Sunday, 2 April 2017

4 dozen sun-spins

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?

Today I turned 48.  Four dozen years. Three quarters of the way to 64.

48 sun-spins since I entered the breathing world at St. Elizabeth's Nursing Home on Malabar Hill in old Bombay in 1969.  Before humanity stepped on the moon.  While Indira Gandhi was in her first term as Prime Minister.  In the days when the Indian cricket team would work hard to grind out draws in test cricket...

Before, before...

Well lets just look back on this last year with wonder.

Just after birthday anniversary No. 47, we moved lock stock and barrel to Lalitpur after 13 years in Thane.

Saying goodbye to our work at Jeevan Sahara Kendra was hard, as was stepping away from our house church and the many dear ones whose lives were intertwined with ours.

But the most gut-wrenching was not being allowed to bring our foster son Yohan with us.  We were gutted when our request to be given long-term foster-care was refused, and we were served with a police notice stating that we were not to 'take the boy out of the jurisdiction of the child welfare committee' until his case was settled.

We had to leave, and so we parted ways with Yohan, holding on to the hope that the ration would be only a few weeks.  I shuttled between Lalitpur and Thane as we worked our way up the appeals chain - but we gradually saw all the doors shut.   We are still working through the hurt of all of this.

But we are very, very, very grateful that Yohan is in a safe place, where he is being loved and cared for.

He called up today to wish me happy birthday (as did Asha and Enoch) and said that he is taking his medicines exactly on time.  He also talked about his maths test on Tuesday.  A wonderfully normal conversation to have.   We are so grateful to the dear loving folks at BTC who are caring for Yohan with Christian love and commitment as part of the restorative community they are.

We couldn't think of a better school for Yohan too.  We are currently considering our options, but the default one seems to wait till he becomes a legal adult (another 3+ years) for the next big step.  Lots of prayer is in order of course.

Parallel to Yohan's situation we had two other events that meant this year was a challenge.

On arriving at Lalitpur, the convent school which had assured us that Asha's 10th standard admission would be a breeze, balked.  The issue being that they did not offer the optional course of Art which Asha had chosen for her 10th standard ICSE board exam.  We had given all the details to the school earlier, but they obviously did not look at it carefully.   Upshot of this?  We were in Lalitpur but no admission for Asha as the authorities from her Mumbai school took their creaky sweet time to do what was to be done ages before, and the folks here were unable to get the board to make an exception on her part.

But miracles do happen.  God opened the door for Asha to attend Wynberg Allen in Mussoorie - and that too mid-year in class 10...   We were thrilled at this, but suddenly had our dear daughter whisked off into boarding school - something that we did not expect at all.

As the year went on, it became clear that Enoch would probably need to join Asha at Wynberg as well.  We understand that many of the local students need 'Hindi' teaching even though the school is supposed to be an English-medium school.  But what took the cake is teachers using the local dialect of Bundhella ... which even I find hard to understand.

So amazingly we saw Enoch join the boarding ranks in the first week of February, and now Sheba and I are here in Lalitpur with a beautiful but empty home.

And as most of you dear and gentle readers know, this year was the year that Dad was translated to glory.  I am typing this just outside the room he died in, wearing a set of his trousers, knowing that we were deeply privileged to be part of his final months and weeks.

Dad died here on August 13th 2016.  We were privileged to thank the Lord and bury his body at the Landour Christian Cemetery on Independence Dady - August 15th...  He certainly is free now and is clearly rejoicing as he had predicted he would.

Mum is doing superbly in Mussoorie - and we had the joy of hosting her for a month and a half here in Lalitpur too!

As a family, we also were blessed to have Amma and Appa be with us for 2 months last year.  Their full-on involvement in the hospital family and local churches was wonderful - something that we had wanted to experience for many years, and which moving to HBM hospital here made possible.

This year was a momentous year for them too - as they completed the amazing 50 years of marriage together on the 24th of January 2016.  We gathered for a small family get-together on the actual day with Sarah and Peter's families to pray with Amma and Appa (with the idea that we would celebrate in the church when Daisy and family come this summer).

And then there were also the challenges of adapting to a whole new world of work and service.  After years in an urban setting, we are very much in a rural place.  The HBM Hospital is a small mission hospital which is part of the EHA family, with big dreams about being an agent for transformation in the Lalitpur District.

Most of my work this year was focussed on a watershed management and nutritional intervention in 15 villages of the Baar Block of Lalitpur (about 25 kms from the hospital), while Sheba dove into the clinical work at HBM Hospital.  At the same time, we have plunged ourselves into the hospital community, and have been trying to work with our colleagues to develop this place to fulfill our vision of seeking to see people comforted and healed, families flourishing, communities renewed, and nature restored through the love of Jesus Christ in the Lalitpur District and beyond.

We have a long way to go, and this year has taught me much, as well as helping me know that I need to grow so much closer to God and experience His goodness in ever deeper ways.

As we have just finished off our 3rd year of the project cycle, it was encouraging to see that our work has been making impact in the communities we serve.  Farmers who previously had to migrate each year for some months to make ends meet are now able to stay in the village all year round.  Village level groups have started to work together.  There is still so much work to be done, but we are seeing some encouraging steps.

Steps such as made by the farmers' group in Gadiya who are receiving a special drum from us in order for them to start a seed bank.  Last year we had given them 10 kg of wheat seeds and helped them sow it in an innovative way.  Some of the farmers got yields of 400 to 500 kgs from this!  We are asking each farmer who received seeds last year to contribute at least 15 kgs of seeds this harvest so that the group can help even more people next year.

And then there was also the National Prayer Summit for Health, and the Community Lay Health Leaders Training we started, and travels for EHA meetings in Rampur and Chinchpada and, and, and...

Geo-politically I don't recognise this world anymore:  Trump, Putin, Brexit, Note-bandi, Saffron wave...  I have been tempted to fear, but these last few weeks have been precious to me as I realise again and again that God is in total control - no matter who weird things seem to be getting - and He loves us very, very much.

And so this day sees me finish 48 sun-spins and step into a new year.  I am so grateful for my dear Sheba's love for me.  Her patience and hard work in so many areas of our life together, combined with her deep disciplines of prayer and digging deep into God's Word each day have made all the difference.  So many others have come along with us on the journey.  Have been generous in love through prayer, word and practical helps.  Your names are written in the scroll of remembrance in heaven (Mal. 3.16).

Sheba and I spent today fairly quietly together.  A blessed Sunday.  A day of rest and prayer.  I am so grateful for all the blessings this past year has been, and look forward to what is in store.

How good is the God we adore
Our faithful unchangeable friend
Whose love is as great as His power
And knows neither measure nor end

Tis Jesus the first and the last
Whose Spirit will guide us safe home
We'll praise Him for all that is past
And trust Him for all that's to come.

Garden to plate

A long time ago, when we lived in a big metropolis, we would occasionally dream of the simple life.  About living on the ground floor and having a garden.  But that seemed all so far away and impossible.  How would we ever get away from Thane and from all the work that we were entrusted with...

How quickly things changed.

We are now living in a 'city' of 1,30,000 odd folks.  But can we even call it a city?  A town, perhaps...  Lalitpur is the district head-quarters of the district of the same name.  We are a railway station on the main Bhopal - New Delhi line (though many fast trains rush through without stopping at our humble station).  We do have our set of shops and bazaars, and our tallest buildings will be a whole 4 floors high (as far as I can recall).

Our calling here took place at the end of 2015, and today we are in a place where local vegetables are dirt cheap.  Tomatoes were selling for only 5 rupees per kg last month.  Sure, they weren't the big perfect red ones - but they have come from the local farms around us.  And buy them we did.

To make tomato jam for one!

It did not last for long.

But living on the campus of the HBM Hospital in our beautiful Bethel Villa home is literally that Thane dream come true.  We are on the ground floor.  And we have a garden.

And the garden actually produces food.

Not a lot, mind you, but for the first time, we are eating what we have grown.  Our beans have already been made into subji and consumed.  Now it is the turn of the humble brinjal (or eggplant as some call the aubergine).

We have a whole two rows of these beauties right when you enter the gate to our home.

With the sudden onset of summer (almost like a light switch being turned on) we have lots of gardening to do.

Sheba manages to multitask with a phone call from Asha (at boarding school in Mussoorie) and the watering of the plants both being done with aplomb.

 Being a city boy, I am still amazed at the very basic miracle of seeds sprouting, plants growing, and then us being able to actually eat that which has come out of the ground.  What an amazing bit of engineering our Lord has put at our disposal.

So here we have the first fruits of our brinjal crop.  What beauties.

 But those fellows are not meant as ornamental show pieces.  They are destined for the plate.  That batch went off as a gift to a special friend of ours... and another batch ended up like this - part of a wonderful meal with spinach dal and brinjal - potato fry. Yum!

Thursday, 23 March 2017


There is something superbly gratifying about taking hundreds and hundreds of small colourful pieces which all seem alike and then slowly, carefully putting them together to form a beautiful picture...

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Snow in Mussoorie

It was a silent night.

The night before had been all sturm und drang with rain and hail and thunder.  But last night was quiet.

When the alarm went off at 5 AM, I sensed something cold and still and white in the darkness outside.

The glimmer of dawn showed this outside our window, downstairs at Shanti Kunj.

Can you say "winter wonderland?"

As with all frigid beauty, it is best beheld in the coziness of a warm home.  And things don't get much cozier than having an electric blanket below and a feather quilt above you.  Perfect place for your morning devotions of course... 

But we can't sit in bed all day, either!  There is a young man who needs to go to school...

So upstairs to the breakfast table it is.

Needless to say, this is one day you want to make sure you are facing the windows, while slurping your coffee and munching on the scrambled-eggs-on-toast.

Snow in Mussoorie.

So rare.  So fleeting most of the time.  And for our family, Mussoorie means summer and running away from the heat, so we have never spent a winter up in the hills.  Mum is a winter owl of course, happy to be in her nest at Shanti Kunj, and most winters the sun shines down out of a clear blue sky making Shanti Kunj arguably warmer than New Delhi most of the cold months.

Hence for me, snow in Mussoorie is the blue moon of blue moon occasions.

What a glorious sight when it does carpet the landscape.  This is looking out the window of Mum's home - with the snow actually all the way down to Dhobhi Ghat and with a little dusting on Pari Tibba!

Being on the very top of Landour, we got the king's portion of soft, powdery snow last night - at least 3 inches of it by the looks of the scooter which I have borrowed from Andy and Rachel Francis for the week:

I am in Mussoorie because Enoch is starting school at Wynberg Allen School.  We are commuting between Shanti Kunj and Bala Hissar for the first week, and Enoch goes into boarding on Tuesday.

Here is a shot of WAS framed by the snowy boughs near Sisters Bazar:

Asha has been at WAS since May last year, and it is bitter-sweet to have Enoch embraced into the arms of Excelsior!  

Our task this morning was to get to the Wynberg senior school by 8.30 AM.  Thankfully we headed out the door at 7.15 just in case.  

With Sisters Bazaar looking like this, it was clear that the scooter was not going anywhere quick soon:

We called our dear friend Edwin, with the hope that we could get a ride with him in his jeep.  Edwin drops his boys off at St. George's every morning, but his phone was switched off.  

Later in morning we found out why: last night his father had a stroke, and Edwin and others are down in Dehra Dun after being transferred there from Landour Community Hospital last night.  Please do pray for the family.

So it was on foot that Enoch and I headed down through powder-white landscape.

I mean, when do you get sights like this on your way to school?

Or pass the majestic deodars looking like this?

Motorcycles in Mussoorie usually don't have this livery...

We are glad we abandoned the scooter right at the top of the hill.  Otherwise we would have slipped down the icy hills, and missed sights like this...

And of course, kids are kids, wherever you are.  I copped a snow ball, thrown at me by a girl who had been looking down sweetly at us with her Dad as Enoch and I walked by.

When I turned around, only the Dad was looking down.  I flashed a big smile back at the benignly smiling pater-familias.

Down near Omi's sweet shop, this important task was being done:

We parted ways at the (slowly being rebuilt) Landour Clock tower at 8.02 AM.  Enoch to soldier on down to WAS - with a good 25 minutes to get to his morning assembly - and I to get back to Landour Community Hospital where I was to give the morning devotions in -2 minutes.

The appointment had been made 2 days earlier with no thought of snow and with plenty of time to drive the scooter up to LCH after dropping Enoch off.  But now I had to huff and puff on my two legs in the rarified air of Landour to get there .... hopefully not too late.

However, on the way up I could not help by taking a shot of Landour Community Hospital in the snow...

Devotions done, a nice hot cuppa and some chappatis and alu sabji consumed along with new friends - Chinese-origin Ozzies and our dear old friend Dr. Bona from Nagaland (via many years in Yemen), it was time to walk back up the eye-brow to Shanti Kunj.

More winter-wonderland of course.

And a meeting with some of Mussoorie's finest:

 Before the path took me to the welcome bosom of Mum's home:

 And now it is back out into the snow to get Enoch up from WAS again (its a half day!) ... but am I every happy to do some more tromping in this white wonder of a place....

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Looking around

Mussoorie is glorious.

Wherever you look, you see beauty.

Like this iconic scene from Mullinghar, looking out over Pari Tibba and the hills rolling down towards the plains.  And yes, there is a certain well-known school nestling along the first ridge too.

Poetry in form.  Early lightbeams painting the spurs with subtle hues, melting into the distance, waiting for the up-rise of sun to burn them into solid blocks of shade against the impossibly blue sky.

But hold on,

It's not everywhere you look that you see beauty.

After taking the shot above, I turned around, and saw this:

Same spot.  Two totally different views.

Why is it that most of what humanity touches looks so totally ugly?

So here is the question, do those living in this concrete monstrosity 'see' the beauty outside their windows (picture 1?).

And then the questions start spilling out:  Who lives here in the first place?  Why here and not somewhere else?  What are their stories?  What are their dreams?  What is the broad trajectory of their lives?  Which places have their paths crossed before ending up living just above Mullingahr, looking down on the valley which includes the residential accommodation for a school recently ranked No. 1 in India?

And what is going into their minds?  Do they take photos of the sunrises?  What forms the back-ground to their selfies?

How much does beauty shape our minds?

Questions, questions as we look around...

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Toto - Africa

Mystic melodies from the foggy mists of high-school casette-tape-recorder-boom-boxes swirl through time and tide into today...

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She's coming in, 12:30 flight
The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some long forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say, "Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you"

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Old Friends...

Delhi is a big city.  And over the years I have traipsed its varied corners at various times and in various ways.

Most of my journeys have involved stays with friends and loved ones.  So it is very strange to be staying at a hotel (something the younger Eichers are clamouring for to experience).

We are here for an amazing 3 days where our main funding partner is building us up and introducing an evaluation tool to help capture what changes take place in our communities - a special desire to map out progress towards seeing 'human flourishing' take place.

Learning about the tool is heady stuff - but what makes the whole experience beautiful is to be with so many of my past and present collagues.   The Bombay gang is there - with folks from ACT, Oasis India and Sahara Charitable society.  My dear friends from Eficor are here in force - those whom we have been privileged to work with in the Bundelkhand cluster - and new fresh new friends made.  A smattering of other friends are there from other organisations from across North India... and then our own dear EHA brigade - my dear co-workers who do some amazing work across our country.

In one of the exercises, we did a quick evaluation of EHA, mapping out how we as an organisation were moving against the 9 areas of growth that the "LIGHT Wheel" approach looks at.  It was exciting to see how God has been using EHA to see some real growth in every dimension.  We have come a long way from where we were 20 years ago when I first joined EHA - all thanks to Him.  And we clearly still have a journey to walk along - on which I am grateful to be sojourning with my dear friends.

And that is just it. Beyond the techniques, our major partner is also knitting our hearts together. Giving us the opportunity to fellowship and draw our bonds of love stronger.

And then there was the after hours.

Last night Vasu and I went on an hour's metro ride to the heart of New Delhi - the venerable Connaught Place.  Our destination was the kicking Zabardast Kitchen restaurant - and our wonderful host none other than Anand V. Sinha.   Over a delectable meal, Anand regaled us with tales of his adventures and gales of laughter.  We talked about the amazing medical sleuthing which last month discovered the reason young children were dying in the lichee growing areas of Bihar.  We talked about biking and morning walks.  We caught up on siblings and trajectories of life.  We explored Anand's funding foundation's partner meeting which was themed "talking failure."  And so on.  All while a kings feast made its way into our innards... As with so many times, we just did not want to part - but that we did taking our separate metros to our warm beds.

This evening I had the joy of meeting up with Jonathan Parmar - who serves with Eficor - and whose parents Himmat and Prema Parmar were so deeply intertwined with our family in the Nana Chowk years.  "Johnny" as we used to call him is now happily married to Nalini and they are blessed with three lovely girls: Suzanna and Stephanie are twins and their youngest Shekinah.  Uncle and Auntie are living with them and how amazing to see them continue to be active in living and sharing their faith with others.  As I was there uncle left to go with a church family who have come back from the US to deliver food and encouragement to some poor families.

We have not met for at least 30 years - but amazing to see the trajectory of love that this family has lived out.

Tomorrow evening we are slated to meet Indrajit and Lydia and Hannah Judith.  Another remarkable evening lies in store as I meet up with the only friend from my 3 standard Cathedral and John Connon days.  I plan to walk from their home to Nizammuddin station and take the night train back to Lalitpur...

And could I squeeze in another visit to a long-unmet friend.  As we walked away from the Zaberdast restaurant, we passed some graffiti.  One of pieces caught my eye.  It was this stencil:

Could it be prophetic?  I am hoping that somehow we will also be able to meet Mr. Arbindar Singh who I got to know during my college years in the US, many moons ago.  Let's see as tomorrow unfolds.