Saturday, 13 December 2014

Thankful

Each year we give thanks.

For another year.

For another set of miracles (some seen and many unnoticed).

For being alive.

When we do this with people who are HIV positive it has a special spin to it.  A number of the folks who were here last year are no more.

Some have moved away.  Others have died.

But so many are still around.

And then some show up again.  Like young Samir (name changed) who had run away from an orphanage, and whose widowed mother had moved away with the man she was living with.  But just last week we got a call from Samir.  And here he was today.  All of 15.  'Grown up' almost feral.

But the bulk of folks who came tonight of the Jeevan Sahara Kendra annual Positive Friends Thanksgiving time - were folks who are moving deeper.  Deeper into stability.  Deeper into relationships.   Deeper into health.  Deeper into making sense of the challenges they face.

Not everyone has everything figured out.  But what a privilege to be along with the our friends for the journey.  And how humbling to see so many come tonight.

We prepared for weeks.  With over 100 volunteers of various kinds.  There was just so much to do.


Our staff and volunteers met for prayer and preparation for weeks before.   They invited families.  Planned the refreshments.  Ordered and purchased.  Gave generously. Made last minute orders when our cake-suppliers backed out at the last minute.  Made a large display out of over a hundred slips which our Positive Friends filled out - expressing their gratitude for what they have experienced in 2014.   Purchased gifts for each family.  Packed and wrapped.  Decorated the campus.  Registered and welcomed our guests.  Sang and did skits.  Served refreshmenst and gave gifts.  Spent time with families.  What a blessing to have folks from so many different churches all serving together.  A seamless stream of people helping out in so many ways.  Living answers to prayers.
And suddenly - today is the day.  After a thunderstorm woke me up at 2 AM - and caused a mild flutter of worry, we were off and running at 3 PM in the golden afternoon sun of a Mumbai 'winter'  (short sleeves of course).

Our dear friend Danny got us off to a great start and ably guided the programme through - a 3.5 hour programme that smoothly and beautifully unfolded as lives were shared - songs were sung with joy - and we enjoyed looking back with gratitude and ahead with anticipation.






What do you do when you are happy?

Why you sing of course!

And when you have Dr. Emmanuel Isukuru tickling the keys - well, then you sing all the more.  We were blessed to sing together - as one big family.  And to have folks from the Living Water Community Church and the UBM Thane Sunday School sing for us.  A poignant skit from the Thane Marthoma Church youth rounded off the first part of the programme - and that was after we heard the heart-warming story of Titing - a young Burmese theological student who is volunteering with us for a week.  She told of how she had stepped on a land-mine and lost her leg - but how later she found the joy of Jesus - and what a difference it is to her.  Despite the pain of her prosthesis, Titing keeps wanted to go out with our home-based care staff to meet our Positive Friends in their homes - and what a blessing to hear her share her story.

Further blessings in store...


Dr. Stephen Alfred teamed up with bro Devraj, his translator (always fun to hear a message twice when you know both languages) to let us rejoice in the wonderful news of God who has become one of us.  Has made himself knowable.  Has taken flesh.  Who cares.  Who cries with us.  Who comforts and changes us.  And who has triumphed over sickness and sin and death.

All through the evening we heard stories of people's lives being changed.  Shaped anew.  Blessed and touched by our dear Lord Jesus.

Some were able to stand up and say that they have been living with HIV for 15 years.  Others told about how they just found out they had the disease.  Some spoke eloquently. Others simply.  Some with tears.  All shared what God has done.  As the sky went dark around us, we came to the end of our time of thanksgiving.  Grateful.  Glad.

And so another amazing time had come to an end.  We had prepared 550 food packets.  All were gone at the end of the night. What a blessing to be alive.  And to be able to tell the tale.

Thankful.

Friday, 12 December 2014

A gift, a read, a treat

Each year for the past number of years we get Christmas gifts from the Applebys in Scotland.  Merryn and I were classmates many moons ago at Woodstock - and the whole Appleby clan - Merryn's husband Alistair and their lovely sons Sam and Luke stopped through Thane a few seasons ago.

The gifts are always a treat.  Arriving well before Christmas (you can tell Merryn grew up as a 'missionary kid' in a postally-structured era), the package will have Merryn's distinctive hand-writing on the cover.  Each year we get a cheery note on a colourful social-cause-supporting-card.

Previous gifts are still very much in circulation.  Excellent children's books (read by both generations of Eichers).  A CD of TS Elliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" (read by Sir John Gielgud!). The list goes on.

Sadly, we have not been sending stuff from Thane to Scotland.  And yet true friends don't give up. They keep giving!

And look what arrived this year.



It's a book.

Yes, a book.

But not any old book.

This is Merryn's first novel.

Oh frabjous day! Callooh callay!

I can peek through the hand made rice paper and know for sure that it is "A House Called Askival" - Merryn's debut novel which talks of Mussoorie, and missionaries, and empire, and lives lost and regained, and everything in between.

Merryn has been writing for years - publishing short stories and having radio readings and plays. Now she joins the big league with her agent getting her published with Freight Books.

Take a look at what people are saying about Askival by clicking: here

Expect my own take in a few weeks.

I can't wait.

And I still use the Landour Cookbook - almost every other week.

Talking in a local train

Two men got in a local train.  For Mumbai standards it was ‘empty’ – which means that people could actually sit down.  One sat opposite our friend Arbind.  The other sat next to Arbind.

And then they started talking.

“How that fellow died!” said the man in front of Arbind.

“Listen” chimed in the man beside him “he died of HIV!  His wife also had HIV.  They both had it.  Within one month of each other both were dead!”

“That fellow used to go to the bars and over there he had a girl.  He had a relationship with her and spread it to his family.”

“Looks like his kids will have it too.  They were with him the whole time – they also sleep in his bed”

After hearing this much of the conversation Arbind could not remain silent anymore. 

He chimed in: “Listen, HIV does not spread this way.   We do things that are not right – and then we find out that we are trapped. 

But kids don’t contact HIV that way.   A mother who is pregnant may pass it on to her unborn child.  That’s how some kids get HIV.  But even then, if the mother gets the treatment at the right time, her child will not be born with the disease.”

Both men were quiet and listening attentively as the local train continued to rumble ahead.

“People say that do whatever you want, just use a condom and you are safe.  That’s hardly the truth.  God has given each one of us a wife.  We must be faithful to her.  That’s what gives us security.”

Arbind then hugged the man next to him.

“Look – HIV does not spread this way” he said “It is not a disease that spreads by casual contact.  We can eat with a person with HIV, use their clothes, sleep in beds they have used, do all the daily acts of life without fear.  HIV will not infect us.”

“But if we step outside that patterns of healthy relationships that God has set for us” Arbind continued “then we are putting ourselves at risk.”

“God has given each one of us a wife – why not be faithful to her?”

“Look – all of us who are sitting in this train.  None of us is worthy to even sit here and be alive.  But God loves us and that is why He helps us.”

The men looked at Arbind.  One of them said: “Sir, where are you from?”

Arbind answered: “I am from Bihar.”

“Yes sir” said the man “that is what I thought, I am also from Bihar.”

“Look” said Arbind “if any of us has done something that puts us at risk for HIV – we need to get tested.  Go to an Integrated Testing and Counselling Centre for an HIV test to find out the truth.”

“If you find out that you or your loved one has the disease, then there is free medicine available which you can take and live a healthy life!”

“If you need any help for anything related with HIV, you can approach the Jeevan Sahara Kendra which is at the Old Lok Hospital building in Thane.  They will help you and your loved ones for sure!”

One of the men got up as his station had come and respectfully left.   A few stops later Arbind and the other man got up as they had reached the station they were travelling too.

Our words can bring death... or life.

----------------------------------------------


Arbind serves in one of the Indian armed forces and has taken leave to come and spend time helping out with Jeevan Sahara for these past two weeks.  He is a blessing to us all – and speaks truth with love in various settings.  Yesterday he was travelling by train for some personal work when the above conversation took place. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

A mother's love

Sheba came to the Jeevan Sahara Care Centre late in the night to do a night round with the man admitted there.

He was brought to us in a terrible condition.  Extensive tuberculosis damage to his lungs.  A long history of schizophrenia.  Semi-conscious.  All-round sick.

When Sheba entered his room this is what she saw:


The sick man's aged mother was lying in his bed.  Sleeping with him.  Her head close to his often coughing face. Her hand on his shoulder.

When Sheba asked her why she did that, her response was that her son was scared.

What love this mother has.

Undeserved and unreserved love.  Love in action.  Love in deed.

Love given to a son who has lived such a shambles of a life.  To whom life itself is an open question.

We are deeply privileged to be able to facilitate this man's recovery.  Our hope is that he will be healed in body, mind and spirit - and be able to thank his dear mother for the love she has poured into him.  And for him to be a blessing to others too.

In the mean time, he fights for life - and his mother loves him.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Proud Parent

The Positive Friends Family Bible Camp was coming to an end.  Our dear friends at the Thane Khrist Mandali had poured themselves out in so many ways to bless the 60 odd men, women and children who attended.  Each participant had enjoyed 2 full days of laughter and joy and songs and prayer and soul-stirring messages.  Now it was time to share what they had learned.

Before the final testimony time - the children (who had a special programme run for them) came forward to present a special song and some skits.

The mothers - many of them widows - were delighted.  And so was everyone else in the room.  And then we saw a beautiful sight. As the kids performed, the mothers pulled out their phones and were recording. Not one. Not two. But every mother who had a phone.  Their pride and joy in their dear children was so clear.


Do you know that God our good heavenly Father is delighted with you?  His eyes are roving over the land - and He sees everything we do.  How much joy He has when we live out our lives worthy of the great love He has poured out for us!  How much He longs to help us live a life that brings joy to His wonderful heart.

We used to sing a song in Sunday school... 'oh be careful little hands, what you do... there's a Father up above, and He's looking down in love, so be careful little hands what you do..."

As a kid I never really liked that song - because there was always a certain fear element in my heart. But as a parent, I can see the very clear moral failings in my children - and still not only love them, but deeply desire that they change.

Our Father's relationship to us is a million times more intense.  So deep is His love that He gave our beloved Lord Jesus.  And how much He yearns for us to experience the joy of being changed into His very nature.  He is the best 'proud parent' we can ever imagine - precisely because He is good well beyond the limits of our finite imaginations.

Thanks Daddy - for your love and delight in me.  And for your deep desire for me to be more and more like You.   

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Looking back, looking forward

We are working through a situation where a parent of a child on our school bus has accused the children in the bus of traumatising him.  That includes our kids.

First response?  No way.  Not our kids.

They got back in tears this afternoon when the parent got on the bus and shouted at them - telling them to get out and apologise and not listening to their version of the events.

But then my mind went back to when I was in 8th standard.

We had a boy who was a year below me.  We will call him Marcus.  His father was a scientist who lived in Thane.  Marcus commuted into Bombay everyday from Thane.  His father also helped teach us chemistry as the school did not have a full fledged chemistry teacher at that time.

One of my friends started drawing pictures of pigs.  And soon we were all doing it.  And then we linked Marcus and his father with our pictures.   As pigs.  He called him pig.  We called his father pig (never bold enough to his father's face of course - we were too cowardly for that).  And we just did not stop.  How long did it go on?  Why did I not stand up for Marcus?  How could I allow my conscience to be trampled so much?  How many excuses did I make for my behaviour?  And even now - don't I find myself slipping into an excuse mode?

Many years later I did get into email contact with Marcus and sent him an apology.  But how many of what should have been days of joy for Marcus did I rob because of my cowardice and active complicity in the teasing that went on?

The past is foreign country, they do things different there... 

One of the challenges in any life is what to do with the skeletons of the unruly and unpleasant that continue to jangle in our conscience. 

For me it starts with a full and complete confession to the one I have done most harm too - even more than Marcus - it is my loving Lord who has given me life and joy only for me to squash his gifts and follow my own twisted desires.    

I can't change the past - but I can help shape the present and future by being as honest as I can.  As I confront the sheer ugliness of what I did / am - I have a glimmer of hope because I believe that this is precisely why Jesus stepped out of eternity: because I am helpless to change and pay back for the sheer twistedness of my actions - something only He can do (for an interesting take on this - click here). Next to humbly ask God to change me - and completely trust that my Lord can reshape me into who He is.  And be willing to take whatever steps of obedience it takes to walk along this new path.

Deep breath.  Silent prayer.  Forwards.


Monday, 17 November 2014

50 years ago yesterday...

Yesterday 50 years ago a young German woman crossed the Pakistan-India border in a truck.  She was not alone.  Along with her were a small group of idealistic young people who had completed the 7197 km route from Zaventem in Belgium to the Wagah border. 

Christa Fischer came to India with the idea of spending 2 years in Bible school and using her holidays to go door-to-door with young Christian women from India to share her faith.



50 years later she is still very much in India.

One of her fellow travellers on that epic trip - made with trucks which had been purchased from scrap yards in Europe, and refurbished for the trip out East that these enthusiastic volunteers made - was a young man called Raymond Eicher.

He was an Indian citizen and at the Iran / Pakistan border the Pakistani authorities refused to issue him a transit visa.  And so the band had to leave him behind with US$ 10 in his pocket and plenty of time to pray.

Ray stayed at a local Gurudwara and prayed.  Two weeks later a local Indian business man had given him money for a flight ticket to Karachi and from there he was put on a ship to Bombay where he arrived just as the two trucks (including Christa Fischer) trundled into the city.   They picked Ray up and headed for Pune and then points South.

Three years later Mum and Dad got married!  It's a long, wonderful tale.  But just to say that yesterday we remembered Mum and Dad in church - thanking God for their life together and their lives of service to so many others over this century of shared service in our country.

On Saturday they had an open house up in Mussoorie - one where several of their friends came to share stories and laughter and tears of thanksgiving for the years that have gone by.



We wish we could have been with them.  And from far-away Thane we salute our wonderful parents and their lives of consistent and on-going love to others.

We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses...








Sunday, 16 November 2014

Talking HIV with the potato man...

I was buying potatoes from the chap who has a vegetable cart across the street from where we live.

His cart is next to a bunch of others - the carts taking up the entire side of the street - a mobile row of fruits and veggies.

As I was choosing my spuds, an elderly man wearing a neck brace came up to me and asked me where I was from.  I told him from India - and we had the normal chat about who I am, where I am 'really' from, what my native place is etc.

I convinced this gentleman pretty quickly, and he proceded to tell me that he had spent most of his working life in Kenya, and had been to Europe, and had approached me because he wanted to help me, since he knew what it was like to be a foreigner.

In the course of the conversation, the potato man told this gent that I had been around for a decade or two - but then asked me the surprising question about whether I owned a restaurant.  Now I have not been asked that question before, and so quickly disabused him of the notion.

I am a social worker I told him and shared that my wife and I work for people who have HIV/AIDS.  

But there is no cure for the disease, my trusty potato seller told me. 

Aha, but there is treatment.  A life-long treatment that gives life to people with HIV, I replied.

The next veggie seller (he specialises in green leafy veggies like spinach and garnishing like cilantroe etc) then chimed in.  I know someone who has the sickness.  Can I bring him to you.

Of course, I said, bring him over to the old Lok Hospital building on Monday morning with all his papers etc.

We live in a age where most people know about HIV.  But so many still don't know that we have excellent treatments available.

We also live in an age where thankfully, shall we say miraculously, HIV has not spread as it was feared.

I remember reading a man who claimed that 2 lakh men were being infected every night by prostitutes in Mumbai.   Yes, there are anywhere between 1-2 lakh women who are selling sexual services every night in the greater Mumbai area.  Yes, they have between 2-4 clients a night.  But each contact - even with an HIV infected person has a less than 1 percent transmission rate.  Add some prophylactic and the rate dips further.

But most importantly, we have a low back-ground level at this point.  Yesterday our team conducted a testing camp with a local church.  96 people were counselled and received free HIV testing.   Not a single one tested HIV positive.  A number had had recent sexual exposures.   This is a total miracle.  And we have seen that for the last 3 months, our community HIV testing camps have found no positive person.

What a difference to Durban, S. Africa, where a dear friend of ours told us that they had hired 4 maids in 6 years.  Each maid had to be replaced... because she died of AIDS.

We are very, very grateful that we are not working with HIV prevalence levels like that.

But, for all the good cheer, we still have the disease.  The green-veggie seller, next to the potato man, knows someone who does not seem to be linked to HIV care yet.

The disease still does not speak its name.

We still have some distance to travel.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Mauerfall


Today is my dear mother's 77th birthday.

77 years ago she was born in Leipzig, Germany.  Two years later the gears of history shifted and collossal conflict that we know as the Second World War started.  Mum grew up in the war.  And after the dust had settled (literally - most of Leipzig had been efficiently bombed by Allied flying fortresses) Mum and her parents found themselves in the part of Germany occupied by the Soviet forces.

A grim charade then began as the dark cloud of the iron curtain fell over Europe.  This was the trully free part of the world - and the nasty capitalists in the west were really fascists in disguise.  The 'Germany Demcratic Republic' was formed in 1949.  My grandfather's coal business was taken over by the state.  But the could not take over his heart.  He worked his entire life as a good honest man, a lay preacher with the Free Methodist church, a lynch pin for the family as peace-maker and friend to many.  Mum went to school where they had to sing Marxist songs and were taught that scientific materialism would soon sweep away religion and all such redundant rubbish away into the dustbin of history.

There was a problem, however.  By the time most of the happy East Germans came of age, many of them realised that life was better in the other 'occupied zones' - and they left.  Thousands and thousands of them.  By 1961 3.5 million had left.  That means 20% of the population had gone.  The authorities obviously noticed that wave after wave of young people were going to 'visit their relatives' in the West - and not coming back.  The borders were gradually made tighter - but with a subway connecting East and West Berlin - the flow of refugees grew to a flood with most using Berlin as their gateway out of the Marxist Paradise.

My mother was one of these who went to 'visit her relatives.'  My grandparents considered leaving too - but prayed about it and sensed that God wanted them to stay.  And so stay they did.  But Mum - with a combination of bitterness and joy left.

Her generation was the last to leave.  On August 13 1961 the East German authorities plugged the last big hole - by building an Antifaschistischer Schutzwall (German is a great language - an Anti-fascist protection wall) unannounced, almost overnight.

Mum had left a few years earlier and was already in Spain - where the wall of her heart was broken and she gave up her bitterness and surrendered to the Lord Jesus.

We grew up with the wall here in India.  It loomed large as our grandparents in the far-away GDR were never able to come an visit us.  I only met my grandfather Fischer once - he died in 1975.

The thought that there was ever going to be anything other than the Cold War we grew up with - with its seemingly permanent division of the world between the West and the Soviets - was hard to imagine.  The Berlin Wall crystalized this contrast between systems.

When Ronald Reagan (not the most popular of chaps for many of us) stood up and said 'tear down this wall' it sounded like he was mouthing words from one of his cowboy flicks.

And then, miracle of miracles - 25 years ago on the 9th of November 1989 we hear that the East Germany government was allowing its citizens to 'go West' (thousands had already done that by driving through Chzeckoslovakia that summer) - and then saw the amazing scenes of people flooding over the wall, celebrating, sitting on top of it, hacking away at it with hammers...

Mauerfall.  The fall of the Wall had actually happened.

That was 25 years ago.  That was yesterday.

In 1990 - with German reunification having just taken place, Stefan and I spent a few weeks in the newly formed united Germany.  We visited our relatives in the former East Berlin and asked them if we could borrow a hammer and a chisel.  Then we went to the wall.  And hacked some pieces off it.


This weekends' retrospective look on those heady days a quarter of a century ago have brought a lump to my throat.  Change is possible.  What seems immovable can be moved.  We saw how much the prayers of the people - and the individual acts of bravery brought a demise to the whole apparently-immovable Soviet system.


Happy Birthday Mum!

In an age of Facebook I couldn't help by download photos my friend Binod Mahanty took yesterday evening.  To commorate 25 years of Mauerfall - a 'wall of lights' has been erected where the Berlin Wall used to stand.



May light shine into a lot of the walls that are still standing.  Especially the invisible walls that we carry around with us.

Time for more Mauerfall.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Camping

Diwali Holidays have come to mean camping for us.  Not camping out in the open, under the stars with a tent... that we usually do in Summer in Mussoorie.

Camping as in being part of the Church Family Camp.  In Khandala (7 out of the past 8 years at least!).

Well, this year it was 2 camps.  A youth camp and the church camp.  Same place.  2 days of 55 young folks.  Then the flood gates opened and the numbers swelled to 325.  Biggest camp ever.

2 weeks later, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, it's good to relect back on the camps.

As a family we have not only been attending the camps, but have at various levels been running them as well.  Last year I was one of the main speakers.  This year was no different.  "The Camp" looms in the horizon post July... and various levels of organising meetings take place over the weeks running up to it.  This year a number were around our dining room table.

Reflection No. 1:  It's amazing that the camps even happened.  Given so much that goes into putting them together.  Given so few who seemed to be willing to work.  Given our own overwhelming tiredness before we even got to the camp. 

But, once again we look back in wonder.  At how the few were able to do so much.  At how in our weakness we saw things come together.  At how the faithful inputs of simple people are enough - with God's grace present in abundance of course.


Reflection No. 2:   We crossed a bridge this year - there were clearly many more 'non-English speakers' than those who primarily speak in the Queen's tongue.  In past years some talked about 'the Hindi crowd' - well that crowd was clearly the majority this time.  And it is a good thing.  It means that we have people who are experiencing a walk with Christ in a fresh new way.  And people who are still very much in a seekers mode.   Some of the stories of folks who we met at the camp are amazing.  What God can do.  How much He is able to change lives - and how much more we all have to follow Him. 

There were some rough edges too.  A mobile went missing at the youth camp.  And some hot words followed as someone tried to look into other people's bags to see if it was there.  But then that is exactly what our camps are for.  We want people who are hungry for change.  And we know that in the mix will be a number of folks who are just there for a good time.  Or don't even know why they are there.  But am I ever grateful to be able to spend time with young people - and older ones too - some of whom this was the first real time out of the bleakness of their day to day lives.



Reflection No. 3:    Our young 'uns are spreading their wings.  Sheba and I made a pretty much last minute decision to both help out with the youth camp.  Enoch was below the 13 year cut-off and so happily spent 2 days with his friend Nathan before coming up to the main family camp with Agnes and the bulk of our folks.   Asha was off with her friends for most of the time.  We saw her occassionaly at meal times.  We got word from others that the younger Eichers participated well in the discussion times.  On Saturday evening - after 5 full days in give-it-all Sheba and I decided to head home a day early for a day of rest as Sheba was going to Tamil Nadu early next week.  Normally we would have rounded off Asha and Enoch and headed out.  This time?  They wanted to stay.  And stay they did.  We had a beautiful quiet Sunday with each other and the Lord - and were joined by Asha and Enoch when the campers arrived back that evening.


Reflection No. 4:  The camp theme - Shake and Shine - has struck home at many levels.  As followers of our Lord Jesus we all are commanded to be salt and light.  This is not an option, an extra curricular activity, a momentary whimsy.  It is part and parcel of being a disciple.  No taste?  Booted out.  No light?  Not like our Lord.  How much my everyday needs to be more and more of Jesus.  How much every minute counts.   One of our staff attended the camp with her parents.  Her father drives an autorickshaw.  Since the camp he has been talking with his clients.  Living light. 


Reflection No. 5:   It's all about Him.  At the end of the day - it's not me or my agenda that counts, but our experience of the living Lord Jesus.  Being at camp is an intense time of multiple responsibilities, multiple needs, multiple pressures and joys and demands all at the same time.  Sheba has folks descending on her will all kinds of ailments - the majority of which would have been dealt with at home but since there was a doctor around...  But the real reason we were at the camp was not to see ourselves served but to serve.  And to be a part of the Lord's big plan of reconciling all things to Himself.  An amazing thought.  Without Jesus all of the camp made no sense.  With Him, all the pieces start to fall into place.  Our jagged edges are still there.  Our faults are still pretty plain to see - but the work of healing and change and challenge are also going on.  And as we do so together, we fulfill our Lord's loving command to not give up meeting together.  So may my thoughts be focussed ever more sharply, and ever more lovingly our our dear Lord. 

Take me in, to the holy of holies
Take me in by the blood, of the Lamb
Take me in to the holy of holies
Take the coal, touch my lips, here I am...


pictures courtesy Renee Varghese

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Partition

I am reading "Freedom at Midnight" with Asha and Enoch. 

It is taking us a long time.  Mainly because we used to 'read during lunch' - and now school has reopened so we don't get as much reading time together.

But it is also taking a long time because of extraordinary complexities of partition. 

I grew up in an era were 'Indian' and 'Pakistani' were essentialised.  Pakistanis were the bad guys.  They tortured brave Indian soldiers by putting them on ice (a story I was told breathlessly by a friend when I was about 10 years old or so).

And yet reading through the book we see a different story.  Many different stories.  And the multiple possibilities that could have been.

We see the confluence of multiple peoples and the rapid end of empire - and the rise of the two (and then 3) nation-states.  We see the hodge-podge of princely states amidst the status quo of rule Britannia (and we are not talking about a biscuit company).  We see the aspirations of multiple peoples coalescing around the Indian National Congress Party, with only Jinnah's Muslim League able to provide a counter-weight with its demand for a separate land for Muslims.   We hear the myriad impressions of people involved in the handing over of power.  The authors have hunted down hundreds of players and we listen in on conversations, are guided through memories, feel the touch and smell the sweat... and blood.



The authors have obviously been utterly charmed by Lord Louis Mountbatten.  So much so that almost half of the book (so far) has been about him.  A rakish and by all means remarkable man.  And so were the key players who got the spoils - Nehru and Patel showing up on the Indian side.  Jinnah on the other (with one TB-infected year to live before he went the way of all flesh as Gov. General of Pakistan) side.  Gandhi at this point seemingly off in his own world.  Other voices heard mainly as participants in the grand sweep of handing over of power by the British and the horrific carnage that burst out upon the nation when the final contours of the new nation-states were announced.

What strikes me on reading this book again - some 30 odd years at least since I last read it - is just how little most care.  And at the same time how much the RSS has moved from being at what seems the periphery to being firmly in the limelight of the current political / cultural dispensation we have.

No one debates about Godse and co's assassination of Gandhi.  No one really talks about the horrors of those who were hounded out of their homes and slaughtered.  It's somewhere in the background - an itch which we subconsciously scratch whenever the next 'riots' take place 'between two communities' (our papers don't even use the words Hindu and Muslim).

So we plug on.  Reading about some of the forgotten stories of what happened almost 70 years ago. 

We talk about Radcliffe and his terrible task of drawing the boundaries that resulted in so many deaths.  We need to talk more.  Ask questions.  Look for answers.  Not just accept things as they are because that is how life is...

How many other untold stories are there - and who is writing the stories of today?  Of the choices and tragedies great and small.  Of the value and vice that we see swirling around us.  Of heroic decisions and sacrifices that only eternity will resound with - and also the basest and most sordid actions that we see happening with a thin veneer of aspiration draped over them.

And what does the weight of such history do to us as people?  Do we know that it is even there?   Does the shadow of the partition carnage still linger - or have we cleansed our mouths with the sweet lies of Bollywood - and washed all of that into the vague background of our lives?  In an age where swiping a mobile has enclosed most folks, are we even open to listening to what is real and true (no matter how grubby and tarnished that truth may seem)?

The next chapter we hope to start tomorrow is called "our people have gone mad..."

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Next gen bakes!


Years ago... was it 2008 or so?  We were on the MV Doulos in Vishakapatnam.  And we bought some books (obvioiusly, there were tons - literally - on display).

One of them was Baking in America by Greg Patent.

A beautiful book with luscious pictures of cakes and loads of recipes.

We thought this would lead us to new culinary adventures.

It didn't.  Rather, it stayed safely on our shelves.  And for the last few years on top of the refridgerator.

The problem?  The ingredients.

We don't have many blue berries around.  Come to think of it.  Nor cream cheese.  Or non-alkanised cocoa or light all purpose flour as well as soft general flour, nor cranberries nor pecans....

Second problem.  The instructions.  Great if you have a gourmet kitchen with what have you widgets.

Not so great if all you have is a grater.  Ok, we have a bit more.  But our electric oven with a guess-what-dial-for-temperature on the front doesn't quite seem up to the heritage recipies that Mr. Patent eulogizes.

But all that changed last week.

As Enoch's exams came to their end (a long and drawn out affair that was), he began reading this book.  Devouring it.  He even took it to school with him.

We finally reached Friday (and a very tough Marathi exam that Enoch prefers not to talk about) - and when I got back from work Enoch announced that he wanted to bake.  Not one, not two, not three, but four different things.

He had made a chart where he pooled all the ingredients needed.  Then he checked to see which ones we had and which ones we needed to buy.  And then it was off to our trust D-Mart to pick up the necessities.

By the time we got back it was 9 pm - and we saw that most of his desired bakes needed yeast - and lots of time.  So we agreed to start the day with some 'Southern Biscuits' and instead listened to part of the 'Hiding Place' radio drama before we crashed.

And so this morning it was 'Southern Biscuits' for breakfast.  Hot, flaky (a few of them a bit needed to rise a bit more), but all round delicious.

No sooner was breakfast done than the next project started.

A Russian Cake Bread.  With yeast and all.   I wondered if it would take off. 

And it sure did.  Part of it was allowing it to rise three times.   It was past lunch when we had our two heart shaped beauties ready.


Soft.  Sweet.  Super.

What next?  Enoch still had 'German Puffs' and 'Chocolate Donuts' on his list.  Both well in the realm of the unknown for us Eichers.

Amazingly, we found ourselves making dough for donuts.  More mixing.  More scraping.  More wondering 'will this even work?' as the recipe kept harping about having an oil termometer to make sure the oil was at least 365 deg. F. hot...  More cleaning (an endless round today).  And finally the batter in the fridge for at least an hour (that's what the book said to do... and so we did it!).

Finally to roll and cut the blessed rings.  What do we use?  We ended up using a metal lid from a spice container and Enoch's metal water bottle for the 'donut' hole.  The oil was hot and in slipped these new worlds for us - only to swell up nicely and be fished out soon after to drip dry and cool.

To our delight we are blessed with some of the finest chocolate donuts on this side of the big pond.

A goodly number of them have already dissappeared into happy tummies.  So many that our donut feast ended up being a basic dinner for 3/4 of the family (Enoch augmented them with some chappati and omlette at 9.30 PM as well).

And so the day ends.

After so many years of silence, the book has seen us bake 3 new recipes in a day (German Puffs will have to wait a little more...).

Hooray for Enoch - who would have thought it possible?

And so we leave you, gentle Reader, with this image of young Enoch:




Bon apetit, et bon nuit!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Inked

"Beeeeeeep"

The sweet sound of democracy.

For the first time in my 45 spins around the sun I added my vote to those of my countrymen and women.

And it all took place in a wonderfully mundane way.

Early up.  Kids on holiday today as their school and just about every school in the city has been commandeered to be polling booths.

At about the time when I normally see the kids off in the school bus, I am instead walking the 5 min stroll to the local school where booth no. 95 of assembly seat 148 of the Maharashtra assembly elections.

Polls opened at 7 AM.  I was there at 7.20 or so.   It took me a bit to get inside.  A police man asked my for my voter's slip.  I showed him my voter ID (brand new).  He was not impressed.  I went back to the foyer of the school.  A cheery confusion reigned here.  Ladies were handing out the voter slips.  I asked for mine.  I was asked for my serial number.  I didn't know it.

I walked out to where I had seen some volunteers from one of the political parties.  They had set up shop under a tree in the courtyard of the school, near a police jeep.  They had printouts of the voter lists and were helping folks to identify themselves and their number.

As I waited my turn, a policeman walked up and told them to move on - to leave the premises.  They smiled and complied.   I followed them to the perimeter, only to find that they had a book of voters from booth no. 94, not no. 95. 

I returned to the cheery confusion.  Then the penny dropped.  At the base of my voter ID card was my unique number.  Somehow the volunteers didn't twig this.  Once I knew that my serial number is 1332, I retreived my voting slip from its pile and walked to the 2nd standard classroom which was housing booth no 95.

A short wait as the two people ahead of me voted and then it was my turn.

I walked in past the policeman to a long table where 4 people were sitting and told them my serial number.  The first man found my record in the book of voters and checked it off and announced my number. The observers from the political parties who were sitting behind the officials also noted this.   Next I signed the register next to my number and the notification that I had a voter card as my proof of identity.   I was given a slip.  The lady who I met next asked me to put my left hand on the table.  She took a small plastic stick and applied ink on my index finger.  Half on the nail, half on the flesh. 

I then gave the slip to the election officer.  She pressed a button and told me to go to the booth - a small inclosure at the end of the table which shielded the electronic voting machine.

And there I was.  I looked at the names and pressed the button.

"Beeeeep"

Everyone in the room knew another vote had been added.

I was on my way.   The clock read 7.48 AM when I walked back in the door of our home for a quick bite of breakfast before I was out of the door again to go to JSK.


The beauty of it all lies in the ordinariness.  Normal people, rich and poor coming in and standing in line to vote.  Police and officials looking in and out.   Teachers and other coopted folks fulfilling their duties, seeing that people voted in an orderly way.  Men and women walking out of the school with their fingers inked.

We are reading through 'Freedom at Midnight' with Asha and Enoch - and I just helped Asha prepare for her history term exams - so it is fascinating to look back on our recent history.   The feuding kingdoms which the chappies from the John company took full advantage of sound uncannily like the political dynasties of today.   Most of the young politicians in our country are the sons and daugthers of established Pawars oops powers.  

At independence the princely states were all but wrapped up - but for many it became a short hop, skip and jump before they and neo-ruling elites like them (nicely dressed in the khadi uniform of 'netas') took to the hustings.

That we have not been able to get away from the entrenched corruption that has come to plague our dear land and betray the bright hopes at the dawn of our independent nation (a mere 67+ years ago now - our young nation has already reached pensionable age) is a sad fact.

But at least we get to choose.  Both the hot favourites and the long-shot-dreamer candidates know one thing.  You wont get elected unless you campaign.  Our prime-minister has taken the time to address 25 public meetings to get folks to vote his party into power in our state - and another 11 meetings in Harayana.   All while a hurricane has devastated coastal Andhra Pradesh and the 10,001 and one other tasks of ruling our country have also been in his in-tray.

Because he knows, that who gets the 'beeeeps' gets to keep hold of power.

And being a clever man, with a well oiled political machine (far more savvy than all the other 4 parties who are duking it out with him in Maharashtra) he is appealing to our hearts to vote him and his party into a position where they can rule our state.

Sunday will will tell whether my beep counted in the final outcome.  But at least after multiple efforts to get on the rolls, today marked a tiny contribution by yours truly to chosing our rulers.  It is good to be inked at last!

Jai Hind!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Things fall apart

Today was a sad day.

A 14 year old girl who we have been working with - we will call her Reshma - lost her mother to HIV last month. 

Our staff members and local church volunteers had loved Reshma's mother.  Helped her, cared for her, brought her to JSK for treatment, met her at her home... but tragically she refused treatment and left against medical advice, to what we knew was going to happen.  Death, while still in her late 30s.  Tragic.  Horrible.  Deeply demoralising - especially in the face of so much that was done for her.

And yet even at the end, our staff and the local church folks cared.  They bathed this young woman in her shack.  Cared for her and loved her despite the terrible outcomes of her choices.  And before she died, the mother said that she wanted Reshma, her son Balaji and youngest son Sanjay (who is also HIV positive) to be cared for by the church.

She knew that her own mother was addicted to alcohol, and her husband was a wasted drunk too.  She insisted that it be written out and that she put her 'thumb print' on the document.  A few days later she was dead.

Can things go worse?  Well, life is pretty gritty.

Reshma stopped going to school after the death of her mother.  Her father went back to the bottle with a vengance and has spent the last 2 weeks living under a bridge.  When the family brought him food he waved them away and called for more booze.  

Balaji dropped out of school and began collecting garbage with his grandmother.  At the end of the day he would earn 200 Rs.   Part of this went to alcohol for himself and his grandmother.  Balaji is all of 12 years old.

Sandip fell between the cracks.  He is blind in one eye from an accident many years ago.  He is HIV positive.  A small dwarf of a boy.

And then last week we heard that the grandmother had arranged for Reshma to be married.   The boy and his family had 'come over to see her.'  When they came, they insisted on actually having the engagement then and there.  They had brought some saries and gave it to the grandmother and to Reshma.   The boy is 18.  Reshma is 14.  Any 'marriage' at this age can be criminally prosecuted as rape.  His father is a known drunkard.  And he is a cousin of Reshmas.

Misery loves families.

We heard about this when we met for prayer on Wednesday night last week.  On Thursday Sheba and I were talking about what could be done in what seems the blackest of holes.  The thought of this girl spiralling into the same cycle of destruction as her dead mother had already gone through...

As we talked and prayed the thought struck us that she just has to leave this place.  We contacted a dear friend in Nagpur without much hope that she would be able to take a 14 year old girl... plus her brothers too?

What should we hear but a big 'yes!'

We were stunned.  Our staff brought Reshma and her (paternal) grandmother to the office.  Reshma was ready to go.  But she could not stay in her home.  A loving couple from the church offered to take her in.  Reshma showed up an hour later with a small plastic bag containing her clothes.

And that seemed to be the perfect ending for a horrible, horrible situation.

But it wasn't.

Over the weekend Reshma said that she wants to go back home.  We talked with her.  She changed her mind.  Then she said she wants to go again.  Recycle the conversation.  And again.

This afternoon her (paternal) grandfather and grandmother came to reason with her to stay.  She seemed to change her mind and be willing to carry on with us and the plan for her to go to Nagpur.   But then as the autorickshaw was leaving, she ran out and forced her way in.  Another round of discussion.  But what can we do?  She left.

And to make matters all the more tragic.

Reshma's father died this afternoon.

A young man, in his mid thirties.  Died of booze and HIV and TB and having stopped the treatment that we had started so many times.  Died of hopelessness and squalor.  Lying under the bridge, refusing to be helped.

We don't have any easy answers.  We have to live a day at a time.  An hour at a time.

Eternity is sliced in fine pieces.

But we chose to cling to hope.  And to carry on despite the tsunami of sorrow and anger and confusion that swirls around us.  We will pray and carry on.

And our hope is that our three children Reshma, Balaji and Sandip will be on a train in 4 days, heading for Nagpur.

Things may fall apart.  The centre (if there ever was such a thing) cannot hold. But things will be, will have to be, rebuilt.

Come dear sweet Jesus.  Take us by the hand.  We don't know the way forward.  But we put our hands in yours and ask you to lead us all into a path of life.


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Lashing winds and pouring rain

We have been trying to call Amma and Appa.

The cheery voice tells us something in Telegu.  Then we hear in English that 'the subscriber's phone is switched off.'

We call Kishore - our relative and a church member.  Same message.  We call Nagesh, another church member - the phone rings... but he is in Karnataka.  He says that all the phones are out of order.

Hurricane Hudhud hit land this morning 5 kms north of Vishakapatnam.  Winds were estimated at 205 km per hour.

Amma and Appa live some 20 kms to the south of Vishakaptnam, in a small village called Tungalam.

When Peter called them this morning they said that the wind and rain were ferocious.  Water was coming in the house.

We have not heard from them since.

So here we are in Thane, looking at the clips from the BBC of .  Same result.

We are out of touch. 

We wished we had talked to them before hand.  Wished we had told them to stay with church members.

The phones may not be working - but our loving Lord hears our prayers.

Peace be with you.  Do not be dismayed.  Do not be afraid.  I am with you.  I will never forsake you.

The words of Jesus, spoken to hardened fishermen who were shouting as their boat was sinking, ring out across the centuries.

With all our satellite photos of the hurricane, and with our modern communication aids stymied, we are back in the boat like the disciples.  Forced to acknowledge our inherent helplessness, our inherent inability to shape and alter our circumstances.

And also given the stark choice:  to rage and fret, or choose to trust and rest admist the challenges of unknowing.

As for me and my house, we will take the latter path, and speak our concerns to our Lord.

We look forward to hearing from Amma and Appa...  Thank you for joining us in prayers too.


Thursday, 9 October 2014

Spoilt for choice? Spoiled choices? Choice spoils?



Someone came to the door and delivered a small laminated piece of paper.

It had my photo on it.  And the national seal.

I finally have been registered as a voter.

After all these years of moving around.  And then the general apathy that settles in, I was determined that this year I will vote.

Four visits to the various offices earlier this year did not bear fruit.  My application was not accepted in time for the Lok Sabha elections.  But another two rounds (I will spare you the gory-boring details) and then they finally accepted my papers.

With the elections for the state government coming up in 5 days from now, I was getting resigned to not voting... but hey presto the man appears and hands over the card!

Sadly, Sheba's papers were not accepted... again.   The reason?  In one of the questions on the form it asks you to declare if you have been registered to vote in another part of the country.   The question then takes the form of a request to have the name deleted.  Sheba dutifully filled this out.

But when I took our forms to the dear folks at the 'voter facilitation centre' they said that Sheba had to have certificate from Odisha stating that she has had her name removed from the list.   That battle will be fought next time.

But here I am - at 45 years a first time voter!

I have a small problem, however.

Who on earth to vote for?

The state has 5 parties that are vying for power.  Each one thinks that they can win the election on their own.  Each is just waiting to find out how many seats they will win - and each one is totally ready to patch up with whoever else will put them in power. 

The one party I was hoping to vote for - the Aam Admi Party - has apparently decided that it doesn't have the ability to put up candidates for this state election.   Last year this party gave the big boys some cause for concern when it actually managed to form a state government in Delhi state.   Sadly, the naivete of the anti-corruption gang was shown pretty quickly and the AAP leader resigned with a huff and a puff, stating that he was going to conquer the nation in the Lok Sabha polls.  

So who should our vote go to - in the choice of electing the rulers of this state? 

Two parties are pushing the 'sons of the soil' rhetoric which was their common birth.  Their main difference between them is that their leaders are cousins who both wanted to take over the helm of the party - and can't stand each other.   One continues with the bow-and-arrow symbol.  The other has quixotically been given the 'train' symbol.  And that too a smudgy old steam engine instead of a bullet train.

The other party (who just broke a 25 year alliance with the bow-and-arrow brigade) is bullish that the prime-minister's triumph will sweep them to power in Maharashtra.   With the lotus blooming, the folks who run it have their heads high in the sky.   We will have to see about that - politics makes strange-bedfellows - and the very people who were trumpeting Modi just a few months ago as the allies of the Lotus-folks are now calling him all sorts of names.

That leaves us with another set of estranged siblings.   One party claims a history that stretches back to the independence movement.  It used to have as its symbol Gandhi's beloved spinning wheel.  But our original iron woman reduced the grand old party to a personality cult almost two generations ago.  The once all powerful 'hand' symbol has and never recovered and was soundly thrashed in the national elections.  The other party claims to be a more 'nationalistic' version of this grand-dame of a party - but engages in the same rough-and-ready strong arm tactics as the sons-of-the-soil chappies - and has leaders who reek with wealth as they 'get things done'.

Alas.  The truth is that all 5 parties that are contesting the Maharashtra state elections are virtual identikits of each other.  And many 'leaders' have hopped from party to party so that we now have a nice bland curry that more or less tastes the same.  Same white Scorpios (or Audi SUVs for the higher ups).  Same posters showing the leader talking on a phone, pictures of mono-rails and whatnot in the back ground.  Same invocations of past warrior-kings.  Same patronage of families, with sons and wives and daughters taking up the family business as they are truly 'to the manor born.'  Same amazing jumps in 'net worth' every time an election is held - the amount they declare, when you track it across the years will make any financial analyst weep given the phenomenal rate of returns they seem to get.  And that is just the stuff they are revealing.  Let's not forget the truly massive mountains of cash (and sundry other valuables) that our ruling classes squirrel away.

So will I choose the "NOTA" option on my first vote?  I sincerely hope that I don't have to.  I hardly want to state that I have no faith in any of the folks on the ballot.

5 days to find out a bit more about our candidates.  And then I go and press the button and get my finger inked.

Democracy creaks on.   I remeber back to 1989 and listening to Uma Bharati give her spiel to villagers in the various election meetings she held on a gruelling day of campaigning out in the bad-lands of Khajaraho district in Madhya Pradesh.  Besides the 'Bharat Mata ki jai' slogans - what she basically told them was that the Congress govt. was cheating them and not building roads and schools - and that when she was elected, she would usher in a new era of prosperity.  

Men were climbing on trees to get a better view of her.  The rapt gaze of the humble Indian elector was a sight to behold.  Ms. Bharati knew that she had to go and meet her voters or she would not get elected.

This week I join the ranks of those men with their thread bare shirts, leaning forward to hear what the 'leader' has to tell them.  In their hands they had one small but powerful weapon.  Their vote.  And at least once in 5 years the great and powerful (and those aiming to be great and powerful) had to come and solicit their assent.

As that crusty old defender of the empire said many a year ago: 
It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.   - Winston Churchill

Onwards!  


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Enoch and Daddy's Excellent Adventure


10.30 PM.  Plenty of time to get to the Thane train station.

All bags packed.  Big box of books with us.  1.5 days worth of food stowed away.  Lemon rice and boiled eggs for lunch and supper.  Puris and potato subji for breakfast.  Bread and jam for other times.

We pray and say good-bye to Sheba and Asha.

This is a boys trip.  The first we are doing together.

The reason?  We are attended the Evangelical Medical Fellowship of India as father and son.

We had orginally booked all 4 Eichers to go and come ... but then the Bombay Scottish School announced their semester examination dates - and Asha had a Marathi exam the day before the conference was to kick off (a day we were to be travelling by train) - and all the rest of the exams waiting for her on the day after we were coming back.

Enoch only had a 'craft' exam - so we wrote to the school and got permission for him to skip it and to head up north to the Christian Medical College in Ludhiana for this trip.  A first for both of us - the place being new - and the experience of only the two of us travelling together.

And so we leave by auto for the station.

Then the first little inkling of doubt seeds itself in my brain.

I had thought the train was leaving Thane at about 10 PM.  But since a new railway time table was introduced at the beginning of September - I hadn't really looked - and we had booked the tickets in mid August.  So when I finally got to print out the tickets on the day of departure, I was glad to see that they were at 12.10 AM.

Good.  More time in the office before I leave.

The 30th of September was the last day of an intense 7 day training in HIV care that we run twice a year for folks from North India.  It was a good day and there was plenty of stuff to wind up.  I was looking forward to a good long sleep on the train.

And then it hit me.  What if the ticket was for the previous night's train?  I called up Sheba and asked her to check if the ticket was still valid by finding out the PNR status from the computer.  If the train had completed its journey, then it would state it.  She said it was ok.  Our tickets were confirmed.

But when we got to the station, the niggling doubts turned to ugly reality.   The reservation chart had 1/10 written on it.   Our tickets were for 30/9.   Hope against hope I looked to see if our names were on the chart.  Nope.  I went to the asst. stationmaster.  He looked at me as a simpleton and told me that my train had left that morning at 12.10 AM.   I walked out shattered.

What to do but to call up Dr. Manoj Jacob of EMFI and tell him that we weren't coming.  With heavy heart I did.  Then I told Sheba that we were coming back home.

And then Manoj called me back.

11.50 PM.  Our 'train' had still not come.  We were in the auto-rickshaw with all our luggage headed home.  And Manoj put this thought in our mind.  There was still a way we could make it.  The next day we took it.  And this is the view we had:



Talk about heavenly.

So after a short night's sleep (new tickets had to be booked - including an overnight bus from Delhi to Ludhiana for the two Eicher men), Enoch and I had the puris and subji for breakfast back in our own home (after sending Asha off for her Marathi exam), and got into the waiting taxi at 8.30 AM to whisk us off to the magic of the airport!

Enoch doesn't do well in taxis.  Especially when we go up and down hills.

Well, we didn't do much hill climbing, but it was enough for Enoch to lose his breakfast.

Glad to have a plastic bag handy.

After it was all out - he felt a lot better and was quite his chirpy self again.

Enoch being Enoch much of our conversation was about football - especially on the fortunes of his beloved Chelsea FC in the on-going English Premiere League season.

One of the non-negotiables that we had laid out as a condition for Enoch to come along was that he would have to spend some time getting ready for his examinations.  Especially for maths which he was taking the day after we returned, and English grammar which was waiting for the next day.

And so to the surprise of the stewardesses, a boy sat next to the window seat, doing his maths sums from a classic brown-paper cover textbook.

Needless to say, this did not last the whole flight.

We had lunch after all - and again there were smiles from the man sitting next to me as we pulled out our steel tiffins and had lemon-rice and boiled eggs with masala chips along with it!

Turns out our fellow passenger is a rally-driver, off to compete in the "Raid de Himalaya" rally which runs from Shimla to Leh.  Naturally we devour every word of this and our plane touches down in Delhi with some of our rice still in our tiffins!

Since we are flying, and since we have an overnight bus to catch to Ludhiana, it means that we have some extra time on our hands... just enough to spend a wonderful afternoon with... Enoch's cousins!

 Who would not jump at the opporunity to be with the Delhi Eichers (pronounced like you do when you see the Eicher trucks - not like the Thane Eichers who stick with the 'rhymes with Hikers' pronounciation).

And when the oldest cousin is just about your age, and when you are picked up by Stefan Uncle at the airport and taken to Ashish's school to pick him up... well, our joy is just about complete!

But wait, Enoch has 3 cousins in Delhi.

Along with Ashish, there is the lovely Anjali too!

Over a delicious supper starring two kinds of pasta, we get to find out about the world according to Anjali.

It's a good world, all told.

But a world with now has another  younger member too!

Anita joined the party 3 years ago, and is a vocal member now.

We see our Delhi-rellys so rarely that every minute with them is precious.

Instead of chugging slowly across some part of Madhya Pradesh, here we were in Dwarka, with a whole afternoon of time together with these lovely folks.

Enoch of course was immediately off to play with Ashish.  Hockey down-stairs.  Then Lego computer games.  Then showing the Delhi-cousins a short How to Train your dragon film.  Then lego with Ashish on the floor.

Anita is now quite the builder, and while Stefan and Neeru and I talked, she and Stefan built large towers - which she also gleefully kicked over.

It was all so sudden and unexpected... but thoroughly enjoyed.

And so after a whole afternoon of fun, we were off on the metro to north Delhi where we were to be picked up by a sleeper bus and drive to Ludhiana through the night.

Mistake no. 1.   Take a bus sight unseen.  Though we booked 'on line' as usual, the reality was different from the beautiful image of a set of berths near the middle of the bus. A bit of arguing and we were put into roughly the middle of the bus.  Which then waited for another 1.5 hours before it was full of people and then juddered off into the night.

Mistake no. 2.  Take an air conditioned bus, without a blanket in sight.  We were chilled to the bone throughout the night - and had the air-con vent above us dripping cold water on us every now and then.  For a blanket, I got a thin towel out and my two good long-sleeved shirts.   Needless to say, neither father nor son got much sleep during that night, and my plans to work during the day and finish my presentation for the conference were also put on hold.

But once we hit Ludhiana - just as the first bit of dawn was pushing its way into the night - and were ably picked up by our dear Arpit Mathew (now a surgeon at CMC Ludhiana) - who took us to our lodgings at the KK hotel, just a hop, skip and a jump away from the CMC Ludhiana campus.

And once we were at the conference a whole another world emerged.
 

Amazing times of worship.  So many old friends to meet.  Tons of new folks to meet up too.

And for Enoch, the best of both worlds - a structured time for young people with all his mates - and plenty of play time in between with the same mates and more.

For the first day I still had to push through with getting my presentation done - and helping lead the prayer time on HIV during the first evening meeting.  The deep residual tiredness that I carried along with me from Thane was on display, but it gradually slipped away in the sheer energy of being with so many wonderful folks.

Our seminar track:  "Alternative Voices of Kingdom Witness" had a lovely set of folks sharing their worlds.  Johnny Oomen talked about working with tribal communities in Odisha, and had us in stitches as he shared his own life story wrapped around it.  Nathan Grills opened our eyes to the whole world of disability and helped us see how his own daughter Abby has reshaped his world. Saira Paulose and myself talked about the challenges of people living with HIV and how churches can reshape our country's response to AIDS.   SP Mathew helped us step into some of the many worlds he influences through his combination of being a physician, running a small hospital, home-schooling his kids and dabbling with environmental issues, working on ethics with fellow private practitioners.  Finally Vinod Shah gave us an overview of the way that Medical Missions in India had influenced nation building and society in so many ways over the years.  Whew, and wow!  It was exhilarating!

And that is to speak nothing about our main conference speakers!

With the theme being "My Life, My Work, for the King!" we were in for a treat.

Dr. Kuruvilla Varkey - the legendary physician who has served at the Christian Fellowship Hospital in Oddachataram for so many decades shared the devotional talks each evening.  Deeply meditative, using words sparingly, poetically, but deeply grounded in the years of personal devotional experience with his Lord, Dr. KV takes us into the very presence of Jesus.  "Come and see"   We are invited to experience the Lord, afresh, completely, transformatively.

Dr. Ajith Fernando shared the theme talks of the Conference.  His sharing was a marvellous exploration of what following our Lord means - using the book of Mark as his lens.   I was particularly taken by a part of the message where Ajith helped us understand that Jesus was both Lord and supreme, while at the same time being a complete servant.  We veer in either direction, but just as He is both God and man at the same time, our Lord is both Master and Servant.  And demands that we live with humble authority - and empty ourselves just as He did.




And then there were the tea times and the meals to talk and catch up and find out the amazing things that the 500 odd folks who were there are doing all over India (and a few from Nepal and Sri Lanka too).  Of course, I didn't come even close to meeting everyone... but suffice it to say that my Dad's genes seem to be passed on pretty efficiently when it comes to being energised by meeting folks!

Enoch, in the meantime was a busy fellow.  The 'Beyond Barriers' team did a super job with the 60 + kids and teens - and then in the free times Enoch had his gang of boys to play football and other games (including one modelled on American football).  After parting at breakfast in the morning I would see him in glimpses till he accompanied me to the worship and devotions in the evening.

We had, of course, the small matter of us upcoming exams.  But this was squeezed in with maths and English grammar lessons done before breakfast and in the evenings.

The upshot was that when we finally were back at the hotel room, this is how Enoch looked when talking to Sheba and Asha in far-away Thane:


All good things come to an end.  Before we knew it, we were packing on the final morning to head back to Thane.  Sheba asked me more than once to check and make sure our tickets were in order.   Which they were.  Our original tickets had not moved a single place in the month-and-a-half since we booked them.  They were still waiting list 3 and 4.   We didn't want to take the risk.  And so thanks to Renata in Thane, we booked tatkal tickets on a slightly quicker train which left at a slightly later time in the morning.  

Sadly we had to miss the last bit of the conference and left during the Sunday worship service, just as Dr. Vinod Shah who was preaching touched on the marvellous unconditional love of God.




In our hearts, we just did not want to leave.  So many wonderful folks.  So much to learn and know.  But the return back to Mumbai-land has to be done.

And so Enoch and I started our long train trip back to Mumbai - with the train leaving Ludhiana station at 11 AM and us walking in the door of our Thane home at 3 PM the next day.

This was an educational trip - with Enoch and I going through his maths problems and English grammar - while crunching various packets of spicy crispy things - and catching up on a weeks worth of news in the papers.

How much we wished Sheba and Asha could have been with us.  And how grateful we are to them for letting us go on this excellent adventure.