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!

When the bullets started to fly

A year ago tonight I went to sleep thinking of the big day ahead. Phillip Yancey was in town and we were organising a donor pass event for people to meet him and hear some of this thoughts. I was tired from what was the end of a 6 month preparation period - with St. Andrews Hall in Bandra booked for the programme and seemingly everything in place earlier in the evening.

We had had our men's prayer at our house till about 11 PM. After they left I saw something on Facebook that chilled the blood. Someone commented that a bomb had gone off in a Mumbai hotel. Some kind of terror attack seemed to be going on. Early in the morning the calls started coming in. Something big was happening in South Mumbai.

By 8 AM there was still confusion - but one thing was clear that Phillip Yancey's meeting would have to be cancelled. The terror attack was continuing. This was no one bomb and then silence - but an on-going carnage. Instead of a high-powered evening meeting, Phillip and Janet spent most of the day with us at Jeevan Sahara - and then shared at a small meeting at Covenant Blessing Church. We held a time of prayer at that time - while the security forces were still in heated battle with the terrorists in South Mumbai.

173 people died to the cruelty of the terrorists guns and bombs. Many, many were injured. Many, many are scared and scarred inside and out.


Cue to exactly one year later. Was it really only a year? It seems a lifetime ago.

There are signs around the city remembering the brave policemen who died during the operation (not many signs remembering all those who were not brave). The youth of our housing society held a motorcycle rally at 10 PM tonight - waving flags and shouting while driving around on mo-bikes and scooters. As a family we attended a tribute concert organised by a broad-based coalition of Christian groups (Catholics to Pentecostals under one banner - and everyone in between) which featured high-decibel praise-pop in English and Hindi and a dance performance by the Covenant Blessings Church youth group (called Outrageous). We left early (for Mumbai standards) because of the kids school tomorrow - and the brutally loud volume. The papers have gradually built up a crescendo of stories - esp. trying to ferret out human-interest stories about survivors of those days.

Other than a slightly more stepped up security presence - the odd search before going into a store - the policemen slouched behind sand-bags - the sight of more guns on men in khaki - other than these fairly trivial externals, on the surface we do not seem to be any more in a state of fear than we have been before.

But how very close we are to all hell breaking loose.

One of the big prayers we prayed a year ago was that there would not be the backlash through communal rioting. It didn't happen. While it is never easy to be a Muslim in many parts of India - we still have a large amount of civility.

In fact this year has shown what we suspected all along - that terror is not synonymous with jihadism - but also comes in saffron shades as well. Over the course of this year there has been the first trickle of documented cases where right-wing underground Hinduistic groups have been proved to be planting bombs (at times purposely using Muslim garb in the process).

We are still very very far from reconciliation of any sorts. The best we make do with is 'the never-say-die Mumbai spirit' - a sort of stoic heroism that keeps on going.

Our reconciliation cannot take place because no one owns up to anything. It has taken 17 years to publish the official report on the demolition of the Babri Masjid in the holy Hindu city of Ayodhya. It was so patently clear from the beginning that the various Saffron parties were hell-bent on demolishing the mosque and building a temple on what is alleged to be the birthplace of Lord Ram. The failure of the judiciary to sort out the dispute - handling the decades-old fight about which religion is allowed to worship on the disputed area - and the conniving of the state both played into the hands of the carefully cultivated mob who did the final deed and brought the mosque down into rubble. There is nothing new here - the priests of Jesus' day were quite happy to be rabble-rousers when needed 2 millenia prior.

These are not very happy thoughts. But it is in facing the truth - esp. the ugly attitudes that we hide (not-s0-effectively too) that can move us forward. For example, a person told me last year that 'he can't stand to see the Taj Mahal - since it reminds him of all what the Muslims have done to India.' I was flabbergasted. A PhD scholar (albeit in the sciences) was the person who gave me this nugget.

Strangely, we really don't have the stories. Not just stories of navel-gazing upper-middle-classy types. Nor Mr. Rushdie's 'magic-realistic' tales (whose 'grip' and power have eroded the further he has distanced himself from India). And not just the violence-soaked 'White Tigers' - but stories that both see the wretchedness around us and bring real hope for change.

I see two sets of stories that fit the bill. One is the painfully honest narrative accounts of the Bible. We are currently reading through David's relationship with Absalom. The tragedy and the cruelty fit in very well with what goes on today. The other are the lives of our HIV positive friends that we see (or don't see) around us. For those of us privileged to work along side some of these families - we are dealing with the currency of sorrow, with the coin of desperate forgiveness.

Can stories stop bullets? Can lives make any difference? I believe. Yes.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Welcome Caleb

We are thrilled to announce that Rahul and Varsha Mohite - our coworkers at Jeevan Sahara Kendra - were blessed today with a boy they have called Caleb.

Varsha was admitted at Lok Hospital at 1 PM (Rahul had been visiting HIV positive families in the morning). Caleb entered the world at just before 3 PM - weighing in at 2 Kgs and 800 gms.

Older brother Nivedan is very happy. As are the proud parents - and all of us. God answers prayers. Another beautiful new life has begun.

Sheba had worked on a cross-stitch to welcome this child - and we were able as a family to go and meet Varsha and Rahul and their little bundle of joy at Lok Hospital this evening. Many hours went into making this picture - but nothing like the many hours God took to knit little miracle Caleb into life.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Phoren returned artist

Its been a while since we have heard from Stefan Eicher. Because its been a while since he was around in our beloved country of Bharat.

After a number of weeks of trying his mobile - the phone finally started ringing again this afternoon. Stefan and pariwar are back from their US jaunt. Safe and sound. Hale and pretty hearty.

Stefan, Neeru and their two bachhe Ashish and Anjali have just spent 6 weeks in the US, visiting old friends, making new ones, participating in an art camp, sharing in churches that are interested in the arts, and finally being speakers at our old college - the venerable and reinventing Taylor University.

I talked to a tired Stefan (and it was a tired Andi who talked on this side of the phone - I have to get to bed earlier) and got a glimpse of a very packed and very blessed time. He is just about to plunge into another Art week of the Creative Conscience group that meets in Delhi each year to do art with a purpose.

If you did not get to Orlando, Florida to see what Stefan did with the Limner Society - a week of art with old and new friends called 'the Art of Enduring' which ended with a gallery exhibition - you can still go virtually (like I did) to the photo gallery at the Limner's blog site: here! Happy viewing!

Beauty for sale

I couldn't resist this picture. Taken as usual from the BBC day in pictures site it shows a water buffalo in Bangladesh - and reflected in her eye - what seem to be eager potential buyers at the market she is being sold at.

It is unnerving to see so much beauty - and realise that the eye is not a human eye after all - but that of the often ungainly looking water-buffalo. It is also vaguely troubling to see the eagerness of the onlookers (buyers?) reflected in the beast about to be bought. The final bit is the opaqueness of the eye. Since it has become a mirror - we see the surroundings, but we have little clue about what this animal is feeling. Even in our friends the humble beasts - the eyes are the window of what is within.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Sir Henry Havelock

Its been a long time since I have read a stirring biography. Well, that long wait has just come to an end.

Of all the people to read about: how about Sir Henry Havelock?

Born 1795. Died during the First War of Independence / or great Indian Mutiny (depending on your take on history). That would be 1857. Pivotal year for India in many way.

But what of Sir H. He was a Soldier. Tactician. Father. Christian. Reformer.

I have just devoured a book on him by John Pollock called "Way to Glory". The book itself made its way over to our bookshelves via the jumble sale that IBL held last week. As with any good book - I found myself transported to another world.

It was a strange and familiar world - a place where the names are known, but the situations seem totally alien.

For one this is an out and out military history. It traces the rise of a man who did not have the means for advancement that was needed in his day - if you wanted to be promoted - you needed to buy it. The inside view of the early British army in India was also an eye-opener. The almost bestial conditions that the soldiers lived in. The daily depravity of alcohol and women. The craziness of wearing woolen red shirts even in summer. The cruelty and the disease that kept dogging them. It all sounds like fiction.

And yet it sounds like today. Havelock was part of the ill-fated Afghan expedition. The account is full of the same maddening situation that all foreign fighters in Afghanistan face - fierce locals who keep switching sides - and are ready to keep fighting. An elusive goal which keeps changing. For Havelock, who repeatedly facing fire - it was a miracle that he survived. Over his life-span of fighting 7 horses died while carrying him to battle.

After arriving in India, Havelock married Hannah Marshman, the daughter of one of the original missionary families with William Carey. His trip to India by sailing ship brought about the most dramatic of changes in this hard-driven man: a personal surrender to the claims of Christ on his life. Throughout his life, Havelock seeks to live out his faith - often to ridicule from fellow officers. We see him leading bible studies for soldiers - something unheard of and considered seditious by many. We see him suggesting that soldiers could fight without rum - something unheard of (even today). We see his deep frustrations with being denied promotion.

Parallel to his story is the stories of his three sons who become soldiers too. The eldest - 'Harry' Havelock ends up becoming Havelock's aide-de-camp in his finest hour. But the long sadness of Harry's rejection of his father's faith - and the wooing of his son through word and example form for me the most moving part of the story. Having fought through incredible odds and 'rescued' the Europeans in Lucknow, Havelock dies in his son's arms. Of dysentery. His son nursing him with love - having just days before finally come over to his father's faith in God.

I found myself deeply moved by the book. And troubled.

I was moved on a number of points. One of them was an unexpected Mussoorie connection. It seems Havelock lived in Oakville Estate (well known for the Alter clan) at one point. Tragically, while his wife and children were at Oakville it burned down and killed a child of his. The fire badly wounded his wife Hannah and Havelock had to rush up to Mussoorie to help her.

Another moving part was to see the spiritual formation of a lonely, driven man. The ridicule he faced for his convictions - overlaid on the awful conditions of his 'job' brought back the basic question of 'how should we live?'

The troubling issues are the actual historical events of 1857. The terrible slaughter that took place. I have written earlier that we live in an age of terror. I would argue that 1857 would rank up there as one of the bloodiest years. All sides were involved in killing that was brutal.
As a person who leans towards pacifism, I found myself troubled by my being swept along with the 'heroic' progress that Havelock and his men make from Calcutta through to Lucknow.

Looking at the dawn of modern India - and the demise of many of the local empires of the time - what role should we accord the British? And in all the tumult of Empire - what role do we accord individuals? I feel foolish for knowing so little about my own country - and yet where do we have any kind of reasonable discussion on our history today?

On another track, I was (not surprisingly) fascinated to see the role that faith played in Havelock's life. One thing struck me strongly - that Havelock's persistence and success paved the way for his ideas to be widely accepted. The 'efficiency' of his life proved a powerful platform for the content of his ideas. I think that probably would be true of most of the influence that early 'evangelicals' like Wilberforce and others had on the structure of Empire.

So I end the book hungry for more. A good sign I think. Would that we had more biographies to poke us out of our stupor.

Living Legends - Bro John V. Rao

How do you preach for more than 50 years?

Well, you do so by sheer will-power - and great gratitude to God.

We stopped off in Rourkela on the first day of the month. One of the reasons was to celebrate 50 years of the Bethany Assembly - the place where Sheba's parents came to the Lord, where they were married, where Sheba and her siblings were nurtured and baptised, where Sheba and I were married.

Bro. Rao keeps on going strong. When we visited we were able to see that he continues to faithfully give the word. His eagle eye roved over the gradually filling up room - and he is still keeping the 3.5 hour long service moving forward with songs, prayers and sermons. His messages continue to be pointed. It takes a hard heart not to be affected by what Bro Rao shares from the word.

His early life was in the military. One day, when he was almost dying as a young man due to his alcoholism and tuberculosis, Bro. Rao made a decision to follow Christ. He has continued steadfastly in the path of his master, waking at 4 am each morning for prayer and preperation for the day. Having raised 2 daughters and many spiritual children over the decades. And preaching. And preaching.

A strong disciplinarian, Bro Rao does not suffer fools gladly. But he has a heart for people. He receives our newsletter every month and faithfully prays for us. He has given his life for the Lord - and lived it out in faithfulness. Some will quibble with his style - but no one can fault his consistency.

50 years of preaching.

Bro Rao with the next gen of preachers


On Saturday we made another mini-pilgrimage. To the far-away land of Mumbai.

Far-away because moving out of our tightly-meshed life of JSK-kids-school-church means that it is very difficult to go as a family to Mumbai - let alone farther afield.

We had twin destinations on this journey. First a big jumble sale of second-hand books that IBL held at Rathord Memorial Church in Parel. It was a joy to rummage through books and pick up a small truckload to add to our library - especially for our two hungry readers - the junior Eichers...

Well fortified (and heavily laden) with books - we continued South - ending up at the cavernous Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (known as Victoria Terminus in my youth). A short taxi-ride to the Metro cinema (taking us past the BMC building, the High Court, Cross Maidan and passing by my old school - Cathedral and John Connon) and we were in musical heaven - Furtados Music Store.

Amidst the jumble (and jangle) of guitars was the object of our trip - a Yamaha PSR E323 synthesizer. Or that's what we thought - having called up the night before our voyage across Mumbai. When we arrived the man told us that they were not in stock. We were in minor shock. But we pressed on. A little conversation by the sales staff and they brought out a previous model - an E313 which had been sent to the repair shop - but which he was willing to give with the same warranty and a discount. We grabbed it and walked out. Heavily laden (having also consumed some humongous masala dosas in between).

Enoch is now set for a musical journey. A month ago we would not have thought it possible. This week we have a machine for him to learn to play the keys. God is very good to us - we have been unexpectedly blessed by just the amount we needed to get a new one - and ended up paying even less than that!

Here's to my musical mother - who always wanted me to learn the piano (and which in my foolish laziness of youth I rebelled did not do) - but who has the joy of a musical two-some in her first 2 grandkids (and probably more to come from Stefan's 'guitar' 'guitar' crew)...

Friday, 20 November 2009

The case of the missing banana seller

I met Bhagwan today. I had not seen him for at least 2 weeks.

Normally as I turn into the gate of our building complex I buy bananas from him. He is an old man, an migrant from Uttar Pradesh who sells green bananas from his cart in the evenings out side the 'Happy Valley Homes.'

I had been wondering where Bhagwan was. Had he moved back to his native place? Had he been chased away from his business by someone. Had a wedding taken place in his family? Had he died?

It turns out the latter was almost correct.

On the first of this month, a live electrical wire had fallen down on him, burning him badly. He had been admitted at the government hospital and was treated for 15 days. He walks with a limp and a bandage on his leg, and has been badly burned on his torso.

Its a miracle he is alive.

Looking at his unshaven white speckled face I could not help thinking about the brevity of life. Who knows what happens to so many around us. One day they are here. The next day, silence.

In the continual rumble and dull din of the great city, people often seem reduced to mere shadows.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

A walk in the countryside

On our last day in Tumbagarah we decided to take a walk outside the Nav Jivan Hospital campus.

I had wanted to see my old friend Jitender Singh. A dozen years ago, I had made my first foray to Palamu district - to see the work that the folks from the People's Science Institute from Dehra Dun were helping to foster among the drought-prone villages of Palamu. The first arrival was memorable - early in a grey dawn, getting out at Daltonganj Station - seeing the place swathed in this ground-hugging coal smoke. The whole place pungent with the smell of black coal being used to warm up thin figures.

By the time I met Jitender the first impression had faded - especially since we were bouncing around in a jeep, visiting villages and looking at check-dams that had been made. Jitender showed me a local mission hospital on this trip - from the outside. It was on the road head to his village of Chetma, a 10 min walk. Little did I know that I would end up working 4 years at that self-same hospital - Nav Jivan Hospital - a year later.

And so it was Jitender that I wanted to meet, when we set out on our last day at Tumbagarah.

Some things remain blessedly the same - the village scenery around the hospital is just as it was a decade ago. Enoch wandering over some rocks has behind him a set of fields which have at their boundary an earthen check dam. This area usually has some water in the dam - but this year the rains were especially poor. The trees are the familiar lopped ones.

We were delighted to be walking outside in the cool October air. The sun was shining and all was well in the world. Ok, Asha's chappal broke - but we decided it was too far from the hospital to turn back now - and anyway - she could manage. The wayside trees provided a welcome shelter for the intrepid walkers to rest under!

A man came up from a field and was walking towards his house. I asked him if he could direct us to Jitender Singh's house. I knew it was close by.

The man answered that Jitender had been seen leaving on a motor-cycle that morning and was unlikely to be home. I was disappointed. In talking with the man we realised that we knew each other. It was Balram Singh - the cousin brother of Basmati Devi - one of our star community health volunteers from our days of working at Nav Jivan Hospital.

Balram welcomed us to come into his house - which we happily did. As we came in, his two adolescent sons were rummaging through a mound of papers that they took out of a plastic suitcase. The family safe. They were looking for a certificate for their admissions, but could not find it and so gave up after some time.

Balram had recently built the house. But had clearly made it in the old style. The doors were clearly ancient - and so was the design - the standard village house with no windows and high mud-plastered walls and a tiled roof.

As we sat talking, Balram told me how he had gone for work in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Both places he had worked in a factory, but finally decided that his world was the village and had returned.

In the corner I saw a beautiful wooden yoke. I asked him if he had made it, and he said yes - that it was made in 1992 (if I can remember correctly). The wood was smooth and strong. He had clearly used it and yet it remains an object of beauty.

Balram had noticed that Asha's chappal had broken and called for it. Taking some wire and a set of pliers, he started repairing the chappal, and soon it was fully functional again.

Sheba and the kids had gone into the kitchen and were talking with Balram's wife and daughters. The girls were both in school, and seemed not to be pressurised to marry. The topic of marriage did, of course, come up, and Sheba asked if their mother would allow them to marry an alcoholic. But everyone drinks here, said the mother. Does your husband? asked Sheba. No, she replied. Well, that's the kind of man you need to search for your girls.

Cooking is done using wood over a mud stove. Life goes on in this beautifully clean and cool home.

We did not want to say goodbye to the family (Left to right - Balram Singh, his wife, a relative of theirs, and 4 of his 5 children - the youngest was in primary school that morning).

On our way back we saw kids from Balram's daughter's school waiting for their midday meal. This is one thing that has started since we were there - and it has wonderful effects on school attendance in rural settings - to say nothing of the direct benefits to the children's growth, development and performance.

What will these girls' lives be like? We would love for Asha to be their friend and grow up with them.

It was hard for us to leave Nav Jivan Hospital in 2001. We still feel the pang when we come back and see life in the village - something that Sheba and I both felt a strong leading towards as we studied and prepared ourselves for ministry.

But then we had the unmistakable call to come to Mumbai and work with people with HIV.

Our short walk in the countryside reminded us of the wonderful simplicity that so many have - and also how much the apparently rural is interconnected with our cities.

Life is hard work in the rain-fed agricultural communities of Palamu and Latehar districts (the hospital is very close to the border of these two - now finding itself in the more recently formed Latehar district).

At the same time - the opportunities for change - and for living out a quality of life totally different from the slime-pits that most of our cities are - are rife in these villages. Would that there was a genuine peace and rule of law instead of the wide-spread hooliganism, almost non-existent police and many civil society structures - and the strong Maoist insurgency that continues to rumble in the background (and in the foreground too.).

After we returned to Thane, an upset Jitender got through to me on the phone. He is very busy this time, because he is a candidate for the State Elections taking place on the 25th of November. He wants to represent the people of the Manika assembly seat.

Last week the current sitting MLA from the same Manika seat was kidnapped by a local Maoist group (a.k.a. the Naxalites) At the time of posting his fate remains unclear.


Marriage is big business. Especially in our culture. It doesn't matter what the cost - the show must be there.

A close friend of mine is a senior manager with a clothing company closely associated with marriages in India. When getting married, people almost inevitably seek out this company's suiting for the groom (hint, its main brand name as my father's Christian name). My friend tells me that despite the world wide recession their company has sold more than ever (the Indian economy is doing relatively well). Weddings in our cultures demand that. "We had a dhum-dham wedding" (Wedding with all the bells and whistles - who cares how long I will have to work to pay back the loans I am taking).

The only cloud on my friend's company's horizon is that apparently next year has a shortage of astrologically auspicious days. Hence competition for the wedding halls, bands etc. will hot up, and less weddings means less cloth sold for his company.

In the shadows of the gaiety associated with the wedding feast and celebrations, are so many who are living on the edge. Young boys like the one carrying the lamp in the picture - at night - so that the wedding party can dance on the street. They will get some money for their hard work, while watching people burst fire-crackers many times worth more than whatever remuneration the lamp-holders get.

Life is very, very sad for so many.


Today, 10 years ago exactly, the first of the cousins was born. Frankincense Graceola Ramesh (a.k.a. Frankie) - born to Sheba's older sister Daisy and Ramesh.

We celebrated with a meal tonight. But even more than thankfulness about having completed a decade was the news that came to us today that Frankie is going to become an older sister! Daisy is unexpectedly expecting. Wow did we ever jump when we heard that!

How deliciously grand to have another member added to the band of cousins! Enoch is already rooting for a boy (since other than Ashish he is the only male), while Asha is hoping for another sister (to go alongside Frankie, Joana, Anmol and Anjali)!

The news of a child gives you that wonderful moment, that little thrill of joy. With all the muck and mud around us we can find our eyes mostly trained in the dirt. Its good to look up.

Monday, 16 November 2009

For Stanley and Leena Nelson

Some call it silver
But this is no second place
No paltry consolation prize

On that balmy Bombay winter day
In the far away country of 1984,
And Pallayamkottai town
Did your twin promises
To have and to hold
Spoken in hope (and fear?)
Did these words spark off a contest?

Yes, gentle friends
With your mutual "I do's"
God joined your lives together
And you plunged further into the great battle
As a newly-formed family
As two who were being moulded into one
As mutual warriors

So today we look back with joy
And perhaps a few tears (or many?)
But with the testimony
Of a quarter century
Of life together
Contending at the gates

Your contest has been no breathless sprint
Or pointless lap around cinder track
For some fading ribbon
Or tin cup

No, it was for lives that you contended
Holding out the hope of Jesus
Loving and caring
Through word and deed
Raising a family of three
And the broader family
Of adopted brothers and sisters
And sons and daughters
In Christ

And so we salute you two
You one
You won

On this day of thanksgiving
On the fifteenth of November
In the 2009th year of our Lord

We say: "Press on!"
Keep going to the next peak
Your silver
Is His gold.

- on the occasion of Stanley and Leena Nelson's silver wedding anniversary

Saturday, 14 November 2009


Haven't heard much from Mum and Dad during there current US trip.

Then we get this in the email inbox on Thursday:

Thanks for praying for travel safety! The angels are around us. We hydroplaned today and totaled the car off I-75. We were in the ditch, but unhurt, PRAISE THE LORD.
Greg & Debby Wiley were driving down I-75 from Tenn to Florida. We were going to meet them, as today is Christa’s AND Greg’s birthdays.
Well, we never made it to the restaurant, but had some good fellowship with the police and wrecker men. I
also could meet 4 groups of people who stopped to ask if we needed help and gave them all our PRAY FOR INDIA brouchures ! One was a black pastor !
PRAISE GOD, WE ARE SAFE AND SOUND AND THANKING THE LORD. We could easily have been killed, killed others or have been seriously wounded. THE LORD IS GOOD !!!!!!!!!!!

Vintage Dad. If that had been the last day of their lives - and it almost was - we would be able to say that they lived a life worth living. By God's grace we have them with us for some more time at least.

We miss both sets of our parents and wish we did not all stay so far apart!

5 pix on a train ride

As a kid one of my all time favourite things to do was to look outside a train window. We were blessed with a lot of travel in our growing-up years - and our adventurous parents took us around by various modes of transport - but for me trains had a special place.

There was nothing passive about looking out. You glued yourselves to the bars, craning to see the front (or back) of the train, watching the shadows jump forward and backward as the landscape wizzed by. Games were play - counting cows vs. buffaloes - going through the alphabets based on trackside signs - endless rounds of eye-spy-with-my-little-eye.

I actually remember some of the steam locos that still plied the rails in my early childhood. We would end up being nicely 'sooted' when by the end of the journey (actually well before the end).

So do cast your eyes on this bit of God's beautiful world - taken through the bars of a train window last month. Southern Jharkhand - somewhere between Ranchi and Rourkela.

We were travelling as a family - heading back to Thane - and passed over an area where just 4 days prior a bomb had been placed under the rails. Our colleagues Dr. and Mrs. Pradhan had actually been in a train that crossed the bomb - but it did not explode and was found shortly afterward. When we pray for safety on travels - we really mean it!

To have the evening sun shine in - to read a good book - or read the Good Book - and have the landscape whiz by outside - and then sip some chai and talk lazily - when do you ever get that other than in a train?

I am still amazed at the length and breath of our national rail system. So many tiny stations or crossings - manned by a single man waving a green flag - one of the 1.4 million railway employees. Think of that - 1.4 million - the population of Gabon, or Qatar, or Estonia. What lies beyond the houses or two that we see from the window as we pass these tiny places? Do the people living there have a choice to move away?

Though our forest cover seems to be shrinking in general (at least in urban areas) we still do have significant belts of forest land in Central, East and North-east India. Having the train rush through dry decidious forests was glorious. We are not talking about pristine wilderness - but about wild lands where people have lived in for generations.

And so we sign off with a look at the next generation window-gazer:

Enoch really enjoyed looking out this time.

And no - that nose on the right of the picture is not an artificial red clown's nose - it belongs to yours truly and is doing its job quite well thank you!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Strange days

A joke is doing the rounds:

Do you know why the Cyclone Phyan did not come to Mumbai after all?

Because the MNS did not let it into Mumbai - it does not have a Marathi name!


The background to the joke is not so funny. First of all we almost had a major cyclone hit the city. Something unheard of - we associated cyclones with the East coast of India and the Bay of Bengal - not with the Arabian Sea. Phyan phynally phynished with a thankfully damp squib - but not before all schools were shut across Mumbai and Thane on Wednesday (joy among the younger Eichers).

More troubling was the horrible scenes in the Maharashtra legislative assembly. It was the first day of the new session and the elected members were taking their oaths of office. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (the 'MNS' in the joke above) had called on all legislators to their oath in Marathi. A few did not. Some took it in Sanskrit, others in English and some in Hindi. When a certain Abu Azmi took his oath in Hindi, 4 of the newly elected MNS legislators rushed to the dias and beat him up in front of the whole house. That the children of these 'defenders of Marathi' chose to send their kids to English medium schools is a different matter.

It is a sad day when on the first day of taking office our lawmakers turn lawbreakers. The hatred towards the 'outsider' continues to be raked up periodically across our land. Today it is the Marathi 'sons of the soil' staking their claim that Mumbai is being overrun by 'North Indians' - yesterday it was the Shiv Sena's rise to power by demonising the 'South Indians'. What next? After years of anti-Muslim stances when most of the current MNS were part of the Shiv Sena - we heard 2 weeks ago that the MNS is demanding that there be more Marathi people - going to Mecca on the Hajj pilgrimage! I thought it was an delayed April fools joke - but they actually had a demonstration demanding reservations for Marathi Muslims!

To be heard - these days - it seems you need to have fists to smash and tear and destroy. It is telling that Gandhiji's house in Mumbai - Mani Bhavan - remains a quaint little museum - frequented mainly by foreign tourists. Ashis and I stopped in there earlier this week (it was just around the corner from a meeting we attended) - and noted that there were no young people - and no other Indians other than the slightly bored-looking staff.

So what does it mean to be an Indian? To be beaten up for using Hindi in your own country?

Strange days.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


8.15 PM

Sheba just went over to the centre. We have admitted a lady who we will call Lalita. Lalita has suffered from excessive bleeding for years now. Not unlike a woman in the Bible who met Jesus.

She is a widow and estranged from her in-laws. None of her family remains. She is alone with her two sons. All three members of this little family have HIV.

Lalita has been talking to her sons. These 8 and 9 year old boys are aged beyond their years. Their mother's only confidantes, they have had far more than their share of sorrows.

Yesterday Lalita was so weak that one of our nurses - Sandhya - took her to JJ Hospital (where she is getting her HIV medicaitons from) to be seen by the staff there. They urged admission. But Lalita has no one to look after her. Her stay at JJ would not be a holiday. It would probably mean being evaluated for a possible hysterectomy. With no one there to look after her it was a heart-breaking choice. Against medical advice she came back home.

Lalita is severely anaemic. Her haemoglobin is a shockingly low 5. The constant bleeding has taken its toll. She finds it hard to speak and has no energy.

This morning, when our staff visited her she was lying alone in bed. Her sons had left the house for school. She had not cooked for them or for herself. Our staff made some chappatis from the Jowhar (sorghum) flour she had in the house. She ate. When one son came back from school he ate too.

At noon we made a call. We would admit her at JSK and arrange for blood to be transfused early tomorrow. We will try to see if we can get volunteers to be with her in the hospital. A big step of faith - given our limited resources of people.

And so Sheba paid her night call to Lalita. We have had her cross-matched and have purchased 2 units of blood. Tomorrow the blood transfusion starts.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Photodiary - Jharkhand Roadside

Though we were only for a week in Jharkhand - the melange of memories continues. Having been away for so long we were assaulted with a mixture of the familiar and the strange. Here are some iconic images seen along the road during our trip from Nav Jivan Hospital to Ranchi.

The 'local trains' of our area is the trusty Jeep. Tough, open - they are crammed full of people and goods - and then more people are added. Some squeezed in, some hanging out.

We are reminded again and again that we are in farm country. Though there are still many bullocks who till the fields, the motorized oxen - in the form of tractors - continue to increase. Needless to say, they can be quite dangerous to other traffic on the high-way.

The other staple of the road is the trusty truck. Most are built on chassis supplied by the manufacturers - and then have their body work done in local workshops.

When trucks move at any speed, we have accidents. This is all the more so since the drivers often put in inhuman hours - and will take alcohol to keep themselves going. This wreck is standing outside the wall of a heavily fortified police station in town of Kuru. All along the road, we saw evidence of the low-level but intense war going on between the security forces and the Maoists.

Roadsides are great. They offer a literal slice of life. A long line that connects people - and around which webs of relationships can be built.

Roads can be used as a market place:

As a gambling den:

As a rest place (especially after drinking too much):

As a place for heroic stunts on bicycles as you drive to school:

But even more than that - roads give us brief glimpses of people's lives.

be it children skipping rope

or an old woman walking slowly to an unknown destination

roads take us places - and offer up opportunities
- as this biker uses his mobile phone before taking the next stage of his journey

these mute ribbons of tarmac take us past people living out their lives
be it threshing grain or fetching water

Roads bring people from far and near to dig in the dirt for coal -
and then soot-swathe the country around till all the coal has been dug up

but most of all:

roads take us home.