Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Orissa Burning

Once again, the email inboxes are bringing messages that we just do not want to hear.

The mobs are out in Orissa. A Christian woman was burned yesterday. A priest badly injured in the flames.

Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing!

CANA consultation

I am about to leave for Delhi on an evening flight.

I'll spend the night with Stefan and Neeru and Ashish and probably pop in at Victor and Sarah and Joanna's in the morning.

Then I get down to business. I get to share at a consultation that the Christian National AIDS Alliance has called to develop a curriculum for teaching about HIV issues and responses in seminaries across our country. We are expecting about 30 professors and teachers for 20 odd seminaries. Amazing.

It is really exciting to be part of this effort and to think of the great potential as young leaders are being groomed in these bible colleges and seminaries. Would that this programme will not just be another course to be completed as a quick formality, but a real opportunity for men and women of God to understand what can be done - and especially to provide visionary leadership to the local church to reach out and touch people with HIV - like our Lord Jesus did - and does!

Would that our experiences that we get from the privilege of sharing in the lives of people with HIV be translated into saving and caring for the lives of many across our country.... I wish we could be worked out of this job! There will come a day, of course...

Back to Thane courtesy GoAir tomorrow night.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Heaven on Earth

It all seems a bit of a dream now – but it really happened. We were together for 3 days in an urban retreat centre run by the Carmelite Fathers in Mira Road.

“We” means our JSK team and 45 of our dear friends – most of them HIV positive.

Which really made most of us HIV positive. Seeing that our JSK team also has members who are living with the disease.

And there were lots of kids too.

Theme of the whole time was "Blessed to be a Blessing."

It spoke to us all. We are being blessed - but for a purpose - not just to get out of the difficulties (or boredom) that we face - but for the benefit of others too.

John Forbes - who was our main facilitator - lead us through a series of explorations of God's word. And did God ever speak.

A small example. Jacob used a rock for a pillow. How often do we do that? Use something for our own comfort - which gives very little comfort in the first place? But after an encounter with God - he gives it back to God as a memorial to who God is. Can we do the same?

Sheba took a session on being useful vessels in God's hands. Powerful sharing.

Bro Oliver led us through the life of David.

And then there were times of personal ministry and prayer - focussed times of private sharing and intense prayer for healing inside and out!

During all of this, Seema and Lata worked hard at child-care - looking after all the kids so that the mothers could have time to reflect and be blessed.

And did they ever. There were games too - and time to just relax. We tried not to fill our time just with session after session.
Trevor and Hoofriz were on hand to lead us in some superb times of worship and adoration. We have been so blessed by their involvement with us over the years now!

An 'art attack' meant that everyone got creative - and came away with their own posters.

Giri and Akshay organised a series of hilarious games too.

The good folks at the Anubhav Retreat Centre served excellent food - and lots of it. There was not a hungry person in sight!

But most of all - it was precious to be together. Many of our friends face such broken situations. One man - a silent brooding type - who we have just made contact with - said "there is no discrimination here - everyone loves each other."

A small taste of heaven.

As we gathered round the table on the final day - we could only thank God for His goodness to us all.

There was a real presence of peace and joy throughout our time.

John urged us in his last session to bloom where we are planted - while always remaining in the vine. Without a direct link to Jesus we are doomed to dryness and unfruitfulness. But when we abide in Him and He in us --- then we can bear much fruit - fruit that lasts!

Mrs. Laila is a case in point. She shared about how when she goes to sell her dried fish in the bazaar - she prays for people she meets. The other day a young man told her to push off, since he was selling pants and did not want her nearby. She sweet talked him into letting her stay for some time. All the while she prayed for him. The next time she came he called out to her and told her to sell her dried fish near his place - the last time his business had been so good.

We are all blessed. So abudantly. And we all have so many opportunities to bless others. Lets keep doing it!

Monday, 18 August 2008


A well-known shopping chain in Mumbai (with a yellow and green logo) recently plastered its store with pictures of open garbage heaps full of plastic (something like the picture below).

"Lets Get Rid of Plastic" said the signs.

The irony of it all.

This is a store where every vegetable item is wrapped in plastic and then weighed and then the price sticker is stuck on it.

"Join us as we fight plastic" said the sign. And how do we join this noble cause? "We will not provide plastic bags for any purchase under Rs. 10."

How utterly laughable. I have never seen anyone come into the store and purchase something for so little. What could you? A packet of glucose biscuits? A roll of "poppins"? What I normally see are well-to-do folks pushing huge trolleys just brimming with products. The average customer pays in the 100s (sometimes in the 1000s), not the 10s, let alone under Rs. 10.

Another sign says "1 cloth bag = 1000 plastic bags". Problem is that cloth bags are not allowed in the store - you check them in with security at the entrance.

Its going to take more to take care of the good earth that God has given us - than making a few signs which signify nothing.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Rocket man

National hero time again! A year ago Enoch dressed up as Dr. Ambedkar. Who to dress him up this year? Sadly to say, the list of inspiring leaders we have is a very small one.

After some thought we finally came up with one - though he is not in office these days - the unbeatable Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Installed by the BJP government - my first impressions of Abdul Kalam were definitely coloured by the feelings about the party in power at the time.

But during his tenure as our President - the man changed the way we saw what a head of state can do. A bachelor with an amazing string of interests Kalam had a pedigree in science of being in charge of the rocket development programme for both the civilian and military sides of rocketry.

What really shook people up was his cheerful way of making the Presidency a place for reaching out to young people, for encouraging science and arts, for inviting school children to visit him. Most of our Presidents have been of the starched and distant mode - somewhat dignified but clearly at home at being a figure head of state. APJ decided to be different - and was booted out by the politicians who couldn't stand a person who thinks.

Though the provenance is dodgy - click here for a speech of his that has done the email rounds.

So there we have it - a man who was a leader - but who after confounding the folks who put him in the Presidency - was clearly too independent and real for the lot who followed - and so "the People's President" was not given the chance for a second term.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Musical art

Stefan and a bunch of others who love to sing and write music have just put in 3 days of intense work in song-writing.

Read more about it here or at http://artnet.in/

There is a lot of good stuff out there. Lets see what we can do to listen in some more.

All I have is a red guitar, three chords, and the truth
All I have is a red guitar, the rest is up to you!
- All Along the Watchtower - by Bob Dylan (personally heard through the lens of U2 on the Rattle and Hum album)

Positive Friends Retreat

Life - lived in fast-forward - has reached August 14th.

We head over to the other side of town for a 3 day retreat with our Positive Friends who have faith in Jesus. John Forbes has just arrived from the US to help lead us through this special time. We expect a turnout of about 60 all told!

Our theme this time is: Blessed to be a Blessing - how despite all the setbacks each one has faced - we have and are being blessed - and how that is not just for ourselves - but also for each one of us to touch others through.

We are doing this over the long-weekend that kicks off with our nation's 61st Independence day (15th August - also my brother Stefan's birthday!). Instead of only getting pity (which even that is is short supply) we would like to see people with HIV/AIDS - who are living through the challenges each day - we would like to see them bless the nation.

Deep breath. Over and out. See you on the other side of this retreat!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Steel ward bed

Stay by my steel ward bed
And hold me where I lie
Love me when I am dead
And do not let me die.
- Vikram Seth
The last part of a poem Seth wrote for a newly released compilation of writing on the stories of people with HIV in India called: AIDS Sutra

The poem brings to mind the first pictures I saw of people in our country who had AIDS. A stark set of black and white photos published in the (now defunct) Illustrated Weekly of India showing two gaunt wide-eyed women in an empty ward of a government hospital in Bombay. The year was 1986. The fear was palpable.

There are so many more stories to be told... not only the poignant and tragic - but the comical and mundane as well. Who will tell them - and more importantly - who will listen?

Into the depths

Our humble mobile phone has been through much abuse. But this past week took the cake.

The toilet seat needed fixing and so I bent over to see what could be done.

In a flash our mobile had taken a dive deep into the bowl. A yelp from me and a quick grab brought up the errant little pup. I tried a quick dry but the damage had been done.

Over the next 3 days I felt very much an orphan - not having access to others over the mobile (and having the office phone on the blink as well).

I did what I had done previously with wet electronica - laid the mobile in a cardboard box with a low intensity bulb in it. And prayed. Gary Larson drew a cartoon about "Appliance Healers" - showing guys with bouffants laying their hands on non-functioning mixie-grinders and vacuum cleaners. It may sound strange, but I talked to God about the little wet mobile.

The first time I tried it did crazy things. A few hours more in the hot-box, again not so fine. After 2 cycles of this the mobile seems to be back to its previous capacity (which was not so great in the first place).

Moral of the story - be careful when you lean over. Moral No. 2 - don't borrow our mobile - you know where it has been...

About 10 minutes after the dramatic dive of our mobile into the loo - Enoch called me and said "Daddy, Daddy, your plug is in the toilet!" I couldn't understand what he was saying and so took a look. Lo and behold, the pen drive had also followed the mobile in - and was lying submerged all this time.

Same treatment (along with the wet mobile). Same results - the pen drive seems none the worse from its submarine venture!

Monday, 11 August 2008


"Milkman - why is this milk so watery?"

"Ma'am, the buffaloes on hot days like to drink lots of water - which is why the milk is like that only."

Attending high-school in the foothills of the Himalayas, these old jokes did their rounds - especially when we would see the milk men bring their mules close to a certain spring on the way up to the Flag Hill gap.

Today we have a whole parallel industry in creating duplicates. The papers occassionally profile folks caught making 'synthetic milk' - white looking stuff which they seal in plastic bags and mix with real milk to more than double their profits.

With milk touching Rs. 22 per litre - there is a money to be... pardon the expression - milked.

How much of what we consume so freely is 'real' and how much duplicated? I am told that there is a factory in Bhandup that supplies the hotels in the Mulund area with whatever cold drink they want - Pepsi, Coke, Thums Up, Sprite - you name it - better than the real one - and a lot cheaper. The factory makes it to order. The boxes arrive and are consumed and no one - it seems - is the wiser.

On a very different - but perhaps linked note: we are being visited by Fred - a pastor from the US who is on a sabbatical and is touring the land to listen and learn. He said something fascinating - his take on Gen X (or Y or whatever) is that they abhor consumerism like anything - and cherish above all else authenticity and 'realness'. They want community and they want it now and it has to be uber cool and so real. But yet strangely enough the very concept of community is then turned into a commodity. And very few seem ready to put in the hard work it takes to make community.

I can't comment on the veracity of Fred's observation. It seems to have an intuitive goodness of fit to it, though. What I can say is that so often I want things to be real, perfect, excellent - but I want it to be so without my involvement - and for it to exist anytime I would like to access it. There are a suspicious number of "I"s present in all the above. Contrast that with John the Baptiser's statement: "I must decrease so that He may increase".

Love must be real.

I'll drink a cup of milk (real I hope) to that.

Sunday, 10 August 2008


Sheba was on the phone - talking with one of the great heroes of our day - Dr. Chering Tenzing who is battling it out at Nav Jivan Hospital. This was the hospital where Sheba joined me after we got married (almost 9 years ago now!) and which has multiple challenges including being in the area largely controlled by Maoist insurgents.

As the conversation was developing - we suddenly heard a tremendous racket from next door. Loud swearing of the most vulgar kind, what sounded like slaps, more shouting and banging. It clearly was not a tiff between husband and wife, but something more. Soon two people had come out of the neighbours flat and were shouting outside.

Sheba gave a quick update to Dr. Cherring who made this classic statement: "Wow, I am glad I am not living where you are - it sounds really dangerous."

Coming across the phone-lines, spoken from a place that is so steeped in violence - where the pistol is king and where having gone to jail is spoken of with pride - Chering's gave us pause for thought.

Where is our security actually? In our Sunday fellowship this morning we examined Psalm 91. The writer says that: He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. He then goes on to list out the ways that God protects and keeps his children.

Here's the rub. We can take tremendous comfort in knowing that God looks after us when we dwell with Him. But that doesn't mean that our lives will be 'safe' in the sense of being free from danger and suffering. A quick look at the life of Jesus shows that clearly. We are, however, to be free from fear. Free to enjoy life to its fullest - and live each day with confidence in our loving Father.

Multi-drug resistant TB? Bombs? Water-borne disease? Flooding and high winds? Patients with criminal links? (all real issues for us in our work and where we live) - we pray, and move forward. Safety is in being close to our Lord. His hand will hold ours no matter what happens. Period.

Olympic daze

A geo-political shift is taking place before our eyes.

The Olympics are 2 days old and China is clearly showing that the years of preparation for the show, the amazing amount of energy directed towards winning, the obsessive focus on excellence by the Chinese state has paid dividends (in terms of gold medals at least).

After so many years of seeing the US on the top of the heap in every Olympics I can remember - to have China take that place is something totally novel (for me at least).

Our own national team that India sent looked shabby and comical as they walked in. The ladies wore three different kinds of dresses. Here they are representing a billion folks from Bharat and they can't even co-ordinate what they will all wear on the day... To my untrained eye, it looked like there were more officials than athletes (and why we have officials walking in the parade with the sportsfolk who have sweated so hard to make it to the big stage is another mystery).

Anyway, the point is that China has arrived. If nothing else, the billions of dollars that they spent on the big show seems to have given the bang for the buck. Shock and awe all around.

Our own standing in the world continues to reflect our lady athletes confused dress sense - India is seen as bumbling and irrelevant - a sleeping giant that has its own million Lilliputian issues to deal with. A look at the papers seems to bear this out - most of our political parties are hell-bent on showing their greatness by making sure all signs are painted in the state language. Our streets are festooned with posters wishing 'Happy Birthday' to various assorted local politicians (many looking more thuggish by the day). Our streets reek with garbage and we step over it and try to think of other things.

Recently when a local paper dared to write a small satirical piece about a plan to spend an obscene amount of money to make a statue off the coast of Mumbai, showing the great warrior Maharaja Shivaji (and making sure that it is taller than the Statue of Liberty), party members of a certain party broke in and vandalised the house of the editor of the op-ed piece.

Meanwhile, for better or for worse, we have the spectacle of a proud and cash rich China - who as a nation seems determined to carve out a place for itself in the world.

Is the American century over? Nations rise and empires fall. My reading these days is of the prophecies made at the height of the Babylonian empire. Where are they today - those great monarchs of the past? And yet in their day it was unthinkable to think of any other power structure.

We live in fascinating times. Hats off to all my friends who are living in and loving China!

Friday, 8 August 2008

A new home, a new day

Satish, his mother and the two other children went to their new home yesterday.

We had heard that the keys to the shack were with Mrs. Langru's sister. Turns out that it wasn't true. Rahul and Akshaydeep had helped Mrs. Langru sift through the debris of her home and pick out some things from the collapsed lean-to she lived in on the pavement. They then took her and the belongings to the new place.

The rain poured. Poured. Kalwa is pretty low-lying. A large river suddenly appeared where the road should be. No rickshaws willing to go there. Both young men soaked. They eventually got back at 5 PM.

In the meantime - they went with the Mrs. Langru's sister to find a new home. The man who said he would rent out turned out to be a drunkard. Amazingly they managed to find one within walking distance of Mrs. Langru's sister.

The little family left for their new home at 6 PM. Today they set up in the new place - which Mrs. Langru's sister is supporting. The staff met the family at home - and were pleased to see that Mrs. Langru had worked at cleaning up the place.

Satish is still sick and needs daily - hourly care. At the centre he always wanted to eat - showing his severe malnourishment slowly ebbing away. Remarkably, we found one of our trained volunteer from a local church who said she would go every day to meet the family and help out. Every day.

God doesn't do things halfway. We really need to keep trusting Him.

Thursday, 7 August 2008


Pity our police.

Somehow, I cringe whenever I come close to one of the men in khakhi. It gets worse when I am on our scooter and I see a white-shirt traffic cop straddling his motor-bike with a book in his hand. But what I feel is besides the point.

Pity the men who serve in the police forces.

Yesterday two of them were lynched in Kashmir. By who? Who knows? First it is one religious community. Then another. Tit for tat. My agitation is more vicious than yours. The country can go to hell.

Pity the men who are called to magically bring law and order to bear. Pity their bamboo canes which seems the only instrument the mob listens too. A brutal beating is the way to clear the rabble. Provided there are enough men in khaki to back you up. Otherwise the old look-the-other way takes precedence. In so much of our land the policeman is alone. And ever more often than not - the rabble-rousers are men of influence, known men.

Pity the hands who hold the guns. When the lathis don't work - there are the occasional gun shots. We are not talking about the notorious 'encounter killings' here - where crack police forces keep 'gunning down' criminals who are not left alive to tell much of their stories. The score always seems heavily stacked in the favour of the police in those 'encounters.' No, we are talking of the garden variety policeman who has to shoot. The bullets inevitably seem to find someone.

And then the sickening glorification of the dead as 'martyrs' and 'victims'. Politicians of all stripes descend. Large sums of money are promised (sometimes even given) to the survivors. Cries of the family : Our son is a good son. He would never do something wrong...

Where does the mob come from then? Each pair of hands, each hate-twisted face is someone's 'good son'...

Pity our underchallenged, over-worked, often lack-luster police force. We are not surpised to know that HIV is a major issue for the Thane and Mumbai police. The easy money that is available from bribes and the high pressures of the job mean that alcohol is many a cop's seeming best friend. Multiple sexual partnerships follow on. HIV doesn't look at who it infects - where there is sexual networking - you can expect HIV to show up sooner or later.

Pity our police. Pray for them. Be a true friend to our men in khaki.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Beauty in small things

Far away from the great grimy city of Mumbai (and its slightly less grimy satellites like Thane) lies a gem of a home - perched out on a cliff - overlooking the Dehra Dun valley.

Shanti Kunj is not only a welcome place for weary souls - Mum and Dad see to it that every person who enters the door is welcomed heartily - and fed well too! That Alcove of Peace also abounds in small beauties. Tucked into every nook and cranny.

At a time when all around us we see so much despair - it is good to remember that God engineers beauty as small scales too.

Each flower is a miracle. The way that these temporary blossoms burst into colour for their short lives defies logic. More so the joy for Mum, who after caring for her cactuses for years came back from a holiday once to find the lower flat a riot of hues - the dear prickly things had actually bloomed. Since then she has been an expert at coaxing out flowers from all things prickly.

Besides the ubiquitous books, there is also plenty of room at Shanti Kunj for things historical. A few of the artifacts from my grandfather Elmore and grandmother Alice still float around. A prize possession is a portable spinning wheel - complete with some cotton fibres and what looks like the beginning of a thread of khadi.

I always remember Opa Eicher (to me that is) as a bit of a stern man. It seems fitting, therefore, that one of the lamps has a wooden carving of a bull fiercely guarding the stem of the lamp.

Shanti Kunj has a strong bias towards wood. If Mum gets her hands on some wooden item, sooner rather than later it is stripped of whatever paint it had and a coat of varnish applied. The place fairly glows with wood (we pray no fires will take place of course)

But perhaps the greatest beauty on a small scale takes place in that temporary canvas of the table.

A great meal is made more of the love that is shown rather than the taste of whatever morsels on offer. Love is present in buckets through Mum and Dad and the other members of the Shanti Kunj family (we are thrilled that Premi is there now). What better place to see love made visible than in the way food is presented.

Thus ends our mini-tour of the small-scale beauty we have tasted (many times literally) at Shanti Kunj. A home is always far, far more than a house - and this home has been a beacon of hope and a haven of rest for many.

Long live beauty. In big and small ways.

A home for Satish

We plan to discharge Satish from the JSK care centre tomorrow. 15 days after he came in weighing 7.5 kgs as a 3 year old bag of bones.

A lot of loving care has gone into this dear little boy. A lot of loving care has been given to his mother and younger sister and older brother too.

Just 24 hours ago it seemed quite hopeless - his mother living in a fantasy world about what will happen next - but nothing really in store.

Yesterday our staff took her to look for housing. They walked up and down and looked at scores of places - and came back with nothing.

Then in the afternoon her sister came to visit. The first time a relative has come. Our staff talked with them and her sister agreed to look after Mrs. Langru. She said that there was a 'room' near her house and that she would pay the Rs. 1000 deposit and also pay the rent of Rs. 400 per month. It all sounded too good to be true.

The sister went ahead and paid the deposit. The keys are due tonight. Tomorrow the family goes there.

Our staff took Mrs. Langru to see the new place this morning. It is no heaven. The floor is packed earth - the walls are shanty-town plastic. But it is better than where they were. Mrs. Langru was sad tonight. The reality of the next step has sunk in. Satish is still sick - and needs constant attention if he is to survive. She will not be able to work for the near future at least.

While the story is far from over yet, we see such a massive change in just a 2 day period. Many prayers have been said for this little family. We are grateful for the hard work that our staff have given - both in the field and in the centre. The next steps are just as challenging.
Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father's wise bestowment,
I've no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Back on the street?

Satish - dear friends - is so very much better than before. His 'death skull' has almost dissappeared. He is eating. He sits up. He watched a video this evening.

His mother - however - remains trapped in misery. Her poverty is not just the destitution she is in - but a barrenness of the mind. Mrs. Langru insists that she can care for the 3 children - and that she knows what she is doing. Asked about her plans, she is vague.

Reality is this: Mrs. Langru believes her lover will care for her. She has convinced herself that he will swoop down and take her and look after her kids too. The fact that she has not seen the man in 3 months is beside the point. The fact that he is already married and with children is ignored - she feels he will leave his wife and care for her and her kids - picking them off the roadside and taking them to a better place. The fact that her son was within an inch of death just 2 weeks ago - under her 'care' - seems lost to her. The reality of the perilous situation she faces is to her just a mirage. Her roadside shack a ruin and the local people saying she cannot rebuild - Her face is hard and set.

We are now nearing the end of Mrs Langru's stay at the centre. Satish has survived. Its a sheer miracle. His mother doesn't seem to understand this.

In the next few days Satish and his mother and the two other kids who have been camping out at the centre will need to leave. The little boy who was no more than a feeble skeleton is back in the land of the living. But without the cooperation of his mother - the family will be back on the street.

At Jeevan Sahara, we are trying to contact Mrs Langru's relatives. Its tough going. All parties seem least interested in each other. We must persevere and try all we can though. Satish's life depends on it.

We just got the sad news that another small child with HIV died. Her mother had taken her - against our advice - and had gone to her native village in Yavatmal District. Someone from there came to Thane and told the neighbours. Mrs Langru seems to be moving on this track too. Hard heart - set on doing her own thing - come hell or high water.

Deep breath.

Lord have mercy upon us all. Its the very same for you and me. Our utter ingratitude for all that loving Father had done for us. Time and time again.

This, if at any time, is the time to love Mrs Langru - and try everything possible to help her see the light. For Satish's sake. For her own. For the love that our sweet Lord gives us while we are His enemies.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Daniel Award application deadline extension

This just in: for any one out there interested in submitting an application for the Daniel Award, the good folks who are organising this academic fellowship have extended the application deadline for another 10 days. The final date is now fixed on or before the 14th of August 2008.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Hyper space

The web is an amazing place. One evening our good friend Philip B can be spending a lovely time with Stefan and Neeru and Ashish - his trusty camera on hand - Phil can take a shot of the family can be taken at a night bazaar in Delhi.

The next day the photo makes its way over to us here in Thane. We ooh and aah at how big Ashish looks and how great his parents look too.

And that evening its put up on our little on-line diary. Where are you looking at this image we wonder?