Wednesday, 26 September 2012


Its been quite the week. 

We had an amazing bunch of people from across North India - and Nepal with us since last Wednesday.  And this afternoon we said good-bye to them.

Our friends have come to learn about how churches can reach out and help people with HIV.  They got the full treatment - an intense week where we shared what we have learned from our 10 years of working with people and churches in Thane.

Our friends at the Christian AIDS/HIV National Alliance in Delhi helped recruit these key people - the 19 participants being from Bihar, Chattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh ... and from Nepal too!

It was wonderful to see our friends 'dive in' - visiting homes of people with HIV on the first day, participating in our lectures and discussions, visiting churches and homes that church people are supporting, asking question after question, grappling with issues, being delighted at how the Bible helps us in so many ways, hearing the testimonies of people with HIV, doing role plays, worshipping, eating and laughing together.

As the haunting strains of 'ek aag har dil mein' were sung by all of us today, the darkened room started to glow with the candles that were being lit.  Each of us - the trainees as well as our JSK staff - held up the candles and sang with a determination that fits the song - that one candle can light a lakh candles - and that we must work while we have time for the Kingdom that has no end.

Its all over. The one-week training that is.  Now the next step takes place where these wonderful people start living out what they learned from us.

Our little candles here at JSK are lighting others, and the gift goes on....

Sunday, 23 September 2012

A ray of hope

Day before yesterday we were thrilled - just thrilled - to be have dear friends visit us.  We will keep them nameless so as not to embarrass them by publicly writing about them - but just their being here is such a ray of hope, such a breath of fresh air to us.

Our friends are both Malayalis - but American ones.  Their parents worked hard to get out of India and be part of the American dream.  And succeeded in getting not only the coveted green-cards - but also the citizenship in the land of the stars and the stripes.  Both sets of parents had great kids - one grew up to be a Chartered Accountant and the other a Nurse.  Two great Malayali professions.  They met and married.

Then things departed from the script.  They were supposed to get their white-picket fence house and continue living in the home of the brave and the land of the free.  But something else kicked in.

India did.  And a love for Jesus. And a desire to serve Him with their lives.  A desire to see more of their life than just living the big A dream.  And a willingness to obey what He told them, even if means separation from parents.  All because they were actively asking God to shape their lives for Him.

Seven years ago our friends joined a funding organisation which built up a novel targeted philanthropy programme in South Asia.  As part of this they shifted to Bangalore for a year and a bit.  When as part of his official duties, our friend swung by Mumbai to meet us at Jeevan Sahara  we became instant friends.  This guy was the real deal.  Over those months our occasional meetings deepened the friendship, especially when they found out that his mother had cancer.  We prayed much.  Looking back she has amazingly totally recovered!

And then before we knew it our friends were back to the US.  With their contract completed it looked like it was back to the life in 'Stets' after an Indian excursion.  He got a job as a professor at a university.  When they were blessed with a son after adopting one from here, I thought that this was the last we would see of them.

But last year the family visited us.  They were here in the Mumbai area for 2 months over the summer to support a charity that reaches out to women in prostitution. They were a family of four when previously their had been only two.   No, make that five.  In addition to the two rambunctious kids, we were thrilled to hear that she was expecting again.  They talked about shifting to India - but to me it seemed almost academic.  Here was a family bursting at the seams - and to have them shift here to work with women in sexual slavery?

In the rough and tumble of the last year I really did not think about this family much.  An occasional brief email.  The congratulatory post on FB after their third son was born 4 months ago.

And then a Facebook update that sent a chill of joy.  Out of the blue I see that they are packing up and heading over to India on the 15th of September.  I can't believe my eyes.

And here they are.  All five of them.  What a total joy to have this family 'in the flesh.'  What a total testimony to a family who believes that life is worth living now.  Who are not going to wait for another 20 years to see their kids through college before they invest their lives in something worthwhile.

And get this.  This family hopes to live in Thane!  We are over the moon.

They came to Thane for some house-hunting on Friday.  We were deep into our training session but it worked out perfecting for them to share some of their vision with our trainees.

Our friends talked about how the group they are serving with have experienced the miracle of Rescue - where women in bondage were leaving prostitution,  They organisation then experienced the miracle of building and running a Rehabilitation home for these women - and the children who were born while their mothers were selling themselves.  But what just thrills me is my friends take on the road ahead.  Talking to our group he said that while they are so thankful to God for the amazing work their group has done, they are hungry for a new miracle.  One of seeing these women Re-integrated back into society.  Our friends want to see the local churches take up the challenge of seeing this miracle take place.  They don't want the women they work with to remain in a bubble of a home for the rest of their lives - but want them to 'graduate' and move forward.  A tall order - but one that God specializes in.  And one where people like our friends who have taken these steps are going to be scripting out some amazing stories for eternity.

More power to ya!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Training Day

A total blender of a day.

Much, much to be thankful for.

Awaking with a jolt - we are doing the training for 19 folks from North India (including 3 from Nepal).

Bible over ginger/elaichi tea.  Sheba calls me back and gets me to eat some bread before I am out the door.

Yesterday's bandh changed todays programme.  Rewrite the schedule.  Print out.

Check mail.  Share that I will not be able to evaluate a 3 year project of a church-based organisation that works with women in prostitution next month because things are just too tight.

Get a call from that organisation.  They ask if I can do it in December.   I say yes.

First strains of the devotions see me scurry into the training room.  Mobile off.

Share about Jesus and the man with leprosy.  Mark 1.40-44.  One of my favourite passages.  Shared it so often.  Still thrills me to see what Jesus did.

Giri takes the HIV testing and counselling session.  Sit in to help a bit.  Lively discussion.  Many questions by the group.  Great group of people from all over - Bihar, Orissa, Delhi, West Bengal, MP, Chattisgarh - and even Nepal!

Duck out to call people for the afternoon meeting with CORINTH partners.

Duck back in to the training.  Get a call that books sent from Hyderabad have arrived.  Arrange for someone to pick them up.

Discussion group time sees me stop by home to check in on the kids.  Doing well.  Home spick and span.  Help them start a video.  They have a holiday because of the Ganesh festival.

See Flavia Paes when I get back.  Hardly recognise her from when she was almost paralysed with osteoporsis.  She is walking around and looking thin but radiant.  A saint.

Discussion group time winds down.  Excellent thoughts flowing by the folks.   I take a short session on the way HIV affects the whole person - and the way the church is called to reach out and heal each part that is broken.

Then another trip home to be with Asha and Enoch.  A quick lunch that Sheba has prepared earlier.  Read part of the last chapter of Robin Hood and the men of the Greenwood with them.  Cracking good tale.

Back to the training.  Afternoon session is special.  Flavia Paes tells her story.  How she has been living with HIV for the past 17 years.  What rejection she received from family and friends.  How God is good to her - even though she suffers.  How she is going to win - and serve others.  Many moist eyes in the room as Flavia speaks fearlessly and clearly about living with HIV.  My eyes needed windshield wipers.

Peter took the next session on keeping the immune system healthy.  I ducked out to do last minute work on a CORINTH presentation.

Tea time - and then we had 4 members of the CORINTH network join us to share about their work.  Wonderful to hear from people working in prisons, caring for the destitute picked up from the streets, serving by helping women out of prostitution and into healing and rehabilitation and acceptance, and caring for people with HIV through home visits.

Thrilled to have Jim and Leena Varghese with us - having just come from the US last month to serve with Bombay Teen Challenge.

Wound up the day's training  with some reflections by the participants.  People were deeply moved by what they had seen and heard.

The joy of meeting dear, dear friends.  Jim and Leena and their lovely sons Nehemiah, Elias and Daniel (5, 4, and 0.4 yrs old) at our home.  Asha and Enoch showed again how mature and kind they are with kids younger to them.  Amazed to hear Jim and Leena's story and see what God is doing to bring them to India as Americans of Indian origin (make that Malayali origin).

Had a lovely meal that Sheba was able to russle up (God bless this amazing woman) with this great family.  Words just kept tumbling out - and the sheer joy of seeing our dear ones sitting with us in the flesh.  Very excited that they hope to move to Thane.

Family leaves and its time to clean up.  Dishes? Done.  Change shirt.  Grab Bible.  Head over the Rolly and Doris's home across the street ... and up on the 11th floor.  Friday Night Bible Study.

Tired but translate Rolly's sharing into Hindi.  Powerful exploration of the lives of Jehosheba and Jehoiada.  Our families matter.  Big time.  May God give us grace to change.  Was thinking of a family whose mutual bitterness is playing itself out in an apparent end-game where one is about to leave and take the kids.

Study over at 10.20 - chatting and snacks afterward.  As we come out of the lift 3 girls from the building walk buy.   6-9 year olds by the looks of them.  "Oh, we have come back early" says one of them "it is only 10.40 PM!"  Urban life.

Back home sweet home.  Check mail.  Kids to bed.  Lights off.

And then sleep doesn't come.  So here I am reviewing the day by the white glow of the computer screen while dogs bark in the darkness outside and the Eicher household slumbers.

Its been a good day.  Tired and happy.  Next day is day 3 of our week-long training in HIV care for  members of churches from across North India.  Sheba and I discussed that one of our trainers need to take a patient for second line treatment.  So I need to take the TB session tomorrow.

Excited. Tired.  Restless.  Glad.

Today was a swirl.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

A message from the Art for Change Foundation!

Dear Friends,
We are so excited about a new short video we just completed using paintings made in our studios on the topic of the 'missing women of India.'
We need your help! We've entered it into an international competition run by our friends at 'All Girls Allowed'. With prizes up to $1000, if we win, we get to use the money towards our work here in New Delhi responding to the pressing issue of female foeticide.
So check out the short video by clicking here. Watch the video and if you like it, press the 'like' button above it! The more 'likes' we get the more likely we win. If you really like it, share the link with your friends, too!  This contest is open till September 24th.
Become a part of seeing truth transform a nation!
Thanks and blessings,
Stefan Eicher
New Delhi
For more about the Art for Change Foundation - you can check out their facebook page by clicking here or visiting their site at

Monday, 17 September 2012

An end

The process of discovery is not always easy.

This week we found out that our grandmother committed suicide.

Dad had found his biological brother a few months ago.  Both Dad and Jack grew up without their mother.  Dad had been given for adoption shortly after he was born.  Jack’s father had separated from their mother and took the 2 year old Jack back to Britain.  Both Dad and Jack have in various ways searched for traces of their mother Betty Isabel Doncaster Vauqulin (nee Sowman). 

Till now no traces were found.

Dad had tried to contact the Sowman part of the family.  A lady was helpful and helped Dad find a marriage certificate, a birth certificate and some other information, but then the trail grew cold.

After Dad got in touch with Jack, we managed to source an engagement announcement about Betty from the Times of India in 1945.  But for some reason this marriage does not seem to have happened.  Another dead end.

Then last week Jack sent us the bomb-shell.

He said that for many years he had the name 'Walker' on his mind.  A check of shipping records finds on Henry Walker who along with B.I.D. Walker left India for Britain.  Henry Walker is recorded as being a Naval Officer.

They then found out that a Betty Walker died in Birmingham in 1961.   

Jack applied for a death certificate and got this:

A death certificate for Betty Isobel Doncaster Walker.

She died in Birmingham on 1961.  

The cause: burning.  Underneath is typed out ‘killed herself’ 

The image I have is blurred, but it seems to say she was a cook.  The address is of a hotel.  She is listed as wife of (unknown). 

I feel immensely sad for Betty.  In 1961 Dad was at college in the US.  He was blossoming as a young man – questing forward with the spiritual discoveries and passion that would define the rest of his life.   At the same time his mother’s life spiralled to an end.  Suicide is one of those things that will always defy a full understanding.  No simple words can express the horrible complexities of someone ending their life. But here we have typed out on a document black-on-white words which certifies that this is how Betty died.

I was talking to Stefan this evening on the phone about Betty's death and he said something important.  He said that till know we are just talking about ‘my Father’s biological mother.’  True enough.  Nothing false here.  But also a very abstract and remote way of talking about Betty.  She is our grandmother and though we know so little about her – I realise that I have been shielding myself – cutting myself off from any emotional involvement – building a little psychic wall of isolation. 

Grandma Betty was born on 26th October 1915.  She died on 14th November 1961.  She was a tragically young 46 at the time.   Only 3 years older than I am know.  My beautiful grandmother lived what seems to have been a short life with a great deal of sadness entwined in it.

My heart goes out to Dad and Jack as they process this death.  In one way is the end of their search for their mother.  They have found her.  To an extent at least.  The very slim off-chance that she might still be alive – or slightly greater hope that we might still find some happy siblings who would tell us about how Betty lived a life of joy  - seems to have died as well.

For her sons, and for us grandchildren, the task now is to grieve and grow.  We will never I suppose get to know the details of Betty's life.  However chaotic her life was, we know that it did have some purpose.  For just sheer existence alone I am so grateful that my grandmother Betty chose to carry my Father to term instead of having him aborted.  Look at this 1974 photo of our family - taken when Dad was 33 years old.  Comparing it with his mother's photo above, I can chart out the geography of kinship: the nose that she gave him, the way her eyes remind me of how Dad looks.

The terrible thing about a suicide is it always leads to the 'what if' questions.  For which there are just no simple answers.   But I think it is important to acknowledge the sorrow.  I feel so very sad that Betty did not seem to have someone whom she could trust – who could help her out of whatever despair she went through in 1961.   The statement on her death certificate that states 'married to Unknown' seems to sum up the little we know of what she lived through.  

Looking at the truth it not easy.  We like to bend our thoughts in other directions, distract ourselves from things that are hard to deal with.

My grandmother Betty has in the last few months changed from being a single photograph on the wall - holding Dad when he was 2 days old - to become a real person.  I am in the process of replacing the 2 dimensional icon in my heart of 'my father's biological mother' with what are still admittedly slender strands of a history.  Or better put - her story.  Betty is slowly growing in my mind to be a real person who lived a complicated life and who is intimately tied to who I am across the miles and years.

And so I say a small prayer.  Not the traditional 'Rest In Peace' which many in Christendom have used.  But more a prayer for healing in my Father and Uncle Jack's hearts - as they come to grips with the death of their mother.  And a prayer for the many lonely and confused who are contemplating 'ending it all.'  I can no longer remain a passive bystander since the story of Betty is now irrevocably wrapped up with our stories.  

Her death is a reality.  An end.  And also a new beginning for all of us.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Be afraid, be very afraid

Tucked inside this morning's newspaper was a small article that stated that the BMC (the Mumbai Municipal Corporation) was looking for new 'Gene Xpert' machines which could detect TB and drug-resistance to anti-TB medications within 2 hours.

All well and good.

The article finished with these chilling lines:

The door-to-door survey of BMC, which started in March, will continue in the second phase.

During the survey, 6,561 people were screened and 1,407 diagnosed with multi-drug resistant TB. “We are treating 885 people and 179 are in the process of being enrolled for treatment. The remaining are seeking private help or are from outside the city,” Mhaiskar said.

Now we have 2 options open for us.

One is that the reporter has got things hopelessly wrong. The figures have been mis-written. The categories of 'screened' 'diagnosed' and 'multi-drug resistant TB' are just floating words that the writer has somehow cobbled together.

Possible. A newspaper hack has made hash of public health before.

But the other option is also there.

That what the reporter has written is real.

That of the '6,561 people screened' there were '1,407 diagnosed with multi-drug resistant TB'.

Ok, lets run the maths. Percentage is numerator divided by denominator times 100.

What do we get?



Obviously this cannot have been a true a 'door to door survey.' However high the amount of TB we have - 20% of the population is not suffering from Multi-drug resistant TB. That would mean almost everyone has TB of some sort.... The figures have got to be from some kind of screening of people who already have active TB or at least the symptoms of TB. The door-to-door stuff may be case-finding.

But even if the figures are only from known TB cases, the numbers are still totally and horribly beyond our worst fears.

In our work at JSK we teach alot about TB treatment and control.

In our sessions we use figures and statements like "1.5% of our population in India has active TB."

We often say that due to incomplete treatment - we expect about 4-5% of people with active TB are now drug resistant.

But I never, never thought the figure could be as high as 1 in 5!

I hope, I very very much hope, that this figure is a journalistic slip.

At Jeevan Sahara we have been treating 3 people with multi-drug resistant TB. The meds are horrendous. Each month a partner agency comes by with 3 huge plastic tubs that contain the meds the patients - one tub per patient. Every day they need to take multiple doses. Get their injections by our nurses. It is distressing for the patient, the care-giver and the nurse to see the patient retching painfully after having to swallow the dose. The drugs seem almost worse than the disease. But at this point this huge mountain of meds seems to only hope for a person with multi-drug resistant TB.  And it isn't only the pill burden for a day or two. It is for 18 months of daily medication!

We live in a society awash with medications, with half-treatments, with haphazard dosages of all kinds. That levels of drug-resistance are rising has never been hidden. But to have the bitter fruit of pharmaceutical-overabundance right at our door is hard.

There are many things to be afraid of in this world (and our Lord tells us that perfect love casts out fear). But if you are living in Mumbai and want to worry about something - how about this: The air you breath is likely to contain Multidrug Resistant TB.

If our figures are true - that 1.5% of the population with TB - and a fifth of these are sick with MDRTB then that means 0.3% of the population has MDRTB. If at least 1/3 of these are still healthy enough to be walking around it means 1 in a 1000 people you meet has this basically fiendishly-hard-to-cure communicable disease. Think of the 5000 people who crowd into a crush-hour train. Consider the thousands of people who pour past you on every street. Think of the fact that TB can remain on droplet particles upto 18 hours after someone has sneezed or coughed in an un-ventilated room.

If you live in the greater Mumbai area, the question is not whether you have been exposed to MDRTB - but rather how many times - and how severely.

For those of us who willingly work with people who are suffering with MDRTB knowing that there may be such high levels of the disease only serves to make it more grim for all of us. Whatever the final truth of the numbers are - we do know that MDRTB is not just a scientific curiosity anymore - its the grim and horrible reality for so many.

Cause for concern. Fuel for prayer. Plenty of things to be done. The time to act is now!

Monday, 10 September 2012

3 men

Last Wednesday 3 men were in the ICU of a top-notch hospital here in Thane.

5 days later all 3 have left the ICU.

But in what different states.

We had rushed to the hospital when we heard that uncle Melville - the elderly father of Doris Jayakar - had suffered a massive heart attack.  Having been admitted to the hospital for malaria a few days earlier, he was doing so well on that Wednesday morning that it looked likely he would be discharged that day.

Then at 6 PM he had a massive heart attack.  His son-in-law Rolly was with him and immediately called the nurse and managed to get Uncle's treating doctor - who was just leaving the hospital - to come up for emergency.  She took one look at him and immediately shifted him to the ICU where he was put on a ventilator.  Uncle's bed was literally rolled out of his room, over to the lift and down to the ICU where he was put on life-support.  Any delay could have been fatal.

When we saw him at 9 PM that night he was bloated and very very sick.  I wondered if uncle would survive the night.

Sheba had already been in the ICU a number of times in the previous 3 days.  An elderly man was admitted. And then they found out he was HIV positive.  Sheba had been called to give advice - and he was started on TB treatment but was very sick.

While I was in the ICU I saw a well known undertaker in the room.  It didn't click then, but as soon as I left the ICU I observed an orderly getting a trolley ready.  I then knew what was taking place.  One of the ICU patients had expired.

Later, while we were uncle's daughter Doris and granddaughter Junie downstairs, the trolley was wheeled by us.  A white sheet covered the body.  One of the 3 men left the ICU that night.  But not alive.  While we prayed fervently for Uncle Melville that night I could not help but wonder whether it was his turn next - or the turn of the elderly man with HIV.

None of us know when our time will come.

Over the last few days we have had the joyful news of Uncle Melville regaining consciousness, and then being weaned off the ventilator, and then today being shifted out of the ICU.

Sheba was called to see her patient again today - so I tagged along to see Uncle Melville.  As I walked in there was a huge smile on his face.  He is still very weak - with a heart that is hardly functioning - but as Doris says 'each day is a blessing... we will take every day, one day at a time.'

While I was with Uncle, Sheba was meeting her patient who was also shifted out of the ICU.  The contrast could not be starker.  The man is out of the most immediate danger - but is so angry and agitated.  In the meantime his elderly wife has been tested and also found to be HIV positive.  At the age of 62.  A white-haired grandmother.  The man has improved physically, but his mind and soul are far from cured.

Uncle Melville is a man at peace.  Even if things take another unexpected dip and he does not leave the hospital alive - the contentment and joy in him is something to behold.

And it looks like he is really on the mend.

Grace upon grace.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

On reading about Robin and another Outlaw

We are currently reading across a number of centuries.

Sheba is following me through the life of Bonhoeffer.   With the kids she has been reading a biography of St. Augustine.  I was amazed to hear her read a blow by blow account of a theological debate that pitted Augustine against his previous tutor Fortunatus among the Manichaeans in city of Hippo in North Africa on August 28th AD 398.

On the way back from Delhi I just polished off a collection of short stories by Graham Greene - some of them deeply moving in his own world-weary way. And I am currently reading "Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood" by Henry Gilbert with Enoch and Asha.  What a ripping story it is.

Written by Gilbert in 1912 we picked up a copy a few months ago as a gift for the kids from our dear friend Malti Joshi.   I was surprised at the depth of the tale.

On one hand there is the derring-do of a brave man against the odds - a joker and a tryster who cocks a snook at the wicked princes and prelates of the time.  Any boy (even 43 year old lads) enjoys a good battle tale and when the stakes are as high as they are in the tale of Robert of Locksley (a.k.a. Robin o' the Hood) then all the better.  Gilbert makes the old songs of Robin come to life and fleshes them out.

Its the fleshing out that caught me by surprise.

On one hand you have a lyrical description of the forest - and wildlands of England.  A romantic picture that has the Greenwood show up again and again as a friend of the poor and wanderer - but one which held fear to the people of the day.  Robin and his men are depicted as being at one with their surroundings - able to understand the way of the beasts and to use their woodlore to the maximum effect.

On the other hand there is a surprisingly gritty picture of the deprivations of the poor peasants and the many cruelties of the grasping landlords.  The bad guys inevitably have French-sounding names as Gilbert puts the Norman invasion as the back-drop.  Men like Nigel Le Grim and other Roger De Belame and other 'rascal knights' as the oppressors whose power drives the poor and honest to be outlaws - the weaponsher who had survived a massacre.  But the maximum vitriol is reserved for the Bishops, Abbots and Monks.
 of the weak.  I was particularly taken by a chapter that included these dastards instigating pogroms against the Jews in the tumult of the departing Crusaders - and Robin aiding a Jewish girl and her fat
Robin is presented as true Christian, who is pious, just and true - while the monks and others are shown as rapacious scriveners - and worthy prey for the robber-chieftain that Robin plays.  The conflict is bridged by Father Tuck - a jolly renegade monk who uses force and good humour and offers pastoral care to poor villagers in need.

If anything the Robin in this book is too good to be true.  His aim is perfect.  His morals impeccable. His loyalty without a doubt.  His sagacity, wit and joie-de-vivre put any mortal to shame.  But then again isn't that why he lives in the tales and not next door to us?

Strangely (or not) I found myself looking back to another outlaw - David the son of Jesse.  He too is a warrior who finds himself banished and on the run.  He too finds people gravitating to him so that he ends up with a small army of loyal men.  He too lives out in the open and has to move from place to place because of a rapacious king and treacherous local people.

But the difference between Robin and David is enormous.  For one the Robin tales have him always good.  The David story shows that this is not so.  Robin is shown as a height of chivalry.  Unlike the current set of stories where he would be bedding Marian immediately - Robin waits for most of his outlaw days before courting her - and then has the bans read out by Tuck in the village churches.   David, on the other hand excels while an outlaw - but when he gets to power we see his all too broken human nature spill out.  David  takes for his own sexual pleasure the married daughter of his trusted counsellor - and wife of one of his closest comrades from the wilderness years.   And when the matter leads to a pregnancy David tries to cover up - but foiled by Uriah the Hittite's nobility, David resorts to murder.  He kills one of his best friends.

Robin is a saint.  In the old-fashioned sense of the word.  He seems cut from a different cloth.  David, for all his intimacy with God, is cut from the sin-stained cloth you and I find ourselves woven of.

The greatness of the David story is the desire he has for redemption.  The glory of David is his willingness  to potentially allow himself to be stripped of his kingship - and possibly even lose his life - all to make sure that he is right with God.

So I read Robin Hood for entertainment, for the swash and buckle of a terrific tale well-told.  I find myself transported to a different era - but one where the oppression and cruelty mirrors the many such lives of the 'small people' who are crushed under the large wheels of what some call 'progress.'   But I realize that the picture of Robin as saint is fundamentally flawed.  Give me the gritty and inspiring picture of David any day.  A man who was redeemed - and who fell so steeply (and multiple times too) - but whose life was patched to such an amazing extent that God speaks about David as 'a man after his own heart.'

Monday, 3 September 2012

Bad dream... good dream

What is your favourite ‘bad dream?’   The one that keeps showing up when your mind is spinning from the day of work?  When sleep is not a rest but a strength-sapping night of mumbling through things?

For Sheba her dreams have her in an exam hall.  And she has forgotten her hall ticket.  And the other students are starting to write their papers.   Panic.

For me it is that I am at an airport and have forgotten my passport at home. Or that I have not renewed my passport (that part is true).  Or that the train just left.  Kick-in-the-stomache-sick-feeling.

This afternoon I had a dream come true.  And it was not a pleasant feeling.

Delhi.  Hazrat Nizamuddin Station.  4.42 PM.

As I was approaching the station I was scared.  I had been coaxing the auto-rickshaw-driver to go faster and faster.  The good natured soul responded well and coaxed his sputtering green-and-yellow bumble-bee of a vehicle to go a little faster.

We finally came to the comforting dome of Humayun’s tomb and having done our respects with a half-turn we sputtered toward the station.  There In the confusion of humanity I gasped to a coolie ‘which platform is the rajdhani on?’

I groaned as he said platform 6.  On the other side.  I grabbed my 3 bags (up from 1 when I came to Delhi 48 hours before) and ran up the stairs – brushing aside the coolies offer to help (for a price of course).

This is *not* happening to me I said – but was glad that I was in the station.  But what time did the train really leave?  My ticket was blank – since the train had been booked 2.5 months earlier and the ‘new timetable’ had not been announced then.  I had checked the internet yesterday and it had said 16.50.  Somehow 16.40 got hard wired into my mind.

I ran.  Puffing.  Panting.

And then I saw what I worst feared.

The grey coaches of the Rajdhani leaving the platform.

Slowly snaking their way away through a crowd of people.  The train was half-way down the platform – and

I was still on the overbridge.

Help! Stop I shouted as I ran down to try and catch it.  I ran along the platform, and saw the last coach leisurely leave the end of the station.

I asked people around whether that was the Rajdhani.  People looked like I had just landed from mars.

I starting to run with the idea of running along side and jumping on somehow.  I couldn’t let it leave without me.  I was stuck in Delhi.

My dream was bitter reality.

One small hope.  That is was not the train.

I looked up and saw a Rajdhani clatter by – at full speed.

It was the New Delhi Rajdhani that leaves at a similar time.

And then the blessed, blessed sight.

On the other platform was a train.  It didn’t look like the grand sleek coaches of the Rajdhani, but I had to see.

Like Thomson and Thomson checking out another ‘mirage’ in the desert I walked up to this train and looked at what was written on the last coach.  “August Kranti Rajdhani”

Oh frabjous day, caloo! Callay!

Relief splashed into my weak heart and sweaty self like rain lashing a parched land.

I had still to find my bogie, but now I was within striking distance of the thing I thought I had lost.  I was a hop on board away from my trip back home to Thane – and was not sitting on a hot Delhi railway platform with a sick feeling in my stomach and my berth whisking off towards Mumbai!

As I came close to my berth the familiar tall form of Philip B was waiting for me.  “I was getting worried” he said.  I could hardly speak for relief.

Phil had come to spend a few minutes with me before I was off to Mumbai-town.  He became my father-confessor as I spouted out my confession of relief.  My sweaty and trembling self actually reaching out and touching the blessed coach B-7 where my berth awaited me.

And now as I type these words – it all seems a dream.  I just carry the sheer terror of a memory, a slight pain in my chest, and a film of dry sweat along with me – as our tube-lit coolbox speeds imperiously through the dim, largely empty countryside – with the strains of a carnatiac violin piped through the speakers.

Am I ever happy that I am speeding back to my family in Thane – to the work at JSK – and that I am not trying to get onto another train in hot and sweaty Delhi.

This was a bad dream that came true – but the truth was such a blessed relief – that I am still not sure that I am not dreaming.

Speed on!  And take me home!

Sunday, 2 September 2012


At our recent family bible camp for HIV positive families – all the families were paired up for morning prayers.  This was a time before breakfast where we spent a short time together in devotion – taking turns to minister to each other through a prayer, a song, a reading from scripture and sharing what it means through questions and discussion on the text – and finally pray for each other.

We had structured this time with two ideas in mind.  To spend time together with God – allowing one family who has experienced God a bit more to minister to the other.  And to model what family prayers can be like.
The family we met with on the two mornings were Hari and Seema.  Their 4 children.  The older two were girls (9 and 4) and twins the (boy and girl) were 3 years old.  The 9 year old girl was the only one in the family who could read.  Somewhat.  The family is from a district of Bihar which was infamous in my youth for police having blinded prisoners in their ‘care.’  Hari works in a factory in Navi Mumbai.

When you do not know someone – they seem a blank slate. Then slowly the outlines of who they are start emerging.

Over the weekend we spent with this family I was floored by what I found out about the journey they have travelled. 

Things were pretty grim some years ago in Hari and Seema’s home.  They had come to Mumbai looking for a better life.   Though Hari had a job in a factory, money was very scarce.  On payday Hari would go with his friends to the liquor vend and drink a lot of it away.  On most days he would not be able to start his work without his daily dose of marijuana.  Sadly, due these altered states contributed to Hari losing a finger to one of the machines he was working on.  Money was very very tight at home.  Many a day there were arguements and fights.

Then the change took place.  Seema started attending prayers.  She learned about the love of Jesus for her.  She sang the songs.  ‘How wonderful, how amazing that Jesus has given his very blood for me’ said Seema in one of our precious morning meetings as we sat under a mango tree in the green of monsoonal Pune.
Hari changed too.  ‘Since we started going to prayers, everything has changed’ he said with a soft glow.  'I have stopped my ganja that I could not live without before.  All praise to Jesus who has helped our family so much.  Now when I get my pay I come straight home and give the money to Seema.'

He then said  ‘When I fell ill with this disease I started to think about things -and now I have changed'

We are humbled to be part of this journey that our HIV Positive Friends are going on.  The amazing potential that each one - made-in-God's-image has.  We are honoured to hear our friend's stories.  And we need to keep expecting amazing things to happen. Like is happening in the lives of Hari and Seema.

Mother Theresa is said to have made this remark: "Today it is very fashionable to talk about the poor. Unfortunately, it is very unfashionable to talk with them." Sadly this is so much my experience.  So little time actually listening.  Actually hearing what the poor are experiencing.  So much talk from my side about them.  And still this terrible distance.

But then a weekend like this comes around.  And the scales fall from the eyes.

So much to learn.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Scenes from a train

Green fields and yellow school busses lined up a small rail crossings.  The words ‘Oxford Convent School’ on a bus summarising aspirational goals.

An old man in a faded red turban and rumpled clothes sits at the station looking at the shiny coaches of our train as if it had just come from space.

The brash confident voice of a Gujarathi man in the next section keeping a loud commentary for hours on everything under the sun.  In our coupe we have quiet men talking business on their phones.

A man in our section using passive aggression to verbally abuse the catering man.  The blue hum of the airconditioner going on in the background and a muffled hum of conversations filtering in from down the coupe.

A hot sun in a cloudless sky pouring down light on power-line crossed fields.

The rumpled jumble of plastic sheeted huts giving way to brick-on-brick housing – narrow gullies carved in a solid mass of decaying inhabited masonry.

Small stations flash by.  Platforms dotted with waiting passengers and the odd vendour.  People.

Blue sheeted warehouse buildings – flanked by sprawling lines of huts just over the wall of the factory.

The blessed green of monsoonal grass hiding most of the people in their morning defecation along the railway line.

The grey square opulence of Delhi flats and red-sandstone-institutional buildings announcing that we are approaching power.

The briefest glimpse of a small conclave of white-kurta-pyjama clad old men sitting and talking in a small area of green - after the train has passed through urban canyons of walls and shoddy houses and the odd small open space packed with parked cars.

I arrived in New Delhi this morning after having taken the overnight Rajdhani Express from Mumbai.  These notes were written about 7.30 - 8 AM as we began to approach the National Capital Region urban sprawl