Monday, 25 March 2013

Looking ahead

We can see the future.  It is here.  Already walking around.  Learning to speak.  Taking in the world.  Listening and growing. And often getting some pretty hard knocks early on.

Our children and young people are what our nation is going to be like in the next 2 decades.

What a world this generation is growing up in....  other than the recent cricket series win over Australia there is precious little to cheer.  And that too is cold comfort when weighed against the ghastly litany of sexual violence and other assorted ills that march across the paper each morning.

But yet, we believe and know that every single person has value.  Each person is endowed with amazing God-given abilities to make a real difference for themselves, their families and the whole extended and often fractious family of humanity.

Take a dekko at the photo above.  It is from a street play that our Jeevan Sahara Kendra team did with a local church in Chembur.

Look at the make-up of the crowd - 90% under 25 years old.

Look at the faces of these kids.  The mixture of expressions as they take in what is being shown.

Observe the adolescents and young adults (including one at least who seems to be talking on a mobile).

Here be the mothers and fathers of tomorrow.  Here is the future of our country.

What a privilege - and great responsibility - to be interacting and serving the people who are going to be shaping tomorrow... today!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

TB dreams

There are a lot of things in the world to be scared about.

When I was in 5th standard we were all gripped by 'sky-lab fever' for a few weeks.   It was 1979 and the 'sky-lab' - a spent US space-station - was slowly being drawn to the earth.  This massive object was supposed fall somewhere in a very broad span of the inhabited world (which included India) and woe be it - if it chose to fall on you!  And so we had 'sky-lab drill' at school where we all dutifully hid under our desks - to protect us in case the blessed chunk of space-junk decided to fall on us.  How we were going to be warned about then the fine space-craft was about to hit our school was another issue.  In the end the sky-lab "fell" on a fairly sparsely populated part of Australia.  So much for our fears.

Diseases are pretty high up on the list of things to be scared about.  The issue that takes up a lot of our lives is HIV - a name that still strikes fear in the heart of many.   But having worked with it for the past 15 odd years, it has lost most of its sting.

What I am concerned about is this:

Our work brings us in almost daily contact with men and women who have tuberculosis.   India has the largest number of people with TB.  India has one of the largest (and certainly cheapest) pharmaceutical industries in the world.  Drugs are sold left right and centre.  Its a deadly cocktail.

TB is a disease that takes a long time to cure... fully.    A relative of leprosy, the Mycobacertium tuberculae has a strong waxy coating that makes it hard for drugs to fully eradicate it in a short time period.  Hence the very long treatments which are the whole reason for the problem.

No one likes taking meds.  Especially ones that can have side effects.  Especially when you start feeling better.

And so we have a huge number of people who are taking their TB meds ... and stopping them before they are fully better.  A fool-proof recipe for drug-resistance to form.  And that is where we are today.

We had a prayer session at Jeevan Sahara today - talking about challenging families we are working with.  So many were ones where they have stopped their meds.  Some are ones where they know they have multi-drug resistant TB.

Our staff are heroic enough to go to each one of these homes.  But understand this - there are men who are so fed-up with life and with the medications, that they refuse to take the drugs anymore.  What do we do?  Do we stop going to try and help these families?  What about their wives and children?

We have no easy answers.  We do not want to give in to fear.  And so we pray.  Hard.  And go.

Likewise at the JSK centre.  We have people coming here who we know have Multi-drug resistant TB.  There is every possiblitity that they can spread it to us.  Masks help a bit.  But are not guaranteed.

And yet these dear ones are our brothers and sisters.  This is why we are here in the first place.

Tomorrow is World TB day.  We dream of a day when we refer to TB in the past tense.  We are nowhere near that today.  At least in India.  At least among people who have HIV.  And their families and care-givers.

Pray. Act. Pray. Act. Pray. Act.

For You
Kiran Kumari
Oil on Canvas
50" X 40"

A man is on the floor suffering from TB. Outside somebody is coming to help him. This person may be his relative, a doctor, a friend. Or he may be the patient's belief in God, his positive thinking, confidence, etc. Yellow for me is the colour of hope. Much of my art work has to do with street lights, symbols of solitude, loneliness, and stillness.
 From:  Chehera - The Human Face of TB - an exhibition of art on the issue of people living with TB which the Art for Change Foundation organised together with Global Health Advocates in 2011.

Friday, 22 March 2013


Deep in the heart of Africa... an amazing story animated using sand (and a lot of patience)!  Hats off to Corrie Francis Parks for this amazing tale! 

Thursday, 21 March 2013


At the end of January Mum and Dad had a surprise visitor.

Make that three!

In mid-afternoon while Mum was taking a nap (and Dad was deep in his recovery mode from the neck injury), the door bell rang.

This is who was at the door to bless their beloved Opa:

Anjali and Ashish - and lurking in the background - their Dad - Stefan himself.

To say that Oma and Opa were bowled over is an understatement.

But the surprises didn't end there.....

The skies opened up and it snowed! 

So instead of the normal sunny winter that Mussoorie has - the happy threesome joined Oma and Opa for a winter-wonderland!  When the sun finally came out - this was the scene on the terrace at Shanti Kunj:

Needless to say - all the power went off - and so the whole family camped in the front room, heated by that ancient 'bukhari' and did some good reading.  Good to see Anjali getting into quality literature - and not being satisfied by any old English translation - but perferring her Asterix to be in the mother tongue itself!

But kids can't stay indoors for long - especially with all the white stuff outside.  So off with Oma and Stefan they went.

Art has to be done.  Especially 3D art using available resources:

One of the above is a spitting image of Stefan.  Which one now....

And so as the heat starts to soar in Thane, we thank God for the memories of a cooler time which arrived today by email from Dad.   Hooray for Stefan and Neeru and their happy brood!  It may have been cold outside, but there were many warm hearts!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Night call

Its 10.33 PM.  Asha is asleep.  Enoch is sorting through his stamps (yes those still exist ... barely).  And Sheba is on a night-call.

Two weeks ago Natasha joined us on a 1 month deputation from the Duncan Hospital in Raxaul, Bihar.  She has come all the way across the country to help us out.  And are we ever grateful. Because of her we are able to admit very sick HIV positive patients again.

For the last two weeks we have had a steady stream in the makeshift 2-bed ward that we are running as the rennovations at Jeevan Sahara continue to grind forward.   Yesterday at the Sunday evening prayers I saw a family in the front row.  She was wearing the blue gown that meant she was admitted.  We will call her Shanti.  Her beautiful daughter had come to visit her and was singing excitedly next to her.  Her husband carried their infant child.  He had been keeping the kids at home while Shanti was being treated.  She was so sick on admission - but stabilised beautifully - and was discharged today.   In fact, she was actually asked to leave her bed because we had an even sicker man who needed admission late this afternoon.  At the end of the prayers Shanti asked me to pray for her family.  She told me that her daughter had a low CD4 count.  I could hardly imagine such a robust child to also be walking down the path her mother was walking.  Lord help us...

And so tonight we have two very sick men admitted at the JSK centre.  Sheba went over at 9 pm after some of their blood reports which were done earlier came.  She hasn't come back yet.  I can just imagine her caring for these men and their families.  Her quiet earnest way with the different patients.  Her careful choice of treatments.  Her briefing the nurses on what is to be done over the night.  Her concern for the care-givers.  Her prayer and comfort for the patients in their distress.

One man - who we will call Ramu - has a hugely bloated spleen.  We have suggested he go to a higher centre for admission at an ICU.  Ramu's family said that they cannot do that - and that they want us to care for him - and pray.  His mother cried last night.  His large strapping older brother and his tall healthy younger brother are such a contrast to the gaunt hands and the large swollen (and very painful) stomache that strike you when you first meet Ramu.   We don't know whether he will pull through.  Whether his wife will still have a husband in a few days.  But we do know that here he is getting all the love and care possible - and we are fighting with the disease hard.  And on top of all of this we pray too.

The other man just arrived this afternoon.  A local church pastor brought him.  Nalin (as we will call him) has been at a govt. hospital which is part of the local medical college.  Apparently he has been their for almost 3 weeks with precious little done for him.  Today they told him to pack up and go home - that there was nothing more that they could do.  Nalin is obviously very sick.  But he wants to live.  And we are going to try and give him a shot.  He is very short of breath and so we have been putting him on oxygen.  Will he live even through the night?  We don't know.  But we do know that we have to do what is possible.  And that even if he slips away into eternity, it will be knowing that he was loved and cared for - at least at the end.

And so we continue to wait for Sheba.

It is 10.52 PM and she is still at the Jeevan Sahara Kendra.

I am so proud of this remarkable woman who it is my great joy to journey through life with.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Blast from the past

Ben Harrison was a student nurse who did a 2 month stint out with us out at the Nav Jivan Hospital in (then) Bihar.  It was 2000 and we were then a newly married couple.

This week he tracked us down and so we are talking after over a decade.

Here is a blast from the past that he sent us: 

We see younger and thinner versions of who we are today.

But we also see the same joy that has sustained us over these years.  How amazingly grateful I am for the 13 plus years that we have travelled together.  After sending Ben a current picture of us his response was "And boy you have doubled!"  Our last 12 years with kids means that we don't remember too much of the 1.5 years we were together before Asha burst on the scene.  But each step of the way has been suffused with joy (and had its share of tears too of course).


Habemas Papam

I was just about to turn in for the night - having written an email or two - when I heard cheering.

So I flipped back to the tab which I had opened on BBC's "smoke-stack cam" - and there was smoke coming out of a chimney.  Not any chimney of course - but the one on top of the Sistine Chapel  It was night so what colour was it?  White or black?  Were the searchlights colouring it white?  Then the bells began to chime.  The smoke was white.  The thousands in St. Peter's square were cheering - which was the sound that I had heard.

Two days earlier we had watched as some of the 115 cardinals had made oaths of secrecy.  Then everyone was ordered out.  The servants and attendents filed out - as did other priests - leaving behind the red-robed cardinals to choose one of them to be the next pope.  The next leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

With the closing of the door - the focus was on the chimney.   4 times smoke billowed out - each time black - signalling that the 2/3rds plus one majority was not achieved to select one of their number to be the next pope.

Now the cardinals have spoken.  Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina has been chosen to be the first non-European pope - and has chosen the name Francis I as his papal name.

What will the new Pope do with the great challenges that his flock face?

When his predecessor switched from being called Joseph Ratzinger to be known as Benedict the 16th, he was known as a fiery defender of the faith.  A man who made his views clear and plain and who was determined to steer the great ship of the church towards orthodoxy.   Eight years later, the world was shocked when Benedict announced his retirement stating that his health did not allow him to do justice to the tasks upon him as pope.

My father was once asked whether he was the 'pope of this church?'   The tourist visiting Mussoorie saw Dad standing outside Kellogg memorial church and asked the question politely.  Dad answered that he was not 'the pope of that church' and in turn asked the tourist whether he knew it was 'good Friday' and why it was called 'good Friday in the first place?   A good discussion took place.

But back in Rome this evening, the new Bishop of Rome, Francis I was introduced by the Latin Habemas Papam (we have a Pope).  As a follower of Jesus Christ - my hope for every other Christ-follower - be they the Pope or a pauper - is that they live out the truth and love of our Lord Jesus.  Pope Francis I has big shoes to wear since 1.2 billion people in this world see him as their spiritual shepherd. 

As the 265th successor to St. Peter (by one way of counting at least) he must not look back at his predecessors - but upwards to the Christ.