Saturday, 12 August 2017

A year after Dad died

It's been a year.  It's been a life-time.

Dad died yesterday.  Dad died a year ago.  13th August 2016.  Home-going.

Dad and Stefan go for a walk in the monsoonal mists on the afternoon that Stefan left Mussoorie last year.
Stefan spent a blessed 10 days with Dad and Mum.   Dad's condition deteriorated the next day.
There is a Dad-shaped hole in my life.  And there should be.  He was a force of blessing.

This week I went to Jhansi and met some senior mission leaders.  Inevitably I was introduced as "Ray Eicher's son".  The main leader sat with me for lunch and told me how Dad had spoken to a group of young men many years ago - one of whom was him.

The story repeats itself over and over.  Dad did not have many degrees.  He wrote no books.  His bank account was always almost empty (mainly from his and Mum's quiet generosity to countless families).  But he was rich in friends.  He was rich in faith and in sharing his joy in Jesus.

A tear is slowly making its way down my face as I write this.

I am so grateful to have been born to such a man as this.  A man who did not fit many moulds, but chose to allow himself to be shaped by the loving potter's hands.

Dad was adopted by a missionary couple working in rural Maharasthra.  His father was a good man - but very much a man of his time.  My grandfather was not very affectionate, and his adopted son yearned for expressions of love.

Instead of being bitter, Dad become better.  With God's help he smothered us kids with love.  His hugs remain warm in my memory.  And in the memory of many others who experienced his embrace.

Dad and Mum and a less than 1 year old me at Nargaon - where my Grandparents were serving in 1969.


As a father, Dad was a learner.  He and Mum sought help from others about how to raise us.  They read.  The Bible was their base, but they also looked around for practical helps to guide their parenting.  And then they put what they learned into practice.  We were the products of their love.

I am glad Dad took the pains to discipline me.  I use the word pains because it pained him.  He would take me to a private place and then talk with me.  We went over where I had crossed the line.  I never remember a time when he accused me of doing something that I had not done.  The talk was usually more a trial for me than the short sharp sting that served as a reminder of the gravity of wrong-doing. And then Dad's hugs and prayers.

Dad with Stefan and me in on a Spaziergang in Germany - 1973
Ours was on open home.  Living in a what was a kind of commune with a common purse it was not easy to draw the lines about where our 'small family' was and where the 'big family' began.  But draw boundaries Dad did.  Most of our meals were with others - usually a guest or four - or a person going through a rough time (we kids did not know the back stories).  But Dad staked out a time for us that was sacred.  The evening book reading and Bible time.  Every evening he would read to us.  Reading opened us up to exciting worlds.  And we have the security of lying together on Mum and Dad's low bed, hidden away from others in their tiny bedroom in Nana Chowk.  No one else.  Just Dad and us as the family.   Likewise Sunday afternoons for games - and an annual holiday (usually to Kodaikanal).

I later found out that Dad would go to his office on many a night after those evening times with us as kids.  His love for us came at a price.  All true love does.

Mum, myself, Stefan, Premi and Dad.  Plus our first two pets - Snowy and Tiger.  
Good times as we moved to our childhood home of 'Elim' in Nana Chowk late 1975

As the years have gone by, I found myself bench-marking my life with where Dad had been at that point in his.   It was always sobering.   Handing over a national leadership position - at the age of 46 - so that younger people can have a chance.   Taking in a whole new set of foster children - after Stefan, Premi and myself had left the home.   Standing by Mum through the challenges of depression and recovery.  Always being ready to minister to people.  Always being ready to look at the positive side of things.  Always being ready to forgive.   Dad lived out the Bible.  Sometimes uncomfortably for a person like me who wanted a more 'normal' father - but in hindsight, Dad was spot on.  Not easy to 'live up' to a life like that - but by God's grace I don't have to.  Dad's example was a pointer not a blue-print.  And he spent plenty of time helping unpack his own life-lessons - ones that I inevitably find myself telling others about.  A rich legacy.

25 years ago - the Eichers celebrate Mum and Dad's 25th wedding anniversary in Upland, Indiana on the 23rd of Dec 1992.  We had hoped to celebrate their 50th this year - but that was not to be.








And then we have the final months of a life well lived.  Time since March 2015 was a blur.  From Dr. Stephen looking at Dad's MRI and telling us to get Dad to Thane immediately - while also informing us that 'this is the disease that will probably kill your father' - to the last days of Dad's life in the monsoonal green of Lalitpur - each moment that we were able to spend together was a miracle - a hyper-real opportunity to be.

Dad suffered much.  A lot in silence at night.  He was old-school about pain and spoke of it only when it was fairly unbearable.  Many a night in Mussoorie he sat in his chair (the most comfortable position for him) and prayed.

Dad's approach to God was always on the practical and experiential side of the spectrum.   Not for him weighty theological debates (though he had his own fairly eclectic views).  But rather the practice of the presence of God.  Lived out by love in action.  Lived out by reading the word and meditating on its simple truths.  Lived out by putting into place whatever the latest joy Dad had to share with all and sundry.

Forgiveness was a key word in the last few years as Mum and Dad helped scores of people deal with past bitternesses.  Letting Jesus help people forgive others was essential to giving release.

Dad put this into action just before he died.  The actions of a certain set of people had hurt him deeply - and in a time when he was hardly able to speak, Dad brought us together and with our help, spoke out his own sadness of not having forgiven them.  He then prayed a prayer of forgiveness and release - and was blessed with another portion of the peace that He enjoyed in such turbulent times over the course of his 75 years on this dear broken planet of ours.

Dad with his beloved Bible - sitting on his chair in Mum and Dad's bedroom in Shanti Kunj, Mussoorie
In the days just before we were able to shift him to Lalitpur, it would take Dad a painful 20+ minutes
to ease himself from his bed to his chair - a distance of 2 meters.












Did we pray for Dad to be healed of his cancer?  Of course we did.  During surgery.  During chemo. During palliation.  After all, we are asked to come to our heavenly Father as dearly loved children.

Am I disappointed that the 'miracle' did not take place?  No.  Not really.  I have seen enough death to know it well.  Dad lived his life to the fullest.  There is not a trace of regret in my heart that Dad had left something undone.  All that he had to say, he said.  All he had to love, he loved.  A life lived for God.  No regrets.

Dad left this world a year ago.  He was translated and is in paradise.  One day he will be resurrected. Flesh of his own flesh in new and wonderful way.  We have much to look forward to.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Reading the Book

I love reading the Indian Express.  Here in Laltipur, it comes a day late.  So I read yesterday’s paper which reports on events of the day before. 

But it’s not for the up-to-date log on what our dark world is churning through that I read the paper.  The Express has voices.  The op-eds curate a variety of viewpoints (including talking heads from the current regime) – and there are lovely summaries where basic data about how our nation is presented, analysed and explained.  And then to top it off there is a page each day that reprints 2-3 articles from the Economist.  (No, I have not been paid by Indian Express to put this blurb up – but any cash sent this way will be accepted gratefully).

On the 15th of July Ramesh Venkatraman wrote a thought-stirring piece Let’s talk about the Book which looked at the European Reformation and gently suggested that something similar take place for Islam.  It’s been raining here in Lalitpur and so after a few paper-less days, today two arrived and I got to take a dekko at Javed Anand’s response to this (Islam’s reform: Way to goIE 19.7.2017).

Javaid Anand zeros in this passage as the fulcrum of what he wants to say: 

Venkataraman quotes the philosopher Anthony Appiah as saying that the reform of Christianity 500 years ago was greatly facilitated by the fact that on encountering morally ambigious, contradictory or problematic passages, ordinary Christians who started reading the Bible for themselves decided on “which passages to read into and which to read past.” 

Simply stated, the reformists chose to ‘cherry pick’ from among the passages of the Bible, embracing what was appealing, skirting around what seemed appalling.”

I am not at this point going to address the main purpose of Javaid Anand’s article – but would rather step back and suggest humbly that my three friends Venkataraman, Appiah and Anand have got the issue of Bible-reading in the European Reformation half right and totally wrong.

Yes, common people reading the Bible was *the* seismic shift that brought about reform to the Christian church (reform which is still needed at so many levels).   Luther’s genius was to translate the Bible into the language of the people (German in this case) and combined with the spanking-new technology of the movable metal-type printing press, whole Bibles, portions of the Bible, sermons, tracts, bromides, letters and counter-letters started swirling around Europe.  One obvious fruit of this was the press which 500 years later I hold in my hand in the form of my beloved Indian Express and which allows me to have a (at least one-sided) conversation with Venkataraman, Appiah and Anand et al

A strong case can be made that Bible translation was thebiggest reason for the shift to a post-colonial world.  Wherever Bibles were translated, local people got presses in their own language (Bengali, Hausa, Bantu, Tamil) – and not the languages of power (Persian/Urdu, English, French).  Local communities learned to read, schools sprung up, local newspapers began being printed.  No wonder the British authorities in India spent umpteen efforts to suppress the ‘vernacular press.’

But this is not my point of departure from Mr. Javaid Anand’s take on events in Europe 500 years ago.  More than the technology of getting information out, I believe it was the actual process of reading the Bible together as Scripture, of meditating on it, debating it, applying it.  Of wrestling with the disparity between what is written and what a common life is like.  Of sharing and discovering in community which brought substantial changes to how we see the world.

Javaid Anand has picked up on what he calls “cherry picking” – looking for what is good and disposing of the rest.  The problem with that is:  what if someone else choses different cherries?  How do you know what is true?   A generation ago tonsils and appendices were removed willy-nilly as early surgery under anaesthesia gave the opportunity to ‘remove vestigial organs’ before the became inflamed later and caused you problems.   Well, we are still just discovering the myriad complexities of each organ.

If you have the write to pick and choose whatever strikes your fancy, then how can you be sure of anything?  There has to be a basic belief that the Bible is actually revealed truth for it to make any sense.   There have been cherry-pickers in the past – Thomas Jefferson comes to mind.  His view of God was one of a ‘Supreme Being’ who has left humanity long ago to our own devices.  The idea of the Supreme Being having anything to do with us in the here-and-now was embarrassing to Jefferson and so he published his own new-and-improved version of the Bible.  Every ‘miraculous’ event neatly cut out.  Vestigial organs for Mr. Jeff it seems.  Unsurprisingly there have been not many takers for his ‘cherry-picked’ version of Christian hope.

What makes the Bible so compelling to so many and why does it continue to be translated into various un-scripted languages around the globe?   Why do so many of its principles find their way into the broad spectrum of human excellence?  Why do different generations encounter it and come away changed?

One of the keys is in the process of belief and discovery in community.   You have to believe that something is true for it to have any authority and meaning in your life.  And yet, so many things seem so confusing that to find truth we are blessed when others are there along with us.  Joint discovery and mutual learning allow us to change.  Europe 500 years ago underwent a seismic shift when the Bible began to be read by the people.  Some of the outcomes were pretty ugly, but so much of what we treasure today as good and true flowed from these various streams of faith communities who were discovering and applying the Bible into their lives in vibrant ways.

Reading is a precious gift.  Deep reading, like in the ‘olden days’ seems to be evaporating.  Our house is full of books, but sadly, I seem to read so little these days.  PhilipYancey feels the same way.
But in my last trip up to Shanti Kunj I picked up a little gem.  “A New Motive for Living”  is the story of Venkateswara Thyaharaj whose grandfather Subbaiyar had been the dhikshitar (spiritual teacher) of the Maharaja of Travancore.   I am purposefully working through this gentle saint’s life and have been touched with many of his deep insights.

Here is Thyaharaj’s take on the Bible:

God has always had a wonderful plan for his world and not least for this land of ours.  To fulfill it he recruits, not demigods and astral beings but people like you and me… In the Bible.. God recruits men and women with nothing to boast of but his mercy and the change it is making in their proud hearts. 
Again and again I returned to that treasured Book, to its frankness about men’s faults and yet its disclosure of God’s amazing destiny in store for those who turn to Him.  How, I asked myself, in today’s darkening world can we fitly respond to God’s disclosure of his purposes for mankind?

How indeed?  How in deed? 

This is our life story – and one that continues to live out the beauty, and at times messy grappling with divine love and human perfidity, with the mist of so much of what happens around us and yet the piercing clarity of having our own beings revealed in the light of revelation. 


Sheba and I continue to read the Bible and be read by it.  We invite you to join us on this journey of discovery, as we join others in different places and times who are living in the light of the Book. 


a Bible study at our Lalitpur home last year

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Our supreme need

This week is a turning point for us.  Three of our dear friends, three amazing colleagues have stepped out of the HBM hospital, and Sheba and myself find ourselves in the position of being the Medical Superintendent and the hospital leader respectively.

Mr. Biju Mathew - who has for the past decade poured his heart and strength into building up HBM Hospital is as its administrator and leader is taking a 3 year leave of absence from our parent organisation EHA... and helping out another struggling mission hospital in South India.   Dr. Tony and Dr. Asangla Bishwas have been asked to take up the challenge of serving with a larger medical team at Chhattarpur Christian Hospital, our sister concern 3 hours away from us in Madhya Pradesh.

Biju Mathew sharing at Dr. Tony and Dr. Asangla's farewell this weekend - we already bid Biju and his wife Anu farewell 2 months ago,  She and the kids are at the school she is teaching at, while Biju came back to help us work out the transition 
It has been very hard to say good-bye to our friends.  My eyes have been moist many a time over these last few weeks.  And my heart carries the grief of separation.

And so we are two.  Our kids are far away from us in Mussoorie and back in Mumbai. We are in a large empty house.  And currently we have empty homes for neighbours: Biju and Anu's now empty home is next to us and opposite that is the home till recently occupied by sis. Sujatha, our nursing superintendent who moved at the beginning of this month.

Our hospital is currently being run with two doctors.  Sheba is now serving as the med superintendent and Catherine has joined us after finishing her MBBS from CMC Vellore.  They are on call every other day.  Last night there was a man admitted in a very poor condition - semi-conscious - a tribal man whom the big government hospital opposite us had discharged late at night and told to go to a bigger hospital in Jhansi - 100 kms away from us.  Sheba admitted him and prayed and treated.  Amazingly he is still alive and has started talking again.  Another tiny preterm baby was born and Sheba supervised the bagging to keep the child alive in our nursery.  A woman came after a miscarriage and Sheba helped her by performing a DNC.  Today she had her diabetic clinic and the waiting hall had the health teaching posters which we developed earlier in the year.   Our days are packed and yet we are on a fine line, working in a hospital which has gone through some very deep financial waters, with no clear end in sight.  Can we keep going in this way?  Will other doctors join us and move things forward?  So many questions...


Over the past few days, I have been trying to come to grips with the intricacies of hospital management.  As I step into this role of the acting SAO (for how long?) I am taken aback at all the different things that Biju has been doing to keep this ship sailing forward.  As it is I am less than happy about how we are faring with our community work in the villages, and now this...  a feel like a huge wave of different regulatory compliances, income tax assessments, stock and cash verifications and other sundry tasks is going to break over me and wash me out to the deep blue...

And yet, we are so blessed.  Monday night we gathered for our weekly prayer time and were joined by trainees from our Community Lay-leaders Health Training Course - a 20 day residential session for the year-long course that equips grass-root level folks to reach out to their communities through health promotion and simple cures.  Amazing to see how God has helped us start this up here at HBM this year.  Today I went over and talked to 30 young people who will be interning with us this year as part of their practical social work experience from the Lalitpur Bible Seminary.  What potential each young life has.

The work remains massive.  So many possibilities - so many opportunities - so many challenges.  Over the last week there have been a number of times when I felt very, very overwhelmed.  The old hymn comes very much to mind:

We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day Thy grace to know

And yet in all of the turmoil, we do have hope.  We are being shaped into something else.  Not quite the way we expected it, and with so much more to go, but God is clearly at work.



We want to share with you, gentle reader, one of the many gems from Geraldine Taylor - a pioneering missionary to China (who married Dr. Howard Taylor - Hudson Taylor's son - and wrote the classic book Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret).  While speaking in 1901 in New Orleans, Geraldine Taylor said this which speaks directly into our hearts these days:

"At a time of conference, we cannot but realize afresh the greatness to which God has called us. We know not fully the purpose of God in calling us together, we know not what the outcome may be, but to some extent we realize the solemnity of the occasion.

Before us the great map of the world lying in darkness, above us the opened heavens and Him who sits on the throne saying: "All power is given to me.... go ye therefore."

Too often in seeking for help we forget the source of power. 'Power belongeth unto God.'  Too often we are taken up with people and with work, with calls made upon us, with what we can do and what we cannot do, with our plans and projects and so on, to the exclusion of Him alone, who is the great Worker.

Oh, this morning let us sweep all this away and come to God, face to face with God only, realizing that the place whereon we stand is holy ground.  This is our supreme need, not money, friends, openings, sympathy, enthusiasm, good meetings, a going concern; but Himself, the living God, the Fountain of all fullness.

Would that the Holy Spirit now, in this quiet hour, might take full possession of our hearts, showing us afresh our great need, showing us afresh our great God."

From the remarkable book: Mrs. Howard Taylor: Her Web of Time  p. 177

Monsoon clouds over the Thyle Residence - of which the second phase (2 more flats to add to the 6 we dedicated in Feb this year) is being built in the midst of the deep uncertainties our hospital is going through. God is so good, He's so good to us!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Woodstock meri jaan


I have been blessed with several Alma Maters - but the one which shaped me the most was Woodstock School up in Mussoorie.

Today marks 30 years since the 54 of us from the class of 87 walked across the stage at Parker Hall to collect our degrees.  After filing out of the hall we stood in a line and shook hands and were  hugged by our parents, friends and teachers (not mutually exclusive sets).  Most of us had tears in our eyes - and the post-grad line was called the 'wailing wall' in our time.

30 years.  Time certainly flies.

And time also stands still.  I am so very grateful that my parents decided to send me up north in 1985 after I had finished my 10th at the Deutsche Schule Bombay.  Switching back to English was a joy - and the two years at Woodstock were an opening up for me - for which I am very grateful.

As heavy drops of rain fall into the darkness outside our home here on the HBM hospital Lalitpur, 30 years later, a few words looking back.

Our teachers were out of this world.  Each class I took in 11th and 12th grade was very much college level.  Problems of the Modern World with Ranjit Das.  Modern Myth with David Weidman (main text book: Lord of the Rings), Advanced Bio 2 with Max Dass (we memorized the 10 essential amino acids), European Novel with Kathy Hoffman (Darkness at Noon by Koestler stands out), German with Cherry Gough (Romulus the Great)...  the list goes on.  Our teachers poured themselves into us.  As did the dorm parents (the amazing Criders looked after us unruly lads at Hostel).  And then there were dramas and concerts, weekend hikes and the bazaar on Saturdays, the charms of Cozy Corner as we entered our Senior year and cinnamon buns thrown up to us on the balcony of the Quad art room on lazy Tuesday last periods...

A look at our year book (the first colour pages as far as I know were introduced by us in our 'double vision' themed 1987 Whispering Pine) shows one of the finest of men - Adam Azor-Smith - French teacher and life-traveller - who 'chaperoned' Anand Sinha, Steve Satow and myself on our memorable Senior year activity week to Ranthambhor National Park in Rajasthan.

 And then is the amazing experience of being brought into community.  I joined in 11th standard with about 3-4 other 'new kids' (Danny Watters, Irene Winkler come to mind).  Some of my classmates had been together since primary school.  And yet we were welcomed and made part of the bigger picture. I shared rooms over the 4 semesters with a Bangladeshi who grew up in Abu Dhabi, a Bombay-boy whose father owned an iconic hotel in SoBo, a Punjabi whose Dad worked with a large govt Engineering co, a Thai, an American mish-kid, and an England-returned Bihari.

Beyond these room-mates was a further smorgasbrod of nationalities and cultures - into which we plunged ourselves and learned to the precious gift of mutual joy through the beautiful (and some times tear-streaked) experience of building friendships.  Late night maggi noodles, long conversations with the lights out, small study groups slogging on our Bio, post-play sleep-overs, the seemingly interminable slog up the hill to school - a new world for me.  Early in my first semester I realised that I was trying to keep people out - trying to push through on my own strength.  I had a picture of myself as a miserable little prince walled in with concentric circles of barriers.  I realised that allowing others into my life was not a sign of weakness...



Thirdly, I am grateful for Woodstock for allowing me to grow in faith.  Woodstock School in the late 1980s was intentionally Christian with many staff being earnest Christians.  Most students, however, were not followers of Christ - with various religious and irreligious beliefs and practices lived out by my friends.  With no Mummy and Daddy to say 'do this' and 'do that' - it was a time of discovering and living out my faith in a new way.   Having a small sub-group of friends who were also exploring what it meant to know Jesus was mutually helpful.  My first 'church' was a group of earnest guitar-strumming fellow students who met every Sunday afternoon in Bothwell Bank (a long trek far, far up the hill) for Bible Club.  "BC" was the object of much gentle derision (some of it well-deserved) but having to step out and identify who I was and be intentional about Jesus was a huge step forward for me.  It helped to have others to worship and pray with - as it does today 30 years later.  Some of the songs still echo in my mind (sing that sweet, sweet song of salvation...).

And I have not even touched upon mentors like the Satow family who adopted me, and the Hamiltons, and, and....

30 years ago today those two years of my life ended at graduation - and the seeds sown and relationships nurtured have entwined in our lives to give much so flavour and zest over the decades.

Woodstock is an essential part of the at times almost comically complex person I am - Woodstock meri jaan. 

Friday, 16 June 2017

From the mountains to the sea


As we start this post a few words that may seem almost an apology:

Life is not as perfect for the Eicher pariwar  as these pictures may give the impression.  We have lots of grit and regret and stains that do not seem to get reflected much on this blog.  The many weeks of silence will probably point to some of that.  Will we write about it?  Perhaps - when time and tide allow - and the Spirit gives utterance...

In the mean-time, we want to acknowledge the healing virtues of vacation.  The Bible says that in repentance and rest is your salvation.  And here share some of the this journey are some pictures of our life together as a family ... A kind of photo-album of small snippets of beauty that are woven into our lives, which we wish to acknowledge with thankfulness.

A week ago, this is where we were:









Sheba with Tamana - looking down the hill from Flag Hill in Mussoorie.  We were on a day-hike with Mum and Narendra, Pramila and Tamana.   A beautiful sunny day nestled in the midst of clouds and mist - a gift for us plain dwellers to see sights like this.

And walk down paths that seemed like the central aisles of tree canopied cathedrals...


But this vacation took us to another places as well.

From the mountains to the valleys, hear our praises, rise to thee...

This year we are squeezing in a trip to coastal Andhra Pradesh as Daisy and Ramesh and their lovely kids Frankie and Shofar are in India after 2 years...

So it was good-bye to Oma Eicher - for a few weeks at least - since Asha and Enoch need to report back to boarding school in Mussoorie on the 28th of this month.


And on to a marathon cross country train trip.   We started with a rather trying drive down the hill - a huge traffic jam met us near the bottom with SUVs galore jostling through the narrows - and more than one person with affluenza showing that they thought traffic rules don't count for them - and so further added to the jam of jams.

We were blessed to have given much time as a buffer and so we were comfortably in time for our super-swish train to Delhi that nudged out of Dehra Dun station at 5 PM sharp.

Our Delhi sojourn could almost be counted in humming-bird-wing-beats.  A late night dropping-in at Victor and Sarah's place - a few conversations - packing lemon rice for the journey ahead - some prayer and sleep that was almost in the single digits of minutes.  We came in darkness and left just before dawn - with our dear Joanna Grace along with us for the journey.

As soon as we were in the train bunks were set up and blessed, blissful sleep took over.


And that is pretty much what it was like for the next 36 hours as our train took us across the parched plains and badlands of the Deccan Plateau (passing by our blessed Lalitpur but not stopping as we wooshed by in mid-day slumber)...



And with the second day of our train trip (and third on our journey) seeing us enter the land of the Telegus - 

Here be clouds....

... and the blessed beauty of green thanks to what we hope-and-pray is a 'normal' monsoon



As we trundled into Amma and Appa's home in the village of Tungalam, just outside Vishakapatnam, we were so glad to come home again.  Home to one of our safe places.  To a place of quiet and rest. And a blessed down-pour the next morning:


-------------------------------------- x x x ---------------------------------------

And now a few words in praise of food.

It takes so long to make - and seems to disappear so quickly - but what a comfort a good meal is - especially when eaten with those we love.

My mid-riff is showing the evidence of much love (Asha and Enoch have given me a 8 kg loss challenge), but what can you say when your first morning is blessed with a meal like this:




It is a pleasure to be with Daisy and Ramesh - and catch up on their lives being lived out in far-away Arizona.  Amazed that Frankie is about to start as a freshman at ASU this fall - and that Shofar is turning 7 today (more on that in another post).   Time to talk and unwind.  We planned to visit others in the villages, but are just too tired, and to in need of down-time at this point to do that.  Hence we are happily ensconced at Jaba Villa and are doing the essentials of eating, sleeping, reading, talking, praying, eating some more (you get the picture).



Being near the sea, we are blessed with its fruits:



Which means some more serious noshing en familie


As said many a moon ago when Steve Satow and I spent a winter holiday visit to Anand Sinha's family in Patna: sometimes silence at the table is the ultimate complement to a good meal - as all the trenchermen (and women) are blissfully working away at their victuals.

-------------------------------------- x x x ---------------------------------------

And then there is the joy of being in a village.  Yes, Lalitpur is rather rural, but there is something about the good folk of  Andhra that makes you want to go out for walks.  

Colours seem more vivid here.  Buildings are painted with what seems a desire to explore the breadth of the palette.  The vegetable market is Kodachrome-worthy:



Local delicacies - plastic footwear - fish (dried and fresh) are all available to the discerning shopper at the weekly market held in the BHPV campus - a large government undertaking which makes 'heavy plates and vessels' (whatever those may be).



And well, when you are walking around in a market, the purse strings do beg to be opened.  Enoch decided to snack on some 'mini-samosas.'



On our way back we are confronted with the paradox of village life here:

A gold colour Gandhi statue - looking rather grim and a bit forlorn guards the entrance to the village. Next to him is a rather limp CITU flag - one of the communist trade unions from the government plant.  On our way in, a young man had chosen to lean against the pedestal of the 'father of the nation' while making a phone call on his mobile (or was he updating his facebook status?).

Behind Gandhiji the village pond.  Complete with ducks.  And a collection of temples and houses that continue to spring up in many-hued splendour under the grey early monsoonal skies.

Meanwhile, the dogs are asleep... and I have promises to keep.


Sunday, 11 June 2017

In a Mussoorie state of mind...

Many, many moons ago, Summers used to mean a magical trip from Bombay to Kodaikanal.

The long 3rd class train trip through the heat down to Madras Central station, then going over to Egmore station to catch the evening train (meter gauge) towards Madurai.   An early morning stop at Kodai road when we got into the bus for the 4+ hours drive up to Kodai.  Stopping at Batlagundu for bondas and coffee.  And finally the climb up the hills, with the wave after wave of beautiful breezes and the aroma of eucalyptus announcing that Kodai was close at hand...

In 1984 our parents decided that Woodstock School would be the place that they would apply for my last 2 years of school.  Providentially, the doors opened (financially and otherwise) and I spent an amazing 2 years at my beloved WS, and then had Mum and Dad and Premi move up here just before I graduated (Stefan had joined after my first year here).

With Mum and Dad shifting to Landour, and eventually being gifted an amazing cottage which Dad rebuilt as 'Shanti Kunj' and Mum filled with love, Mussoorie has become a second home.  More so with last year seeing both Asha and Enoch dive into their own boarding experience at Wynberg Allen School.  Boarding school has its own rhythms which means that as parents of boarders we are called up what seems pretty often.

Not that we are complaining.  After all, who can get tired of a view like this:

Straight out of the window from Shanti Kunj.

Stunning greenery.  Silence so heavy you can cut it with a knife.

The woods are a constant source of delight. Every where you look you see God's grandeur pixillated and multiplied in ever repeating patterns of beauty.

Even random shots capture what the heart hungers for...


And then there is the Mussoorie sky.  That strange deep blue so different from the haze you get down in the plains.

Most of the time clear, but when the clouds do come in...


But let us leave outward beauty and step into Shanti Kunj.

Every nook and corner has its own charm.  The various artifacts and mementos are bathed with love.   You hardly believe that you are living in it all when you are here - I always feel something like being in a dream whenever I walk through the door with its permanent 'welcome home' sign on it.


We are up in Mussoorie to pick up Enoch and Asha from boarding.  This was done happily.  Wynberg is steeped in tradition - each student had their own hymnbook and the day starts with an assembly where the hymns are sung lustily.

We were glad to find out that both Asha and Enoch ran in the 5 K run this month.  Enoch certainly has enough practice it seems - each day he does 7 K with the other boys in his hostel.  Compulsory. But the actual 5 K run was not, so both Asha and Enoch have taken a small step in the legacy of their uncle Stefan who ran a pretty mean cross-country in his day.

What a joy to all be together around the table at Shanti Kunj - with our happy married newly-weds Manoj and Christina.

We missed their wedding - but all were in for a treat when Sheba cooked her fabulous coconut chicken curry.



Which we followed up with Oma's magnificent apricot cake, with ice cream and black coffee - eating off the floral plates from Oma's childhood.  Beauty continues over the years.





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Shanti Kunj is home to so many.  During Dad's time, we had a steady stream of family and friends coming by.  That has continued with Mum playing the happy host and super-mum to a constant crowd.

Yesterday we were joined by our dear brother Narendra Kumar and his lovely wife Pramila and their 10 year old daughter Tamana.

Breakfast this morning was vintage pancakes served hot and fresh off the electric heater - which we received from my grand-parents when they left India after retiring as missionaries.



With today being our last full day in Mussoorie (small tear), we decided we must do at least a small hike.  So we geared up this morning for a walk up Flag Hill.

After the mandatory shuffling about and cooking and packing and repacking and getting all 8 of us present and accounted for, we were ready for the great outdoors.

And so we were off on a beautifully sunny and cool day - so different from the stifling heat of Lalitpur or any of the great tandoori oven that most of North India is at this time (BBC said that a place in Pakistan registered 51 degrees this past week...).

The mighty Himalayan Cedar (Deodar) formed a glorious living cathedral for us as we walked down towards Fairy Glen and Jabbarkhet.


Glorious forests. Greens of every hue.

 You just keep looking in wonder all round you.  Is this real?  Am I alive?

The altitude does remind you of your mortal flesh-and-blood nature - as does the slight film of sweat that any good hike gives you.

And there is always the steady reality of the hills - that when you walk down, you will have to walk up again (and vice versa - every steep climb means a good run down sooner or later).

Here Pramila and Oma walk up the road towards the Flag Hill gap.

 Flag Hill is now a privately run nature sanctuary going by the name of Jabarkhet Nature Reserve.

It was a tiny bit odd to buy a ticket to do a hike which we had done so many times before for free - but we are happy to support conservation initiatives like this - ones that do not only preserve nature, but are also providing employment for local people.

The views continue to be stunning and there did seem to be just a tad more forest vegetation than what I remembered from previous years...


 Any hike worth it salt has to have food - and we had Narendra and Vikram to thank for our spread.  Still warm parathas and alu subji, dahi and cukes.  A feast fit for a king.


And what better place to polish off such nosh as under an oak tree - which post lunch became a nap-site as we lay down and read Jim Corbett's story about the man-eating tiger of Muktesar - a place where I had done my forestry field work in 1993.


A beautiful day.  A beautiful place.  Beautiful people.  

What a life.

Can't we keep living like this forever?  

Someday, maybe.  But there is a lot of work that our loving Master is calling us to do.  And so we reluctantly will be leaving the hillside tomorrow for plains, and work, and all that is in store for us.

Till then we will feast on our memories - and scenes like this:







Au reviour Mussoorie, you remain in our hearts and minds.