Thursday, 30 July 2009

into the big beyond

Jeevan Sahara Kendra is at a cross-roads. Well, lets put it this way, we have a set of cross-roads coming up 4 months down the line - but all the decisions about them have to be made now. Sort of like turning a ship - you need a good 1.5 kms to turn the largest behemoths - which means decisions on turning need to be made well out at see.

Our cross roads is the exciting opportunity we have to shift to the current Lok Hospital building. This means a lot more space for us - and opens up realistic possibilities for focussed in-patient care.

This weekend Dr. Manoj Jacob (who is with EMFI) and Bobby Zachariah (till recently heading up the Salvation Army's HIV work in India) spent time with a core group from JSK, talking through the options. The upshot was the decision to move forward with starting a Community Care Centre - a place where people with HIV can be treated when they are quite sick.

And so into the wild blue beyond! We very much know our limitations - especially staff-wise, but we also know that we need to seize the moment, trust God, and move forward.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Stepping out

On the 20th of September 2008 six young men were trekking in the Smoky Mountains in the Southern US. It was a college holiday and they were far from civilisation. They had left the trail and were making their way when one of them saw a large tower. A rock-climber and adventure lover, he decided to climb it to see if he could see a distant river.

Having made it to the top he sat enjoying the view. Moments later everything changed.

A force of 69,000 volts arced through the air and struck the young man in his left arm pit - the electricity coursed through his body, coming out of his lower extremities. His friends had heard a 'pop' and looked up horrified to see their friend fall onto a cross-bar of what was a high-voltage pilon, and the fell down to the ground - a drop of over 15 meters.

They found him still alive, but critically injured. Amazingly, one of them was able to find a signal on his cell phone - something highly unlikely considering how far in the wilderness they were. He dialed 911 to call for rescue. A passing mountain biker came across them and cycled down to the forest gate to guide the rescuers. One of the 5 friends had had wilderness emergency medical training the previous year - and now put his skills to use. The rescue team got up the mountain in 2.5 hours. And then put the young man on a helicopter to the nearest regional medical centre.

This is the stuff of Readers Digest "adventure in true life" tales. And more. This is the story of multiple miracles. The young man not dying in the initial surge. Him surviving the fall down to the ground. The cell-phone signal. The passing biker. The helicopter evacuation.

All of this was told to us this week by the young man himself. On Tuesday morning we had a visitor. Caleb Baber. A young American with an easy smile and a slight stubble. A man who is studying in a pre-med course and wants to be a missionary doctor. He came into the Jeevan Sahara Kendra while we were having our devotions, sat down and became part of us. He was wearing a fedora. He took it off when we prayed. I saw myself as I was in high-school.

It was only much later in the day that I noticed that he had a prosthetic foot. I had showed him a slide of a huge scar on the leg of an HIV positive man who had not been treated for an upper thigh abcess. This HIV positive man has had to have dressing done on this limb for almost a year now. Caleb calmly said that he knew about dressing too - since he had done it on his own feet. Then he showed me, that he actually had 2 prosthetic feet. And that his left arm was for most intents and purposes non-functioning.

The power of the story.

Caleb was in a terrible shape when his ambulance helicopter landed at the regional hospital. Immediately sedated, he was cut open to assess the damage to his internal organs. The surgeons saw that other than part of his large intestine - most of the organs were intact - so they removed the irreparably damaged part - stapled him up and air-lifted him to the Vanderbilt University Hospital for further care.

Then the road to recovery started. And it was one that had snaked through many dark valleys. As Caleb came to consciousness from the sedation he was scared and confused. Where was he? Why was he where he was? Who had done what to him? The pain - it was all terrifying and bewildering. Gradually he was settled and then the news was broken to him about what had happened.

All the while surgery was still going on whenever possible. Now the focus had shifted to what were left of his limbs. The doctors were trying to see what could be spared. They even were able to get him to 'walk' a few steps on heavily bandaged and strapped limbs - but despite the narcotics - the pain was intense. And after a short time the doctors sat down with Caleb to speak out what they had to tell him.

One of the things that hits hard is how amazingly positive Caleb was throughout the time. Even in his semi-consciousness, the attending nurses told him afterwards that they saw a peace and serenity - even as he was fighting for life. One of the threads that runs with clarity through the whole story is an amazing acceptance of the very hard knocks that the injury and post-injury process gave Caleb. In Caleb's words it was feeling the presence and utter sovereignty of God. In the flesh. In his spirit. And through the pain and confusion - it showed on his face.

The decision that the doctors were laying before Caleb was a stark one. They could try and restructure from basically nothing the charred tissue of his lower extremities. Or they could amputate. The latter would be the better, but the choice was his.

Caleb cried. Having survived so much - he felt that he was now on the road to recovery. That it might take time, but things were going to look up. And now this.

And then, amazingly, Caleb felt the very presence of God comforting him. Though he hardly wanted to do it, he knew that he should make the decision to amputate. A tremendous sense of comfort stilled his tears - and a felt knowledge that God was in control kicked in. The next day he sat his parents down and told them what his decision was. They cried and prayed and then told it to the doctors. 2 days later the lower extremities were surgically removed.

When Caleb woke up from the anesthesia to find that his feet were gone he had a deep sense that this was now the worst that could happen. That he had reached the nadir. He was almost glad of it - though it was a terrible moment - but glad because it meant that now he could move forward.

And move forward he did. Though not without more drama.

The entry wound had been patched with what is called a vacupack - where they had packed shut the gaping hand-sized wound and were irrigating and draining it with a small local pump. Basically other than a large artery, there was not much left where the electricity had entered Caleb's body - and the surgeons were seeking to move muscle from his back to patch up the hole.

One night after Caleb had been shifted out of the ICU and was sleeping, the artery burst. A large amount of blood was being lost - and efficiently pumped out by the apparatus covering the wound. Amazingly Caleb woke up and realised he was bleeding profusely. Amazingly his brother had been allowed to sleep that night with him in the room - something normally not permitted. Amazingly his brother also woke up and Caleb was able to communicate what took place. After that he passed out, but the brother was able to alert the medical staff and an emergency surgery took place, cutting another blood vessel to patch up the artery that had disintegrated - and also bringing the muscle tissue up from the back.

The surgery was successful. Caleb lived. Another miracle.

Then there was the rehabilitation process. You can read about what he and his family went through on the family blog called "Caleb's Road to Recovery". It is inspiring reading.

When Caleb started his rehab he was put on parallel bars. In the corner of the room he saw some crutches.

"When will I get to wear those" he asked the physiotherapist. She laughed and told him it would be a few weeks.

At the end of the first day of rehabilitation therapy he had progressed so well that she let him try out the crutches.

Caleb was injured in September 2008. In February 2009 a friend of his was making a trip to India. Caleb had been supporting four boys in a school in south India. Would Caleb like to come? Caleb sure did want to!

The treating physician was appalled when Caleb asked whether he could go in February to India. "You want to go where? When?" But to India Caleb went - with the doctor's blessings - and lots of prayers. On one prostetic leg and crutches.

It was a hard trip. But showed what can be done. And for Caleb it was a deep joy.

Later when it came time for him to get his second prosthesis, he crutched in for the appointment. He was given the new leg and tried to fit it on. Often learning to walk takes months of baby steps and frustrations. Amazingly Caleb got up and walked. He left the appointment carrying his crutches and with deep joy in his heart.

And so to this week. 10 months after the injury Caleb spent the day with us.

"I am so thankful" said Caleb over and over during our time together.
"I can walk."

Towards the end of the day, Caleb spent time sharing with our JSK staff about his experiences. He was God-soaked.

"I may not be able to use my left hand" said Caleb, "but I can use my right. And I can use my mouth."

Instead of bitterness we saw joy. And a desire to serve. A humble, vibrant desire to be used in whatever way possible.

Caleb has left for South India to meet his '4 sons' - the boys whose education he has been helping out with - and then plans to spend some time volunteering at Mother Theresa's home in Kolkotta. He plans to start up his pre-med college studies again on August 19th this year. 11 months after his life-changing injury.

Fare well Caleb. We know that our paths will cross again. Perhaps even at Jeevan Sahara Kendra!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Life again

Short note: we discharged a little girl today. She had been here with her mother and father and older brother since Tuesday - admitted at the JSK centre.

She is 9 months old and weighed only 5.5 kgs. Very undernourished. Had had diarrhoea for the last month. Had visited many doctors. Had been injected and whatnot but still sick.

We admitted her. Took the bottle her mother was still using with her and threw it away. We helped the mother feed the child. We encouraged and prayed.

After the very first day, the infant stopped passing stools. Then she started to eat. Did she ever eat. At the end of 3 days she had gain a whole 1/2 a kg!

As this HIV positive couple goes home with their happy daugther we are reminded about how many do not have such a happy ending. Even this family was at the brink of death. How long the little girl would have survived is anyone's guess. What a blessing to be a part of the solution in this family's life.

There are still some messy corners. Is this little girl HIV positive herself? We are about to have a viral PCR test done to see. The family relationship between husband and wife is fragile. Will the parents be able to look after the child when they return to their slum home? Many questions - few answers - but for now we celebrate that one more little child has been given life.

Hats off to the medical and nursing team at JSK - and all the unsung heroes who work away in other parts of the group - big hurrah for a God who answers prayers of his children. All through whom this family has received life again.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Back on FB

After 2 weeks in Facebook withdrawal the powers to be at FB have decided that we are not such transgressors after all - and have reactivated our account this morning.

Why our account was disabled in the first place remains a mystery. “Fred” sent a note stating that I have access to it again – and apologizing for the inconvenience. No clues about what evil deed we were supposed to have done (perhaps block too many of those inane quizzes??).

I guess when you have 200 million people using your service – and no one giving you any money directly - it is not surprising that it will take some time to getting around to dealing with glitches.

The more sobering part of the story was how much I had come to see the bit of Facebook territory that has our name on it as ‘ours’. It isn’t. At the end of the day they can shut it down and that is that.

During my 2 weeks of the enforced “Facebook fast” I realized a few home truths:

1) I have become far to enmeshed in the service for comfort. It sometimes takes going through something of a cold-turkey withdrawal to see how much a part of you it has become.

2) Of the 900 odd folks who are listed as friends, 2 noticed that I was not around and wrote to me to find out why. OK, it

3) Most of my social networking takes place in real time with people around me – especially my immediate family. We were blessed to have 3 amazing visits in the past 10 days – and having a cup of chai with someone in our home beats hundreds of mini-scraps of conversations that take place virtually

4) But…. the strange thing about FB is this – that you do ‘get a little bit’ about folks from various walks of life – and by ‘listening in’ to the scraps of info people are broadcasting it is possible to at least feel the pulse of so many all around the globe.

So at the end of the day it is down to this:

Will remain on Facebook for now – at least for a bit more (would want to somehow back up my contacts addresses – but FB stores the emails as images and does not make for easy retrieval).

Want to exercise a severe curb on how often I go on. Every other day? Having been at times accessing multiple times a day in the not too distant past – I think that this should be tried out at least.

The wander through the virtual world continues (with links to the carbon based and spirit filled one of course).

Damp Squib

I am writing during what is for us an almost total solar eclipse.

This morning - as the sun is rising - and Sheba and I are up drinking tea and reading our Bibles - the sun is being eclipsed by the moon - at least for us in Mumbai and a goodly swath of India.

Sadly there is not much to see.

The solar eclipse has arrived during the monsoon - and as usual we have an impenetrable bank of clouds above us and blinding sheets of rain.

The only evidence for the eclipse is that it seems a little darker than normal. But that too is normal because of the often heavy rain. As I type it is coming down in buckets (thank God) which is great for the general economy of the land - and the water levels of the lakes which supply our 16 million plus megacity of Mumbai-Thane-Navi Mumbai - but sadly means that there is no obscured-sun-gazing for the Eichers.

The kids will be allowed to keep sleeping. Not much point waking them up to see some dark clouds outside. The paper tell us that we shall have to wait till 2087 it seems for the next one - lets hope it isn't during the monsoon!

picture thanks to the BBC website - my lifeline to see the world

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


Hooray for the aeroplane!

In a few hours we will be joined by some of our favourite people on earth - Sheba's older sister Daisy and her husband Ramesh and their daughter Frankincense ('Frankie'). We love them so much, but this will be the first time they are visiting us in Thane - because they live half way around the world in Arizona.

What makes it possible to traverse half the globe in a matter of hours? That gleaming sign of high technology - the fixed-wing, jet-propelled aerocraft.

This 7 day period has given us already two amazing visitors - and Daisy and party will be the third - all possible because of inter-continental jet-speed travel.

Last Friday we were joined by the amazing Richard Phillips. An areoplane delivered this dear friend (sadly without his luggage) at our place in Thane. The 9 hour flight from Heathrow spanning what used to take 6 months by ship. Richard is an old friend from Taylor University - an amazing Irishman whose parents were pioneer church-planters in their own green and beautiful land. Richard continues the family legacy having served with his wife Wendy in Uganda and Zimbabwe - as well as serving God in the marketplace through Dell computers.

Currently one of the hats Richard wears (besides being father to 10 year old Zeph) is the CEO for ACET Ireland - a remarkable charity that does AIDS Care and Educational outreaches in Ireland. Wendy and Richard have been link people for a number of AIDS Care programmes in Zimbabwe under the banner of the Matilda Project which has touched the lives of hundreds of people in Zimbabwe.

It was so wonderful just to have Richard in the flesh in our living room. Drinking chai. Talking. Listening. Bliss. I kept scratching my head, amazed to know that it was actually happening. That Richard had managed to squeeze in 2 days on his way to Hyderabad to meet with other ACET International leaders this week.

Good things keep getting better. On Tuesday we were blessed with a visit by Rabi Maharaj.
This remarkable Trinidadian (of Indian origin of course) has traversed the globe - covering 120 countries and 600 college campuses so far. Rabi's message is simple - he knows and loves to share about who Jesus Christ is to him.

The story of the first part of his life has been well written in his book "The Death of a Guru". Rabi was once worshipped by others - as he shared with us this week - but was empty inside. His pockets and drawers were bulging with donations that his devotees brought to him as diksha - but he knew that he was hollow for all the mystical experiences that he had gone through. But then he realised the wonderful truth of who Jesus is and how much Jesus really loved him, Rabi had to do something that he was not used to - he had to humble himself and worship another.

Despite having been through 3 gruelling flights from California to Minnesota - and then to Amsterdam - and then out to Mumbai - despite arriving at 3 am after this marathon on wing - Rabi seemed fresh as a daisy.

Rabi is aging well - its almost impossible to make out his age from the outside - but it is his inner freshness and delight in sharing from the Bible that take you aback. Relying on the Holy Spirit to guide him, Rabi shared over the course of the day - hitting so many of the areas that we needed to be reminded about: our amazing inheritance in Christ - being called as a royal priesthood - how important it is for us to be in unity with each other - and how this is such a vital testimony - how much trouble we can spare ourselves by trully esteeming each other as better than ourselves. The day was a rich feast of ideas, shared passionately and with an amazing set of anecdotes and insights from across the world to back them up. An added bonus was Rabi's son Franklin - who is starting his last year of high school - and brought a sharp intelligence and empathy with him on his first trip to India.

And so we get back to the countdown to Daisy, Ramesh and Frankie's visit to us. The welcome poster is being made by Asha and Enoch. Brownies have been baked. A day has been set apart to meet them at the airport and whisk them down to Mumbai to see the Gateway of India. Expectations are high. We are waiting for our loved ones to be jetted from Delhi and deposited through the wet rainy sky to Mumbai airport and into our lives.

Wings. Amazing fixed-wing aeroplanes. Facilitators of so many relationships. Knitters of the Global village. The Global now.

In patients

After a long time we are admitting In-Patients again.

Last night we had an HIV positive woman from a near by suburb. She is 6 months pregnant and who needs a blood transfusion - but since the government hospitals in town were reeling under the doctor's strike we admitted her for the night and took her to Kalwa hospital today. After having been in a private hospital for 6 days - with no treatment at all - she was so happy to be with us. Just being at the JSK centre clearly took a load off her shoulders and she seemed so much brighter when she left this morning.

Barely had she left when another patient came. A man from a far suburb whose haemoglobin had dropped to a life-threatening value of only 2. Its likely that this is due to one of the anti-retroviral medications he is taking (Zidovudine causes severe aneamia in a small number of people). We have admitted him and will be giving him a blood transfusion later in the day.

Prayers are appreciated for these two very sick patients. And for Dr. Sheba and the team as they look after the man at the JSK centre.

Doctor's strike

After much waiting, we finally have a down-pour on our hands. Typical Mumbai monsoon - intense rain for short stretches throughout the day - effectively flooding all the low-lying areas and bringing rail traffic to periodic halts.

In the midst of all of this the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD) has gone on strike demanding better pay and conditions for the doctors and interns serving at government hospitals.

We may lament the public health system. We may gnash our teeth at the inefficiencies and appalling state of many of the civil hospitals. But they are a life-line to so many in the city.

With the strike in full force - the terrible cost was evident. Most who presented at the gate of the Mumbai govt. hospitals were sent away because there were no doctors to see them.

Newspapers showed pictures of doctors shining shoes outside the hospital. If this was supposed to show that they felt used like menial artisans - then it didn't elicit any sympathy from me.

On Friday, Rahul, one of our JSK staff took Mr. Babban (name changed of course) to Sion hospital. He was not going on a picnic. Mr. Babban has been in terrible pain with an infection in his upper thigh. He has already had it drained once, but now needed another draining.

The two braved the rain and the crowded trains and got to Sion hospital, only to find that the doctors were on strike. Back again in the pain and the rain.

People with HIV face many challenges. These are compounded by the daily challenge of living in the city. With all the financial power that Mumbai has - and we have hospitals that are at least staffed - in contrast to many parts of our country - we still lack so much for common people.

People like Mr. Babban who is exhausted, sick and depressed. Living in his shack with 4 of his 6 children. Nursing his suppurating wound and his swollen thigh.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Moving into high places

About a decade ago we were setting up what was then a small TB programme at Nav Jivan Hospital in Jharkhand.

Sheba had just joined us and brought with her the rigorous approach to TB treatment that Dr. Raj her mentor at the Christian Fellowship Hospital Oddanchataram had drilled into her. I had the data from a previous study that showed only 20% of patients completed their treatment at Nav Jivan. Repeating the study with a group of medical interns from Ireland showed even less - only 17% documented completing their treatment.

One day we were visited by an old friend of Sheba. Dr. Raj Singh was the older brother of a school friend. Raj had since medical studies and was appointed to the Revised National TB Control Project. He came to visit us along with an American advisor to the government on TB issues - Dr. Tom Friedman.

I just found out that Dr. Friedman has been appointed by Barack Obama to be the head of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (usually called the CDC). It seems a long way from a small hospital in Jharkhand to being a shaper of US public health policy. Through its first rate epidemiological research and various links with international agencies, scientists at CDC continue to be a formidable force in shaping public health policy. Our Indian Council for Medical Research is a pale shadow in many ways - barely able to make its voice heard - and often drowned in bureaucratic dullness as it plods along with uninteresting and barely relevant research.

Tom Friedman has played a high profile role in between his stint advising the Government of India on TB policy and the current position at CDC - he was the health commissioner for the city of New York - a city which continues to have a far greater effect on world affairs than many countries.

What I remember him for in the short visit there in Jharkhand was Tom's earnest and positive questions about our work on TB control - and the total enthusiasm he was able to evoke in Dr. Singh and the others in government TB control work at the time. If Tom Friedman able to enthuse others like he did Dr. Singh, then his legacy in public health will last a long time.

Post script: the small TB control programme we started in response to the poor patient completion data at Nav Jivan has grown by leaps and bounds since we left. Thanks to the hard work of Dr. Arpit Matthew, Dr. Jeevan Kuruvilla and Dr. Chering Tenzing, the hospital has now been designated as a TB unit - coordinating all the TB work in the Latehar district. Hundreds of patients have successfully completed their TB treatment - lives have been changed - communities helped. We are greatful to God for what he has done through modest beginnings - and hard work of so many!

Friday, 10 July 2009

See you again Daniel!

Parting is a sweet sorrow.

We are saying good-bye (God be w' ye) to Daniel Kautikkar, who joins a 2 year Masters of Social Work course in Ahmednagar next week.

As we look back on the long road that we have walked along with Jeevan Sahara Kendra over the past 7 years, we see that Daniel was with us for most of it. Joining us in May 2003, Daniel has not only completed 6 years with JSK, but has done so in his own gentle and loving way.

We are sad that we will not have his familiar and soothing presence with us. Many, many of our positive friends will over the next few months be asking us "where is Daniel-bhaiyya?". At the same time we are glad that Daniel is taking the opportunity for further study. We wish Daniel all God's blessings, and hope very much that he will rejoin us in 2011!

The greatest legacy that Daniel leaves behind is that of people. So many today are alive because of what this young man has done. Others were nursed and lovingly cared for in their last days by Daniel's care and concern. Others have been taught about TB and caring for the sick through his patient instruction.

We will definitely have a Daniel-shaped vaccuum at JSK over the next few weeks and months!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


We are a home without at TV. When we moved here 5 years ago, the cable-wallah couldn't believe it when I told him.

But there we have it - the truth - our last TV was in the village of Tumbagarah. On a monsoon day similar to today a bolt of lightning struck it and it died. Sheba had just gone through the trauma of discovering a husband who wanted to watch every European Cup football match and probably thought it was divine mercy on her. Maybe it was. We never got it repaired and it probably is mouldering in some garbage tip there in Jharkhand.

But not having a TV does not mean that we don't know what is on it.

The papers and internet and other sources are enough to keep us abreast with some of the trends. After various series of 'reality shows' which included riding motorcycles across India, living in a house with various celebrities, losing weight in the company of other weight-challenged brethren - the latest is a notorious skin-showing lady who is acting the simpering bride as 10 men woo her - the finalist getting to marry her live on TV.

But the cake has to be taken by our dear friends from Turkey. Now, for the first time ever official clergical representatives from 4 faiths try to convert 10 atheists on TV - with the prize seeming to be a trip to the holy place of the faith that they are converted to. Read all about it: here.

At the end of the day, Neil Postman was right: we are amusing ourselves to death.

Finding out

Web sites are interesting beasts.

One of the things you can find out from even a simple blog like the one you are reading now is whether a person has come to it using a public search engine like google or yahoo. Not only that, most of the time you can find out what words they used to find the site.

The Jeevan Sahara Kendra site gets between 0 and 20 hits a day. I checked it up yesterday and found out that one of the search strings which someone used and which got them to our site was:

"after meeting prostitute how quick we can go for hiv test in india"

Our hope is that the person who made the search and came to our site was able to pluck up courage and make a call about coming for testing. We are glad to be able to provide real answers to people who are worried.

Our hope is further that not only will the man who looked come for testing, but that he will also change his actions.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Why we need in-patient care for people with HIV

Why do we need in-patient care for people with HIV?

Two simple reasons:

1. Admitting patients with HIV saves lives. Many people who are called "terminal cases" are not. They are very sick and if they get admitted and given supervised treatment for their infections they can recover and live wonderfully productive and meaningful lives. A terminal case can only really be said once the person has died.

2. People with HIV still are discriminated against in health-care settings. So many times they are not admitted for care because medical professionals are afraid to treat them - or they feel that there is no point in treating them.

A small story:

Harish and Tahira are a couple from a distant suburb (names changed of course). Both have HIV. They found out about their status almost 10 years ago - well before most of the current treatments for people with HIV were available.

Harish got sick. Very sick. He needed hospitalisation. Badly.

Harish's brother was working as a driver for the principal of a famous South Mumbai school. This man's son and daughter were working as doctors at CMC Vellore. Harish's brother urged Tahira to take Harish to Vellore for treatment - an almost 2 day train journey.

They took the journey. Harish slipped into a coma. A gone-case it seemed.

It seemed.

But due to the loving and expert care he recieved at Vellore, Harish recovered.

He and Tahira are alive today. Working. Raising their family. Donating for others with HIV.

After years of being away from their son - who they sent to their relatives because they thought they would not live long - and that they could not look after him - the couple has now brought their son back to live with them.

Why do we need in-patient care for people with HIV? Because too many people with HIV who have died - could have been saved. Could have been living a life like Harish and Tahira.

How much longer do people with HIV have to wait before they are treated as people rather than as a disease?

Monday, 6 July 2009

Removed from Facebook

As of Saturday evening I have been unceremoniously removed from Facebook.

Login as usual got me a message that our account has been disabled.

A small statement said I could find some Frequently Asked Questions.

One of which said that for legal reasons they cannot show me what it was that according to them caused them to disable my account.

Its interesting to be without Facebook - especially since over the past few months it has moved in under my skin. I realise now - going cold-turkey - how much and how many times I would check up on "it".

Facebook is superb at a few things:

1. getting you in touch with all sorts of people who you never knew still existed - and also getting to know the odd new person along the way.

2. exposing you to a non-stop stream of nostalgia, ideas, current events, pictures - mixed in with the mundaneness and wierdness of the people you know (or think you know).

3. getting 'into the lives' of a few folk who use it to broadcast themselves. They aren't many (at least proportionally for me - among the 900 odd contacts we had only about 20 regularly - and I mean regularly - wrote what they were up to - but then some of them did that 4 - 6 times a day)

4. getting you supremely bugged at the multitude of inane quizzes, games, "applications" that so many jump into. I learned early on to keep hiding them when they show up - but there are so many of them out there...

At the same time, Facebook was a huge time-sucker. A massive draw on my thoughts. A different world.

I don't think I will join again. At least at this point since the powers to be have put me in limbo.

The melancholy pink box I got is reproduced below for posterity:

The scary thing finally is how much I put my trust in it. Its a computer programme, for crying out loud, which exists to help those who run it get rich.

OK, that's crass, but there is truth there isn't it? My account can suddenly be disabled, nullified, yanked - with nothing for me to do. I meekly sent of an email, and now I need to wait for the powers to be to reply. Its not like I can go to the neighbourhood police station and lodge a complaint (Chehera-kitab? Wo kya hain?...)

So as of now - Facebook (at least Andi Sheba's participation in it) R.I.P.

Friday, 3 July 2009


Its time for sweets! Joash - one of the young guns in our church fellowship - and all-round nice guy got into St. Xaviers college - his first choice and dream. The pedas (some of the best I have tasted) were dropped off by his Mother as he wanted to make sure that the whole JSK team celebrated along with him. Joash has volunteered with us for the latter part of his summer holidays - and has made friends all round in the JSK team.

We were just about to have our weekly meeting - a time where we review what went on during the week. One of the high-lights is each team sharing who their five most needy families are - folks who are most on the brink - and need our inputs urgently.

One of heart-rending ones we heard today was of a young girl who is the lynch-pin around which her family turns. Both her parents have HIV. Her mother has a stroke and is 1/2 paralyzed and barely able to speak. Her father is notorious for hitting the bottle. And hitting others. And being hit. Last year his arm was broken during a drunken fight. Her three younger siblings look to this girl, who we will call Reshma.

In all this misery, Reshma is still in school. This year she is plunging into her 10th standard - at the end of which are the dreaded SSC exams. Joash spent the year studying for it. Today we celebrated the fruits of his success - an admission to college considered the best for studying the 'arts' stream in India. Reshma yearns to study - and is deeply frustrated because she finds herself unable to hit the books. The demands of the home, of feeding and cleaning and looking after the broken dysfunctional family she is in seem overwhelming.

What do you even tell this brave girl? We have tried to come along side her and encourage her. Her mother is getting some physiotherapy through our staff visits to the home. We have tried and continue to try and engage her father. Our staff helped her father get anti-retroviral medications from the government - but recently found out that he has not been taking them He goes once a month and picks up Rs. 1200 worth of drugs - free - from the govt. centre - and has been bringing them home and stashing them in a cupboard - but not swallowing what could be life-saving meds.

That's why we talk it out at our Friday afternoon meetings. We talk and pray. This next week offers another chance. Another set of small doors that may open into the corridor of hope for brave girls like Reshma.

Can we dream that Reshma will bring us sweets next year at this time? Can we put our dream into reality?

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Buying a fiddle

A number of years ago - Dr. Joseph Samuel - a dear friend of ours was visiting us. We had just moved to Thane. Asha was about 3 years old.

Among Joseph's many talents is his beloved violin playing. He had brought his violin along and Asha was enthralled. She even 'played' a little bit on it. Joseph told us that we must start her on the violin as soon as possible.

Mum and Dad came back from a trip to the UK later that year with the sweetest little violin imaginable - a 1/4 size baby.

Our baby was ready. The violin was on hand. Now the challenge of getting a teacher. None were found who were willing to take Asha on at that age.

And so it was till last year when we were blessed with an amazing teacher. Elaine Thomas heads up the Jeevan Asha Balwadi of the Covenant Blessings Church and is the wife of Pastor Benny. Growing up in a musical family (which included her brother - Pastor Basil DeSouza) Elaine loves the violin and signing. Sadly, arthritis in her fingers had kept her from playing and teaching for many years. But just over a year ago she reported that her hands were better and that she was willing to take Asha on.

A year has gone by. A year in which Asha has thoroughly enjoyed learning music. Besides the violin Elaine teaches her theory and how to sing. The pupil adores her teacher - and it looks like it is mutual. Elaine has told us that what she wants most from Asha is that she will use her music to praise God. The first steps are well on the way. Asha has a wonderful ear for music and should soon be playing her first simple songs with us in our house fellowship.

Today we took a big step for her. Her 1/4 size violin had become far too small. It is time for something bigger. A 3/4 sized violin was decided on.

And so the long train ride from Thane to CST station. A short taxi ride to the venerable Furtados music store opposite Metro Cinema - a place I had passed everyday as a school boy going to Cathedral school. Then into the store filled with the most amazing collection of musical instruments. Not only instruments, but also musicians - jamming away on the keys and electric guitars - filling the place with sound.

We were there for 3 items. The violin. A stand. A music book. The first two were straight forward. There was only one company that supplied the 3/4 size. A Chinese company called Granada. We chose one. Gulped at the price, but pressed on and took it. Same for the stand. A beautiful powder coated black number. Same gulp at the price. We left the store clutching these two precious pieces and walked around to the sister store around the corner.

This store was devoted to pianos. Steinways. Bluethners. Others. A man was tickling the keys of a Steinway. Playing an amazing repretoire of warm music. Rows of music books. We got ours. Eta Cohen's Violin Method- Student Book 2. Paid (gulp again). Out of the store and into the street. Got a taxi back to CST. A slow train that ended in Thane. Rickshaw home.

Then music lesson time. Asha was thrilled. Elaine was thrilled. We have ourselves a fiddle!