Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Takes a lickin... and keeps on tickin...

Our camera is kaput. Given so generously about a year ago. Today its in Delhi - waiting to be repaired with its cousin which belongs to Victor and Sarah - also kaput (the camera - not our relatives that is).

No camera means no images of Enoch's last 3 weeks of lego glory. He has just devoured the train set which has survived over the years more or less intact. We brought it down from Mussoorie this time, and Enoch has just *enjoyed* making engines, setting up track, making bridges - the works.

The remarkable thing is this - the Eicher lego collection is now at least 30 years old. And some of the first pieces were hand-me=downs from some hoary time before that!

Evidence is in the engines. We have 4 of them. Last year when we were in Mussoorie, one seemed to work reluctantly. Without much hope I brought them down here to see whether something could be done. It could. Just opening them up and doing a minimal clean and a few drops of oil - and hey presto - these little 4.5 V beauties are actually performing.

The kicker is this: the engines had their date of manufacture on them. Sturdy German things, the little engines were housed in rather ungainly (and heavy) boxes (see pic above, harvested from the internet).

But here it is. One engine was made in 1978. Another in 1977. Another in 1975. And drum-roll please... one was made in 1969. That's our birth year folks. 40 years young and this little German beauty is still working.

How much abuse those magical plastic bricks got over the years. Still they click together crisply! Amazing. And how the motors still whirr away happily when given their needed 4.5 Vs....

To come back to the dear camera - a 3 year old (max) thing. Kaput. Even the much touted Macbook that I am using to type this. Had to get a new hard-drive. Nothing is permanent it seems - other than old vintage pieces of lego (and that of course only for a while).

It is no secret that Enoch's father is just as excited about the legos as Enoch himself.

Come and join us one of these days!

Monday, 29 June 2009

growing old

Growing old is a part of life. But a part we usually try to hide - or bury often rather brutally (cf. a certain young man who died at 50 after a failed quest to remain a boy forever).

In working with people with HIV we deal largely with people in their mid-30s. People like the young man who found out that he had HIV today. He had been sick - and his brother-in-law had know about his diagnosis for 6 months already - but the man himself had not been told the truth till this morning - and then we were called in to help explain what it means.

But spare a thought for those who are not looking after small children anymore. Those who don't have living parents - because they themselves are aged.

This evening we had a heart-breaking call from S. India. A couple we know well have left the city and settled in a small town where they felt they would be looked after more than in the anonymity of their flat in urban Mumbai.

Their children are abroad. Married. Settled. With kids of their own.

The parents are living through their HIV here. They have visited their children several times - but the cold of their adopted countries is too much for them.

Recently one of their children transferred back for some months and called the parents to be with her in one of the booming metropolises that dot the South.

But now she has returned to her family and further career. Her mother and father are alone.

We asked "how are you". The voice on the phone was crying.

Auntie has been under psychiatric care for years - with good results. But her husband is now the one that she is caring for rather than he for her.

She is frightened and alone. "I have lost my mind" she said. The medications they are taking for HIV are being paid by their children abroad - but they do not have the on-going care and follow-up they need.

The contrast to our own life is so stark. Here we were holding our mobile in our hands - while Asha did her home-work, and Enoch brought various lego toys for inspection and advice. The comfort and love that we are surrounded with is phenomenal. The options that are at our disposal seem positively God-like.

How to comfort across the kilometers, across the crackly monsoonal airwaves?

We did as best we could. Feeble sounding words, but heart-feltly meant. A prayer for Auntie and Uncle - spoken to God but transmitted via the mobile to Auntie's ear. Telling them that we had prayed for them as a couple last week in our JSK team prayers. Words of comfort and encouragement. Then later this evening, prayers with the children before they slept.

In the dark of the night, as I get ready to lie down myself - the house is totally quiet other than the whirr of the fans and the croak of frogs outside and the occasional car. At this time I think about what it means to be old and without the love and support of our own.

So many with HIV live in the double bind. They are too afraid of telling the wider community (even their wider family) about their condition because of the horror and revulsion HIV elicits. At the same time they are at a point where even if they are not suffering from active HIV disease (which a lot are as well) the normal wear-and-tear of getting old is kicking in - and they need the help which the elderly with HIV are not getting.

A friend of ours came by about 2 years ago and did a focus group on elderly care givers of people with HIV. Spare a thought for those who are growing old and have the additional challenge of living with HIV.

Mobile calls

The mobile phone is an amazing device.

(Almost) wherever you are - people can get in touch with you.

Today two young men called up. Different men. Same topic. They had had a sexual exposure and wanted to talk about it.

The first call came in the morning while we were worshipping in our house fellowship. I called back later since the phone was on silent. The second was in the evening and came during the annual general meeting of our housing society. I left the room - talked to the man - and came back.

Both men want to be tested. Both men were grateful to talk. I feel humbled to know through the combination of the simple website we have for JSK (www.JeevanSahara.wordpress.com) and our contact number: 9323712065, that we were able to play a small part in helping bring real change. What a blessing to serve as a link for people to call up and find out - and gain peace of mind - as well as come in contact with people who can help them change their behaviours - from the inside out.

Sunday, 28 June 2009


Man was created to be free - yet everywhere he is in chains.

How many of the chains are self-imposed? How many are ones that we have become so used to that we don't even think of them as impediments anymore?

Talking to those who had decided to follow him, Jesus said that "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."

Are we brave enough to take a good look at where we actually are? What are my priorities - what things do I value - will they last?

With 1/2 of 2009 already having slipped away - its good to take stock.

This weekend we met two families who were going through deep waters. Though we didn't know it - they actually live quite close to each other on the other side of Mumbai town. We spent time listening and talking to them. Both are from the same linguistic back ground. Both have young people who have faced serious and unexpected setbacks in their educational careers. Both have shed many tears.

But the difference is this: one family is trying to do things on their own - working it out - saying that everything is alright - while at the same time finger-pointing at each other. The other is sorrowful but trusting God. The latter family needs comfort and guidance just as much as the former - but there is a huge difference in their outlook and hope. Knowing God does not mean smooth sailing - but it does mean that in the rough waters they know someone is with them.

Chains? Unseen and unacknowledged in the former family. Being recognised and worked through in the latter - with help from loving Father.

Come unto me, all you who are weak and heavy-laden - and I will give you rest.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Looking down, looking across

Spy satellites are funny things. They show you lots of houses from the top - but do they really show you what's going on at the ground level?

We live in an age of google maps. We now have information at our fingertips that puts our childhood spy shenanigans to shame. Stuff that we would read about in awe as kids now is dated. It seems almost quaint to think of the Russians and the Yanks battling each other for supremacy by sending sophisticated aircraft like the U2 over each others countries and proxies - or even better - by launching crude satellites - when far more than that is now available thanks to high resolution earth pics from space - and photo merging programmes that allow us to zoom around at will on the landscape. The pics may be a year or two old - and taken on different days to ensure that the landscape is all well lit - but our landscape does not change so quickly anyway.

There have already been plenty of voices suggesting that our national security may be at risk. Others have different views of course. But it does seem that the terrible attacks on Mumbai last year were meticulously planned using google earth and gps finders.

What I saw today, however, was something of the other side. The BBC website has overlaid some of the clips of the current protests in Tehran, allowing you to 'see' where the protests are being held. Take a look here

Its somewhat bizarre to juxtapose the hustle and bustle of a protest on top of the largely silent streets that the satellite photos show us. There are of course images of buses and cars if you zoom up to the highest power - but these are stationary, fuzzy blobs. Google earth stops you in mid-air, above a silent and sunlit - and basically sleeping world. The genius of the BBC map is that you can click onto the places where people have shot footage of what is taking place on the ground.

I must say that I found the combination on the BBC map irresistible - to be able to see live action from where the action takes place was wonderful. I guess I was born just a few years too early. Looking at the Epi2000 programme I just downloaded, with its primitive GIS mapping programme I wish I could have had a class at university that brought the two together in a simple way. I know I can probably teach myself, but where to find the time?

Anyone out there who would like to help us map out our work - please do stop by Thane! It would be so powerful to see information vital to our 200 plus HIV positive friends play itself out across Thane. With a simple GPS reading from near their homes - and only using code numbers to maintain confidentiality- we could see how the different aspects of our positive friends lives: look at where people are taking what kinds of ART, map out treatment compliance, find out ways that access to services are being taken up, check out the locations of widows and orphans....

But with all of this, the basic fact remains: we know what people are going through. Beyond maps - we need loving hands and gentle hearts and strong and clear minds to meet and help our friends living with HIV. Mapping has its place. But the real work is actually going and listening. Taking a hot meal over and encouraging. Accompanying someone to the govt. ART centre to start on treatment.

Monsoon - come soon

Its been raining today. Off and on.

Raining enough to get me a bit wet. Enough to have me put the raincoat in the dickey of our family Honda (scooter that is - not 'four-wheeler) - and to have to retrieve it mid-journey twice.

The monsoon is due to officially open this years deluge in Mumbai / Thane today or tomorrow. We can expect tons of water. Literally. Falling from the sky.

Alas, most of our nation - esp. the northern states are still parched. The monsoon is only 10 days late according to our weather pundits - but 10 days can seem like years.

And there is no saying how much it will 'yield' this year.

We have had something like 13 years in a row of 'normal' monsoons. That has translated into 13 years of by and large good crops across the countries. There have of course been shortages here and there - but the bulk of the country has been pretty well-watered.

Until now. The government has just announced that this monsoon is likely to be 'below normal'.

Pray for rain. Without water our plants (both green and steel) wither. And the knock-down effect always hits the poor harder.

Here in Thane we are enjoying the coolness of air and the splashiness of water. Would that it would continue - and would that the rest of our parched land also get its share of monsoon joy.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

We live in very different worlds.

On one hand our involvement at Jeevan Sahara Kendra allows us a ring side view of some of the most wrenching and wretching parts of people's lives.

On the other hand we inhabit an upper-middle-class world where things are very aspirational.

Sheba attended the 'orientation' for parents of this year's standard 1 students (of which Enoch is a proud member) this afternoon. The headmistress sagely coaxed the parents 'not to use the words exam for every test that the school holds".

At the end of the session there was a sea of demands from our fellow parents:
"tell the teachers to make sure our children eat all their tiffin"
"my son says they ate food without washing hands after doing their clay modelling"
"my son said the teacher told that 'girls are better than boys' - what will this do to him?"
"please have the children rotate in how they sit in class"

All this after just a single week of the new school year. Aspirations run high in our neck of the woods - and these aspirations breathe down the necks of the kids. And there are plenty of kids - a whopping 7500 attend this school. The classes are staggered so that maximum students are taught in the sprawling buildings - and even then more and more parents what their charges to be nurtured in this Jain Trust run institution.

Just next to JSK is another organisation which has been reaching out to women in prostitution. One of them had come with her son - leaving 'the trade' and hoping for a new life. Being HIV positive may have led the madame to let her go. I don't have the whole story, but we could tell that she was very happy to be out of the situation she was in. Her son, all of 3 was a tremendous joy to all - and to his mother as well.

About three months ago, this lady said that she wanted to go to her village. Though the request caused a vague unease in the heart of the folks looking after the home, they concurred and bought the rail tickets for the woman and accompanied her to the train.

No news after she left. None, that is, till a govt. social worker called on our neighbours and asked why the woman was back in prostitution in a nearby town. She had got on the train - and then got off and the first station and had taken her son with her back into the brothel life. Shocked and hurt, our neighbours could only pray - and that is what we did too. The lady communicated that she wanted to continue with the trade and did not want to come back.

Last week she returned. With her son. Prayers are being answered.

Now the hard part - to see this dear sister live out each God-given day as she develops into the person she was made to be - ditto for her little boy!

Last week this little family came back.


How many of you would like to lift an Oscar?

Well Gregg Helvey - a fellow traveller who was in Mumbai last year to shoot a 17 minute short film on modern day slavery called Kavi has done just that.

Gregg not only lifted the prop of Oscar that was part of the decoration of the 2009 Student Oscars - his film actually won the gold medal!

For a look at the trailer of Kavi at the film's website

Now a deep breath and lets see how far the film will go in the main Oscars.

In the meantime, we have so many young boys who are condemned to a life-time of labour all around us. Slaves to others. Slaves to themselves. Slaves to habits. Slaves to the fear of change - and the crippling worldview of anger and street smarts that continues to hold people into stupid poverty - rather than moving them into the potential that God has made them to be.

Our Lord said:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4.18-19

Truth be told

Facing truth is never easy.

He had been sick, but is a lot better since we started him on ART. She is also HIV positive and has borne the brunt of caring for him in his illness.

And then there are the children.

Neither tested. We tried to encourage the parents to test the kids. Floods of tears each time the topic was brought up.

Over the past months, however, one of the daughters - a 3 year old has been repeatedly ill.

We finally prevailed on the family to find out whether she has HIV - so that we can better treat her.

All of us dreaded the result. We prayed with the family about what it would be. We prayed unabashedly for a negative result. But we also prayed for strength if the blood result came positive.

When the blood was taken the child cried piteously. So did the father.

Last week the parents came for the result.

The child is HIV negative.

The look of joy, relief and thanksgiving on the parents face.

In all the trauma that they have gone through - we see some light.

They still have a sick girl, and we are working on getting her better, but the terrible burden of fear has been banished. The terrible weight of thinking whether they had passed on the infection to this little girl who was being formed while the mother carried the virus in her body - that burden has been lifted from this family's shoulders.

Finding out the truth is hard - but it is the only way to move forward.

Monday, 22 June 2009


We just got back from a monthly meeting that the leaders of the different local fellowships of our church have. Its a time to think back and reflect, to pray and to challenge each other.

As a set of house-fellowships - found mainly in the north eastern suburbs of Mumbai and out to Dombivili we have lots of short-comings. One of the thoughts that we were challenged with this evening was about our identity: Do we identify ourselves as what we are not, or by what we are? By what we turn away from, or by what we are turning to?

But thinking back on this evening's time another thought came to me. In every fellowship represented, there was a common refrain, and underlying thread that ran through much of the evenings conversation.

All are now linked in some way with HIV.

One of the first groups to share stated that though the church has started some reaching out to people with HIV in their general area, they as a home-fellowship were not involved with this and this troubled them.

The next group - one in which one of the elders has been specifically released to focus on ministering to people with HIV/AIDS - had much to say about the different people that they are working with. This included 2 orphan siblings who are being looked after by a church facilitated care-giver - all 3 being HIV positive. As the boy has not been responding well to his medications, the elder in charge shared how difficult it was for him to keep visiting the boy, but how at the same time this challenging time as brought the boy so much more intimacy with God. This elder also shared how one of his dear friends with HIV - a man who had struggled for years with alcohol and broken relationships at home and work - is now such a source of joy and encouragement to him. "If I were to live my whole life and change just one life like [the name of the man with HIV] it would be worth it" said the elder. There were many other things shared too - but this will do, to give a small taste of what can be done by people determined to help people with HIV.

When it was our turn to share, we touched on a lady who our local fellowships are supporting and her desire for baptism - and at the same time how her church care givers have been transferred out and so she needs new ones. We mentioned how a significant portion of the JSK team are members of the fellowships in Thane. A point was shared about how one of our friends from Thane had gone back to his native Bihar and was asked to be a resource person there at a training organised for local groups working with HIV there. We also mentioned a young man who is the head of his 2 teenaged siblings - a small child-headed home where parents died of HIV.

Further up the tracks, a couple who are church planting - and of whom the wife had worked with us at JSK for 2 years shared about how they had come across a lady with HIV who needed to be started on ART. And how the wife had been doing teaching on a weekly basis with the care-givers of this lady.

And so it goes. Woven into the fabric of the church - nested in multiple relationships - of caring, challenge, growth and worship - is the undeniable presence of people with HIV.

If we were to rewind back to 5 years ago, this would just not be true. But it is today. Our fellowships are far from perfect. Very far. But it is amazing to see how much the body life of the church now is involved with people with HIV as a normal (though challenging) every-day part of living out the love of Christ - the reason for the church in the first place.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

End game

We got to know him about 4 years ago. It was a horrible way to get to know each other.

He and his wife were trying to have a child. Months had passed by without "an issue" as folks here sometimes put it. She and he had been checked up medically - and the verdict was that he needed to have an operation.

He did. Or at least he tried to. The man - lets call him Tahir - was admitted at a private hospital for the operation and put under anaesthesia. Then the surgeon did an HIV test. It was positive for HIV. The surgeon refused to do the operation and told Tahir that he was HIV positive.

Tahir was crushed. He and his father - who runs a small grocery shop in a near by shanty-town - were in tears when they came to us.

We counselled. Talked. Explained.

Tahir calmed down over the next few weeks.

But then he slipped into denial. He refused to tell his wife. He became surly and upset whenever our staff tried to meet him. Eventually he became hostile and said: "I'm ok. When I need you I will call you."

Earlier this year Tahir showed up again. He was not well but refused to admit it. He had been running a fever of 103 Farenheit but said that he was fine. His father was still with him. A shriveled little man.

Tahir has since had a child. He still did not come clean about his HIV condition to his wife.

Last week I heard from Tahir's neighbour that Tahir had been sick and gone back to his village. Far away near the town of Gorakhpur - on the border of Nepal.

Tahir won't be coming back. He is dead.

His wife has their child with her. Will she ever even be told about what killed her husband?

Another end game. Another silent death.

Life goes on in the city as we wait for the rains on a sultry late June night. But far away, the lives of a family have been irrevocably changed.

All for fear and pride. Melded together in an inseparable alloy.

Tahir could have been helped so much if he would have come clean about his condition. So many of our friends with HIV have told the truth to their loved ones - and are alive today. We
are seeing more and more live longer and longer.

But each journey of treatment has to start with the truth.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Hands and eyes

What does the eye see? What do hands hold?

Sight - do we look at the glitter of the outward? or do we search for underlying webs of relationships? of giving and taken for the benefit of the few?

Touch: what are our hands doing? When free are they building or destroying? The hands above probably have caressed a face. They are tied together because they have been found with traces of explosives on them - a dead give-away in the on-going sectarian carnage in Iraq.

And yet our wondrous hands and eyes also unlock so much what is not seen yet.

Like the endangered glass frog found in remote jungles in Latin America.

Or this stunning beauty of a frog. Entirely new to science - one of the many species only now being discovered.
Would that we would use our hands and eyes for seeing beauty rather than burning trains.

Monday, 15 June 2009


It seems a long ago. A very long time ago.

We were driving through Iran. In the back of an old OM lorry. We had left India and were Vienna-bound. Afghanistan was over. Then the long dry drive through Iran.

Tehran was big. Modern. The Shah's photo in every tea shop. Sprite available in homes.

After the clack-clack-clack of driving over cement high ways - the smoothness of Tehran and its luxurious bigness impressed even a 7 year old like me.

It was after all 1977.

Since then so much has happened. The return of Khomeini from Paris 1979. The regime change. Unthinkable that the Shah would be overthrown in those petrodollar days. But it happened. While the next year saw the Afghanistan that I knew of as a spring arbor of nuts and raisins, apparently crumble as the Russians moved in to support the people's revolution.

As savage as the Iranian revolution was - it was just that. A revolution, not some propped up party from abroad taking centre stage like in Afghan-land.

And now, a generation and a half later, we seem to be seeing the first genuine out-pourings of a new Iran. With the news of last week's Iranian presidential election still being nibbled away we are already seeing what was unthinkable a few weeks ago - large scale protests about what seems farcical results.

Where will these protests lead? The incumbent president is certainly not short of support as well. But then almost 80% of the electorate had voted - and the figures published as authoritative just don't make sense.

What a difference to the election we just held in our country. There was colour and pagentry. There was skull-duggery. There was even apathy - the sad hand-maid of freedom it seems too often - but at the end of the day - when the votes were counted it was clear that the winner was chosen largely fairly. And that the losers would have to seek the mandate of the people in the next time the electorate gets to cast their votes.

Our prayers go out to the people of Iran in these turbulent days. May we see more of the wonderfully witty and life-loving Iranians. May truth and justice reign - with conviviality! It is beyond me to know what Mr. Mousavi can do for his country - but we do know that each place can be tremendously blessed by people who live out lives of compassion and good stewardship.

And so back to the streets of Tehran. My life till then had mainly seen the crowded streets of Mumbai. Tehran seemed eerily empty. The shots that are coming over the BBC website show a different Tehran today...


One of the things that struck me when we were in Mussoorie at our parents' place were the books.

It shouldn't have surprised us of course - since most of the books are the fruits of the years of study abroad - as well as a life-time of collecting books - on top of the reams of mission and devotional books that our parents have.

Looking at them was like seeing a mosaic of old friends.

Some of them were my companions in college classes (the pain of buying a new edition at the ridiculous academic prices still hurts). Others were found in old book stores, or sales, or in library discard piles. Others were received as gifts - or bought with the intention of giving (esp. when within the family - they stay...).

A whole bunch were bought from AH Wheeler railway kiosks. Usually looking for something 'decent' or cheap (hopefully both). Some were from my first pay-checks in Bihar. Others were hand-me-downs from folks who went away.

Special mention for the Tintin comics - totally devoured by Asha and Enoch who discovered them with a vengeance this holiday. Many of them had been painfully bought from old-paper-wallahs in Bombay days. Their cousins - the carefully bound library of Commando war comics did not make their appearance. It will be another 5 years or so before we want the kids to be delving into the inticracies of WW2.

More books lurked up in the first floor - Mum and Dad's square library - with many veterans of our childhood of growing up in OM still lingering there....

But the strange thing was that this time the meeting was an awkward one.

Part of it was the dead core tiredness that I carried up with me to Mussoorie (happily, it seeped away with lots of love and cake and chai and conversation).

Part of it was the sheer numbers of books. Waiting. So many unread. So many needed a re-read.

The other side of the strangeness was a feeling that I am not really sure I wanted to read them all. I remember Peter Bowers, my room-mate from college days telling me that he was happier to read the Bible than all the other books. I thought how narrow that seemed at the time. But looking at my books again I realise the truth to what Peter said 20 years ago.

Though all truth is God's truth - and a good novel or a gripping history or an excellent textbook or a brilliant travelogue will get you far - the Book of Books is the one that I want to spend more time with from now on.

Its not an either or - but more of an issue of priorities. Since I have not been reading much over the last few years I want to start up again. But I also want to go a lot deeper into scripture - to let it seep through me. To think in the patterns of the writers. To know the underlying rhythms and cadences. To bite deep and not just send flat stones skipping across the surface.

Evidence of my decision. We brought back a huge bag of books. Before we left Mussoorie I managed to overcome the awkwardness and devoured The Man Who Knew Infinity a biography of the amazing Tamil mathematician S. Ramanujan. As a family we started The Tower of Geburah (and read it over some magical hikes to nearby hills - as well as on a sweltering train journey back). On the way down I pondered over Spiritual Revolution - a history of Operation Mobilisation. Currently Sheba and I are reading through The Training of the Twelve by A.B. Bruce. Our books are out again in the front room courtesy of a new metal shelving unit.

At the same time I am chewing through the Gospel according to Matthew. Fascinating stuff to see a man who was a collaborator with the occupation authorities join hands with a man who was a revolutionist seeking to overthrow them - all because of this man Jesus and the new relationship he calls people into.

It is exciting to see the kids start digging into books too. Asha is a busy reader. Enoch tries to read words - but prefers to be read too. We have some wonderful experiences coming up as we explore new worlds through books!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Older and thinner

He is a year older to her. But 10 kgs lighter.

She is full of pep. Though she just failed her 6th standard she is bubbling with life and spunkiness.

Both have HIV. Parents? Died long ago.

He has been started on Anti-retroviral Therapy drugs a month ago. But is not doing well.

"Doctor, can you give me something to make me gain weight?" he asked Sheba sadly.

It breaks our hearts when people we love are not doing well. Our bodies and our feelings are so deeply intertwined. This dear young boy, well into the cusp of adolescence seems lost and alone.

Thank God for the church people who are lovingly looking after him and his sister. They have poured themselves into the siblings - and it shows.

But the road is still hard for the early teen who has HIV coursing through his body - and for whom the meds do not seem to be having much effect.

So many pills. For TB. For HIV.

Spare a prayer for a young boy with HIV.