Monday, 28 February 2011

UBS Graduation 2011

I finished speaking. We prayed. I left.

Left our Sunday morning worship at Jolly and Suma's home in Samata Nagar for Pune. Left to get on a local train to Kalyan and then to catch the Hyderabad express up the Ghats to the once sleepy town of Pune. Left to attend the Union Biblical Seminary Valedictory service.

Thanks to a sliver of delay I got to the seminary when the service was in full swing.

The speeches were rather insipid - considering the amazing fact of so many remarkable folks having completed a superb 4 years of practical theological education - and the fact that so many of those about to walk across the stage to get their diploma will be shaping out country over the next decade.

I was there - primarily to meet some of the lovely folks who had interned with us at Jeevan Sahara.

My first surpise was to meet Jayprakash Chouhan right at the gate of UBS. Jayprakash and his friend Bendang Chuba were the first two UBS interns at JSK. And here he was - now a pastor in Pune. It was surreal to see Jayprakash with his wife and angelic daughter - and get a big welcoming hug from him as I arrived!

Rev. and Mrs. Jayaprakash Chouhan - and baby - dig into the food afterwards!

Everyone was decked out to the nines - and when I came into open air ampitheatre where the service was in session I soon saw the dapper Nimit Patel decked out in a sharp sports coat and Priscilla P. resplendent in a sari. Right after being seated by one of the many ushers - I found the head-usher himself - our own Paokholun Haokip checking in to say hello to me. Later in the ceremony I recognised the fourth of last year's interns - Naveen Bhambal singing along with the Marathi choir. This foursome are now poised to be final year students (a pesky set of exams lie before them of course).

And then there were the graduates themselves:

It was an amazing thrill to see Binson, John and Ashis - our JSK Interns in 2009 - be called up on stage and get their diplomas and momentos.

I had been trading SMSes with John - roundly disagreeing with most of what the main speaker chose to say (made all the easier since his speech was also printed out and distributed for all of us). This was made all the more surreal since I was flanked by what I understand to be parents of one of the graduates - who could only speak Malayalam and not a word of English - and were engaged in an animated coversation with their grandchild (or was it a child?). A quick scan around me showed a goodly portion of the crowd engaged in activities other than hanging on to every word that was said. The whole affair was rescued by the passionate goodbye speech of the class representative. By God's grace his was the last word - and my prayer is that it will have erased the memory of the preceding speeches!

Then the great moment came when our friends were declared graduates of UBS. No tossing of caps in the air. No bottles of champagne popped. A rather sober affair - but one where the big smiles of the graduates lit up the darkening night.

The happy throng soon clustered around the row of graduates lined around the edge of the area.

I had the privilege of meeting John and Ashis' families - who had travelled far to be with their sons on this special day. Ashis will be joining his church in Kalimpong as an assistant pastor. John looks set to take up the same job at the Tamil Methodist Church in Parel, Mumbai. Binson will be joining his church in Kerala. We have experienced so much with our dear friends - and are proud that they are about to impact so many others now.

Then there was time to get chowing on the spread. I was privileged to eat with Ashis and his family - and an extended faith-family of Nepali speakers who are working in the red-light areas of Pune. In the midst of all of this there was time to catch up with Lun, Nimit and Naveen from this past year's UBS crew. Nimit has been elected Vice-President of the student body for the next year (following the footsteps of JSK intern Arun Dimple). Naveen hopes to help us out at JSK a bit this summer. Lun was his normal coolness spiked with friendliness.

Its great to see our friends growing in confidence and ability.

And its also great to see into the future - a limited amount of it of course... I got to meet the three new UBS Interns for this year - Amol, Ezra and Ngamcha. Based on a quick get-to-know-you time with them, it looks like we at Jeevan Sahara are in for another good year.

It may also be our last one with UBS interns - as learned that this batch is the last one to have a 7-month internship time in their 3rd year of studies. From the next batch (the current first year students) - the new syllabus has a month or so practical experience each year - spread over the whole course of study - rather than the current practice of an in-depth learning time.

Ezra Pamei, moi and Ngamcha Haokip

But the story does not end there. Naveen puttered me through Pune town to the bus-stop. It was past 11 PM. I got into a rattly State Transport bus. We started mercifully soon - but ended up waiting unmercifully long at various bus stations. I was in a daze of sleep - bashing my head against the window latch (an old game that I have not played for ages - basically since I got married).

Somehow we got to Thane at an ungodly hour. An auto-rickshaw-ride home and I was in bed at 4 AM.

At 9 AM we started today's penultimate sessions for the CANA training in HIV care.

And we ended the day hosting the CANA trainees (18 of the 19 showed up) for dinner at our place. Life is certainly full.

It was, however, worth every ounce of tiredness to be with our young heroes at UBS.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

CANA Training

We are in the middle of an intensive week of sharing our hearts and experiences of HIV care with 20 folks from North India. Our trainees are field partners of the Christian AIDS/HIV National Alliance (CANA) and have come from all corners of the country - Delhi, Uttarkhand, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Orissa, MP and of course our own Maharashtra. Each one of them are involved - or want to be more involved - in caring for people with HIV in the name of and with the love of Jesus.

We have tried to make this week as hands-on and fun as possible - while at the same time working to equip our friends with tools that they can use to make massive changes in the lives of people with HIV around them. One of the themes that keeps coming through is that it is better to do something - as feeble as it might seem - than nothing. Another is that God has always chosen the seemingly weak to bring glory to Him. And that is certainly what we see in the church - with all our flaws and ugliness. Yet at the same time across our country we see amazing works of God as lives *are* being changed...

Sheba teaching about TB treatment: DOTS! DOTS! DOTS!
Since HIV still is a disease with so much stigma and shame attached to it - we cannot go as a big group to the homes of our HIV Positive Friends (anyway their homes are usually too pitifully small to host more than 3 people). So instead we send out our trainees in groups of 2 along with a staff to visit and understand the lives of our friends. This morning our participants are fanning out to local churches. In the afternoon they will be visiting homes of people with HIV that these churches are blessing. We want people to see what is actually happening on the ground.

In between we are also teaching our 4 day curriculum which we use to train local church members. The idea is for our trainees to be equipped to in turn teach this course in their own place of service.

What our friends are learning is reinforced by role-plays and games as well as case-studies in discussion groups. This batch of trainees is quite lively - and with 3 different discussion groups taking place simultaneously in a room - one could mistake the place for a fish-market given the volume of our discussions!

At the same time - we see that each person who has come is being deeply moved. Its just not enough to have facts and figures - unless our hard hearts are moved with compassion - we will never see real change.

Change starts with me. Today.

May God help our trainees as they fan out back to their amazing places of service on Tuesday night.

May God help us to ourselves implement what we have shared with others - with greater heart and more sustained and cheerful commitment!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


Its 11.45 PM. 20 minutes ago I was just about to go to sleep - the last in a slumbering household.

Then the phone rang.

It was Mr. Anmol's sister. She wanted to talk to Sheba.

I went into the bedroom and woke up Sheba.

Mr. Anmol may be breathing his last. His sister wanted Sheba to come over. Sheba got ready to go.

Mr. Anmol is a 60+ year old bachelor. He has HIV. He is dying of cancer. He lives with his spinster sister of a similar age. They have another sister living close by too.

I went out into the dark night - over to the JSK Centre to pick up Sheba's steth and the death certificate book. By the time I was back Sheba had already called Sunita - and was ready to go down.

Asha woke up in all of this and hovered around.

A short prayer - and Sheba is out of the house. Walking to meet Sunita down-stairs. They will take an auto-rickshaw over to Mr. Anmol's flat. To be with him in his last moments. To be with his sister. To pray and be with them.

Its been an exhausting day for Sheba. We started our CANA training today. A large number of patients came to the clinic. We had our monthly HIV positive support group meeting this afternoon.

And now off again - after 20 mins of sleep.

Lord have mercy on Mr. Anmol - in his final moments. We know that he is safe in the arms of Jesus. Pray for Sheba and Sunita as they are with Mr. Anmol as he transitions from this life to the next - and for his sister who will be left behind for a little longer at least.

And Lord give Sheba a double portion of sleep - and energy to teach the 20 odd people from North India who have come for the CANA training tomorrow.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Enoch's Big B-day Bash

Birthdays are big - correction - birthdays are HUGE in the Eicher home.

This weekend saw another block-buster. Enoch becoming a ripe age of 8 years old.

True to Eicher tradition - the birthday bash begins before the actual day. With Enoch's B-day being on the day Shivaji was born, he always has a holiday (this year it was on a Saturday as well). The school allows you to wear 'colour dress' to school on your birthday - so Enoch chose this year to wear it on the day before.

Hence he and Asha headed off to their school on Friday colourfully attired - with Enoch wearing his special outfit that Ammama and Thata had just brought him the day before - and Asha wearing her PT uniform since it was a Friday.

The actual anniversary day started ... at 12 AM. Asha had insisted on baking a quick cake - after we returned from the Bible study at 11 PM on Friday night!

Amma and Appa had brought a cake-mix with them from the US so Asha whipped it up and we put it in the oven. Only for the tired Asha and Enoch to drop off before it was done. Sheba and I put our hands on the sleeping Enoch at 12 and blessed him as his Birthday celebrations begun.

In the morning - after our weekly prayer hour for Jeevan Sahara Kendra (a few of our staff come over for a prayer time from 7.30-8.30 am at our house) it was time for the 'morning cake' to come out!

The first (of many) birthday songs was sung and we enjoyed a lovely breakfast as an extended family.

After our JSK staff friends left, it was time to find the gifts. I had hidden them at an unearthly hour in the morning (and wrote down their locations should I in my tiredness forget where they were). And its a good thing I did!

Ouch! A gift (relatively flat of course) hidden behind a picture - falls right on Enoch's face!

The kids had a ball finding the prezzies (matched by the fun the Dad had in hiding them before hand!).

And what joy is there in the opening.

After this it was time to get going on other important matters of business - such as finishing off Enoch's main birthday cake. If that sounds almost military - it is! The process of crafting it has its own joys but can also end up with the crafter being more on the snappy side of the fence. Here is a shot of the afore-said crafter in action - is that a real smile or a paste-on job?

One of the great things about B-day parties are all the wonderful friends who come. An appearance by the fabulous four is absolutely de rigeur - this time joined by Uncle John Gabriel!

This years party was a real whirl. The games were put together minutes before we were to start - and since the terrace is like a battlefield given the rennovation work that has been going on for the past 2 weeks - we went down to the common park in our housing complex. As we started the games other children stopped. To watch. To come shyly close by to participate. Soon our small group of kids was growing - by the last game we must have been in the mid-twenties at least.

"Uncle, will you come and have games tomorrow too?" Asked one of Enoch and Asha's new friends when we marshalled the troops to head back up to our 7th floor abode. The deep hunger for play that all children have (and which is so sadly underfed with our virtual-world-'game' generation) yearns for fulfillment in group joy.

Up in the flat we had a time where we explained the special Bible verse which we had chosen for Enoch - a song of King David where he says: For you have been my hope, Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth... I will ever praise you. (Ps. 71.5-6)

All the party-goers were in rapt attention of course: here is Asha and the littlest guest - Ruth.

Having Thata and Ammama here for this special time was a real blessing. And we made sure that Thata gave Enoch a blessing in prayer too!

Then the cake was brought out and all our little guests gathered round to sing! I don't know if in all the noise our childhood favourite of "you belong in the zoo, with lions and tigers and monkeys like you" was slipped in or not.

Willing hands helped do the important job of cutting the cake. And then Enoch wandered around feeding all and sundry with the big piece he had carved out.

With the cake safely cut it was time to eat. Sheba had out-done herself in preparing a South + North feast. Idlis and chutney. Chole and bhature. Hot wadas. Payasum. And the Tintin-shirt-coloured cake. A merry time was had by all.

Enoch and Raj (his best friend from his class) tuck in to the goodies.

And so ended a day. A tired and happy family. We had really celebrated. Whew!

Credit Sheba for a massive, massive amount of behind the scenes work to make it all click. Credit God for great grace and patience throughout. Blessings upon blessings.

Enoch, Ammama and Asha - ready for next year - already!

Sunday, 20 February 2011


Enoch celebrated 8 years of life yesterday. Here is a peek at the cake (now all eaten except for the Tintin face). Wish you were here with us!


On July 31st 2007 we started on a journey with this blog with these words:

In the beginning was the Word.
And the Word was with God.

And the Word was God.
Oh that the Word would be known
by all whom the Word fashioned
by all who call on the Word,
with words
But let my words be few
and let them join with the songs around the Word
and around the world.

We are now 1000 posts later. Over 3.5 years. About 2 posts every 3 days.

Thanks gentle readers for coming along over these years. Its been a joy to share some parts of our lives with you.

Now it is your turn...

Any suggestions?

Any thoughts about where to go?

We appreciate any thoughts you have for us.

Thanks for drinking chai with us - remember that you are always welcome to move from the virtual to the real - a cup is waiting for you when you come and visit us in Thane!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Rough road

Amma and Appa (Sheba's parents) arrived from Vishakapatnam today. We have not met them for a year. Do we ever have catching up to do!

The house smells of fresh banana cake - the second one is in the oven. Enoch's birthday count-down now switches to hours - we are gearing up for what promises to be a memorable Saturday bash. Interestingly enough - given that Enoch was born in Maharashtra - he shares his B-day with the great Maratha warrior king Shivaji.

Otherwise all is quiet. Asha is sleeping with Amma - with Enoch on the side in a folding cot. Appa is asleep in the living room couch-bed. Sheba is dozing in our room - waiting for her nocturnal husband to finish supervising the cake and join in slumber.

I had a great conversation with a friend of mine who has gone through tough days - for years and years now. Tonight's phone chat took a positive turn after he shared with me some of his current plans. We then moved on to talk about space and NASA and Buzz Aldrin. We shared some moments in wonder about how a huge rocket like the Saturn 5 could make it to the moon powered by less computing muscle than what is now found in a simple cell phone. My pal told me about how Buzz Aldrin monkey-fixed an ignition fuse for the only rocket motor (no backup possible) that was to take Neil Armstrong and him off the moon and back towards the module that would return them to earth. Amazing. Just thrills you to think about it.

My friend talked about how one of the mottos of NASA which can be loosely translated as: "a rough road leads to the stars." The Latin Ad Astra Per Aspera (through adversity to the stars) was put on one of the plaques commemorating the 3 astronauts who died in 1967 in a preparatory mission for the moon shot.

My friend is on such a road. I often feel helpless at the challenges he faces. Sheba and I do pray and try to do our part. Its a rough road - and not a short one either. But there is real hope.

Talking with Appa this evening he mentioned about the decisions he and Amma took. Decisions to live very, very simply. No gold ornaments. No plot of land. All the money into their 4 children's education. 10% put aside for savings. He did not mention - but I know that at least 10% went to the church - probably a lot more.

But look at him now. 4 children all over the world. All doing amazing things. All married to wonderful folks (smile). We had family prayers in the evening and Enoch was singing his heart out - Asha was playing the violin by ear. Amma and Appa have returned earlier this year after spending 3.5 months in the US.

Its a wonderful life.


Mr. Anmol is dying.

He has been dying for some time now, but this seems like the end.

For the last 2 days he has hardly taken any water - let alone food. He is quiet and tired.

Mr. Anmol has HIV - as do most of the friends whose homes our staff visit. He also has cancer. Its the cancer that finally is killing him.

Mr. Anmol's sisters were very angry when they found out he had HIV. He had been hiding this from them for years while living with them. As a family of Anmol as an aging batchelor and his sisters - similarly aging spinsters - this was hardly happy news. The ladies were so angry that Anmol had kept it hidden from them. They were afraid and tried to keep him to his room. Our staff went many times to talk with the family. As Mr. Anmol has grown sicker his sisters have become a shade kinder.

A male nurse comes to clean and help Anmol these days. He doesn't speak much but appreciates the visits.

Yesterday he talked to Jesus. Anmol prayed and put his trust in the man who left heaven to taste death for us, in the God who also rose gloriously on the third day. Anmol has been far more at peace since he prayed.

How many more hours to go? Is this the very end? It seems like it, but we just don't know. Dying is not easy.

Sheba has brought the death certificate book at home. When the call from Anmol's sisters comes - at whatever time of night it may be - she will go over to the home and certify that Mr. Anmol has passed away. Slipped into the beyond.

"Don't write 'AIDS' on his death certificate" the sisters insist. Sheba has told them that she will write "immuno-compromised" and "cancer".

What does immuno-compromised mean?" asked one of the sisters.

"It means his immunity was reduced - most often this is due to having HIV" answered Sheba.

"Well don't write that!" she replied.

Sheba helped the sister to understand that her brother's HIV status would not be visible to people based the death certificate - as the sister herself did not know what it meant.

A man is dying. Its a sad - a wretched situation. We know that death is *not* normal. We would be no better than stones if we did not feel the essential gut-kick of knowing that a life is about to end.

But death is also a doorway into another country - a life far different from the long stretches of misery that has been Anmol's life so far.

Eternity is very long. And the longue-duree of forever makes the present - even a 90 year long today - with whatever glories or follies we experience - seem a mere wink of an eye.

Fairwell sweet prince Anmol. You will be waiting for us.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Lego Autorickshaw

Ubiquitous. Small bumble-bee droning. Black-with dash of yellow. Life-lines of Thane. Auto-rickshaws.

For our family of four - the humble 'auto' is our vehicle of choice. For all but the shortest distances our trusty/rusty Honda Activa scooter is gradually groaning under the weight of increasingly well-fed Eichers.

So usually we hail a waiting 'Auto' - hop in and off we scoot to our destination.

Therefore a special thrill to introduce a small model of what we see in real life - Enoch and his Dad worked at creating in a miniature what our sore backs have experienced many times in macro - the lego autorickshaw!

Hello! Auto!

Kaha ja rahai?

Lok Hospital jana hai!

Teek hai - chalo!

In Thane, if the auto driver is wearing a white uniform, it means he owns the vehicle. Other drivers wear khaki uniforms - and either rent the vehicle - or the license from someone else. Often the cost of 'renting' the license ends up being almost the largest outflow for the hapless driver. This lego driver (a salty looking gent) seems to own his craft though.

Waha ruk keejiye!

Kitna paisa? Arre, itna rate bhar gaya? Teek hai, leejiye

And so the auto drives off into the dusty streets of Thane town.

Many of the drivers in Thane come from eastern Uttar Pradesh - a large number from the district of Azamgarh. They are here in Thane because driving brings them cash - something in short supply in the hinterland they come from.

Meanwhile in a sophisticated Lego universe - far, far away another autorickshaw was created:

Its good to stay 'umble.

The (world) cup overflows - into print

There is a special thrill to hold a book when you have met the author. More so when you actually know the chap (or chappess).

We are 4 days away from the start of the Cricket World Cup. A month and a half of cricket when the best cricketing countries (ok, make that every cricketing country with a few of their country cousins thrown in too) hurl themselves at each other on the playing field (in a civilised way of course) to hoist the coveted trophy and have the bragging rights of being the best in the world for another 4 years.

The tournament starts on Feb. 19th - Enoch's birthday - and ends with the final in Mumbai on April 2nd - Andi's birthday.

A birthday gift is thus in order to the males in the Eicher family - and what better gift that James Alter's History of World Cup Cricket. Fresh off the press - and hopefully arriving at the Eicher household before the first ball is bowled of the cup!

I have just bought our copy! If you are in India you can do so by clicking here and get a bonus of a 15% off the cover price.

James Alter (known as Jamie till now) has spent most of his post-Woodstock days (and a fair amount of the former as well) living and breathing cricket. I am thrilled that he has gotten his book out before this World Cup. As I write this I find that I also have to admit a slightest tinge of envy. Why? Because I haven't put my act together and cranked out a book or two? Lets put that aside - Congrats Jamie - we are very proud of you (and of the whole extended Alter family of course too)!

I remember a long time ago in Ranchi, Bihar - following the 1983 world cup cricket triumph in by reading the Calcutta edition of the Telegraph newspaper. The news would arrive a goodly day or so after the actual event - but it did not matter. The magical run took place - and then before we could even imagine it happened - the unbelievable - our boys had actually lifted the cup. That iconic photo with the men in debonair suits hoisting that big bit of silverware and Kapil Dev's big black-and-white smile is etched somewhere in the back of my head.

So Enoch and Andi have a birthday present to look forward to. Thanks James!

Two friends starting with S.

Today is the birthday of two boyhood friends of mine whose names begin with S.

The memories we shared.

S. was my gateway into music. We would spend long afternoons in the palatial flat his parents had in South Mumbai listening to LPs. Simon & Garfunkle - live at Central Park, The Beatles, Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms. We formed a proto-band - he knew a bit of guitar - I provided 1 tone back up on a keyboard. S. was a German but loved India. His father was a top-boss in a huge German engineering company. His mother taught us photography. They had a holiday house in Italy. S. and I explored Chor Bazaar together and had coin collections in common. After our 10th standard exams I went to boarding school - and he went to Germany

The other S. was my gateway to boarding school. As a green, awkward fellow in 11th grade I was welcomed by S. who had been in the hallowed halls since his medical missionary parents put him there in 1st grade. S. was a sportsman non-pareil - but never let it swell his head. We shared many classes - memorably 2 years of biology - and he welcomed me into his remarkable family who had taken up residence just next to the school. The razor wit and deep love that I received from his parents and sisters opened my eyes to new vistas. This bond continued with the family being a second home for me when I graduated two years later and the S. family shifted to the US.

Why are the ides of February a melancholy day for me?

Well, the second S. has prospered over the past decades. He married a wonderful American woman and has 3 amazing kids. He works hard and is active in his local church - and in a local prison as a volunteer. His wife helps out with a charity that looks after newborns in challenging circumstances. They live on a farm and have various animals - including horses and mastifs. The sadness with S. is that our lives have been physically apart for 15 years. There is an ache that wants us to be together - but it is a good ache because it underlines that which could be but which a mere 22 thousand kilometer distance has wrought.

My ache for my first friend S. is far deeper. I wonder if it will ever go away. We are seperated by death.

The last I met S. was in south Germany. He had continued on with music. It had already taken its toll. He was a guitar wizard - and had one identical to the one on the cover of "Brothers in Arms." He was alienated from his parents - especially his father. He hung out in the park and was on drugs. His girlfriend - a hollow pasty-faced girl - hung onto his arm as we sat in the uncommon sunshine. I was shocked. He seemed so completely different from the old S. I knew. As if I was talking to a dopplegaenger.

S. died within a year. I understand it was a motorcycle accident in Italy.

The pain of separation. Of a full and complete break. I had so hoped that S. would come back to his senses. I had been wishing that I would again meet the boy who I knew and loved from Bombay days. But then I heard from his mother that he was gone.

Each year on February 15 I remember my late friend S.

And am grateful for my other friend S.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Switching drugs

Taking meds is never easy.

We are blessed in India to have basic Anti-Retroviral drugs being given free by the government.

The basic combination of three drugs - given in a fixed-dose tablet to be taken twice a day is about the most cost-effective and easy to HIV drug therapy there is.

There is a whole universe of different drugs that can be taken to try and keep the levels of HIV at undetectable levels (the basic goal of Anti-Retroviral Therapy). An HIV positive friend of ours from the US told us a few years ago about the 12 different pills he was taking as part of his ART.

Recently the government decided to switch one of its basic drugs. Instead of a combination using nevirapine - the National ART programme is now using a combination that uses efavirenz.

On the face of it - this is good. The programme had till now been using the nevirapine based regime because it is considerably cheaper than one using efavirenz.

There is one serious problem though - patients using efavirenz often have strong psychiatric side-effects. Vivid dreams and nightmares. Things like that. The good news is that these side-effects go away after a week or two. At JSK we always take plenty of time to help our friends on effivarenz to know about this. We encourage them to take their dose at night so that it will affect them less. We encourage them to keep going - even if they don't feel like it. The meds make a huge difference. It is worth the short-term problems for long-term gain. We have seen the remarkable changes that ART has brought to the lives of our dear friends with HIV.

But that is not what our Positive Friends are hearing at the govt. clinics. Many are afraid. Suddenly they have been given a new drug. Some have stopped taking the drug. Others are taking part of the dosage. We have talked with a number of HIV positive friends who are confused - and have expressed this to the officer in charge of the ART clinic in Thane.

The AIDS message boards on the internet have also been busy. The one that we get - AIDS India - had a string of messages from across the country. This led the director of the ART programme in India - Dr. B.B. Rewari to post this as part of his response:

This substitution has been done over years inside the program and world over
especially when the patients are on rifampicin based ATT regimen. It is also
known that few patients are likely to develop Efavirenz based side effects
(which is true regarding any drug), which becomes even more uncommon when
patient has already been on Nevirapine.

Usually these are transient and disappear in 1-2 weeks time. All the
ART Medical officers and counselors were instructed regarding the need for
counseling on these issues before change.

We are again issuing further instruction in this regard to all ART centers to
explain these possible side effects to patient before switching and advise them
to take Efavirenz at bed time.

Nothing wrong in anything the good doctor has written. Except that at the ground-level we have yet to meet one of our HIV Positive Friends who has had the switch properly explained to them at the govt. ART Centre. And the fact of the matter is that a person takes their meds only if they trust them. Period.

How many of our Positive Friends who are on govt. ART are actually taking the meds now? And if so - how consistently?

We are hoping to play a little bit of a larger role in partnering with the govt. ART centre in Thane to provide ART drugs to people with HIV in our city. We have the capacity and the experience to do it - and have requested the govt. to make us a link ART-centre. The advantage that Jeevan Sahara brings to the table is that we have staff and volunteers who follow folk up in their homes - and work on adherence issues in practical ways - something that the current govt. clinic with its 6000 patients on ART does not have the luxury of doing.

We are still waiting. Hopefully we can post good news about a link-ART centre soon!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Tahrir Square

Freedom is heady. It is hard fought. It shimmers and slips between our hands at times. The whole world has watched the past 18 days as two visions of Egypt clashed. Yesterday the resoluteness of those occupying Tahrir Square in Cairo ended 30 years of Mubharak-rule.

What will the upshot of it all be? Can anyone predict? Can any one of us even turn one of our hairs white (or vice versa - without hair-colouring of course)?

But take look at the vast hive of activity that went on in the square. The good boffins at the BBC site have made an interactive map where we can click on different parts of this vast assemblage and get 'street level' pictures of the drama there. You can access their site by clicking on the picture above.

What fascinates me in this particular drama is the apparent orderliness and self-organisation that took place. Who called the shots for those there in the square? How were decisions made? Who took initiatives to set up different parts of it? What were the relations between the protesters and the military?

Much has been made of the communication tools people used. The BBC picture includes a 'Bloggers Park' section. But more than the tools - is the way that people shared thoughts and ideas - where people came together for a purpose - where strangers took on shared responsibilities.

It is an awesome sight to see people working together. The Tahrir Square experience may not be a true utopia. For all its positives and soul-stirring courage and self-organisation - it is pretty ragged in many ways - a community that may end up being ephemeral. But beyond the immediate flames of freedom that gladden all of us I would argue that there is something else, something very specific about Tahrir Square that twinges at our hearts. The beautiful picture of people - so many of them - living together. That twinge is precisely because we have a road map to a place where we are to live in community. I believe, and I know that we each have a secret - and sacred geography of a place we have not experienced yet - but for which our hearts beat a bit faster - our pulses twitch that tiny bit more.

Tahrir Square. 11.02.2011. One small glimpse, a fractional glance of eternity.


Tarun (not his real name of course) is dying.

And his older sister and widowed mother want it to happen soon. And in a hospital.

"Why don't you take him to a hospital and give him and injection to finish him off" they told our JSK staff the other day.

The family is sick to death. Tired. In a cold rage.

Tarun is a young man. He has lost control over his body below the waist. He is incontinent and bed-ridden.

A man comes each day to clean Tarun. He charges Rs. 100 for the service.

Tarun has bed sores. Recently they have increased. He has stopped eating for all intents and purposes.

Our JSK staff have been trying to work with Tarun's mother and sister. Trying to encourage them to care for him more. There in that tiny room that they all share.

The big fear that his mother and sister express is what to do after he dies.

They want him to be taken to a hospital and to die there - our staff informed us recently - because they believe that after death a post-mortem will be done - and the body will be brought back 'packed up'.

What Tarun's mother and sister do not want others to see is that Tarun had bed-sores. They would see that when the body is being washed and prepared for the last rites. 'They will think we did not take care of him' was what they told our JSK staff.

This is crazy stuff. Mind-bogglingly hard to deal with. Where do you even begin? We sometimes don't know what to do. How do you respond to statements like this - which are so far removed from what a loving family is meant to be...

We don't have a happy ending to this story. Tarun continues to die. Slowly. HIV is a hard master for hard hearts.

It doesn't have to be.

Over the 150 plus people who we have known with HIV who have died over the last 8 odd years - many have died with peace. A good death is something precious.

Sheba told me today about a pastor who distributed cake in church after his father died. To celebrate his dear father's entry to heaven. Instead of mourning - there is joy among the tears of seperation.

But for Tarun, on this night, we do not have that ray of hope.

Our staff go every other day to meet Tarun. To spend some time touching him and talking to him. To try and reach out to this family members and encourage them to love their son. They pray with Tarun and assure him of their love. They shift him in bed and dress and powder his bed-sores. Its no wonder that this work takes its toll on us.

No easy solutions. No magic buttons we can press to make everything happy-happy.

But all the while the over-whelming sense that our Lord wants us to keep loving as much as possible. To keep visiting and seeking to help the family to the extent the want to accept it. To keep our hands open and our hearts humble. To pray. And pray. And pray.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Fly me to the moon

Swinging. Eyes wet with the happy watering that comes when wind blows into cheery faces. The moon a yellow boiled-egg-yolk in the sky.

I want to fly to the moon.

Swinging higher and higher.

Tis no surprise that what I enjoyed as a kid is now being enjoyed by next gen Eichers.

Asha in particular loves to move.

And to swing.


In just before Christmas we were visited by our wonderful friends Viju and Molly from the Asha Kiran Hospital in Lamptaput, Orissa. Their oldest daughter Abigail and Asha had a whale of a time.

Here are some pics of their gravity-busting swinging!

Puts my childhood bravado to shame!

Abigail n Asha


and higher!

Its a miracle the girls lived to tell the tale.

Its a miracle that any of us is alive. Period.

The daily set of improbabilities that we live through ... Concrete evidence of brownian-motion is seen everyday when I drive my scooter.

Grace abounds.

7 meetings

Life is full.

The last 28 hours have seen us participate in 7 meetings. That's an average of one every 4 hours (including sleep time).

Here goes:

1. Our weekly staff meeting with Jeevan Sahara - 3.30 - 6 PM on Friday. We discussed priority families for our home-based care team. We did some staff training in counselling skills. We talked about some of our staff policies - we have a team in a rebuilding phase. We prayed.

2. Our Friday Bible Study - this time at our home. Friday 9-10.15 PM I took the study on sharing the good news of Jesus - looking at Peter's message on the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church - and what our response should be. We spent some time as a fellowship working this out with each other.

3. A Prayer Walk. Friday 10.40 - 11.15 PM After the Bible study we broke up into small groups and went to some of the key areas in our neighbourhood - praying for the people who were having their meals, sleeping, working.

4. JSK Prayer Meeting. Saturday 7.30-815 AM at our home. We gather each week for an hour to pray for our work. We end up with breakfast. Today we ended a bit early since I needed to make the french toast - and our church training was starting soon.

5. JSK Church Partner Training in HIV Care. Saturday 9 AM - 4 PM at the JSK Centre. All day training. Sheba took sessions on treating common opportunistic infections at home and tuberculosis in the morning - I took a session on counselling skills in the afternoon as well as running one of the discussion groups for case studies. We had a very small turn out - but are using it as a staff training for our 5 new staff members.

6. Church Ladies Fellowship. Saturday 4.30 - 6.15 PM at our home. The ladies meet once a month. This time it was our turn to host them. I spent the time in the office preparing for the next meeting. Sheba tells me that is was a wonderful time of sharing and prayer.

7. Informational Meeting about the new 1 Year training for Nurse Aides. Saturday 7.00-8.30 PM at the Bethany Hospital. We shared about the opportunities that a new practical training course which we are helping out with. Had a good turn out of about 30 folks. Over a third were interested candidates themselves. We are excited about giving girls an opportunity to learn in a hospital and home-care setting.

We have emerged from all of these meetings largely intact. I think so at least. By God's grace Sheba and I have not started scratching each other. We are privileged to be living out our life in community. Each time together is another opportunity to grow and share. Though these last 28 hours or so have been a bit extreme in the amount of time we have spent as a family within the broader family of church and work - are so very grateful - Its a really good life.

Part of our satisfaction are the amazing kids we have. Asha and Enoch are veterans of our life-style. They insisted on going to the Bethany hospital meeting - and took the sign up sheet around - as well as played on the spotless and nicely slippery floors of the new building. From everything that we can see - seem to be turning out so well-rounded and sane - despite growing up amidst the often extreme lives of their parents. God's grace redux.

At the end of the day we gathered as a small family of four - for the first time since our supper on Friday. Dinner was maggi-noodles and tang and some bebinca (a goan sweet someone gave us last week). 3 happy Eichers dropped off to bed - and one is still tickling the keyboard.

We do need a break - and that's where our Sunday is so welcome. Its just 15 mins away for me!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Rs. 500

What would you do with Rs. 500?

We *all* have so much. There are so many who have so very little. Lets use money for others. The time to build the future is now. Period.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


Ingenuity can be played out at small scales.

Take 'Woof' for example.

One of Enoch's latest creations - a lego dog no less.

As a dad with a long history of lego-addiction (mainly in the pre-adolescent part of my life - but with clear relapses in recent years) I am thrilled whenever I see something genuinely creative come out of this wonder of a boy.

Wonder - because for all the inputs we as parents put into Enoch there is a vast amount of who he is about whom we know only the very faintest glimmer, the occasional glimpses of who he really is - and who he is becoming.

Besides the actual making of this little toy (using even smaller pieces to make the whole) - Enoch takes his play into another realm with the role plays and acting out he does with the little menagerie he created this time. He is quite able to spend hours alone, letting the little men and their beasts (or vehicles) live out different adventures. That many of them have a certain amount of conflict involved does not surprise me much - as I still remember some of my own creations which often included the war-like.

But the thrill of peeking in a little bit into Enoch's imagination - to see some of what he dreams about and which rouses his inner fire - put in concrete (if miniature) forms - and then acted out - is a wonder.

As a songstrel-king wrote many years ago:

When I consider your heavens,

the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?a]">

You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor. Psalm 8:3-5

And so before we go - another shot of 'Woof' - Enoch's lego-dog.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

blood drop

This morning I had some blood taken from me.

Sheba and I decided it was time to undergo a small battery of tests to take a quick peek into how our bodies are dealing with middle-age. So we showed up bright and early at the lab of a reputed local hospital for our bloods.

Sheba - who is needle-phobic - was very brave and her ordeal first. Given the number of tests, the lady ended up taking what seemed to me a mammoth syringe of blood out of my dear wife.

Then it was my turn.

The lady taking the blood from me deftly found the little lump of a vein - and in slipped the needle. Totally painless. I don't think I have ever experienced being pricked - without feeling that I was being pricked.

Well - I take that back. Our dear friends the Anopholes and other spp. of mosquito end up pricking me all the time without my knowning it - at the time at least.

Anyway - the syringe was merrily filling up with my dark-coloured blood when I looked at the ladies hands.

They were gloveless.

She withdrew the needle and handed me a cotton swab to put on the site. She then put the needle in the needle-cutter on her desk. And then with her bare hands she took the three vaccu-tubes for the three tests to be done on my blood - and squirted the appropriate amount in each.

I looked down on the desk and saw a drop and a small smudge of my dark blood that had not been before.

I know that I do not have HIV - and so my blood poses no threat to this dear lady. But my word what about the next person in line.

The little spot of blood and the dark smudge next to it tell us something.

25 years after HIV was first detected in India - we still do not have the routine of protecting ourselves. The dear lady with her ungloved hands - and blood dropping routine - at one of the best hospitals in Thane tells us that we have failed to bring about a culture of basic universal precautions in health care in our country.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Patriotism for lunch

This was my lunch today.

Lovingly prepared by Sheba.

It contains a nutritional message wrapped up in our national flag!

Try to make sure that our meals include all the colours of our flag:

Saffron - a dal based curry of some sort - here a delicious sambhar (with mooli!) plays that part - dal contains proteins that have all the 10 essential amino acids

White - rice - lots of carbohydrates for energy (and do we ever need energy to push through the day)

Green - veggies - here essayed by an excellent palak subji prepared just the way I like it by Sheba (come to think of it - almost everything she makes is 'just the way I like it'). Vitamins galore.

Jai Hind!


If children are a gift from God, then so are parents.

Sheba and I have been blessed with two remarkable sets of parents.

We had the joy of a fortnight with one of them: Oma

Born in 1937. Experienced the ravages of WW2 as a girl younger to what Asha is today. Away from her parents for 3 years between the ages of 6 and 9 as the allied bombers smashed German cities to bits.

Saw the Soviets come in and loot whatever was left of the rubble. Went to school being taught the gods of Marx and Engels and Darwin. Was not allowed to study further than 8th standard because she did not join the "Free German Youth" (the propagandaist Communist youth party - which everyone had to join in order to get ahead in the 'German Democratic Republic').

Oma (Christa Roesli Fischer as she was known then) left East Germany at 18 - and once free of the Marxists (like so many of her generation - which is why the 'wall' went up) - she wanted to travel the world.

Travel she did - England, France, Spain (picking up the languages on the way). And many other countries too.

But not as she expected.

God met her in Spain. Oma rediscovered the faith that had cooled a bit since her teenage decision to follow Jesus. And follow Him she did from then on. Through 2 years in Turkey - and then out to India. There she met Ray Eicher - and hence the next gen of Eichers in India.

This year marks 50 years of Oma's living out Jesus to others. We are just so grateful for what God has done through our remarkable mother (and Asha n Enoch's amazing grannie)!

We had a rich time of celebration during Oma's time with us last month. Cookies and cakes were baked. Meal times were enjoyed with gusto. Songs were sung and special outings were made. Asha's birthday added more pomp and circumstance to the many lovely times that we had together.

Bro Jolly's mother with Oma - two amazing ladies!

Our kids just could not get enough of her. All day long it was "Oma, Oma" from all quarters.

I think back on how much I missed out on having grandparents around in my growing-up years. I only met Oma's father once - and her mother a few times before they died. My dad's parents lived longer - and I was studying in the US while they were still alive so I was able to spend a few Christmasses with them in my college years.

But what a joy to have Oma here with us.

One of the great gifts Oma brought with her is her joy of living. She loves to be alive. To experience beauty. To appreciate things. To delight in people.

Instead of being tired and despondent. Instead of counting her sorrows and fears, Oma presses on with joy. This conscious joy despite a whole new set of issues to deal with - as she said this time: "getting old is not easy - there are so many things uncertain."

Our dear Opa could not join us - due to having to supervise urgent repairs on their house Shanti Kunj in Mussoorie. So Oma did double duty - with the loving not only confined to daylight hours.

But to sleep too!

Guts nachtle, schlaft gut!