Thursday, 26 August 2010


Later today I am going to the Union Biblical Seminary in Pune.

I say later because it is 1 AM and I have been wrestling with a powerpoint presentation for the last 1.5 hours. It kept 'shutting down' when I try to edit it. Thank you Mr. Bill Gates and your multi-gazillion dollar company - which is still using the basic code from MS DOS. Bless your soul. I miss my Macbook (it conked out when the book deluge hit it a few weeks ago).

In 4 hours I shall open my eyes again - then off to the Thane railway station at 6 AM to get the 7 AM Intercity to Pune - arriving in the grand old city of Pune a shade after 10 AM.

UBS is a lovely place - full of friends - so it will be hard to cram all the meetings-up with faculty and students in the 2 hours and lunch before the main show of the day (for me at least).

After lunch withI shall be giving a "Current Concerns" talk on AIDS in India to the student body from 2.30-4.30 PM. Paokholun Haokip - one of our current UBS interns will also be with me and will share about how the UBS students are serving at JSK.

Then a quick jaunt back to the train station to catch the Intercity (5.55 PM) back to Thane. Should arrive at 8.20 PM - and hope to be home a shade after 9.

A long day ahead of me! Good night & good morning (prayers gratefully accepted for this tired head!)

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


Policemen get AIDS too.

We fondly remember one policeman we looked after a few years ago. In his prime he was a champion boxer. By the time he came to us he was skin and bones. We were not able to extend his life by much - but he died in peace - and his brave wife continues to do an excellent job raising their two amazing children.

The husbands of policewomen - and the policewomen themselves - can also get infected with HIV. We have been working with one such couple for some years now. Sadly he keeps taking detours to the bottle. She keeps the family going by putting on her police uniform and putting up with him - largely for the sake of their pre-teen daughter. Little do her colleagues know that she is living with HIV.

Sheba saw a police officer today. She had met him a month ago. At that point it was clear that he had tuberculosis and was in a very poor state. He had told no one of his illness. Sheba told him to come for treatment. He did not.

Why not? Probably fear. Fear that others will find out. He had not even told his wife.

Today this man told one of his younger relatives about his condition. He brought the policeman to our centre. Sheba saw him. He can hardly walk now. His immunity is rock bottom. He still had not told his wife.

Sheba asked him to call her. The relative went to fetch her. The lady came and was told about her husband's condition.

It was a terrible shock for her.

She was also asked to be tested.

As part of the pre-test counselling, we ask the person how they will react if they are found to be HIV positive.

"But I won't be positive" said the policeman's wife. "OK, but imagine if you are... how do you think you will react?" asked Sheba.

"I won't be positive" was all the lady could muster.

Its very, very hard. The deep stigma and loathing that surrounds HIV continues. Faced with awkward truths - most of us try to hide and post-pone the moment of when we have to reveal - and be vulnerable. For so many who have HIV - this postponing and procrastination goes on for years. In this family the man has been exposing his wife to the virus for years now.

The lady talked to Sheba about how such 'big-big' people used to come to her house. Now no one does.

Its hard for the poor to get care. But for the rich and powerful - it is just as hard. This poor man lives in a posh appartment only a brisk walk away from our clinic. Because of fear of others finding out about his condition - he has now deteriorated to a state where he is too weak to walk.

Who will look after our law-enforcers? The virus has made deep in-roads into the force. We have been privileged to work in a small way with a few families - but there are so many others who are living in silence and fear - while wearing the uniform.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


Dinner conversation. Dad is safely back from Hyderabad - after being 'chronologically challenged' and seeing the Indigo flight leave without him yesterday.

We meander through different topics - especially rolling through the many old friends he has met over the weekend.

When we come to one name, Dad digresses. He tells how this person's older brother Harold Sutle had come to Akola when Dad was a 16 year old boy. Harold was arranging meetings for the evangelist bro Akbar Haqq. During these evangelistic meetings Dad had 'gone forward' for the first time and committed himself to Christ.

Now how is it that I never heard this story before? 41 years are over in my life - of which a good 35 or so I can remember - but we never crossed this path in our conversations. Dad is if anything always very open about his faith and I have heard many a tale of his spiritual growth. Yet this piece of the puzzle evaded me till now.

There is so much that I don't know about my own father.

What mysteries there are in each one of our stories. How strange that those who are the very closest to us are still terra incognita in so many ways.

Earlier this year I challenged Steve Satow to write a book about his amazing parents - Dr. Symon and Yvonne Satow. I told him that I would be working on one on my parents. Feb 15 2011 looms - and not a scratch has been done from my part. My initial attempt to borrow an mp3 recorder from an ethnographically-inclined friend came to naught when Mum and Dad heard about it. I was told by them that when we came to visit them this year 'on holiday' that I was to leave 'work' behind. The mp3 recorder was not borrowed.

'There will be plenty of other times' I heard Dad say.

Well. Maybe. But the years spin by. And they seem to be spinning quicker the longer we are aroound.

While Dad is here. This time. These few days before he heads North again on Sunday evening. We are going to push my discovery of him a little further into reality.

Will I end up with a book? I don't know and I don't really care. I want to know more about him.


Dad - thanks for reading this - you so faithfully do - you are among the gentlest of men. We are very very proud of you. (Numbers 12.3)

Freedom Firm

Two score years ago two families lived together in a communal set up. Young. Idealistic. Jesus-smitten. People-loving. Radical in praxis.

The crumbling flat they shared for a season in a seedy part of South Bombay saw its share of tears and hilarious laughter. Dave and Kathy Hicks - and Ray and Christa Eicher (my then early 30-year-old parents) built a friendship that has stood the wear and tear of 40 years. Their children's lives have intersected with ours at various levels

The little girl who I am told was one day discovered (along with yours truly) trying to give a kitten a bath has followed the restless ideals-bashed-into-reality path of her parents. She married a lawyer whose parents were also part of the same youth movement. Greg and Mala Malstead have thrown themselves into making a real difference in combatting the henious traffiking of young girls into sexual slavery.

Here is a moving glimpse into what Freedom Firm is doing. Hats off to these heroes - and their many coworkers who are doing some remarkable work.

Freedom Firm from Freedom Firm on Vimeo.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Dina and Mangal

She had a high fever. 104 degrees Farenheit (I'm basically a metric-wallah - but fevers don't sound right in centigrade).

Let's call her Dina. Dina was sick. She has HIV. So does her husband. So does her oldest child - a boy aged six.

Dina and Mangal have 3 more children. One is 4. One is 3. One is a babe in her arms at 7 months.

Except when Dina is sick - then Mangal tries to look after the 4 of them.

Dina is 24. She married at 16.

Sheba asked Dina where her husband worked - she said 'at the Naka'. At first Sheba didn't understand - then she did. Mangal is a day-labourer. He goes to a cross-roads in the morning and waits for people to come and choose him / and or others who are also sitting there - waiting to be hired for the day.

When Dina is sick, Mangal is at home. He tries let his brother look after the kids - but the brother is tired of it. They are all tired of it. No one wants to be sick.

Sheba had Dina admitted on Thursday. She had a very high fever. Probably malaria. It's never nice to have a very very sick person under your care.

On Friday afternoon we had a staff meeting - and I walked out into the JSK room to answer a call and saw Mangal lying on a mat on the floor with the 4 kids spread out around him. He looked up sheepishly - and I could not help but think of 4 small puppies snoozing in the sun.

On Saturday evening - after the training for Church members - a small group of JSK staff spent some time praying with Dina. Her husband and the older 3 kids were at home. She cradled the 7 month-old in her lap while she sat on her bed. We sat around her and prayed.

This morning I asked our nurse Sandhya how Dina was because I did not see her sitting with our staff at our morning prayers. Sandhya said that she had gone home the yesterday!

Its not like everything is hunky-dory. Dina and Mangal have asked us to place their oldest 2 kids in a 'hostel' - something we are loathe to do - because we believe so strongly in parents being with their children - even in hard times. Dina and Mangal are tired. Tired of being sick. Tired of changes. Tired of trying to get their family members to help them out.

And yet, in a small way we have been able to help out this dear, young and brave family.

Today is a new day.

Sunday, 22 August 2010


Sheba did an excellent job teaching church volunteers on Saturday. The main focus of the day was how to help children who are affected by HIV. As part of her presentations, Sheba brought out this quote:

We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the foundation of life.

Many of the things we need can wait.

The child cannot.

Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made and his senses are being developed.

To him we cannot answer "Tomorrow".

His name is "Today”

- Gabriela Mistral, 1948

Saturday, 21 August 2010

People are not for dumping

Two days ago we got a comment on the JSK website. It was a request for help. A lady asked us for guidance about her auntie - who lives in Kalyan and whose husband died of HIV some years ago. I replied with telling her to bring her and we will talk. The lady called up a number of times afterwards to get directions.

Yesterday they came. They were a group of 7 people. The woman with HIV was with them. She has herpes zoster and has lost her vision in one eye. She was quite sick and needs admission.

"She is last stage" said the people who brought her.

We will dignify this lady with a name - we will call her "Malini."

"Who is her relative?" asked Sheba of the 6 people who brought her (including one man who was drunk). "None of us are" - "We are all just neighbours who are concerned for her" - "Please do something for her - she is very poor" - "We don't know where her relatives are"

Malini sat in the midst of these lies.

We know that at least the lady who called up before was Malini's neice. But when it comes down to really helping none of them wanted to come forward.

Sheba explained that this was not a "last stage" - that so much could be done with treatment. While HIV is serious and there is no "guarantee" that everything will 'turn out all right' - we need to have someone there who can help make decisions for Malini.

This group of 6 were total strangers to us from far away. Sheba asked them to talk about it and decide while she saw another patient who had come for admission with a high fever. She clearly told them that one of them would have to be here with Malini. She offered a referral to Sion hospital as an alternative. She clearly said that we would be happy to look after Malini, but that Malini could not be here alone.

People are not for 'dumping.' In our society, there is a belief that certain places will look after people for ever. We are of course in awe of the "mother Theresa's" of this world - who look after the desititute without any questions. But this is a case where Malini does have relatives. They were with her. She was too scared to speak up and identify them. They rejected her in front of us, hoping that it would cause us to take her on.

We said no.

Heartbreaking. No easy answer to this.

But we do not have the capacity to be an ashram for people who are abandonned by their own relatives. If Malini were from this area and we had some contacts who could help us understand who she actually is, we would have taken her on. But she was from far away. Taking on a person is not like installing a bookshelf.

They left - leaving Malini behind.

After a while the phone calls came again. Please keep her. We will send the man (who was drunk). We told them to come back. In the mean-time more patients came.

Malini was sitting quietly in the front room.

Then she dissappeared.

Did they come back?

Did she walk out?

We don't know.


For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Rev. 7.17

Oh, hasten the day.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Tales together

We gathered together after supper. Dad read aloud from Tales of the Resistance. Sheba did her cross-stich while listening (she has almost completed the border of an enormous table cloth). Asha lay back on her 'Opa' and listened. Enoch lay on the floor. I sat next to Sheba and entered another world.

Books have bring us together. We travel into other lands when we hear stories read out. Our hearts are stirred by something deep - especially when the book resonates with the truth of the Kingdom. Tales of the Resistance by David and Karen Mains does that for us. A heroic tale - with so much of who we are today identifiable in it. We are being swept along. And to have Dad reading it to us is the icing on the cake.

What a privilege to be together. Dad is with us for a few days while Mum is with Premi and Lloyd in Anchorage, Alaska. Every day is precious. Tomorrow Dad goes for a few days to Hyderabad before spending another 4 days with us. Then off to Delhi to be with Stefan and Neeru and Ashish and Anajali. We treasure his love for us - which is an expression of His love for us. Reading together is a bit of this made visible.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

On effigies and holes in roads

The festive season - Mumbai style - is almost upon us. Pandals are being built - large tarpaulins strung over metal and bamboo frames - and taking up large portions of strategic public roads. But hey - it is part of who we are in the Mumbai of 2010. Yesterday's paper said that are now 12,000 mandals in the Mumbai area alone (up from 8200 three years ago).

Now I don't know about you, but I have yet to see a pandal that is electrified by running the power line into someone's home. The local street light is there for that - the contractor's men just need to splice the pandal power line into the public power line and the current is on tap for the weeks of evening lights and the music system etc. within the pandal. Who pays? Well, those who pay their eletricity bills - which includes yours truly (Rs. 940/- this month - yet to pay - but the bill has arrived).

To speak nothing of the state of the roads.

In years past - each mandal would be asked to deposit a certain sum with the municipality to 'guarantee' that the holes dug into the asphalt will be filled in afterwards. This year the requirement for a deposit was dropped. Too complicated it seems. Let anyone dig where they want.

Well, this year it may not make much of a difference. Given the state of the roads in the first place - and extra 30 - 50 small holes over a 200 sq m area will not be noticable anyway.

Yesterday's paper voiced concerned from some of the mandals.

The state of the roads puts the effigies at risk.

I am not making this up. Black on white. I quote from the august pages of the Indian Express:
"Many potholes appear back to back in a single lane," he said. "Idols are 5-6 ft long and they might develop cracks due to the potholes."

"A Ganesh idol cracking would be a major social and political issue. No one should take the risk," said a mandal owner.
Just two points of interest to me.

1. If idols can develop cracks due to potholes that they have to cross twice (once on the way to the pandal, and once on the way to immersion) what about humans - who have to cross the potholes every day? I drive a scooter and have had my share of bone-jarring knocks as I have driven through puddles - only to realise that it is not puddle-deep - but that there is a lovely little crater hiding under the brown puddle water.
My already wonky back doesn't do well with
this unexpected massaging!

And I certainly have not wiped out in as spectacular a fashion than the dear gent on the right. But who knows when I will? And then it is not a black Atlas cycle on top of me - but a black Honda Activa scooter!

By the way, this photo has been cheerfully googled from the net. It appears only to make a point - and draw the required sigh of comiseration for the poor man whose trajectory into the pothole demonstrates basic physics so spectacularly.

2. But lets get back to the quotes above. I thought the definition of the last speaker was interesting. No name is given, but the reporter identifies the speaker as 'a mandal owner.' At first I thought "That's an odd title for a person involved with groups which are supposed to be voluntary socio-religious organisations." I later found out that there are the mandals who run the pandal - and there are workshops which make and sell the effigies to the mandals.

I think the reporter used the wrong word - but it did bring out an undercurrent. Being an 'owner' speaks of control. Being an 'owner' is clearly linked to property and has a strong wiff of earnings associated with it. You own something because you want to profit from it. Fascinating how a single word can paint a strong picture. It was clearly not the intention of the writer - especially as the article was ostensibly about bad roads - but that's the power of reportage - you know when something has the ring of truth to it.

In the meantime we have our roads perfectly prepared for training any cosmonaut who wants to make a lunar voyage in the near future. Good lunar-sized craters are to be found just outside our door. Why go to NASA for their lunar simulation - when you can get the real thing right outside your door. Courtesy your local builder-politician-corporator nexus. Paid for by our funds.

Monday, 16 August 2010


This world is not worthy of some who have trod the soil.

The most gracious one of all was nailed to a rude set of wooden beams.

But over the years some of His followers have also shown glimpses of their Master's love.

After my melancholy musings on our 63 years of Independence from the Brit Raj - its time to give some credit where it is due. Today's mini-task - to thank God for some of the amazing people who have served at Nav Jivan Hospital in Tumbagarah village, on the border between the Palamu and Latehar districts of Jharkhand.

The TB team a few years ago - Anugrah, Anub, Guddu, Augustin Sundar, Jeevan K.

Those who have served at Nav Jivan deserve so much. Especially those who are there not because they are 'serving out a bond' (yes - they too get a special mention) but those who chose to go and live out their lives in a very challenging climate.

Hats off to Dr. Jeevan and Angel Kuruvilla who have just taken up the leadership of Nav Jivan Hospital in its golden jubilee year! Our dear friend Dr. Chering Tenzing has faithfully served at Nav Jivan for 9 years (she arrived the day before we shifted as a family to do HIV work in Mumbai). Now Chering is taking up the challenge of being the deputy medical superintendent at Herbertpur Christian Hospital (Dehra Dun district).

What makes young dedicated men and women put in years of (usually unacknowledged) toil in remote parts of our country? It certainly isn't just for the satisfaction of 'doing a good job.'

For most of these heroes get scant thanks from most of the people they serve. In fact, it more often seems the exact opposite - a strange set of unrealistic demands made by 'the locals' who 'remind' one about 'how good' your predecessor was. That most of this is pure fantasy doesn't take away the sting - and the deadening numbness that easily sets in.

We get the Nav Jivan Hospital prayer letter and have placed under our plastic table covering - so that we can pray every day for Nav Jivan. How I can remember the sheer fear that sometimes crowded into my heart during my time at Nav Jivan. It wasn't the Maoists (though they were around even then) or even the at times sword-wielding 'locals'. It was a blue fear that crept in like the heavy smell of coal smoke that wreathes the ground on cold winter mornings. How much our prayers - small as they be from such a distance - are needed by our heroes who serve.

For not only do our dear ones serve by diagnosing and admitting and cutting and discharging the dear (and often complex) people of the Latehar and Palamu districts. The Hospital also has a presence in the villages. Ambitious work in several blocks means our heroes from the hospital are providing TB care and education in a wide swathe of Latehar district. That most government health employees refuse to go to their postings there because of the Maoists is not a barrier to our Community Health and TB teams. They pray. They go. And how many lives they have saved.

The community health team at a TB mela some years ago

But perhaps the most heroic of all are the ones that get the least publicity. One of the deep disappointments that newcomers face is the gradual unveiling of long-standing conflicts and resentments between people. This is true of so many places of this dear beautiful world of ours - and is probably the main reason idealistic people quit their dreams - because they cannot get along with other folks there (idealistic or not). At the root of our challenges lies the challenge of the spirit. Our old cruel nature that so often licks at our boots with its cynicism.

My final heroes are the dear men who are doing the work of prayer at Nav Jeevan Hospital. They are holy fools - considered odd and quaint by many on the compound - but without them so much of what has happened would never take place. I think of the Friday night prayer times on the ground of the Mennonite Church building - and the Wednesday night Bible studies - and I know that some of that little band has continued to meet and pray over the years. They are not flashy folks - and some of their flaws are pretty evident - but they are the faithful rocks on which Nav Jivan Hospital has entered its golden jubilee year.

Christochit Kerketta addressing the hospital community at a revival meeting

What a privilige to know these living heroes. Its been 9 years now since we left Nav Jivan - but a big part of our heart remains there. It is so exciting to see new directions in the current set of remarkable folks who are serving at Nav Jivan - and to realise that the current and past set of servant-heroes have done so much more than we were ever able to do during our tenure.

Hats off to Jeevan and the team!

p.s. All pictures from the Nav Jivan Hospital Facebook group - you can join by clicking here

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Holy Spirit Hospital

For a person who is pretty sqeamish about blood - and who still has haunting memories of childhood cholera shots at carbolic-smelling-dim-tube-light-lit municipal dispensaries - I have seen quite a few hospitals over the last 2 decades.

Yesterday Sheba and I had a pleasant surprise. We went to visit an old friend of ours who is admitted at the Holy Spirit Hospital. Since coming back to Mumbai-land just under a decade ago I heard pf the hospital a number of times and was often a stone's throw away at the venerable Atma Darshan retreat centre, but we had never ventured into Holy Spirit Hospital itself.

What an eye-opener awaited us. When you pass through the gate you live the hodge-podge that is Mumbai behind. You are in a large spotlessly-clean campus. Green grass. Trees. Well-lit and immaculate interiors. Clear signage. Acres of rooms with OPDs for every possible set of medical needs (including a homeopathy opd). A lovely roof-top cafeteria.

This is what a hospital should look like. You can see that it is well-used, but not over-crowded - that it has high standards, but is not looking to impress by dolling itself up like a 5-star hotel. The 300 bedded place marries the spartan efficiency of a well run Catholic institution with the living touch of a well-equipped and staffed modern hospital. For Mumbai standards an extra bonus is that each room looks out onto something green. Quite unusual in our urban jungle.

As I was talking with our friend, Sheba and our friends wife were meeting with a doctor. Our friend felt tired so I prayed with him. During the prayer a lady came delivering coffee to all the inpatients. We split the cup she brought for my friend. Seeing me praying, she also asked for prayer.

"My name is Monica." She said. "Its a beautiful name. I have much torture at home. Please pray for me."

I did. Standing in the middle of the ward with this dear lady who serves morning coffee.

Later the others in the room asked for prayer too. One man had been suffering constant hiccups. His hiccuping stopped during the time I was with my friend - but he was still weak and wanted prayer. At another bed the patient had gone out - but his daughter who is kidney patient and regularly comes for dialysis wanted prayer too.

A hospital is a strange place. You want to be better - but you also want to leave as soon as you can. The great freedom that we have to walk in and out when we are 'just visiting' is in total contrast to those who are admitted - and to those who care for them.

How long, how expensive, what next are clouds that hover darker than the monsoonal down-pours of this season.

We were blessed to experience the Holy Spirit in a hospital which is named after He who proceeds from the Father and the Son.


We talked on the phone with Enoch last night.

"How are you? Are you having a good time?" Typical parent questions.

Enoch's reply: "I am having a super-good time."

Asha and Enoch have spent a day and a night with their good friends Rishav and Urvashi. We had been down in Sion at Arvind and Putul's for our weekly Bible study. We spent the night with the family - and in the morning Sheba and I went to Andheri to meet a friend of ours in hospital. We left the kids with Putul (Arvind left for his duty along with us) and the kids happy friends Rishav and Urvashi.

A small step. Letting the kids live apart from us for a little while. Only a little longer than 24 hours - Arvind's family brought Asha and Enoch to our home-fellowship this morning. But what a huge gap in our lives with the happy twosome not being there.

I think back to my own boyhood and the magical allure of the sleepover.

Our first and foremost destination was the home of Sammy, Danny and David - our friends and heroes and the sons of Uncle Alfy and Auntie Addy Franks. Their house in Prabhadevi was another world. A place of intense excitement for Stefan and myself.

We would take bus No. 81 from Nana Chowk and alight near Shivaji Park and then walk across the maidan to their flat. Up the narrow staircase, past the cement-tank which served as a table tennis table, into the mini-porch which Uncle Alfy had turned into a mini-Eden. Then into the joy of Sammy-Danny-David.

Being older than us - David the youngest is a year older to me - the Franks boys were always well ahead of us in knowing new things. They patiently showed us their models, shared their stories from school, taught us new jokes, played music on the stereo-system they had miraculously built and in general took us by the hand - but treated us as equals. Theirs was a spartan home - 3 tiny rooms filled with furniture and books and whatnot - but most importantly their home was filled with love.

What I didn't realise till now is the small but real tug that must have been in my parents' hearts as they let us make our first steps of freedom. Those journeys over to the Franks' place were ones that I remember as pure joy - with the excitement of late-night chats when all five of us boys were lying down together telling stories and jokes. I don't have any memory of how my parents felt. Now I do. A generation later.

We did not even have a phone in those days. But I am sure that if my father had called me up and asked me whether I was having a good time - I would have replied just like Enoch: "I am having a super-good time." History repeats.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Indi-blues (in vivid colour)

We are about to celebrate India's 63rd Independence day.

Its a bitter-sweet time. Perhaps the grey skies of the monsoon add to the melancholy that I usually feel when I see urchins selling plastic flags to car-driving cityfolk.

As we passed beneath the sprawling arch that seperates the Thane and Mumbai municipalities I was struck by a series of large hoardings that one of the political parties had installed. We were entering Thane - and we had our eyes full.

It was a large flex-board hoarding - full-colour - computer designed and printed - stuck on the very arch of the city. The black background had a man sitting on a royal leather-padded throne. On either side were two marble pillars (or were they candles?) and the English word "BOSS" cascading down each side. In each of the 4 corners the smiling head of a political heavy-weight grinned out - showing which party the 'BOSS' is from.

O.K. make that "3 corners with grinning heavy-weights" Actually 1 corner had the grinning face of the son of a heavy-weight - who no doubt wants to earn the stripes of his famous father that he was sharing the hoarding with.

Further on in our fine city of Thane the Hindi/Marathi versions of the hoarding were liberally plastered. This time the man in question had the more traditional white background combined with a tastefully faint saffron-white-green. The main Hindi text was a stylized "Bhai" written in swerving devanagri script . Same man. Different titles. "BOSS" seems to be left for English speakers I guess.

What depresses me of this bit of self-promotion is the sheer bankruptcy it so clearly demostrates What kind of leaders do we have - who so clearly set them selves up as goons? Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) wrote in 1811: “Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle merite.” ("Every nation has the government it deserves.") Others have said that we end up becoming like those we worship. Surely we must have some hope more than these caricatures? If I were living in a Tintin comic it would be one thing - but this is real life. These men are literally 'making our laws' and 'enforcing the will of the people' as elected representatives.

The Hindi word 'Bhai' has a specific Mumbai connotation which goes well beyond the generic 'brother' that I have always taken the word at. It clearly has the flavour of the underworld 'Bhais' who are said to control vast stretches of the city - sometimes even after being put behind bars.

A crime reporter in Mumbai did a short piece on one of the parties who have 'set up a committee' to monitor who gets put on the hoardings around the city. Apparently the picture on the left was put up in certain parts of South Mumbai 'felicitating' the smiling man on the right for being appointed to a party position. Based on this 'appointment' he had been getting people to sign over land agreements. The grinning fellow is actually a builder - one of the professions notoriously connected with crime and corruption. The party in question claims that he was never given such a position. Hmmmm.

The advantage of photoshop is that anyone can make a large hoarding liberally sprinkled with images of the powers that be - and give the impression that they are in close relation to the high and mighty. These days in Thane the common-man is regularly treated these poster-monstrocities. Some of them have whole pantheons of heads some larger (i.e. more important), some smaller, some in colour, some in black-and-white (i.e. dead but still valuable to be associated with). Every small (and sometimes they look barely in their teens) 'political activist' can now show others how important he (or she) is. Make a flex poster! Put it up to celebrate a leader's birthday! Or a religious festival! Or a great patriotic day!

One of my recent favourites was one I saw near Vasant Vihar - where one 'head' had been cut out. There was a neat square hole in the flex-canvas where it had been. The person associated with the head-shot must have fallen from grace. I wish I had been able to photograph it... The 'head' was axed, but the cost of the whole mammoth hoarding must have been deemed too much to reprint it sans offending head - so the hoarding remained albeit with a neat hole in it.

So we come back to the melancholy of August 15th. The now faded narrative of nation-formation is almost thread-bare. We bring out a large dash of sepia-shaded memories of men whose names are gradually fading from popular consciousness. Instead our blues are coloured with the often jarring computer hues of the contemporary political flex-banner.

How sad to be in such a vibrant country which knows so little about itself. How feeble our national identity is today. How tragic that we have allowed what seem to be the very worst, most shameless of us to take on the mantles as our 'leaders.' The lovely Hindi word 'neta' has been drained of the plain-jane (or should that be plain-jain?) meaning of 'leader.' 'Neta' now stands for the shady, swarmy chap who uses hook-and-crook-and-every-trick-in-the-book to get the coveted 'chair.' Once installed he starts paying back and working on moving up to the next chair that his (or her) eyes are on.

Cry the beloved country.

Jai Hind!

Friday, 13 August 2010


It showed up this morning. A small cut on my left ring finger. I was in the shower and felt the tiniest bit of pain on the tip of the finger. Looking at it I could see a minute slit and a bit of redness around it.

Where did the cut come from? A quick inventory of my actions till then did not show anything... maybe it was a paper-cut from opening the Indian Express?

What a luxury to have a body that alerts of the smallest abrasion. What a luxury to have a body that is quietly healing itself. What a luxury to see and then be able to forget.

I wish our scooter were like that. Every niggle and jibble that I feel reminds me that I need to service it. Every spot of rust makes me wish for self-healing. The dear Honda Activa is no longer sounding as smoothly purring as she was a few years ago. Would that she had even 1/20th of the self-healing properties that our amazingly-designed and lovingly-maintained human bodies have.

Dr. Paul Brand knew something about pain. His classic book The Gift of Pain (written together with Philip Yancey) explores the amazing way that our pain receptors save our lives - by constantly warning us in split-second real time of acute dangers - and also giving our bodies plenty of info to care for itself when a part is in need of rest and recuperation. You only need to see the terrible damage that Hansen's Disease does to limbs and life (formerly called Leprosy) to see what can take place without our pain receptors and communicators working well!

My finger tip is doing that now. As I type I find myself pressing ever-so-slightly less hard with my left ring finger. And that's good - because it makes sure the healing takes place quicker. If I persist and start doing damage - you can be sure that it will tell me with a higher dose of 'pain.'

Strangely, we seem almost numb when it comes to so much of our human experience. The hurts and pains that so many of us go through are muffled. We hide our pains behind shiney smiles ('don't want them to think that I am wierd'). We drown it out with relentless chit-chat or ubiquitous noise (a.k.a. busyness). Sometimes we just avoid each other. Likewise, we are often so uncomfortable with others being in pain - that we mentally aknowledge something but then allow our minds to 'move on' to other things.

Would that we took a bit more time to deal with things that are not going right in each other. It is not easy. It makes us vulnerable. It could cause to 'more pain' in the short-run at least. But its necessary. Our pains tell us something. They tell us that all is not well. Without turning life into one long-drawn-out-therapeutic-experience - we can be senstitive and allow God to open our eyes to the signs of things-not-right. And make the necessary (though sometimes 'pain-full' steps) to set things right.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Stopping the runs!

Winney went home on Monday. Sheba and our small dedicated team of nurses had made sure that she was well cared for. Her diarrhoea stopped. She has been loved, looked after and prayed for. In the process she just kept eating and gained an amazing 5 kgs in what seemed the blink of an eye.

Yesterday we had this month's "Health message" training for our home-based care team. The idea is to have a specific health topic each month. Our home-based staff then share this with our HIV positive friends during their home visits - in order to spur changes towards positive health behaviours.

Last month's topic was hand-washing. We now all wash our hands in a 6 step process that would do a surgeon proud (well - we should!).

This month we reinforced the hand-washing push with a 5 point health message about preventing diarrhoea.

The idea is to use each point to see how a family can change their actions and prevent a condition that so many people with HIV suffer from - and which causes serious illness and even death.

After going over our presentation with the staff we had a discussion where we revieved Winney's case - the lady who had just been discharged.

Before coming to Jeevan Sahara Winney had been admitted repeatedly to different hospitals. A small fortune had been spent on her by her on the treatments. Much of which she was unable to pay and so others like her brother helped out. Needless to say they are fed up of spending more.

One of the reasons for admitting her at Jeevan Sahara was to spend enough time with her. And Sheba took time to understand what the causes of her diarrhoeas were.

Winney rarely if ever washed her hands. We went about coaching her in this.

Winney never treated her drinking water. Whatever was there she drank. For people with 'battle hardened' stomaches and tip-top immunities this is one thing (still not clever - many people admitted to hospital with Hep A or Typhoid will vouch for that) - but for people whose immunities are virtually nil... Winney has been paying the price for the last two years. The cost of boiling water is nothing compared to thousands of rupees spent in hospital bills.

Winney did not store her water safely. Using narrow necked vessels, which had been cleaned and dried before use, and covering them makes a huge difference. A study in Pakistan found that 37% of water samples from 'boiled' stored water was contimated - mainly due to lack of hand-washing reintroducing the very pathogens that had been boiled to death before!

Winney did not eat safe food. Mumbai is a fast town and fast food - roadside wada-paos and other quick (and often dirty) delicacies abound. We had to help Winney realise that with her immunity she must stick to fresh, home-cooked food. This sounds great - but when you are a widow living alone... The daily monotony of cooking for yourself can be helped so much if a neighbour helps out with a tasty fresh meal every now and then. Love your neighbours as yourself...

Finally, Winney did not get the proper treatment as soon as she fell ill. Instead of drinking a glass of oral rehydration fluids (either the big pinch of sugar, small pinch of salt in boiled cooled water - or a commercial ORS packet) for each stool she passed - Winney just tried to ride out her illness - and ended up riding to the hospital more often than not.

The word is going out. Its nothing flashy. Nothing super hi-fi. But simple steps, conscientiously followed - can make huge differences in lives - especially those of people with HIV!

An old 'pundit' joke:
"I hear diarrhoea is heriditary"
"Yes, it runs in the jeans"
fade to hilarious laughter....

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


About 25 years ago in Bombay-town a child was born.

We will call him Jobin. He was born very, very prematurely. He was born at one of the best hospitals for newborns, but weighed only 1.4 kgs.

They called him a rat-baby. Jobin was tiny. The doctors said we would not last a week. They told this to Jobin's mother. She and her people prayed.

Jobin lived a week. "He won't last the month" said the doctors, "His intestines are all clumped up - his lungs aren't working properly yet". Jobin lasted a month.

Jobin lived a lot longer than the doctors' prognoses.

Half way around the world - at about just the same time another child was born. We will call him Bill.

Bill's parents lived in a rough part of an eastern US city. Things were tough. His father had not had much schooling. His mother dabbled with drugs.

Bill's childhood was not easy in the least. His parents separated early on. Bill's father remarried. His mother didn't. She was addicted to heroin. Bill and his brother grew up between parents. His grandmother stuck through for them. Bill's brother has seen the inside of the US prison system. Bill didn't.

Bill had an uncle who was a missionary. This uncle welcomed Bill to his home. He encouraged Bill to live with him when Bill turned 13. It didn't fully work - partly because Bill was not used to 'living in the country.' Bill dropped out of school. It looked like a dead-end.

Only it wasn't. The folks who were praying for Bill continued to pray and love him in the way they could. Bill turned a corner - and turned to God. He put his faith in Jesus Christ. He never finished highschool - but restarted education and ended up - as a teacher!

We had the privilege of sharing about the work at Jeevan Sahara with 'Jobin' and 'Bill' today.

These young men give us hope.

Jobin is studying medicine in another country and is looking to come back to India next year for his internship. He has been volunteering at JSK for the last week and a half. Bill has come out to India to serve. He has just finished teaching at a school run by an orphanage in a rural part of Maharashtra and has headed back to the US to pay off his student loans.

It is never too late to change. No situation is too terrible to see something beautiful come out of it. Real hope springs out of some of the darkest times.

Monday, 9 August 2010

More light!

The first news I got was from Dad. He sent an email saying some medical workers had been killed in Afghanistan. He was pretty sure his friend Dr. Tom Little was one of them. Subsequent news reports have comfirmed this.

A few days earlier Libby Little - the wife of Dr. Tom - had sent Dad and others an update, saying that the team had just left on an 18 day expedition to a remote part of the Eastern Afghan province of Nuristan. She asked for prayer.

Dr. Tom sees a patient at NOOR(the National Organisation for Opthalmic Rehabilitation)
Photo from:

It is sadly ironic that a man who gave sight and light to so many others through is ophthalmic surgeries was killed in a province called Nuristan - a place which has a name that springs from the persio-indic word Noor (light). Dr. Tom Little's killers used what sight they had to aim their weapons - but are clearly blind in every other aspect of their soul and spirit.

This morning I found out another connection. As the other names of the dead were announced in the press I found out that Dan Terry was also one of the men slain. My mind goes back to 2 years ago when I met this giant of a man. We were walking with Dad in Mussoorie - and we met an spry elderly couple - him wearing a salwar kameez and a dignified salt and pepper beard. Dad hugged his old friend. The affection and respect between the two was palpable.

A few days later we observed the global day of prayer at Kellogg Church - and as part of the service Dad and I led the congegation in intercessory prayer for differrent parts of the world. Seeing Dan Terry in the room Dad asked him to come up and share his experience with serving in Afghanisthan. I remember being deeply moved as Dan Terry shared the deep love that he had for the Afghan people and the way that he sought to live out the love of Jesus with them. "We have to embrace the Taliban" said Dan - a statement that rings on in my mind.

This morning my thoughts wander back to that cool sunny Sunday morning in Mussoorie. Some people were too scared of Dan Terry's bear-like embrace. They chose to silence him with bullets. Dan was armed only with love - and years of blessing people. He was involved with setting up community development programmes in some of the most difficult situations possible. History shows that violence flows quickest from those who lack legitimacy. What rings in my mind is the courage and love that this man showed.

Two thousand years ago a cowardly mob stripped the Lord of Glory and had him nailed to rude beams of wood. Early followers of Christ were often called to renounce him or else face torture or death. Many stayed true their Master. Many paid the price and followed their Lord's example. Add Tom Little and Dan Terry to this list. Heaven is the richer for men who "give what they cannot keep, to gain what they cannot lose."

And we are also the richer. Our day to day existence is a prelude to eternity. We fool ourselves into thinking that our life at present is all that there is. Seeing the courage and sacrifice of Tom and Dan and their colleagues challenges the very essence of who we are and what we do day-in-and-day out. Challenges the shallow and fickle lives we live - our silly entertainments and delusional navel-gazing. If we dare to think about it - their lives point us to the deeper and more lasting.

Take a moment to reflect. Think. What is *really* important in my life right now. And what are the important things that I should be doing - but am not. Why not? Note how many excuses show up. Ask God's help. Plead with Him to help me change my life. Don't live for nothing. Life is short. Eternity is very very long.

"More light!" (Goethe's last words)

Do pray for the families of the slain. The children of the Littles and the Terrys studied at Woodstock School with us (though I had finished High School before most of them came to Mussoorie). The closest one to me - Molly (Dr. Tom Little's oldest daugther) - graduated 2 years after me and is currently working with the UN in Iraq.

Sunday, 8 August 2010


Is it possible to gain 5 kgs in 3 days?

Sheba has just come back from seeing Winney - a lady that we admitted at Jeevan Sahara on the 5th. She had been suffering from diarrhoea for the past 2 years - and had passed stools 24 times in the 2 days prior to her admission.

We have had her for 3 days now.

Sheba checked on her weight at admission - and her weight today. There is a 5 kg difference!

Ever since Winney has been with us her diarrhoea has stopped. She is so hungry. She just eats and eats. Rice, dal, bread, omlette, more rice, kichadi - it all goes in.

Winney has a reason to live. She has been rejected so much in the past. Here she is accepted. She is drinking in the love. And has discovered an appetite that was just not there.

What did we do for her? We admitted her for observation and to see what to do next. Nothing fancy - but at the same time we are literally saving her life. So many others are out there like Winney. HIV positive. Rejected by family and friends. Without hope.

The hope in Winney's life started with an illiterate lady from a local church who met Winney and started visiting her in her home. Seeing her condition this church lady brought her to JSK. We admitted her and 3 days later there is 5 kgs more of Winney.


I was pushing the scooter up the small hill when I saw the police jeep. It was standing next to one of the first buildings in our appartment complex.

My petrol had run out (common occurrance). I had the two packets of chicken safely on me which had taken me out early on the Sunday morning (guests for lunch). I was coming home a little winded but happy to have found a shop open and to have bought fresh tomatoes and dhania from a street-side vendour.

I saw the jeep and the policemen standing around. Some in uniform. A few plain clothes. My first thought was that they are raiding one of our well-heeled neighbours.

But as I passed by the vehicles, I looked into the back and saw two old security-men. These are old men that our buildings employ as guards. Because no one wants to pay the real wages - these men are contracted out from a 'security agency.' These agencies provide the men - usually old feeble men - who sit for 12 hour shifts to monitor who goes in and out.

I saw these men sitting hunched over in the back of the police jeep.

Their faces were grey.

Almost like the dirty grey uniform that their agency decks them out with.

My first thought was that the agency itself was getting a police sweep. But when I got to our building I asked the security-man on duty what was up.

He said that a car-stereo had been stolen during the night. These men were supposed to be on duty, but were asleep.

I felt sick. Here I was returning home with chicken, about the meet wonderful friends and then go to worship at our house-church - and here were two old men who were about to be beaten.

The methods used to 'investigate' are notorious. It is well-known that local policemen take bribes from accused to 'mitigate' their questioning.

Where are these men tonight? Are they still in the lock-up? Have they managed to cough up enough cash to be released? Has one of them 'confessed?'

Friday, 6 August 2010


This just in...

Sheba tells me that one of our partner churches in Airoli is now looking after 15 different people who have HIV.

They have 3 ladies who take time to visit these positive friends - and other church members help in other ways - through donating food and finances, through praying and encouraging.

At least 2 of the ladies who visit the homes are semi-literate at best. But do they ever have heart. And what's more - they know suffering very well from their own lives. One of these dear ladies has a widowed sister and neice who are HIV positive, as well as having lost her nephew and 2 sons-in-law to HIV. What's more - her daughter eloped and now is married to a man - and both have HIV now.

In the midst of their own challenges - this church - and these dear ladies are reaching out.

We are so blessed to be serving alongside saints like these.

Thursday, 5 August 2010


A lot of things got fixed around us at Jeevan Sahara Kendra today.

Some did not.

Some are in the process of mending.

First the things that were fixed.
  1. Both the office and the clinic phones. Monsoons are superb and causing 'line problems'. Its nice to be able to pick up the phone and talk.
  2. One of our office laptops that has been in hibernation for over a year.
  3. The electricity at the Clinic. An internal fault meant that for most of the morning patients were seen without the power being on. Mercifully it is the monsoon so we did not get the sweat-bath it would have been in summer. After some work it was then fixed by a local electrician. As a subset of this, the inverter was also fixed.

Things that were not fixed
  1. The Eicher laptop. Mac is sick. Does not recognise its hard drive. Tears.
  2. The roads. With every rain a new pothole emerges. The road near our house is excellent - for simulating lunar travel whenever we get around to sending people to the moon. The potholes are 'being fixed' by putting large stones ('paver blocks') into them. This only allows for bigger ones to develop.
Things in the process of being fixed
  1. Not a thing - a precious person. 'Winney' - a widow with two children has come for treatment. She has been having continuous diarhea for the past two years. In the last 2 days she went 24 times. Sheba admitted her this afternoon. We want to see what the cause is - and try to develop a treatment regime for her. In the evening she was already feeling so much better. Beyond drugs - there is such a healing power in love. Winney knows that it is not just the treatment we give at JSK, but also us loving her and talking to Jesus about her and asking His help.
  2. Our own weaknesses. We are helping others - both at work as well as through the phone with friends who are going through tough times. But we also see our own limits so quickly. A quick retort. A harsh word. As we minister to others in their brokeness - our own limitation show up so quickly. Looking back on the day there are at least 3 times I wish I had not said what I did - or wish I had expressed it in a different tone and manner. They were not fixed immediately, but looking back I can pray about it - and go to sleep with peace in my heart.
He gives His beloved sleep

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


She's a teen-ager and she is blind.

Blind because of her HIV.

It isn't meant to be this way.

Not in 2010 - almost 30 years after HIV first showed up.

Not with a substantial number of different interventions that we can do to help people who are living with the virus.

But for Tami all of that is too late.

She can barely see out of her clouded eyes.

The opthalmologist says that nothing other than a corneal transplant will bring her vision back.

Tami is the home-maker in her family. Her parents died to HIV. She has two younger brothers - and one older. One is in 6th standard. One is in 2nd. One who is 20 years old and working. Tami looks after them - and lives with them in a 'room' that is 8 by 10 ft.

Early in the morning she wakes up and make food for them. Then cleans the house. Then gets them up.

Money comes from the older brother who works. Some money at least. Tami looks after the 3 brothers and the whole family lives off the older brother's income.

Its heart-breaking to see these children looking after children.

But that's the way HIV continues to work its way through the population. The brothers are negative. Tami has the disease. The virus has now affected her vision. But the deterioration was also because no one was willing to come along with her for the treatments. No one followed her up.

Tami is blind. But so are all of us. She can't help her blindness. We can. We willfully blind ourselves to everything that is uncomfortable.

Lord have mercy.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Signs of hope

We were in a room with lots of chairs. The paint was fresh on walls and the floors had been scrubbed. We were late. The final prayer was being said.

We walked into a miracle. A local church has allowed itself to be stretched - and to open itself up to people with HIV. Not just some abstract thought - but real flesh and blood people. Children and adults. People who need to be loved in deed as much as in word.

The prayer meeting was the dedication of the latest shaping of love in this church. They have rented a small flat for three children and their foster mother - all who are living with HIV.

We have seen these kids grow up before our eyes. We have seen their bitter tears. We have cried ourselves. Now two are slender adolescents - and the third is entering a new phase as she crosses 7 years old.

We have seen this church be stretched to the breaking point. We have cried with them over the challenges and setbacks over the years. The path of love has been sown with stones.

But here we were - catching the fag end of the dedication service. Everyone was sitting together. People with HIV and people without it. Young and older folks. Living out a dream of a new beginning in this great dark city.

The rains sputtered outside. The meeting broke up into thanks and small clusters of talk as the biryani made its rounds.

How grateful we are to see signs of hope. How blessed to have been a small part in a small corner of light.

Just days before the flat was a dump. Willing hands came and scrubbed. Willing knees bent and stooped. Willing pockets were opened for the deposit and the rent. Willing heads talked through the many decisions to be made. Willing hearts loved. Love made tangible. A new home for this small family of HIV - within that larger family of this church.

Would that we would see so many more of these bright spots of light shining out across the grey wetness of our cities.


She had HIV for the last 13 years.

She was a mother and active in the church.

But she did not tell anyone.

For the previous pregnancies she had gone away. Her in-laws did not know about her status.

This time she suddenly had pains. It was well before her due date, but her family rushed her to the hospital. After she was admitted a 'routine' HIV test was done. No counselling. No informing that the test was done. Just part and parcel of what it means to be admitted for anything these days in a private hospital.

The test came positive. She was asked to leave the hospital. Her in-laws were shocked. They tried in another place. Same story.

Finally they went to a government hospital. By this time she was stabilised. It turns out that the pains were false labour pains. The pregancy was not full term. But the damage has been done.

The whole church 'knows'. She has been teaching in the Sunday School. Everyone is shell-shocked.

She wants to leave. She says that she will go South for treatment. A dear friend of hers told her that treatment was available in Mumbai. "I can't deal with any more rejection".

This friend is a true friend. One that doesn't give up. Tomorrow her friend will go to meet the lady with HIV and hopefully bring her over to us for treatment. Love is not cheap. It means that we have to put ourselves in others shoes and move forward - come what may.

We hope to make friends with this dear woman tomorrow.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Speaking on Spirituality and Health

Its been a long time since we had a lego posting. So here we have some shots of Enoch's current project. He calls it a church. It certainly doesn't look like our normal house fellowship - where we meet in a small group on Sunday mornings in the home of Jolly and Suma Thomas (do come if you are in the neighbourhood!). Enoch's vision at this point seems larger.

In Enoch's lego church looks suspiciously like the public meeting called the "Great Life Series" which our group of house churches help organise on the 4th Sunday of each month.

The idea is to have a seminar open to all where we explore issues of importance from a Biblical perspective. I spoke on the topic of "Spirituality and Health" at the most recent event (2 rapid weeks ago now!).

Given that there are 74 million google hits for the two words - it was a challenge coming up with something pithy. But at the same time what a fascinating set of relationships between our spirituality and health. A review a few years ago spoke of over 1200 studies that look at religious involvement and spirituality and its correlation with health outcomes. The vast majority of the studies point to positive associations between the two. People who are religious tend to be more (insert positive variable here). The list is a laundry list: lower BP, better cardio-vascular health, quicker recoveries, less complications, better immunities (important for HIV), less alcoholism, less suicide, less depression etc.

That doesn't mean that we can take spirituality like a pill. It doesn't mean that people who are spiritually grounded will never get sick. There are some sects that teach this: Know Jesus and you will never be sick. Hardly. The apostle Paul writing to his dear friend and disciple Timothy (an early and youthful bishop) tells him to not only drink water but also some wine on account of his stomache and frequent illnesses (1 Tim 5.23).

What we do see is that in this broken world, that people of faith mend better, are sick less and live longer. Death comes to all. We fall apart. These amazing bodies have their wear and tear. But how wonderful to see the healing that does take place. The remarkable way that tissues once torn are now mended. The marvel of our immunity taking on multiple threats to our body at once. The recovery from the man-inflicted-but-necessary wound of surgery. The huge number of diseases that are efficiently nipped in the bud without our ever knowing it!

Spirituality and Faith are not primarily about getting physically better - but they sure do help.