Monday, 31 January 2011

Space dreams


Technology will save the day.

In the late 70s I spent a vacation voraciously reading old copies of Popular Science magazines from the 60s. They had articles telling about what would happen in the future - complete with illustrations of planetary colonization and various other utopias.

Technology - and specifically space travel for humans - was going to make it all possible.

As a kid I keenly followed the 'space shuttle' programme - delighted at the idea of a craft that would go up on a rocket - circle the earth - and then return penetrating the atmosphere before gliding to a landing on earth.

All that changed 25 years ago. The space shuttle "Challenger" exploded. A 'routine' launch on a clear day - watched by millions. Seven astronauts obliterated in the eerie silence and white vapour and smoke 73 seconds after their craft had left the earth.


I was not one of those who saw the unexpected horror on TV - but the pictures made their way out to my 11th grade class at Woodstock School soon enough. It was particularly poignant since one of the crew members was a school teacher who had been selected for the mission through a rigorous and highly publicised selection process.

This was not supposed to happen.

We were close to the end of the cold war (how close to the collapse of the USSR was not known to us then) but the Americans with their spiffy and squeaky-clean space programme (lots of gleaming white as I recall - while the Soviets always seemed grey and grimy) were being touted as the saviours of the world.

A whole industry has emerged - with multiple theories about what went wrong in the Challenger explosion. Most focus on the infamous 'o-rings' - rubber rings whose characteristics changed at sub-freezing temperatures. The concerns of some of the engineers involved seem to have been over-ridden by the management in their desire to get the mission into space a.s.a.p.

video

What the accident did was to start to pull the plug on the shiny-happy optimism of space flight. The plug finally got pulled when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during reentry in 2003. To make the matter even more piognant - this mission had another charismatic lady on board - the Indian-born Kalpana Chawla - whose story had inspired millions of girls about what possibilities they could achieve.

Barring some completely game-changing space technology - I really do not see much manned-flight off our planet (even over to our own lunar satellite) in the next 50 years or so. Maybe a prestige shot by China in about 20 years from now - but little else. The costs seem to high - both in terms of the sheer massiveness of the whole endeavour - as well as the human costs. After losing 14 astronauts in the two shuttle disasters - the Americans and others have busily sent robotic vehicles into space - and that is where I think it will remain for the next half century at least.

Pity. At the base of it all is the romance of thinking of leaving this planet and moving somewhere else.

Technology was supposed to take us there. Something got 'bugged-up' along the way.

A quarter century ago an almost beautiful plume of white vapour on a clear blue sky marked an end of a certain kind of wide-eyed-innocence.

Our dear planet earth. Looks like we are going to be here for a lot longer than some had hoped.

Mukteshwar

A quarter century ago a few young lads played a version of Pink Floyd's classic 'Comfortably Numb" in Parker Hall of Woodstock School. On other occasions - playing under the name of Silmarillion - the fellows cranked out covers of Kansas and Petra anthems. I was a year below these tunesters.

One the fellows continued in music - and in exploring a faith devoted to Jesus Christ - and expressing his following of Christ within various Indian devotional traditions.

Chris Hale is the man in question - and over the last decade he and Peter Hicks have formed the core of Aradhna. Their new album Namaste Saté has just been released and here is a track from it called Mukteshwar.

Be blessed.




Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy
Those who are poor in this world
Blessed are they, blessed are they
For the kingdom of heaven is theirs
Blessed are they, blessed are they
They who mourn in this world, will have peace
The meek in this world, will rule
Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy
Those whose hearts are pure in this world will see God
Those who make peace will be called the children of God - Sri Yeshu Ji

Friday, 28 January 2011

50 years of the German School Mumbai!

This evening was a special treat for me.

I got to stroll through one of my schools. It turns out that it is the youngest of them all. The Deutsche Schule Bombay (DSB) was founded primarily to meet the needs of German-speaking ex-patriates in 1961. My other schools Cathedral and Woodstock turned 100 last year and 157 respectively, while my universities of Taylor and Yale are blushingly 157 and 300 plus years old. So the DSB is the spring chicken of the lot!

The school has changed dramatically in some ways - it now is mainly English speaking and caters to many different nationalities - but most of the classes are still held in the charming little building next to the old American Consulate on Warden Road.

It was charming to see where Stefan, Premi and myself had been formed in so many ways. The teachers at DSB were top-notch - pouring themselves into us. There were not many of us to pour into - my class was a 'big class' of 7 students in those days - the class below me had all of 4 students. But how we benefitted from their attention. The names of Herr Meister, Frau Doongaji, Herr Heuser, Herr Keuhne, Herr Fischer, Herr Ranft, Frau Chraiath, Herr Sipple still fill me with a great wave of thanksgiving.

I was hoping to meet one of these legends at the School Fair, but was stunned to meet - of all people the hale and hearty bear of a man - Herr Guenther Pankoke and his wife Frau Pankoke. Here he was - larger than life - a man of 80 years old and full of the same joy as he had been when he kindly admitted us into the DSB 31 years ago!

Herr Andi Eicher, Herr Pankoke, Frau Christa Eicher und Frau Pankoke - at the 50th Anniversary School Fair

Herr and Frau Pankoke have continued coming to India - especially to keep up the long-term relationships they have with local charities such as Mobile Creches. This year they plan to add a trip to Arunachal Pradesh to their itinerary!

What do I remember most from my years at the DSB?

Obviously there was the initial shock of coming to such a luxurious school (air-conditioning in the early 80s...) and having the odd teacher who smoked in school (the odd student too - it was not banned officially - but there was a strong peer pressure not to smoke).

Since German is my mother's tongue - while my mother-tongue is English - it too a long time for us to get up to speed with the medium of instruction. But immersion helps. Within a year we were being graded with the others (special patience for us in the subject of German however - I always did poorly in that).

What stands out is the joy our teachers had in teaching. I still remember Herr Meister's history classes. Herr Heuser taking us into the mysteries of the DNA. Frau Doongaji in her elegant way unravelling the mysteries of art and music (and drilling French into my unwilling head). How much any of my teachers will remember me - I do not know - but on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the DSB I am just so grateful for their inputs into this person-who-I-am.

Herzlichen Dank!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Impossibilities

Each week we meet as a team to discuss our work at Jeevan Sahara Kendra. Friday afternoons are set aside for this. It isn't always easy listening.

Our four home-based care teams tell us who they consider their 5 "priority families" for the coming week. Of the 25 odd HIV affected families each team is assigned - which ones they consider most in need at any level - physical, emotional, relationally, spiritually...

Today we wrote down the names on pieces of paper and put them on the floor in the middle. 20 names. Each one such a complex maelstrom of challenge. And yet so many common strands.

Alcohol abuse being one that cropped up regularly today. The cause - and the reaction to - so much misery. Poor relationships between spouses. Fatigue at looking after family members who are constantly sick. All the three mixed together. And more.

It all just looked so daunting. And yet the names on the slips of paper were real. Our staff meet with these families regularly. They are not just characters in a book. Not just made-up folks for a role play or a cosy case-study discussion. Each name is a living breathing person. Each set of misery is being played out through the gossamer strings of relationships.

At the end of the day - each person is precious - no matter how twisted their circumstances - no matter how rocky their own lives may be.

This afternoon we broke up into groups of 2 and spent time praying. Each group grabbed 3 pieces of paper to pray for. 3 names. 3 different families. 3 unique trajectories of misery and care. Seeming hopelessness and stubborn hope.

Our prayers are being lived out by the daily visits our teams make.

What seems impossible for humans...

Friday, 21 January 2011

A day to remember

10 years ago - at 10.10 AM - on the 16th of January we heard the sweetest sound.

A small muffled cry.

The very first time we heard our daughter Asha Esther Alice Eicher.

A decade. A whole decade has somehow slipped by.

Sunday was a day of festivities!

We started early in the morning with the traditional Eicher family thanksgiving prayer - followed by a treasure hunt for the birthday gifts.

Asha was decked out for the day in her new ghagra-choli.

It was great to have 'Oma' with us - 'Opa's' presence, however, was sorely missed as he is supervising the repairs of Shanti Kunj in Mussoorie.

Hugs for Daddy afterwards were much appreciated!

Being a Sunday - we all trooped off to church - our house-fellowship which meets in Jolly and Suma's home. After a super time of worship and learning - we were fed physically as well with a delicious Malayali meal afterwards - courtesy of Suma (with inputs from Rachael Reddy too).

Our Asha being Asha - she had asked for rice and dal - which was made specially for her amidst the mounds of other delights...

In the afternoon the festivities took the kiddy turn!

A birthday cake had been prepared - with Asha's fledgling interest of badminton in mind:


It was no problem getting our birthday girl to pose!

Soon the house was overflowing with Asha's friends.

Games are of course the core of any party - and we had a rip-roaring set in hand.

As the kids are growing - so is their sophistication (and competitiveness of course).

The boys vs. girls blanket-drop rapid-identification proved quite a hit!

(photos from here on courtesy Dr. S.P. Matthew)

And then the action moved to the terrace. We are blessed to be on the 7th floor - and just below the terrace. During the summer we roast - but on a late winter afternoon it is just perfect for games.
Integral to any competition - the choosing of teams - here we chose by arranging everyone in the order they were born in. Asha being Jan 16th was first in the line of course - followed by Enoch whose B-day is coming up on the 19th of Feb.

And then the games began in earnest.

The grand game of passing a baloon back - and then having the last person run forward with it - only to pass it back again - proved a winner. What with the wind catching the baloons and taking them places - and all the kids earnestly pouring their hearts into their teams...

The result was almost too close to tell - but one result was clear - there was a lot of laughter and cheering - just what the game was meant to do.
A slightly more challenging game was the blind-horse riding relay.

With the 'horse' blind-folded and the rider giving directions - it was supposed to be a combination between skill and hilarity.
Yours truly demonstrated it to the eager masses.

And then they were off.

The problem was not a lack of participation, but an overenthusiastic bunch. The dear blindfolded 'horses' did not pay much attention to what their 'riders' were saying and charged straight ahead. One minor mishap... but the game was still on. Then we had two eager 'blind' horses collide at full speed. Head on. End of game.

Tired and a tad sweaty (with one or two teary eyes) but with high spirits the crowd trooped back down to a time of sharing from God's word - and a prayer for our birthday girl.

The cake was brought out:

The traditional 'birthday song' was sung and all gathered to help Asha blow out the candles and cut the cake.


Eager hands then cut it up and added it to the other goodies - with hot samosas getting pride of place. Lots and lots of them.

And from then on its the "feed the cake to everyone" game - masterfully played with Asha in the lead role.

Asha has given us all so many smiles over these years. As we look back on a decade-worth of joy we are so glad. We gave her the name of Hope because we believe that even in the darkest days God's hope shines through - and gives us a reason for moving forward.

It was appropriate that we chose Ps. 23.1 for Asha this year - The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. The writer is not saying that there will never be problems - but that God will take care and look after him. That has been our experience as a family - and with Asha in particular.

Having so many of our friends - young and old - together on this special day reminded us of the wonderful extended family God has blessed us with. We feel alone at times - and on occassion are prone to feeling sorry for ourselves - but just seeing the dear ones who came to be with us was such a blessing!

Along with Asha - I also sometimes wish we could celebrate her birthday more than just once a year!

And now for something completely different...

Growing up in the more than faintly 'commune-style' world of my parents mission - one of the hallowed events of the week was the Friday Evening Prayer meeting. It was a time of worship (lots of guitars and tamborines - we were still in the days of the 'Jesus people') and much focussed and spontanteous prayer.

Though I don't remember any specific statement - I know what we were putting ourselves up against - the 'dead ritual' of reading litanies and prayers from prayer books and orders of service used by 'traditional churches' (almost synomymous with 'dead churches' in our minds).

It was only years later that I realised how ritualistic our own 'unstructured' worship was. The same songs. The same prayers. The same styles. Words like "we fall down in worship" etc. etc.

This video has been around at least a year - but I think it says alot about the manufacturing of church.




At the end of the day we serve a gracious Master who accepts the prayers and praises of His people. They are very precious to him. Be they the lisping of the smallest child - singing simple Sunday-school songs. To the final hymn sung off-tune but with gusto by the bed-side of the dying. To the racous joy and dancing of some and the silent formal prayers of others - our Lord is big enough to accept the broken offerings of contrite hearts.

Its not the package, its not the wrapping, but the gift inside that counts...

Oh praise Him.... Hallelujah...

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Life... from a death certificate

In 2002 Mrs. Reshmi's husband died.

He had AIDS.

She was illiterate and had 4 children. The oldest was 8. The youngest 1.5 years.

She ended up trying to eke out a living selling vegetables. When we met Mrs. Reshmi around early 2004 she was suffering from tuberculosis - from her own HIV infection - courtesy of her dead husband. Her children were neglected and malnourished. Her lungs already pretty scarred from her long-term TB treatment.

Over these 7 years we have seen some amazing changes in this family. Thanks to the sterling work of OASIS in the Purnatha Bhavan programme (sadly just closed down due to lack of long-term staff and funding) Mrs. Reshmi was stabilised on ART and her kids were given a chance to blossom.

They certainly have. A group of gangly teens and pre-teens - the 4 kids are all in school and are being cared for by a local church member who tutors them once a week. Mrs. Reshmi and her kids actively participate in another church - and love to sing songs of hope and joy - many of which have been carefully written down in a diary and brought out whenever a visitor comes to their small slum home.

But as a widow Mrs. Reshmi has had to fight it out. Her husband was previously married and the other woman has demanded their small hut for herself. Mrs. Reshmi does not have a ration card and has not been able to change the water and electricity bills into her name. Numerous other issues of residence and identity are pending - and have hung fire because Mrs. Reshmi did not have a crucial document.

The magic document was her husband's death certificate.

Without proof that he was really dead - the other wheels of bureacracy that Reshmi and her family have to deal with - would just not turn.

And so began (many months ago) the great and challenging task of getting the death certificate made.

Thanks to lots of prayer - and untiring efforts by Carmella D'Souza(a local church member and part-time staff at JSK) - and the help of multiple others - this process went on, and on, and on.

Just when we thought it would 'come through' - another objection was raised - another hurdle was created. Carmella and her merry helpers went to meet the local politicians, met the various govt. officials, talked, cajoled, filled, refilled, submitted, waited, reminded, met, reminded again, refilled - on and on and on.

Yesterday I got an sms from Peter Chettiar: "Praise God v got d death certificate"

This morning the precious green document was in our hands (the illustration in this blog is of a Mumbai Death Certificate - not one from Thane). We will laminate this document and give it to Mrs. Reshmi. It is a small but vital victory in this dear family's work to build a new life.

It all seems so trivial to a world of success that spins around us. But getting this certificate - which seemed so impossible for most of the time - it is a powerful example of the dogged love that our staff and different local church members have for the silent hidden people - who at the end of the day make up the bulk of our beautiful and tragic nation.

The Good Book puts it well: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1.27)

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Turnover

One of the things that I carry around with me is an ache. Its a deep inside one - one that has been there for most of the year and has been exacerabated in the last few months.

I have over the last few weeks understood at least one reason for this ache. Its the loss of relationship with people who have worked with us.

Over the last year we have seen 5 of our longest staff and volunteers move on. Between them I can count at least 21 human-years of experience with us.

Its hard when people who we have been so close to - are not close anymore. There is a feeling of hollowness - a set of niggling questions that flitter around the edges of our mind. ... What happened? How come what was once such a daily sharing of lives - has now opened up into what seems a vast chasm...?

And then there is the nibbling away at memory... do we start revisiting the past and painting a different picture? Do the amazing times that we shared need to be revised and toned down?

No.

Life is real. We are broken people who are prone to make decisions that hurt each other. Those who are closest hurt us the most - and vice versa - those who have the highest opinion of us are wont to receive the cruelest twist from an action or word from us.

I refuse to undermine the amazing times that we have experienced in our journey with the JSK team. Its a conscious decision that I take - with the help of God.

The writer of Hebrews puts it in action terms: Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Heb. 12:13-14)

And so we move forward - with what is in many ways a new-look JSK team. Its a new year. Its a new start.

Deep breath. Plunge in.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Saw dust

My mother would sometimes say jokingly "der schoenster sport ... ist der moebeltransport"

German which can be loosely translated as "The best game is.... shifting furniture."

We love to do this in our home - and every few weeks a cupboard is shifted here - a bed is moved there.

A month ago we embarked on a journey. In our home. We engaged a carpenter and asked him how long it would take to make some wall cupboards - and how much.

He named a sum. We gulped and agreed. He named a time - 2 weeks. We gulped and agreed.

Then the process started.

Bharat - our carpenter from the state of Jharkhand - became part of our lives. Sawdust invaded every corner of the house. The marvels of plywood and the application of skill and time meant that we now have 2 beautiful cupboards.

The whole process cost more than we thought (a bit). It also took longer than we thought (a lot). Twice as long - which was painful since I ended up working largely from home to be 'on site' as the carpenter did his job.

Today it was finally over. After living as refugees - shifting between rooms - having our worldly possessions packed up in boxes and bags and getting dusty in every nook and cranny - we finally said good bye to Bharat. We did so after putting the crisp notes that he had earned in his pocket and spending some time talking about eternity and God's wonderful gift of Jesus.

With Bharat out the door - then began the scrubbing and shifting and sweeping and shifting and sweeping and moving and changing and thinking and moving and more sweeping.

Where did so much stuff come from? Why is so much of it so shabby - and why do we hold on to things so dearly?

And in the midst of all of this the sawdust keeps showing up. You sweep and there seems to be another layer somewhere. You dust - and soon another film appears. And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past...

To be fair - we have been sweeping steadily over the last month of home-site construction. But today allowed us to finally go into all the corners and 'spring-clean'. I expect the next few days will still see some truant dust showing up every now and then - but the home looks already a different place.

Life is like that. If we knew what it would take before we got into it... very little of life would be done at all. Marriage is certainly that way. But how blessed it is to persevere - to push through and keep praying and working with each other.

The blessedness of the commonplace - the felt and experienced together continues. At supper - while we were all still dirty with half the house in a mess - we ate our hot chappatis and egg-potato bhujia and washed it down with a celebratory pepsi for the heroic work all the Eichers have been doing. There is a special joy in putting things right - in cleaning up - in making the everyday beauty of a clean home. We could feel that joy of doing as we clasped slightly weary hands while we said grace. We feel it in the blessed sleep that comes after hard work. And which sometimes does not - which is why I am up writing this at an unearthly hour while all else slumbers.

And so we say goodnight - late at night - or actually well into Friday morning. The kids are sleeping in their new-look room - Sheba and I have our old (creaky) bed back for our use after a few years of the kids using it. The sawdust will probably still keep showing up for a few days.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Love your neighbour

Sometimes you wonder whether anything can still shock you. And then something does.

This week Salman Taseer - the governor of the Pakistani province of Punjab - was assassinated. Following what seems to now becoming a tradition in South Asia - it was one of his own body-guards who pumped the 20 bullets into the prominent Pakistani politician.

So far, so shocking? Well, we have seen this before in our neighbourhood.

Now here is the rub. Ghazi Mumtaz Qadri - the guard who shot Taseer - was not stopped in any manner by his fellow guards. After Qadri was arrested and he was garlanded with roses. Lawyers showered rose petals on him when he appeared in court yesterday. The look on his face in the photo above tells the whole story.

Pity poor Pakistan. A nation that some would say was founded as 'not-India' seems to be sliding ever more into the depths of violence and anarchy. This is not happening on the bad-land frontier anymore - this is at the heart of power. We are not talking borderland Rawalpindi - we are looking at the Punjabi heartland. But beyond the henious act itself - the make-your-hair-stand-up fact is that Qadri seems to be receiving a ground-swell of popular acclaim instead of revulsion.

What was the main reason Taseer's bodyguard shot him? Qadri apparently told his interrogators that it was because of Taseer's opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Taseer was perhaps the most prominent Pakistani politician to stand up for the rights of Asia Bibi - a woman accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death under the Zia-era blasphemy laws.

The statements of Pakistani religious leaders after the murder makes chilling reading:

"The supporter is as equally guilty as one who committed blasphemy," the group warned in a statement, adding politicians, the media and others should learn "a lesson from the exemplary death."

Jamat leader Maulana Shah Turabul Haq Qadri paid "glorious tribute to the murderer ... for his courage, bravery and religious honour and integrity."

It is a crying shame to see what is happening on the other side of the border. As neighbours this is the last thing that we would like to see take place. India needs a stable Pakistan - just as Pakistan needs a stable India.

We in India are so blessed to have had 15 national elections in a row where power has been handed over peacefully. We are blessed with an army that stays in the barracks and does not meddle with power. Though our press has its own weaknesses - we are by and large blessed with a variety of opinions on different subjects - and ones where the high and mighty of the land do have to take note of.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto - the former prime minister of Pakistan who was hanged by General Zia - was an 'old boy' of my first school in Mumbai - the Cathedral and John Connon School. I still remember as a 5th standard boy - standing in Mrs. Mahableshwarwalla's class for a minute of silence when the news of Bhutto's was announced.

How terribly sad that instead of fewer such events from across the border we now have newspaper images of assassins being garlanded and feted - and see videos of Qadri singing hymns from inside police custody filmed and published on youtube by what can only be sympathetic security forces.

We prayed tonight for Pakistan. There were only two of us at our weekly 'men's prayer' time, but we prayed for true justice and peace to take root in our neighbouring land.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

sick

There is an old joke that goes like this:

What is the difference between depression and diahrroeah?

In the former the bottom falls out of your world - in the latter the world falls out of your bottom.

The last 24 hours saw me experience a fair bit of the latter. But after 2 litres of Oral Rehydration Solution - lots of Tender-Loving-Care from Sheba and Asha and Enoch - and some horizontal time I am happily on the mend.

Last night I started vomitting at dinner (not on the table - but into our conveniently placed kitchen sink). The rest of the night was a whirr of different experiences - getting up at various points to empty or ingest various fluids. All along a throbbing back pain and the occasional outbreak of shivering. A sick puppy.

But how soon I experience normalcy. How luxurious our home is. How easy it is for me to take a day off sick.

This afternoon Sheba visited a home where the young man is semi-paralysed due to a seizure linked with his HIV. He cannot speak clearly. He was completely bedridden - but has gained some movement over the last months and now is able to go out occasionally. His sojourns outside have not been happy ones - most often to the local bar to get drunk.

When Sheba visited his home this afternoon he was lying in bed - drunk. The frustration and anguish was so clear in his family who are trying to care for him.

No easy answers. Sheba prayed with them and stepped out of the tiny room.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Fat cats

From somewhere in my childhood memories an image emerges.

We were visiting Britain in what must have been 1977 or so. We had come into someone's home. It had a staircase. With a bannister. And down the staircase came... the most enourmous cat I had ever seen.

It just wobbled down the stairs - its huge belly and thick fur causing my jaw to drop. Having only seen the scrawny fellows of my Mumbai boyhood this was a revelation. A cat Goliath.

That cat came to mind sometime ago on reading an article in the Indian Express. The beauty of my favourite morning paper is that it has a page of articles from my favorite magazine - the Economist - which is priced well out of reach for me - but which I read each day for the Rs. 100 per month that I pay the paper-walla downstairs.

No - this cat was not the cat I remember from my childhood - and it was not from the Economist article - its just a pictoral filler!

The article reports on a study called: Canaries in the coal mine: a cross-species analysis of the plurality of obesity epidemics that tried to see if animals are becoming more obese.

Drum roll please.... Animals are getting fatter!

Of the 24 different populations (a total of 20,000 animal records) of 8 species - 11 populations showed significant increases in weight - and all populations showed some increase - which itself is a significant finding. Cats, dogs, rats, some kinds of monkeys were animals for which data was found over decades. Some were in laboratory settings - others were living in homes. All got fatter.

The easy thought that comes to mind is - people are eating more - and feeding their pets more - hence fatter animals!

But here is the strange bit. Laboratory animals (which form a big proportion of the populations studied) also gained weight. Their food is standard. Their amounts are not increased. They can eat as much as they want - whenever they want. Why are their weights going up?

Why indeed. As if there weren't enough unanswered questions about life, the world and the universe (and for us in India the price of onions) here is another to ponder on feverishly on nights when you can't sleep: why are laboratory animals getting fatter?

Chew on that a bit my friends!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Keep talking

World AIDS Day came and went. Or did it?

Internationally December 1 has been chosen as a time when people around the world focus on the needs and issues that people living with HIV/AIDS.

Its been going on for years in some places. Each year sees various levels of participation. Last year's effort seemed one of the more quiet ones for us in the Mumbai area.

But we did have a fabulous Mumbai AIDS Sunday get-together in Mulund.

Hosted at the Marthoma Church in Mulund - we were blessed with a challenging time of remembrance and challenge.

Earlier in the day I had twice given short messages in the morning masses of the St. Pius Church and met with the confirmation class after mass. Local volunteers had handed out 3000 red ribbons to parishioners and we had manned a book table too. I then joined our own local house-fellowship where we had a special time of prayer for people with HIV - as did a number of other church groups across the city.

Among the many highlights of the evening time were two courageous couples who stood up in front of everyone and shared their stories. They told about what it was like to have HIV. They shared their bitter experiences - and also how they found help in followers of Jesus from local churches who had helped them - and how Jesus himself had heard their prayers.

We did not hear a simple I-was-in-total-trouble-then-I-met-Jesus-now-everything-is-great kind of sharing. We heard real people telling their stories. Stories that are still being lived out. But ones where real hope is breaking through. It was a revelation.

Afterwards everyone present stretched out their hands to pray for these amazing ones. It was something that we have always wanted - to have people living with HIV tell their stories. And here it was happening...

At the same time it still is sad that we have to have meetings like this. In 2011 we now have been living with HIV in our country for the last 25 years. I still remember talking with Dr. Symon Satow in his home in Mussoorie about the initial spread of the disease in 1986 - when papers were full of statements calling it an 'African disease' or a 'Western malady.' We do have a grudging acknowledgment that our dear country also is going through the challenges of HIV - but there is such a dearth of compassion and care.

Having said that - we face a poverty of compassion for so many issues that lurk beneath the surface - the needs of the (many) mentally ill - the challenges of domestic violence - the sheer callousness of so much of what we call 'society.' One of the age-old remedies most of us take is just to switch off and tune out anything that is uncomfortable to us.

So what do we do? Give in? Hardly.

We keep speaking.

And use humour too - because we can tend to be pretty dry at times.

One of our favourite plays (which the JSK team enacted on Dec. 5th) is a pastiche of different folks who react to a person with HIV. The character who usually brings the house down is the politician (here played by our staff Shanti Francis).

Barging in to the home of a person with HIV - the 'Neta' promises the earth, moon and stars - with appreciative followers and journalists applauding her every statement - and then quickly moves away when she finds out the chap with HIV supports another party.

The final message is that we need to keep talking.

HIV is a disease that thrives in silence.

Speaking out makes a difference. Our voices maybe small. Our audiences may not be massive. Our words maybe misunderstood at times. But every bit helps.

One thought: every word we say continues to exist in the mind of God.

Lets keep talking.