Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A calendar that gives life

2014 is almost on us - and what better way to think and pray for the Nav Jivan Hospital in Jharkhand than with the beautiful calendar!

We are so grateful to God for the amazing team that continues to work in very challenging - and deeply life-impacting ways in the Latehar and Palamu districts of Jharkhand.

Dr. Jeevan Kuruvilla and the team are offering to send a packet of 5 calenders to any destination in India for a minimum donation of Rs. 1000/-.   The money helps save lives.  Only eternity will tell of all that has happened at Nav Jivan over the years.

All the pictures were taken on the hospital campus.  Take a look at the first month!   For a person living in a concrete jungle, it makes me positively homesick!

Please send your donations in Indian Rupees to NAV JIVAN HOSPITAL in either of the following accounts (only for payments from within India) -

1. Punjab National Bank A/C 0107000100251342 Daltonganj, IFSC Code: PUNB0010700


2. State Bank of India A/C 0011648040650 ADB Satbarwa Branch, IFSC Code SBIN0006063

If you need more details - take a look here:

You can also email Dr. Jeevan at:

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Good-bye Mrs. Tina

This morning was fresh and rain-washed.

We were in the Jeevan Sahara training room, just starting the day's session.  Our last day of a 4 day training for church volunteers to help them reach out to people with HIV.

Peter was taking the devotions and was reading from Luke 22 about Christ's saying "not my will, but yours be done."

And then I heard it.

The low growl of an engine starting.  I looked out the window and a minute later saw the ambulance go up the small bridge that crosses the water drain at the border of our compound.

The ambulance was leaving JSK.  But it was not leaving empty.  I saw it cross between the red gladioli on either side of the bridge and could look into the back.

There was a purple coffin with a cross on it.  Next to it were three young women.

Inside the coffin was the body of Mrs. Tina.

She died last night at 9 PM.

Mrs. Tina did not come to Jeevan Sahara in an ambulance.  She was brought here by our staff in an autorickshaw.  She had been alone at home for over a month, suffering from PML a viral brain atrophy which has no known cure.   At the same time, she had a large wound that just would not heal, and she was alone all day as her grown daughter was out at work all day.  So we brought her in to care for her.  Our hope was for a cure.  But it was tempered with what we know about PML in people with HIV.

Over the last month Mrs. Tina was loved.  She was cared for in her ups and downs.  When she became incontinent, our nurses lovingly cleaned her.  Church members from her church came and went.  Members of another church cooked food for her.  Cared for her.  Had her daughter over to their places for meals.

So many prayed with her.

In her times of lucidity, she was able to review her life.  And be prepared for death.

One afternoon Sheba talked about forgiveness.  Mrs. Tina listen.  Taking it in like a sponge.  She understood crystal clear and prayed a prayer of forgiveness for what she had done.  Then she prayed prayers to forgive what others had done against her.  She was so happy to be able to do so.

Early in her stay 3 more wounds opened up.  It was so discouraging.  A pus swab showed resistance to the common antibiotics.  A high level antibiotic was started.  Things cleared up for a while.  It looked like she was going to pull through.

Then she got to gasping.  A week ago.  We called in those she knew.  They spent time with her.  Again she pulled through.

Yesterday afternoon she was gasping again.  Her daughter had taken off the last 2 weeks to be with her mother in these days.  Our staff were with her.  Praying.  Caring.  Touching. Loving.

In the night about 15 members of her church with her.   She breathed her last among her new family.

Was it a failure to see the ambulance drive off on a rain-washed morning, carrying a coffin for burial?

It sometimes feels like it.  So much we give.  So much care.  So many prayers.  All those hours of our nurses stretching themselves.  Doing 12 hour shifts so that one of them can take a day off.  All the night visits Sheba has made.  All the agonising and prayers.   We just don't want to give up.  Especially as long as there is breath.

But, at the same time, we had also been preparing Mrs. Tina and her daughter for her death.  Her slipping away into the arms of her Lord was not unexpected.  We know for sure that she is in a place where she is not feeling the pain and agony she did in these last few months.  Jesus told the dying criminal on the cross "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."  We firmly and resolutely believe that Mrs. Tina has gone to meet Jesus too.

In a closed system - even a mind-bogglingly large one as big as the known universe - there is little hope for the Mrs. Tinas of the world.  Only a cold silence in the spiralling galaxies.   But in a system that is breathed with the breath of a living God it is quite another matter.

I watched the ambulance drive away.  It was followed by two men on a motor-cycle. Other church members had gone ahead.   I know that the world will not notice Mrs. Tina's passing.  The moment the ambulance was out of view, the same traffic passed outside beyond the garden in front of JSK.  The normal number of pavement walkers head's bobbed by, small buoys propelled forward by unseen legs.  A red-rumped bulbul twittered from the side of a tree.

But we have added another legacy.  Another person is part of the kingdom.  Awaiting resurrection and the coming fulfillment of time.

And here in her sorrow, Mrs. Tina's daughter also has much hope.  Her mother is gone.  But she has a new family.   Her mother has died, but her death was 100 times better than what it could have been in the hell-holes that so many of our government hospitals have become for the poor.  She suffered much, but her suffering was alleviated by being in a beautiful clean place.  With sunshine flooding in the windows and the green trees outside.  With nurses who gave their very hearts for her.  With church folks who held her hand during her last days.

Good-bye dear Mrs. Tina.  The next time I see you, we will both be very different from when we met each other last....


No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee. 
- John Donne

Friday, 11 October 2013


India's world record run-scorer Sachin Tendulkar

You know you are aging when your boy wonders hang up their boots.  Especially a certain boy-wonder-who-has-stayed-just-a-bit-beyond-his-expiry-date called Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.

This morning the Indian Express had a shot of him striding into a sunset of sorts.  Tendulkar has announced that he is finally retiring from all kinds of cricket with the upcoming 2 tests against the West Indies to be his last.  Its likely that he will have his swan song in his beloved Mumbai, with the record 200th test (far ahead of anyone else) to be played in November.

100 centuries in Test and One-Day-Internationals.  A mountain of runs.  The superlatives will continue for quite some time.

For me Tendulkar was the face of our sporting hopes.  As a nation we had never won anything on the world stage till that magical World Cup Cricket win of 1983.  Being a 14 year-old at the time, I was dazzled.  Though we did not have a TV and I never saw a match, I followed avidly in the papers.

And so it is not surprising that as a home-sick college student I would be struck by reading about two wonder boys in Bombay - Sachin Tendulkar and his friend Vinod Kambli when they set a world record for school cricket with 664 runs in 1988 (Tendulkar helping himself of 324 of them).  Later, while visiting Germany in 1990 I came across an abandoned English newspaper lying on a bench in a railway station.  It talked about how a young prodigy Tendulkar had scored a century.  In England.  At Old Trafford.  This was an era where draws were the norm.  Losses were common.  Wins of any sort meant massive amounts of fire-crackers being burst.   As a boy in school, on the rare occasion that we heard crackers being burst (outside Diwali of course) we would ask each other... 'what happened?'.  Today every wedding procession, every politician, every small festival has crackers popping.  And any momentous event will be spread by social media in real time.

So it is a very different India in which the era of S.R. Tendulkar is drawing to a close. Twenty four years of playing at an international level is a remarkable achievement.  The burdens of being the icon of the nation for so long must be just as challenging as dealing with keeping a body at match-fitness after 4 surgeries and countless innings.

But this young India is also one with an eye to the future.

The first thing my son Enoch told me this morning (he had managed to get the paper before I did) was: "Yuvraj is back!"   Tendulkar's retirement was an afterthought for Enoch.

Fame is a fickle mistress it seems.  Farewell sweet prince.  May your willow rest in peace.


A life saved

Mr. Patil came to the JSK centre for HIV testing.  He had been tested before.  Multiple times.

Every time his test came back as HIV negative.

When Mr. Patil came for his test result this time, our counsellor told him the good news... that his result was HIV negative.

Mr. Patil did not believe him.  He insisted on being seen by the doctor.

So our counsellor brought Mr. Patil to see Sheba.

In talking to Sheba, Mr. Patil told her that he had mouth cancer.  And that his weight was decreasing.  And that he had had multiple sexual exposures.

"I know I have HIV" said Mr. Patil.

"But your reports are negative" said Sheba.

"Then why am I losing weight?" came back the answer.

"It may be your cancer" said Sheba, "or you may be being eaten up by your guilt."

Mr. Patil agreed with the latter.  Over the course of the conversation Sheba explained to him that it is possible to have our sins forgiven. The previous night we had had a Bible study where King Solomon wrote to the King of Tyre and spent a significant portion of his letter telling about the great creator God.   So Sheba told Mr. Patil that if he wanted to, he could pray to Jesus and He would forgive.

Mr. Patil did.

Sheba then told Mr. Patil that is was not by chance that he had come to JSK.

Mr. Patil agreed.  And then dropped the bombshell.

"When I left my home this morning" he said "I left my mobile at home.  I left all my identification papers.  I put a note in my pocket. After picking up my report, I was going to go the Corum Mall and jump off the 4th floor."

Since it was a Saturday and we had a training going on, Sheba was able to immediately link Mr. Patil with a church volunteer from his own community.

Mr. Patil's problems have not all disappeared in a puff of smoke.  He still has mouth cancer.  He still has multiple issues to work through.  But we are deeply humbled to have been used in a small way to stop the desperate step he was planning to do.

Just in case you were wondering we obviously are using the name 'Mr. Patil' as a pseudonym to protect his identity

Thursday, 3 October 2013


We just finished an intense week of training - where we poured ourselves into 12 folks from across the country who had come to learn about how churches can reach out and transform the lives of families affected by HIV.

Each person who attended was precious.  Some had considerable influence in their churches and organisations.  Others were individuals who were motivated to do something.  One came all the way from Nepal.

And then there was a gentlemen who we will call 'Ravi.'

Ravi introduced himself as a doctor and vaccine research scientist.

He was effusive from the get-go.  His registration sheet was filled with words.  Thoughts.  Well wishes to our cause.

In the sessions that followed, we could always count on Ravi to be peppering us with a stream of questions.

It got my goat.

Then a slow light began to dawn.

Ravi was clearly not what he made himself out to be.  And maybe Ravi himself did not see just how odd he was sounding.

Persistent he certainly was.  I was shown a photocopy of a letter from a central govt. officer instructing the Maharashtra State AIDS Society to give him the post of a scientist.  On it were two interesting and cryptic pieces of information.

The first was a reference to a certain file notation.  Ravi told me that this was to an official note that Dr. Abdul Kalam had made, instructing the govt. to make him a scientist.   If this was true, then Ravi's exuberance had clearly got him places.   If it was not, then he was either a bare-faced liar or delusional.

The second notation was clearer to me.  It was a qualifying statement, written in laconic burearcratese - but basically informing the concerned officer something to the effect that this appointment is dependent on whether it fits into the existing programmes - and hinting that the final decision rests with the officer in charge.

I looked at the date of the letter.  It was from 2008.

"Ravi,"  I thought in my mind "you can kiss this letter good-bye.  There is no chance that you will get a job, they clearly have just written this letter to humour someone."

When I sat down with Ravi and talked to him about the letter, he told me that yes they did not have funds and so they did not take him on.

I asked him what studies he had done to become a doctor.  He told me he was a doctor of homeopathy.  I asked him if he was practicing.  He said no.

I asked him if he had done any research at all.  He admitted he had not.  But was quick to tell me that he had lots of ideas in his mind.  He wanted to find a cure for HIV.  To overcome the p120 protein and make a vaccine.

Talking to Sheba later, she told me he had announced to her that he was 'ranked no. 13 in the world among scientists.'

So what to do with a man who is clearly seeing life from a pretty different perspective?  Where we don't really share the same page.

I must confess I did not have charitable thoughts in my mind at all times during the training.  To have Ravi was irritating at times.  'How did this fellow get here?' was the thought that cropped up not infrequently.  'What about the others?'   Ravi's roommate indicated to me later that sharing a double hotel room with him had not been easy - that a non-stop monologue had taken place most of the time.

But then something changed in me too.  We have been passionately urging our trainees to have empathy and live a life of compassion - and to urge the churches and organisations they come from to do likewise.

Well, here was a person who needs compassion too:  Ravi.

In my last conversation with him, he brought me a set of papers where he had written rambling thoughts about JSK and HIV and vaccines, signing it off with his name - after having given himself the title 'Sir.'   He wanted my signature on it and an official stamp.   I declined.

I gently tried to tell him that until he actually does something, he should not label himself as such.   "I have dreams!" He said.  "I know I can become a scientist with Jesus' help.' I suggested that maybe Jesus did not want him to become a scientist - and that Ravi should listen to what Jesus wanted of him.   In our final evaluation of the course, there was precious little difference in what Ravi wrote and said - from what he wrote and said at the beginning of the training.

Where is Ravi now?  Probably back to his small town in rural Maharashtra.  

Is Ravi a crank, or is he expressing the desires of ambitious small-town guys who never had a crack at the big leagues?  Who did not have the love and care that I received.  Who did not have access to the schools and old-boys (and girls) networks that were rolled out for me?  Hard to say.

How to help people who don't realise they need help?  The limited time that we had available to talk individually during the hustle and bustle of the week of training did not seem to have too much impact on Ravi.

But maybe even those few words will bear seed in good soil.... and the prayers on behalf of Ravi will see a calming of his mind and real steps forward in his life.