Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Postcards from Paradise - end of 2009 edition

Four days can hold a lot!

Sleeping, talking, eating, more sleeping, reading, more eating, songs, a trip to the beach, more sleeping and talking, more songs, games, worship with the local saints, more talking and eating, more games and all-round fun as a family.

Here are a few glimpses into our days with Amma and Appa here in Tungalam Village, outside Vishakapatnam.

In 30 mins we get onto the auto – and then through the night to our train and then 2 nights and a day (with confirmed tickets this time) before we arrive in Thane at 3 AM on the 31st.

We have already harvested many happy memories!

Rude comfort

For there was no room for them in the inn…

Whether it was a real inn that Joseph and Mary were looking for – or whether the guest rooms of their extended families were just too full – the fact is that the new family was weary and alone and had to find a rude accommodation in an animal shed.

We experienced a little bit of that on Christmas eve ourselves.

A month ago we decided that since we had not met Amma and Appa all year – that we just had to go and meet them – even if it was only for 4 days – between Christmas and New Years. Getting tickets for the train was impossible. But since we knew a person high up in the railways – we were told that we would be put on a VIP quota.

On the 24th – we were almost in a daze of tiredness as we packed up for the 30 hour trip. Just before we left we checked what our seat numbers would be – and found to our horror that the VIP quota had not worked. We were still without a berth.

What to do? Our cell phones had been giving problems and we tried to phone the person. The taxi was at the door. We got in and left for the hour-long drive to Kalyan, not knowing what the next steps would be.

Our friend told us that he would talk to the Station Manager at Kalyan. He did. When we got to Kalyan we searched him down. He had us get an unreserved ticket to start with. With that in hand, we were then given over to the head ticket collector – he was to meet the ticket collector from the train when it came in and make sure we got a berth.

The train steamed in. We met the man. No berths available. We got in the train with sinking hearts and a hope that something would work out.

Something did work out – but not in the way that we wanted. With each step of the trip, we met the ticket collectors. They told us to wait and that they would check and see if there were any vacancies. Two of them assured us that we would at least get a berth. The kids sat down. Sheba and I took turns standing and sitting at the edges of people’s berths. Our monster suitcase and its mini-twin were next to the door. Asha’s violin was perched here and there.

Stations came and went. People kept getting in more and more. We did not have a berth. Ticket collectors came through and did not say anything to us. I went out and pleaded.

I saw notes passing hands and others gave the bribes to the ticket collectors.

Pune came and went. It was dark. The kids were tired. So were Sheba and I. We gave them a bit of the supper Sheba had made. Perched precariously in the passage-way.

People were accommodating, but there were so many of us – and of other ‘berth-less’ passengers.
I had to remember my own behaviour in the past. My statements to people that ‘this was a reserved coach’ – that people should ‘go to the general compartment.’

As the night became dark and cold, the promises of the ticket collectors rang hollow. Metallic taste in mouth. Prayers said and re-said.

Finally I went to one of the coupes and asked whether we could sleep on the ground in between the berths. It was hard to do so. They agreed. We spread out our sheet on the ground and Sheba sat down with Asha lying in her lap. Enoch was given part of a berth to sleep on by another lady. I stood and perched at the edge of the berth.

Slowly the hours past. Sheba finally slid down and lay beside Asha. I mounted vigil. It was surreal to read “The Prodigal God” by Tim Keller and “Refractions” by Makoto Fujimori – such beautiful prose – in such dingy surroundings.

The whole theatre of the absurd was made more so by my attire. I have never worn shorts on a trip (ok in the last 30 years that is), but had to do so because I had a large infected boil on my calf. So here I was, wearing shorts and dosing myself with ampiclox every 6 hours (helps to have a doctor in the house), and applying Neosporin lotion to the angry looking brute on my leg every now and then.

Half-way through the night we switched. Sheba sat up for some hours while I dozed on the floor with Asha. Then it was my turn again. Dawn came slowly.

The day continued our perching on the edge. Sheba and the kids were magnificent. No word of complaint. Christmas day found us not in the situation we had hoped for. The small gifts that we had prepared were brought out in stages. Two books for the kids from Alistair and Merryn Appleby made their appearance first. The kids devoured them. Breakfast and lunch was eked out in stages. Our neighbours basically gave up a seat for us. We rotated through it. Moving occasionally from one corner to the next coupe. All along our jumbo case had become the seat for sundry men next to the door. Sheba and I took turns catching some winks of shut-eye in the upper berths during the morning.

We were not only passing through peak time – but also through political turbulence. The day we left our friend Nalini Gabriel and her daughters had been halted in their train by striking agitationists demanding a new state of Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh. They were delayed for over 10 hours. We only ran 2 hours late when we came into Vijaywada at 4 PM – 24 hours after we left Kalyan.

I finally got a nod from a ticket collector to take up a berth in the next bogie – and we gratefully shifted over for the final 7 hours of the journey in the relative roominess of a berth to share.

And so we came to heaven. Amma and Appa’s home at midnight. Victor having picked us up in the auto. A lit tree waiting. A hot bath for us all. And sleep. Blessed sleep.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Train ride

The Eichers are on the move again. This time over to the other side of India. 30 hours by train - including Christmas eve and most of Christmas day.

Our destination? 4 days of bliss with Sheba's parents at their home outside Vishakapatnam - of which the first 2 will be with Sheba's sister Sarah, her hubby Victor and their lovely daughter Joanna.

Then 29th night, back in the train and 2 nights and 30 hours later we will arrive in Thane at 3 am. Having done a goodly tour of our beloved country using our beloved rail system (thank God for cheap tickets).

We have another 16 hours to go. As always plenty of last minute things to grind through before we can collapse in our moving holiday coach! Ah the books that are waiting to be read. The pulling into small unknown stations and getting out to stretch.

Its not often that we have as much room as we did when we travelled from Ranchi to Rourkela (above) earlier this year. Lets see what tomorrow holds!

Vishakapatnam here we come!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


Froh zu sein bedarf es wenig, Und wer froh ist, ist ein Koenig.
You have to love the German language for its ability to capture something simply but meatily (no prizes for guessing what Martin Luther spoke and wrote).

The couplet above was taught to me on my mother's knee. She would sing it in her own special way - the voice of which travels over the years in my memory.

The gist is this: it doesn't take much to make one happy, and whoever is happy - is a king!

How totally and completely true this is. How totally and completely against most of what our over-complex world this is.

Last month Sheba visited 3 widows living within shouting distance of each other. They were a study in contrasts.

All 3 are HIV positive. All have lost their husbands to HIV. All are taking Antiretroviral medications to keep the virus in check.

Mrs. Lalita is a picture of despair. She has 2 sons who are HIV positive. Two months ago she almost died from anaemia - but was saved by blood donations and transfusion at JSK. Its a hard life for Mrs. Lalita. We have offered to help her with food supplies - given by local church members but she refused saying she doesn't need them. Yet when Sheba met her Mrs. Lalita said that she had been running away her landlord. She has not paid her rent for the last 3 months, and when she saw her landlord coming she slipped away until the person left. When Sheba asked her whether she was meeting for worship as she promised, Mrs. Lalita said "I will go when the man up there gives me a job."

Mrs. Reshmi is a picture of hope. She has 4 children and used to live in a dump of a house - a filthy set of rags hanging on strings across the little room. Today she lives in the same house. She is still thin and still has 4 children who are growing up. But there is an amazing change. The home is spick and span. The children are going to school and dilligently help in the home. The oldest son has written down over a hundred songs in his diary and quickly gets it out to sing. Mrs. Reshmi worships with a simple group of Jesus followers. She has bad days too - but the changes in her life is remarkable.

Mrs. Manohar is confused and sad. She has 2 children and helps at JSK in cleaning. She is on ART and every time Sheba asks about her medication she says that she is taking them regularly. When asked for her pill chart, she says that she has it at home. Sheba visited her - and asked her to show the chart. She did. It was blank. Mrs. Manohar has not been taking the medications regularly. She cried. She has seen another local woman who is not responding to medications and she is scared. 'What will happen to me when I get to that state?' she asks. 'What will happen to my little girls?'

There are no easy answers. But it is good to remember the amazing fact of the all-knowing creator becoming small and vulnerable and being born into a home like one of these 3 ladies - broken and poor - of no consequence to the bright and the best.

Emmanuel means 'God with us.' Mrs. Reshmi has understood this well and is living it out in her own simple way. Mrs. Manohar is learning to accept and grow in it. Mrs. Lalita has tasted the benefits but continues on her own way so far.

Monday, 21 December 2009

A little light

Two kids. Singing a song. Holding hands and doing a little dance. Beautiful little ones.

Both the children of women who were used by men in prostitution.

Timothy - as we will call the boy on the left - has already seen far more than any little boy of his age should ever see.

His mother left the brothel last year and accepted the offer of rehabilitation at a small centre close to JSK. His mother is HIV positive - but he is not.

After some time at the centre, his mother seemed to be doing well - and little Timothy was the cynosure of all eyes.

One day his mother told the supervisors at the home that she wanted to go to her home village. The supervisor bought her a ticket and some days later accompanied her to the train station and waved good-bye as the train with little Timothy and his mother left the station headed for the South.

A few weeks later - after not hearing anything from Timothy's mother, the supervisor got a shock. A team from Bhiwandi came and asked why the woman who had left the brothel there was back plying her trade.

The supervisor was crushed. When we heard about it we were terribly saddened. Timothy's mother had played an elaborate ruse - and had gotten off the train a few stations further and gone back to 'the trade'. Little Timothy - as with many children of prostitutes - was placed under the bed when his mother had customers. A bad scene.

But people prayed.

And amazingly, some weeks later, Timothy's mother returned - along with Timothy. The folks at the rehab centre had the grace to welcome them back - and now this little flame of a boy is back to blossoming as he had been.

We were blessed to have Timothy sing and dance with his little friend at the JSK Thanksgiving time last week. He is a living miracle. In the midst of darkness there are lights that shine.

Sunday, 20 December 2009


This blog started out with the words: ... let my words be few. I don't think it has quite turned out that way. But at present I am pretty speechless. And with good reason - I have laryngitis.

This week may have had something to do with is. To recap a wonderful set of events:

On Tuesday Sheba and I celebrated 10 years of God's faithfulness in our lives together. What better place than a lightning trip up to Matheran?

Ten years ago we would never have believed it if you would have shown us who we would be today - and what an amazing family we have become. We are very humbled and grateful - and especially thankful to all who have stood with us over the years.

The view from the toy train on the way back down (on Wednesday morning) was just superb. Worth the whole trip just to see the beauty of creation.

The week was spent preparing for out time with our JSK positive friends and church partners on Friday. The occasion was the annual Thanksgiving time that we hold at the end of each year.
It was a time of great rejoicing as we looked back at how good God has been to us this past year.

In the run up to the programme, we asked our friends to write down what they were thankful for during the year - on a smiley flower - which we then displayed on a mural sized poster at the Thanksgiving time.

Though so many of our Friends who have HIV have been through so much - and some who were part of last year's Thanksgiving time are not here with us this year - we still have seen so much goodness take place. In the midst of sorrow - there were so many testimonies about how God has been good to them. It is humbling to be part of this amazing process.

We finished off the evening with a joint meal. The 80 odd children were fed downstairs while the adults were served in the main hall of the Covenant Blessings Church which very generously hosted us for this time of Thanksgiving. It was also such a blessing to see members from various churches coming forward to help and serve our Positive Families.

Saturday was our final youth meeting of the year - and we wanted to do something special together - so a treasure-hunt hike was in order. The amazing hill that is just a stones throw from us - and which marks the beginning of Mumbai's 'green lung' - the Sanjay Gandhi National Park - was our playground.

Ryan and I had already done the whole circuit up the hill and around and down again from 1 - 3 PM - hiding the clues for the different stages when we started back up as a group at 3.15 PM.

At each stage we spent time reflecting on various parts of the year gone by - and sharing what we wanted to do differently in the next.

The clues then took the group up the trail, leading us to arrive on the top of the ridge in a new place - with a spectacular view of our booming city of Thane on one side - and ranges of forested hills on the other.

We gratefully bit into samosas on the top of the ridge (brought up by us of course) and soaked in the beauty while enjoying our fellowship together. It was great to look back on all that has happened this year - as well as deciding how we want to be different in 2010.

By the time we were able to see the spectacular sunset and started back down so that we would be back before dark - we had had a memorable day - and I had completely lost my voice to laryngitis.

That's the situation that I experienced today - not being able to sing in the Sunday worship at our house fellowship - and croaking out words most of the day.

So too at the wedding of Ruzbeh and Manjula which took place tonight in Ambernath. We went as a family - along with our fellow church leaders from Thane. I wanted to sing - but seemed to do more coughing instead!

Its been a great week - a memorable one for us all - and one that has left me speechless!

Thursday, 17 December 2009


While we were on the mountain, tragedy continued down in the plains.

Mrs. Langru has been having an affair with a thief. He is married and has his own family. She has not told him that she is HIV positive. After it became painfully clear that her other two children were going to die of neglect (having lost one already) we took the boy and girl and put them in the care of a loving couple who is looking after destitute children.

Mrs. Langru has been carrying another child from the man she is involved in. The child seemed to have some serious congenital problems.

This child too, is no more.

Mrs. Langru's partner is in jail. On Monday - despite needing to be hospitalised herself, Mrs. Langru went to a far part of the city to meet him in custody and give him food. Yesterday it all fell apart. She had a spontaneous abortion. This child will not see the day. It has departed before it was born. Broken.

With no one to turn to, Mrs. Langru contacted our staff, who rushed her to the government hospital. Sunita stayed up all night to be with her - as Mrs. Langru has no one else. Whatever relatives she does have do not want anything to do with her - and especially do not want to pay for her hospitalisation.

How very very sad to see the brokenness in people's lives. And how frustrating to know that Mrs. Langru can change - but holds all the more tightly to her present miseries.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


We completed 10 years of marriage together yesterday. 1/4 of our lives so far.

We were all up at 4 AM to start our epic trip to Matheran - but not before a small time of cake and flowers and cards and joy and grateful prayer. Asha presented me with a cloth cross-stitched book-mark - her first cross stich - done in painful secrecy to me. A very happy family left the home at 5 AM for Thane station - and our day of adventure!

One of the total highlights of the whole time was the amazing toy train.

When you get into the tiny carriages - you have no idea how wonderful the ride is going to be. After a slow and (at least for our carriage) slightly bumpy ride up an initial few hill ridges, you suddenly come right up against the side of the Matheran plateau.

From then on it is up, up, up and you see the most wonderful scenery unfold around you, even as you look down a sheer drop from your bar-less windows.

The beauty of the Sahaydri hills takes your breath away. And to think that just a few minutes earlier we had gotten off one of the many Mumbai local trains that ferry crammed boxes of people to and fro their workplaces in their daily grinds!

This amazing train covers 126 kms between Neral and Matheran. It is both slow and fast.

Slow because you move at a leisurely pace - able to soak in the views as you judder along the little narrow track on the thin man-made ledge of stone.

Fast, because we soon come to the famous 'one-kiss tunnel' - a tiny little tunnel which allows for just a single kiss before the light floods the carriage again (being a 10th anniv. there were plenty of excuses for being honey-mooney).

Fast, because before you know it, your 2 hours are up, and you are scooting through the forest crown that covers the flat top of the Matheran plateau.

As you come close to the town, you start to smell the horses. No vehicles are allowed in Matheran - not even bicycles. The only transportation are horses and human-pulled rickshaws. The horse owning lobby has zealously kept others out. And are making plenty off the throngs to tourists who make it up to the top during the peak seasons.

And then there are the monkeys too.

Nice to see from afar.

Not so nice close by.

We had just come to the 'Hope Hall Hotel' - a spartan place (no guesses for who chose it) - run by a quirky goan family. Enoch and I went to check in while Sheba and Asha lay down after the walk through the bazaar.

The door was open.

Before they knew it, Sheba and Asha had guests. A troop of rhesus monkeys. Not friendly either. They instantly started trying to loot our things. A shout from Sheba and Asha and the hotel boy who was bringing water rushed in to the rescue and chased out at least 6 of them.

By the time Enoch and I returned, the door was firmly shut. And so it remained. Generations of tourists have taught generations of monkeys to take advantage of them. We saw numerous people being boldly attacked and have packages snatched from them. One was a pack of kholapuri chappals. The monkey took it to a roof and opened it - only to leave it up there in disgust when if found out that it had stolen something inedible.

The kids had been looking forward to horse-riding.

The big moment finally came.

We gave in to the friendliest of the touts and 'negotiated' a ride with 3 mounts for something close to the amount being demanded by Somali pirates.

However, no sooner had the family mounted, than most decided that riding was not their thing after all. Various shrieks and shouts while walking through the bazaar - and then the ride was over. Bemused horse-men were paid off with a tip and the Eichers continued the trip to "One Tree Hill" on foot.

A ride had become a hike. And a splendid time was had by all!

To be out in the woods. To be alone. To be wandering at mid-day in the cool of the hills and the warmth of the sun. What a joy to be at Belvedere point - absolutely only us - and look down ravishing heights to a large reservoir - with magnificent cliffs on all sides and tinouses in a village below - nestled in the trees.

The charms of Matheran caught us quick.

Our intrepid family did the 7 kms round trip with a lot of gusto - and oohs and aahs - and many rest-stops and a final push back to the bazaar and a late lunch. While we feasted on tandoori roti and chicken (and Asha ate her normal rice-dal) the TV was cackling about India and Sri Lanka clobbering each other on the cricket field. Another world from ours in Matheran - but one being avidly followed.

So much of the place - however - was decaying. The old stately homes seem largely to have gone to seed.

Other than the garish shops selling chikki and leather sandals - and the amazing variety of hotels (most with hair-standing crassness on offer) - the place is pretty dead. I wondered how many of the school children we saw were planning to stay in Matheran - and how many had their eyes fixed on Mumbai.

As for the Parsis, who were the real founders and establishers of Matheran - their influence seems mainly to linger in the estates that still bear the exotic names like Jeejeebhoy.

We didn't meet anyone who identified themselves as Parsi during our short stay - but then we only had a sample day of 1.

The other oddly decrepid thing were the horses.

Now there were the odd handsome ones -buffed up and sharp looking, ready for tourists to mount them.
But the bulk of the horses looked sad overused. Especially the occassional train of pack horses, straining under their heavy loads - and the occasional whack from their masters.

We passed a camp of them this morning as the train wound us down the mountain again. Each horse had a feed bag on and were munching in the mist. What would today's labour mean for these gentle beasts?

Suffice it to say - that seeing Matheran with adult eyes is very different from seeing it through the wild-eyed vision of a 7th grader.

We came down the mountain deeply refreshed in our hearts. Still tired in our bodies and minds because of the mountain of work that met us back in Thane. But very very glad that we were able to do this trip.

Now to make sure it is not another 10 years before we foray out like this to Matheran - and beyond!

Monday, 14 December 2009

10th anniversary

Tomorrow marks a red-letter day for Sheba and myself. Exactly 10 years ago - on the 15th of January in the last year of the past millennium Sheba and I promised ourselves to each other.

We have come a long way from our marriage in Rourkela, and the initial 2 years at Nav Jivan Hospital in Jharkhand - over to Mumbai for a year with ACT-Chiraag and then the last 7 odd years with Jeevan Sahara Kendra in Thane.

What a wonderful and challenging 10 years it has been. So much joy. So many experiences. So many places where we are changed (and the sobering knowledge that there is still much to be re-moulded). There have been dark days - but looking back all we can say is 'thank you God!"

Tomorrow we are heading off for a one-day trip to Matheran - a small hill-station 3.5 hours from us. We go with Asha and Enoch - our two fellow-travellers whom God has graciously given us along the way.

The little trip will include a delightful trundle up the hill in the famous 'toy-train' - something that we have not been able to experience as a family in the 8 years we have been in the greater Mumbai area.

As we go on this little trip - we realise that it mirrors the much longer trip that we are on together as a family. Dec. 15th 1999 was the embarking time. When will it end? We really don't know - and can't. But we do know that every single day, every precious one of them is amazingly valuable.

Many of you gentle readers have accompanied us for various periods of time on this on-going journey. Thank you for your companionship, love and prayers.


Sunday, 13 December 2009

Far from home

We have been counselling and testing people for HIV for the past year now. The numbers of people coming has been slim - and we suspect it is because most people don't know that Jeevan Sahara has the services available.

So around World AIDS Day we did a small publicity campaign. We put up stickers in auto-rickshaws and gave our small pink pamphlets telling that we have HIV counselling and testing available.

Niraj (not his real name of course) saw one of these pamphlets in a friends house. Niraj works in the nearby city of Bhiwandi - and has lost his father 4 years ago to HIV. He had just gotten news that his mother - living near the Nepal border in Gorakhpur district - was very sick. He also heard that she was testing for HIV and was found positive. Niraj kept the news to himself.

When Niraj saw the pamphlet with something about HIV on it in his friends house - he waited till the friend left the room - and stole it.

Looking at it later, he found the Jeevan Sahara Kendra address and came to talk.

"Please help my mother" he pleaded - going in and out of tears repeatedly. "Please give me medicine - powerful, expensive medicine - so that she will live." Niraj implored. "I will send it to her and then she will live."

Sheba tried to help Niraj and suggested taking his mother to Gorakhpur to the government hospital there. Niraj was horrified. "No! They will kill her!" he sobbed. Somehow this young man was totally convinced that the govt. hospitals kill people intentionally. Where this fear came from, whether it was a general fear or only limited to people with HIV, we could find out only very little. But the fear was real. It may seem irrational, but this is what this young man went through.

At the next visit, Niraj repeated his plea. He had just heard that his mother was bedridden now and he was preparing to go. He agreed to take her to the govt. hospital. "Madam, I will give you a call from when we meet the big doctor - please tell him not to kill my mother" Niraj entreated Sheba ,"she is all I have." But the next day he reversed his decision and asked for medicines that he could give her to get her a bit better - and then he would bring her to Mumbai.

We were due to meet him again. Niraj was sitting at Jeevan Sahara Kendra, waiting for his turn to see Sheba, when his phone rang. A call from home. His mother had died.

Niraj was broken. His worst fears had come true.


Sheba prayed with Niraj. She listened to his grief. He has gone to the village to do the last rites. Along with him, he has a small book which tells of the life of Jesus - who as a young man probably buried his earthly father Joseph.

The big city has many, many stories of grief - puddles of them that spill sloppily between the rush of tyres on road.

Friday, 11 December 2009

At the heart of it all

The heart is a fascinating thing. Pumping blood day and night. Never stopping, never sleeping, unnoticed most of the time.

That is, until the odd pain prompts the dreaded question: is something wrong.

We always believe that it will happen to others. Not to me. Not now. I am too young.

This week was a wake-up call for us.

Dr. Stephen Alfred - just a decade ahead of us in the race of life - has found that he needs urgent heart surgery. A major blockage which stenting alone will not adequately deal with.

Stephen is no slouch. He doesn't fit my mental stereotype of an obese, sedentary, aging male. As the managing trustee for the Bethany Trust - God has used him to start up and run the Lok Hospital. We at JSK owe our start to his initiative in 2002 after attending the 'Prescription for Hope' conference. His presence as the central pillar of Lok Hospital and Bethany trust was a given.

Or so we think. Scripture tells us that men's days are like grass. We bloom and blossom and then fade away.

Scripture also tells us that we are very precious in God's sight.

I talked to Stephen on the phone yesterday. He expressed his deep gratitude to God for taking him through this process. It echoed some of the comments of our friends who have HIV. Gratitude for God's mercies in the midst of uncertainty.

Stephen has been booked for minimally invasive heart surgery at the Asian Heart Institute in Bandra for Monday Dec. 14th. Your prayers are requested.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Enoch, a.k.a. Sunflower

Parenting may be God's way of keeping us from becoming too serious.

We certainly get so much joy from Asha and Enoch - both in their own unique ways.

One of Enoch's traits is the capacity for laughter. Its no accident that the first thought that came to mind was "Sunflower." The school had sent us a notice that he was to come dressed up as a flower today. Hence the contraption above instead of his normal school uniform.

Its hard to be bowed down with the worries of the world when you have a ray of sunshine like Enoch!

We are very, very grateful for this young man.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

An afternoon up high

I went up this afternoon. Literally up. Climbed a hill. Was quiet. Slept. Read the Bible and prayed. Sunk in the late afternoon sun.

The last few weeks have really taken their toll on me. I am irritable and unfocussed. Constantly tired. Yet not able to sleep easily (like right now as I am typing this at 11.15 PM in a darkened home).

Going up the hill - was a first and very welcome step.

To be under a tree - on the top of the ridge - and to see green forested hills stretch before you is something very special.

To do so with the urban sprawl of Thane just behind your back is an added bonus. It was remarkable to be up high - and hear the low rumble that the city gives off - and realise that this rumble is the background music to our lives. We are so accustomed to the melange of sound that we do not even consciously note that all the time we have a wall of sound around us.

A big thankyou to Sheba for encouraging this afternoon expedition. I feel more human again. More real. More of what I know God wants me to be.

And so off to some real slumber! Good night!

Rs. 11 trumps Rs. 100,000

Hari and his wife have HIV. They are an upper middle class couple - living in a pretty posh locality in Thane.

But even so, spending Rs. 100,000 on medicines, tests and consultations - and still suffering from a diarrhea for 6 months is horrible.

Sheba saw the thick pile of medical papers. Expensive tests done. Various medications prescribed.

She then prayed for the Hari and prescribed a course of co-trimoxazole (commonly called 'ciplin' or 'septran' or 'bactrim'). The cost? Rs. 11.

Today two of our staff visited Mr. Hari and his wife. He is *so* much better. He is *so* grateful not to have the chronic diarrhea he has suffered from - and because of which he has stopped working.

We have some of the cheapest drugs in the world in our country. We also export doctors like nobody's business (and nurses and other para-medicals too) while still having lots who are making a packet. You just have to examine what the dowry rate for a Malayali doctor is to understand how much people expect them to earn.

But what of the terrible cost that all of this has on the trust that once seemed so intrinsic to the medical profession?

We are so privileged that Sheba has the freedom to practice ethical, people-oriented whole-person care. What a joy to be able to listen and pray, share and educate - especially when all around what people hear is so negative and cold.

At the same time, we are humbled when our simple steps bear fruit.

The battle is not over yet for Mr. Hari. He has a long road still to go, but we are glad to have made such a dramatic impact in such a short time.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

A question

She came to the JSK centre this morning. She had called last night. "I had unprotected sex with a number of partners. What is the chance that I have HIV?"

Sheba talked to her for some time on the phone. Set up the appointment for testing. Our lady counsellor talked with her and the blood sample was taken.

The test result is negative. Sigh of relief. Would that all the results we see at JSK be negative. Would that we would not have to do the test.

We are in a place and time where sexual networking seems the norm rather than the exception.

In a week when the biggest golfer in the world has been unmasked as not quite the paragon of virtue that his image suggested - we have been involved with a number of people who have used their sexuality for themselves - and are trying to work through the consequences.

Its good to be able to give quiet hope - and the truth. As unpalatable as it sometimes seems in our age of do-what-you-want-as-long-as-you-like.

Life is more than sex. Way more.

Friday, 4 December 2009

In the air

OK, here is a first for us: One of our faithful blog-readers is about to join us for an internship at Jeevan Sahara Kendra!

Ben Davy is 'in the air' as this is being typed out - his flight seems to be somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean - according to the Continental Airlines - and is running an hour late. Ben should be arriving to a muggy winter evening at 10.40 PM tonight.

Ben is doing a Masters of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Centre in Omaha. Its a long way from there to Thane - but that's where the heart trumps distance.

A few weeks ago I had a teleconference with Ben's supervisors. I had tried unsuccessfuly to get my mobile to make international calls - and so found myself calling from a phone booth in the local Gujarati grocery store. Standing next to the onions and potatoes and coconuts at 8 PM at night (and having temporarily abandoned the dinner guests for this assignment) I participated in a surreal chat with two learned professors of public health about how Ben would be using his 2 weeks with us.

And now Ben is on his way. A straight(ish) shot from Newark to Mumbai. Courtesy of the amazing technology (and relatively cheap refined hydrocarbons) that shrinks our world so dramatically.

Namaskar Ben! Aap ka swagat hain!

Thursday, 3 December 2009


Death doesn't solve problems by removing the person in pain.

Sheba talked to a young woman today. A year ago, she was looking after her HIV positive mother. Today her just-turned-twenty brother is living alone in their house - and she as a 22 year old is living with her grand-parents. Their mother died about 8 months ago.

Preeti, as we will call this young woman, is struggling to put her life together at this point. She is not 'at home' in the place she is living - but not on good terms with her brother - who had been expressing his hostility to her mother and her through the last months of her mother's life.

Preeti goes twice a week to clean up her brother's home.

She has gone twice to the government hospital where her mother died. Just sat in the ward.

Suicidal thoughts have buzzed through her mind.

What words to give to a young woman who is living through a life of shreds...

We have no easy answers. No glib responses. No quick guaranteed problem-solving-potion.

Listening. Praying. Talking. Hoping. Moving forward - slowly for the mist of tears.

Seminarians with Photoshop skills

They don't make seminarians like they used to. And perhaps that's a very good thing!

We have been blessed over the past 7 months by an intrepid threesome of John Jeebasilan, Ashis Karthak and Binson James - this year's interns from Union Biblical Seminary in Pune.

Its been a blink of an eye - and they are already on their way home. Binson leaves for Kerala this morning, John and Ashis for Tamil Nadu and W. Bengal next week.

But what an impact each one of them - and all three of them together have had on the JSK team!

We had a small thanksgiving time with them on the night of the 1st. After having fanned out all day on different World AIDS Day outreach activities, it was appropriate to end it with lots of laughter. And that we certainly had. Uproarious - continual laughter as we reviewed their time with us (the photo tells it all).

John, Ashis and Binson have brought much joy and life into our team. Their individual hard work - dedication and love for each other - their kindness and gentleness to all of us - their willingness to go the extra mile.... all of these qualities and so much more marked an amazing 7 months with us at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.

They came as seminarians - they leave as family. We look forward to many more meetings with them in the future.

They don't make seminarians like they used to. This group came with an amazing set of skills - ranging from musical and worship-leading, research and analysis, computer graphics and photo-shop tools...

But more than what they brought with them, each one warmed our hearts. We saw their love and care for the people with HIV that we are working with, their love and loyalty to each other, and their love for each one of us in the staff team.

They came and learned from us. And they did.

We still have much to learn from them.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Big Day

World AIDS Day comes once a year. December 1st.

A day to remember - and move forward.

A day to speak out - and pray hard.

Tomorrow is that day.

At Jeevan Sahara Kendra we know that every day is World AIDS Day. The disease does not just show up once a year. We are working with people day in and day out who have the disease. Illness does not observe special days and times.

But we also realise the value of a time when we can focus on the disease - and speak out in our own small ways.

So with a deep breath, here is what the Jeevan Sahara team plans to do tomorrow:

We start each day with prayer. This day will be no different - infact, we will be spending the first 1/2 hour specifically praying for the needs of people across our city - and nation - who have HIV.

One group of our JSK staff plan to participate in the Thane Municipal AIDS Rally - a procession of school children and others that will wind from the Civil Hospital to the large convention centre next to the Talao Pali - the lake at the heart of Thane. JSK will also host a small stall there along with other NGOs working on HIV issues.

Three other groups of 2 each will fan out to meet auto-rickshaw drivers. Auto-rickshaws are a life-line of Thane - providing travel services through narrow streets. Many of the drivers are migrants from the north and away from families. Each will see at least 30 passengers a day. Some serve as ambulances to take sick people to doctors. We will be meeting the drivers while they wait to fill up at the CNG stations (only 3 in Thane - and long lines always). The JSK staff will talk to the drivers about HIV testing and pin a red ribbon to mark World AIDS Day.

We will also ask them (with utmost politeness of course) whether we can paste a sticker in their vehicle - so that passengers can see that HIV testing is available. We have already started this mini-campaign over the past 10 days and today if you take an auto-rickshaw ride in Thane, there is an increasingly good chance that you will see one of our JSK stickers - telling that HIV testing is available - and giving our contact number.

Another team of two - James D'Costa and Ashis Karthak are making their way down to Mumbai to give a talk at the head office of RPG industries (well known as the maker of CEAT tires). They will be holding two awareness sessions for employees at the head office.

In the afternoon one of our teams will meet with the parents from a local child-daycare centre - and give them a talk about HIV/AIDS.

Sometime during the morning we are also expecting an interview with one of the Mumbai FM radio stations that has decided to highlight our work on World AIDS Day.

And in the middle of all of this we will continue to see patients at the centre - and in the afternoon - the home-care teams will visit key positive friends in their homes to continue the work of caring for people with HIV.

Finally - at the end of the day, we will be saying goodbye to our 3 interns from Union Biblical Seminary: Binson James, Ashis Karthak and John Jeebasilan with a small farewell getogether a.

Its going to be a BIG day!

Saturday, 28 November 2009


Sheba has been talking to a young HIV positive widow.

The emphasis is on young.

'Reena' has been a widow for 6 years now.

She is 23 years old.

Her marriage at the age of 16 (well below the 18 year statutory age limit) brought her a husband who died a year later. He had HIV. She has HIV now.

So many lives almost seem over before they have even really begun.


Today is the Youth Against AIDS day of service.

As I type this note a good 30 odd young people (and 1 or 2 young at heart) have fanned out with our JSK staff to meet families affected and at risk of HIV in their homes. These volunteer visitors are members of youth groups from different churches. What a joy to see young-blood come forward to help. Its a small step for many - and a big step for some - but we know that lives lived and shared together can make a difference.

We will be meeting this evening to share experiences - and pray about the next steps forward.

Reena will not be visited today by our volunteers - her confidentiality is too fragile at this point. But we hope that we will soon be able to build up enough rapport with her to be able to have a person of her own age come along side her.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

American wedding

Far away in America our brother Upendra Kumar got married on the 24th of September to Sathya Theodore in upstate New York, USA.

We as Thane Eichers were not there in the flesh (though very much in the spirit and in prayer). Today we got a first glimpse of some of the festivities.

Mum and Dad looking very desi in videsh

Upendra in the meanwhile looked his dashing best
Stefan and family were there to lend a helping hand. It looks like Stefan played multiple roles as best man and MC for the reception (in this photo featuring our little seen - for us Thane Eichers - but ever adorable niece / cousin Anjali)
Dad was called to preach the sermon - which he enthusiastically did (he always does things with gusto) - basing much of the content on the sermon he preached at our marriage - 9 years and 11.5 months ago!

And finally, the bride and groom are married to be Mr. and Dr. Upendra and Sathya Kumar!
Smiles all around (I remember my jaw ached the next day from all my grinning) and a twinge of regret that we were not able to be there 'in the flesh.' Sadly, the dear folks at the US Embassy did not see fit to allow Upendra's brother Narendra and family entry to the US of A and so they too had to stay this side of the great big puddle.

Prayers for the new couple! We are always so glad when two dear people start the amazing journey of marriage together.

Congrats Upi and Sathya - we are proud of you - go forth and make a massive difference - together!