door, mounted in the bright blue wall seems pretty firmly shut.  But could we see it with eyes of faith?  Could our Lord hold the keys to opening up this door and many others like it?

Would that the Lord would open our eyes to see doors that are open and will not be shut!   Could this door be the first?

We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day Thy grace to know:
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
“We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.”