Saturday, 27 February 2010

Dressed to the nines - part 2

Since I just posted a shot of Enoch in his threads - I realised that we don't have a pic of Asha in her recent finery. So here is a pic from last week when Asha performed a "Bihu dance" from Assam as part of her school's annual day.

Dressed to the nines

Who says the Eichers don't know how to dress up?

Enoch was called to be one of the narrators for the "Cinderalla" story that his class performed in their annual day yesterday.

Here are the threads he wore (thankfully borrowed from a friend of a friend). Enjoy.

Higher authority

Mr. Shrishti washes cars. He is married and has a child - with another one on the way.

Mr. Shrishti and his wife are both HIV positive.

Over the past few months he has been through hell - since the police were after his brother in a murder case.

We talked to him about this and prayed with Mr. Shrishti. He then took a very courageous decision and went to the police. They said that he should produce his brother - and they would stop harassing him.

It seemed an end game to us.

But Mr. Shrishti called up his brother and told him to come. His brother did not want to. We feel that he has had experience with the police before. It is an open secret that most undertrials are beaten - in the name of interrogation - at the local police station before they are taken to the jail. The fear of this is enough to keep most people far away from the men in khakhi uniforms.

Mr. Shrishti told his brother that he had talked to a high authority - who had assured him that his brother would not be beaten. His brother asked who it was - and gave the names of various police officers he knew about. Mr. Shrishti told him that he would not tell him who - but that he should come.

Last week Mr. Shrishthi's brother came to Thane - and Mr. Shrishti took him to the police.

The brother was put straight in jail - instead of being sent back to the police station for questioning as the local police had requested. This was a total miracle.

Later Mr. Shrishti went to meet his brother in jail. He then told him the name of the authority he had consulted and who had told him that his brother would not be beaten: Jesus Christ.

Friday, 26 February 2010

The case of the identical principal

Class photos are great. You are frozen in time. Immortalised to an extent.

Years later your expression (sometimes a stricken one - sometimes a jolly one) looks out at you. What were you thinking on that day? Who is that boy beside you? And what about Mrs. xxx... what a good teacher she was...

We recently got Asha and Enoch's class photos. Smiles all around. But then we noticed something strange. The headmistress - clad in her maroon sari - is in the exact same pose in both pics. Along with her - another senior teacher in a green punjabi is also exactly the same in Asha and Enoch's class snaps.

A small bit of detective work - and the truth emerges. Ghosts don't leave shadows. The two identical ladies - don't have a 'reflection' of their colourful attire on the floor below the chair. The two worthies were not in the original shots - empty chairs were left for them - and they were later 'photo-shopped' in.

When you think of the mathematics of it all - there is a case to be made for the empty chairs. Our children are part of a school which has 11 sections in each year. Each class has 50 students. 550 are in standard 1 (Enoch's year) and another 550 odd in Asha's 3rd standard. If the principal wants to be in all the shots - she will have to show up in at least 44 different photography sessions. Think of the pain of waiting for tiny tots to line up 44 different times. No wonder she opted to be 'photo-shopped' in.


What does that do to the idea of a photo as a record of an experience?

What next? Kids that were sick that day - should they be photo-shopped in? Kids whose birthday was on the picture taking day - should we have their 'colour dress' exchanged for a uniform? How about kids who weren't smiling having a nice smile pasted on. In fact - why bother with the whole exercise of a class photo at all? Our little ones all have an ID card - just take those mug-shots and put them together in a collage! Maybe we can throw in an exotic back-drop - say the Taj Mahal, or undersea with sharks, or on the moon?


By the way - Asha is just to the right of the principal in the upper picture. Enoch is sixth from the right of the top row in the lower picture. And yes - they were physically present when the shot was taken - I haven't added them in later.

Thursday, 25 February 2010


Every morning I wait for a sound. Its not a very loud one - but one that I hear clearly. A soft "thup" as the newspaper boy pushes today's paper through the outer grill and against the front door.

Today I opened up our Indian Express - and what did I see on the front page?

A statement about deity:

Now, let it be known that I am pretty much a red-blooded cricket fan (along with the other 999,999,995 inhabitants of our land - I understand they have identified at least 4 people in India who don't like cricket). I follow most of India's matches over the internet. I read the summaries the next day in the news-rags...

I also have a special place in my heart for Sachin Tendulkar. Being a Bombay Boy - he has made us proud. I still remember in the early 1980s reading in the Times of India about his special school boy knock. Playing in a Harris Shield match, Sachin and his school friend Vinod Kambli both scored over 300 runs and broke the world record for a partnership. In a time when we were starved for sporting success - things like that stood out.

Later, when visiting Germany in 1990 I remember being thrilled by reading a cast-off British newspaper on a railway platform - and learning that young Sachin had scored a century in his first tour as a player on the Indian National team. He was all of 16 years old at the time.

Yesterday - 20 years after Sachin first burst on the international scene - he did something no one has ever done before. He scored 200 runs in a one-day cricket match. Phenomenal. Both his continued quest for excellence - having already the most runs in test-cricket and one-day matches, the most centuries in both forms of the game - and the list goes on.

But to give him the title of the Deity?

When God revealed himself to Moses and the Israelites one of the things He was clear about was His unique status as God. There is no other. And that is for our own good. We need God to be better than us. Way better if we want to have any hope at all.

As amazing as Sachin is as a player. As nice as he seems as a person. He hardly has the characteristics of the infinitely loving, the totally beautiful, the source of all wisdom and goodness, the one who paints the sky ...

A look at recent shiny-happy 'perfect' sports-hero - and the unravelling of that sheen when woman after woman revealed his liaisons with them - is instructive.

Let us use the word "God" for our loving Father, for the awesome Creator, for the wonder-working Sustainer, for our tender Saviour, for the One who says "I AM."

Anyone else - even a stupendous clouter of the cricket ball - doesn't deserve that awesome title.


The little one is asleep in a hammock made of cloth. Her mother has tied it between a wall and a small tree.

The family of two is living on the street.

2 years ago one of our staff helped the mother get admitted to the government hospital for the birth of the daughter.

We then went through 2 months of challenge. The mother - we will call her Lila - wanted to give the child for adoption - which some other people helped her do. Lila then went basically insane after when the child was put in a government welfare home. She went wandering off somewhere in a dazed state. Somehow she contacted our staff member who helped her get the hospital admission. After a lot of effort our staff reunited the mother and child and had them both admitted to a home which looks after women and children.

Happy story. The end. Roll the credits. Good feelings all around.

Except that this was not the end of the story.

After Lila was admitted at the home - she seemed to settle down at first. Though it was a bit tough for her - she seemed at peace. The child blossomed and grew. But then things started to spiral out of control. Lila became more and more erratic in her behaviour. The staff of the institution started calling us with greater and greater frequency. Lila's behaviour was clearly psychotic and verged on the violent. We were helpless - and they even more so - not being equipped to deal with people with severe psychiatric problems.

Things got so bad that they were unable to look after a number of other women who were being cared for at the place because of Lila's behaviour. Lila insisted that she be let out. Our dear friends at that institution finally gave in. They let her go.

Today Lila is back on the street. Her daughter is sleeping in the cloth hammock.

Its maddening to see things like this happen. Lord have mercy on us all.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


Mrs. Sashta is still very sick. She has been vomitting for most of yesterday despite the antiemetics we have been giving her - and her low-grade fever lingers on.

Last night Sheba did her night call and found her fast asleep. She wanted to let her sleep, but Mrs. Sashta's mother insisted on waking her up.

She woke up with a beautiful smile.

And then she told her story. Her husband died 10 years ago. Of AIDS. She has been suffering with HIV too. He was a driver - taking trucks to different parts of the country. They used to live in a flat in Mumbai. Now she lives in a shack.

She has also had other tragedies. A stove caught fire burning her terribly - and forcing an amputation of most of one arm. Her small child was breast-feeding at the time and had to be fed with infant formula as Mrs. Sashta was recovering from her terrible burn injuries.

And how did she survive? God's mercy and grace - even before she knew His name.

A tribute to this brave lady. With her one good arm, she got to work supporting her family by making papads. Her house is a shack - but her daughter is married and happy. Earlier in the day the girl came - a bright 22 year old. Mrs. Sashta's son - in his late teens is with her at the JSK centre - helping his mother in various ways. Another tribute of grace when so many sons growing up in the slums are barely seen with their mothers.

After telling her story - Mrs. Sashta was breathless. "I haven't talked this much for some time" she said.

We stand in awe of the brave people we have the privilege to serve.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Men with biscuits

Since my driving license expired a few months ago - I have been walking a lot more.

The morning walk to my office is just 10 minutes and gives me a view of the Yeoor hills of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

I also get to do a lot of people-watching.

Almost every day I see at least one man surrounded by dogs.

Not his own dogs. Not his neighbours' dogs. No, a motley crew of local street dogs.

And why are they clustered around him?

Because of what he has in his hands. Big packets of glucose biscuits.

When he rips open the packets, out tumble the biscuits onto the road. And are wolfed up by the happy pie dogs.

One of these men is a frail stubbled white-haired man. He walks slowly with this biscuit packets in hand. I have seen him also sharing some of the biscuits with kids from a local shanty.

The other two men that I see most frequently are tough safari-suited men. They have hard faces and large corpulent bodies. The biscuits fall and the dogs eat and they walk away.

What goes on in these men's minds? Are they feeding the dogs out of some kind of guilt? Do they like the company of mute friends? Are they letting an inner child be fed as well as their canine companions?

What indeed goes on in the mind of anyone who "does a good deed"? Scripture tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things. So much of our supposed 'goodness' is an itch to be thanked and appreciated by others, isn't it?

Well, yes. But.

At the core of goodness is Godness. It can't be otherwise. Though our motives may be mixed and mashed. Though our thoughts may be inward and confused. That which is good - even on a backdrop of mundane grimness is ultimately a gift from God.

I wish my dog feeding friends would do other things as well. I may wonder whether their biscuits are contributing to the howls of stray dogs at night - and the regular dog bites that kids get from the mongrels that roam our city streets - but I cannot begrudge them a small sliver of goodness in their morning acts.

My understanding is that it stems from their heavenly Father - who they may or may not know. Would that they would know Him more - especially through the life and personal reality of my Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Another admission at JSK

She was admitted this morning. Her fever 103. Her CD4 count - a pitiful 34.

Mrs. Sashta (as we will call her) really doesn't have an immune system at all. Most healthy people have CD4 counts between 800-1300 or so. In her body, the HIV virus has systematically knocked out her CD4 cells - the key to much of her immunity - so that she is now open to any infection.

Mrs. Sashta has been going to the government hospital for a month. When she came here this morning she was so sick Sheba wondered whether to admit her at all.

But we did. Mrs. Sashta's relatives are tired. She is tired. We got some investigations done. Got the bed ready. Admitted her.

Sheba gave her a paracetamol (crocin or tylenol are the common brand names).

The fever is gone.

As of late night it hasn't come back.

This is more than medicine at work. We see so much hope in this poor woman's face.

We hope that she will be able to stitch back her life together. One night without fever does not mean all her illnesses are gone - but what a blessed relief for her to even have a small step at getting better. How much her relatives relish even this small bit of normalcy.

Love covers over a multitude of evils. A cheerful heart is medicine to the bones. A heart at peace brings life to the body.

Its our privilege to not only give medicine at Jeevan Sahara Kendra - but to also give love as well. And prayers. And hopes which are often against hopes.

We don't always have happy endings. We have a lot of tears. But some of them are tears of joy...


Its hard to believe - but young Enoch is 7 years old!

It seems like just yesterday that I was holding a little bundle of pink in my arms.

And now we are 7 years later with this amazing boy - so full of life and movement and laughter!

The celebrations of Enoch's big day have been in typical Eicher fashion - quite long - with almost a day for each year he has lived!

The fun started when our beloved Phil-Uncle arrived on Tuesday. Nothing like having this gentle giant with the big heart around! Asha and Enoch had tons of books read to them by Phil - and showed no signs of letting up!

Then there was the actual Birthday on the 19th. Enoch shares his birthday with the famous Maratha warrior-king Shivaji and so has a holiday each time his B-day rolls around.

We had a lovely celebration at the end of a very momentous day. Enoch was all smiles as we prayed for him and then he and Asha went on a treasure hunt to find and open his gifts.

It was an unexpected blessing to have John Gabriel with us for this special time. What a wonderful friend he and Nalini and their kids Nikita and Jasper are to us. John has taken up a new job in Navi Mumbai - and we are now 1/2 way through his commute - we are looking forward to seeing even more of him and the family in days to come!

The next day - after we had a wonderful Church Partners meeting at Jeevan Sahara in the morning - we celebrated Enoch's birthday again with a small party at home.

There were games.

And lots of laughter.

There was food and frolic.

We gathered together to listen to a story and pray for Enoch.

And there was his birthday cake - and our lusty singing for him.

The cake this year was a monkey with a banana. The innovation was having a chocolate and a banana cake and using different portions for different parts of the monkey.

But the celebrations did not end there.

At church today we had 4 birthdays to thank God for. We missed our dear brother Sony - but the other 3 birthday kids were there:

Ryan's b-day is coming up on the 24th, Sharon's was on the 20th and our dear Enoch had another opportunity for cake and songs and prayers. And not only that - we all stayed for lunch at Jolly and Suma's home (they host our Sunday worship in their home).

Its been quite a week - we are tired but very happy - and so glad to have a young lad who reminds us of God's goodness: Enoch!


The celebrations are not over yet! Today being the first school day after Enoch's birthday, he is allowed to attend school in his 'colour dress' (i.e. not wearing his uniform). Its a big privilege and not to be sneezed at! It also means that everyone knows that it is your birthday. Enoch will be wearing is smart new navy shirt and tan bermudas. No wonder birthdays are looked forward to for most of the year in the Eicher household!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Finger-nail clipping

A thought has been going through my mind for the past couple of weeks:

Out lives - all the years that we have to live - are just a finger-nail clipping wide - when compared to eternity.

Whatever we do, and whatever difficulties and challenges we go through now almost pale into insignificance when we consider how many years can unspool into the future.

Infinity doesn't end. It just goes on and on and on and on.

From this perspective, the flip side is that as short as our life may be, the few years we have to live out fairly burst with importance - as all eternity is lived after them.

Its almost like when we first started learning to write with a pen - you have to be so much more careful since you cannot erase using the rubber anymore.

As with so many things in life, the Lord Jesus Christ put it succinctly - "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?"

Thursday, 18 February 2010


As I type this note four men are at the Jeevan Sahara Kendra. Two of them are burly brutes - very much fitting the local tough-types - another man is inebriated - the final one is HIV positive.

Its the last one - Mr. Shrishti - one of our long-term HIV positive friends who has brought the three to our centre. The inebriated one is his own brother. Wanted by the police as a suspect in a murder case.

Last month Mr. Shrishti was in hiding. His brother was absconding - having fled to his village. The police constables were looking for Mr. Shrishti. He himself left his 5 month pregnant wife and was hiding at his work-place.

In the mean time we talked to Mr. Shrishti. He listened. We prayed together. Then he did a very brave thing.

Mr. Shrishti went to the police station.

He told them that he was innocent.

They told him to produce his brother - and they will stop harassing him.

We thought that this is another stalemate. That Mr. Shrishti will go back into hiding.

But Mr. Shrishti brought his brother back from the village. They are going to go over to the police station this afternoon. He brought his brother over to us at JSK for counselling before they make the short journey to the local constabulary.

Its no wonder his brother is inebriated. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of our enforcement agencies. The questioning administered can be brutal.

Rahul is talking with them.

We are seeing courage in action. Would that we have a happy outcome to this story...

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A call from Vellore

Lata called from the Katpadi Railway station.

She was in tears.

Her sister Vishranti refused to leave the station and take the autorickshaw that would take them to Vellore.

They had travelled far.

Far from Nasik. Their train was delayed before it even left Kalyan. Then it was diverted. They had to get another train to get to Katpadi. Dr. Judy - who came to meet them at the station - was not able to wait for so long and had had to return to her home in Vellore.

Vishranti was being taken to the Christian Medical College Hospital at Vellore for her follow-up check-up for her mental illness. Compared to how she was initially - she had made so much progress. Now it was time for a six-month follow-up visit.

But would she leave the station?

Sheba talked to Vishranti on the phone. She said she was scared of being given electric shocks (which a 'mental-health' specialist in Nasik had given her prior to her Vellore trip). She was clearly tired. Sheba spoke kind words to her. And to her sister Lata who has been taking the load of looking after Vishranti. It had been a hard 2 days of travel.

We prayed. Hard.

Drs. Kenny and Judy called the CMC Hospital and asked them to make a bed ready for Vishranti. Judy came back to the station. Judy spoke to Vishranti. She agreed to leave the station.

A small victory. A huge victory.

Vishranti and Lata are back on the train headed for their home in Nasik. Dr. Prassanna and her team spent time with Vishranti. Things are so much better than before - but there is still a ways to go. Lata is so grateful for the change. Once the consultation was over, Kenny and Judy got tatkal tickets for Lata and Vishranti.

The long road of rehabilitation for mental illness is not smooth. But it is very worth walking along.

We are proud of the many people who are helping Vishranti make a new start to her life. We are grateful that some of the deep animosities in Lata's family are slowly melting. We are hopeful for Vishranti to be able to begin living with her husband and two children again.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Family portrait

Our latest family picture - courtesy of Enoch Eicher.


Its all pretty accurate - other than the slightly jaundiced look we have - but we have to have some artistic liberty don't we?

Monday, 15 February 2010

Some hope for Mrs. Sagar

When we last wrote about Mrs. Sagar - things seemed pretty hope-less. Her mind was wandering. She was emaciated. She had a racking cough. Her two under-fives were clinging to her - one of whom was suffering from a broken leg. Mrs. Sagar was destitute and mentally confused - lying on the street hoping that some-how she would get back her home that she had sold...

We admitted her at the JSK centre - and have been caring for her for the past few days.

Already some rays of hope are appearing.

Mrs. Sagar and the kids have been eating copiously. They are not always the politest of company - but their appetites are certainly healthy. And it has already shown effects. The kids have just opened up and are full of smiles.

We were able to show Rinki, her 2 year old daughter to an orthopaedician - and get a cast put on her leg. She is happily scooting around in her cast - and loves to be carried. Omkar - her 7 year old is full of smiles. There is so much that even the most simple inputs can do.

Our staff have loved this family. Cleaned them. Cared for them. Fed and prayed with them. Shared from the Bible and sang songs. As Sheba has been doing her night rounds - she has been seeing a slow but clear change in Mrs. Sagar and the kids.

Sheba has assessed Mrs. Sagar medically and we are surprised that she does not seem to have TB after all. She certainly has a chest infection, which is responding to antibiotics. We have assessed Mrs. Sagar's HIV progression and want to take the next step in her treatment - but that is dependent on her having a stable place to stay.

Mrs. Sagar has started to talk about her situation. Its amazing what a quiet place and willing ears can do to a person who was so dazed and confused before. Mrs. Sagar has opened up a bit and tells us that she was fairly settled with her parents and brother in a village near Motihari in the East Champaran District of Bihar. However, she decided she wanted to come back to Thane. There were probably some harsh words between her and the family members - and she left - taking the kids half-way across India, only to end up lying on the street.

Yesterday evening Mrs. Sagar and her children had a beautiful and simple time of prayer where they committed themselves into God's hands.

Amazingly - and as a total answer to prayer - we have been able to contact her brother in Bihar. He wants her to come back. The children had been in school in the village - and the family is willing to welcome Mrs. Sagar and the children again.

Today we also found out that our dear friends in the ACT (AIDS Counselling and Training) programme of the EHA Hospital at Raxaul are active in the district Mrs. Sagar is from! We are waiting to hear from them whether they know about the village that she is from, but are excited about the possibility of them following-up on her - and putting her in touch with local churches in the area who would like to care for this family.

And so we are seeing some steps forward. We are still not out of the woods with Mrs. Sagar and her two kids. They have many odds stacked against them - but we are grateful to see a shift from hopelessness and confusion - to hope and the outlines of a plan for them.

Thanks for being along with us for this journey. Your thoughts and prayers are very appreciated.

That thing called b e a u t y ....

a flower vase at Shanti Kunj - arrangement and photo courtesy Christa Eicher

A thing of beauty (Endymion) by John Keats

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkn'd ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
'Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink.

Hear, hear!

We are reading a George MacDonald novel ("The Shepherd's Castle") as a family, and the book opens with a shepherd / scholar boy reading Shelley while resting his bare feet. He is accosted by a clergyman who considers him a heretic for reading such dangerous poetry.

Would that we had more poems about beauty. Our world is rather sparse with words that sing of that which pleases the eye and the heart - that which we yearn for deep within us - that which every small table setting made with love and every large breath-taking panoramic vista of the Himalaya in the twilight spurs us to.

So we will leave with three images of beauty - each operating at different scales.

A leaf shot from here in Thane:

Our happy twosome and who make a joyous threesome with their cousin Joanna (shot in Vishakapatnam):

And of course another image of Mussoorie (shot my Mum from the terrace of Shanti Kunj) - which for us as a family serves as one of our havens of beauty:

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Little girl

Our paths crossed for the briefest sliver of time.

We as a family were coming home after an enjoyable outing. Stomaches full after a lovely lunch, we were ambling home and almost reached the gate of our appartment block. A few meters before the gate is an alley which houses our nearest shanty-town. At the mouth of this alley a 'tempo' - our local word for a cargo carrying three-wheeler - was parked.

She - a child of no more than three - was holding another child - barely a year old in her arms.

She held him in a motherly way - the noon-day sun was upon them and she was shielding his eyes by allowing the shadow of one of the tempo's bars to stripe across his face.

Why were they sitting there alone? The contents of the vehicle gave a clue. Plastic jerry cans - which the poor use for water collecting and storage. A grimy kerosene stove. Various cloths. A plastic straw mat. Broom. More plastic vessels. Shapeless lumps of things. This is the inventory of her family's home. This is a family moving from one 8 x 10 foot 'room' to somewhere else. To nowhere else.

Our paths crossed for the briefest sliver of time.

Having been on a family outing. I had a camera in my hand. Three quick clicks.

Three images remain on our computer. Nestled in the midst of a sea of images - chronicling smiles and laughter of happy Eichers. Three images of a little girl and her brother. Alone and waiting... for whom? A Dad who keeps losing his job - but not the regular visits to the bar? A mother and other siblings? An uncle who is packing them off back to a village?

Its easy to get drowned in despair at the grinding horribleness of life all around us. It is just as easy to shut down our heart and ignore - hoping things will go away.

A few thousand years ago a widow returned to an uncertain future. How many things did she pack for her journey towards her village? The village whose name 'house of bread' had seemed a bitter mockery when she and her husband and sons left during the famine. Now she was returning - with not much more than sorrow at the deaths of her men-folk - and a foreign daughter-in-law who clung to her.

The story of how this destitute woman became the great-grandmother of Kind David is told to us with heart-breaking hope in the book of Ruth.

Would that the little girl holding her brother with a gravity beyond her years, would that she experience a similar destiny, a similar experience of the divine.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Talk talk

The office phone rang - I picked it up and said: "Jeevan Sahara Kendra, how can I help you?"

The voice said: "Hi son, this is Dad"

I was surprised to hear his voice. "Guess where we are?"

Where would they be? They had been down to Kerala, for a large convention that their old friend and mentor George Verwer was addressing.

"We are in Mumbai" Dad said "Waiting for the Kochi-Mumbai passengers to get off and the Delhi-bound passengers to get on our plane."

I could hear Mum talking in the background.

"Who is Mum talking to?" I asked.

"She is talking to Sheba" Dad laughed. Sheba was at the JSK clinic - a 10 min walk from my office. It was a busy day and she had patients in her examination room - but a call from Mum trumped that - for some time at least.

Here were Mum and Dad - sitting next to each other in an airplane parked at Mumbai airport - talking simultaneously to Sheba and myself - seated in different offices. The miracle of technology that helps us talk like that!

I am still enthralled by the miracle of having a phone in my hand. To be able to call up across town - or across the country while I am walking to my office. To track down a loved one when they are far from any phone booth or office.

And of course I have to think back.

To 1977 when we were wide-eyed in the U.S. of A. Dad had gone to the Mall to register for a phone. The locals were complaining, because they had to wait for 1/2 an hour.

Dad turned to them and told them that in Bombay we had waited for 7 years to get a phone. No bribes for the Eichers of course - and those were the days of our pseudo-socialist republic. It seemed impossible to us that the very next day folks from Bell Telephone showed up and promptly installed a working phone for us. Talk about the land of plenty...

And then there was the experience - many years later - of making a 'trunk call' to an international number from Mussoorie. In the 2.5 years I was away from home in my first stint of college I never talked to my parents in India. In 1989, when I was back in Mussoorie for a year of 'independent study', we had to call the US for some reason. We tramped over to Telephone Exchange - deep in the heart of the bazaar - next to the Cambridge bookstore. It was night - since we wanted to talk to someone (was it our grandparents?) during their day-time. We had 'booked' the time with the clerk in the Exchange well in advance.

And then we had the great moment of talking to the other side of the world. Well, talking would not be the word. We literally had to shout... "H O W .. A R E . Y O U ?"... Y E S, W E ... A R E .. A L L .... F I N E ! .... WHAAAAT??" and so it went. Precious money flushed down the tubes - the rupees disappearing at a dizzying rate as the seconds slipped by - and most of what we heard was a harsh buzz of static with the occasional word slipping through edgewise. And that which actually was said was pretty much tripe.

So a silent prayer of thanks for the miracles of fibre optics and satellites. For the massive minatureisation of communications. For the rabid competition here in India between mobile providers and betwixt the burgeoning group of broad-band-wallahs. May your tribe increase dear friends...

But thanks most of all to the Giver of the words themselves. Precious packets of meaning - sped between us through mouth and air and ear.

What does it profit a man if the sound quality is pin-fall clear - but the words themselves are devoid of love?

We have been so blessed to have so much of the later. In spades.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Mrs. Sagar

The mind is such a mysterious thing.

How we sift through the myriad sets of sensory inputs that swarm into us like so many buzzing flies... How we are able to go back in the past through the layers of memory - or move forward into a possible future through the thoughts and plans we sketch out... How our feelings and emotions are mingled with the flux of experiences that we live out...

...and in the end - it works! We sail through our days with myriad thoughts mingled together - choices made - experiences sifted and stored - with literally barely a 'second thought' about it all.

Perhaps this is why mental illness takes on such an ominous note. How to help a person when the shadows of the mind draw their shades? What is the lived experience of a person who is not able to share clearly what is going on in them? Where along the path of healing can we join our friends?

We admitted one of our old HIV positive friends yesterday. Mrs. Sagar's husband died two years ago. They had a small room here in Thane. After his death she sold the place and went back to her ancestral village in Uttar Pradesh. We thought we had seen the last of her. We did not think there was much chance that an HIV positive widow would come back to Thane.

Last week our staff unexpectedly met Mrs. Sagar again. She was lying on the sidewalk near her old room. She was sick. Her two children were on the street with her. Her 2 year old daughter couldn't walk because of a broken bone. It was a pathetic sight.

Mrs. Sagar had come back - hoping that she would get her house back. She said that she would buy it back from those who she sold to. She said that she would get the local political leaders / goons to intervene. She said that her brother would come and visit her. She said many things.

Mrs. Sagar is clearly not in her right mind. How much of this is organic? How much the result of a head-strong desire to follow her own path? How much the product of her own fantasies she is chasing is not clear.

What is clear is that Mrs. Sagar is destitute - and delusional. We are looking after her and her children. The kids are so bright. The little girl is now in a cast - scooting around the floor. The boy is lapping up love. But Mrs. Sagar continues to live in a world of her own. She clearly has TB, but has no place to stay. She needs to be started on ART for her HIV medicines but how can we do that when we are not sure whether she will even stay in one place?

Mrs. Sagar keeps telling us that her brother will come from the village to meet her. How can he do so, when she has no fixed address? What is going on in this dear woman's mind - only her loving Maker knows.

In the meantime, our JSK centre nurses are looking after her with love - while other staff are trying to find out some relative or else to link up with. Would that a church would take this confused widow into their fold. We are left with prayers - both spoken to our Father - and lived out in our actions.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Swimming pool

While most of N. America and Europe are deeply snow bound - while swathes of North India is still shrouded with fog - we in Thane sleep under the fans at night.

What better than to have a swimming pool. We constructed one last week. Maybe we should more accurately report: Enoch constructed it.

Its a pretty small one - though 2 can swim in it - provided you are the scale of a lego mini-figure.

The first protype was built while Asha and I were lying in bed - reading our respective books.

We suddenly saw Enoch run by the door. Then a few seconds later he ran back in the other direction.

Asha went to investigate and found that Enoch had build his mini-pool and poured water in it, only to see it seep out between the bricks. The running was to get a mop-cloth from the balcony.

We suggested a modification in the form of a plastic bag and cello tape. It did the trick. The mini-figures are now able to swim in it. If you look carefully at the picture above, you will note that the little man is clearly doing the crawl stroke.

Enoch informs us that most of the lego men generally do the back stroke. The figure on the left demonstrates this - though the fellow with the white pants may either be drowning, or looking up in wonder at something in the air...

The countless possibilities that these humble bricks embody...

As Enoch moves towards his 7th birthday on the 19th of this month - one of the possible designs for his cake is a big red lego brick. Lets see what takes shape!

Meanwhile, Enoch's lego creations are coming under unexpected attack. Not from school books and practicing the key board (they have their regular place of course) but from the excitement of reading.

Both Asha and Enoch have their noses buried in books at almost every waking moment it seems - with Enid Blyton ruling the roost at present. With 753 titles credited to this remarkable lady, there will be plenty left to read even at the short work our two are making of the books available in the home!

Meanwhile - while on the water and ice theme - we have another creation by our intrepid explorer. In early December, inspired partly by stories of polar exploration, Enoch set out to recreate an ice-bound ship.

The means used was the trusty lego set (using a few of the newer pieces that Zeph Phillips had given Enoch) and a plastic tub which was then dutifully placed into our freezer.

The result was a very pleasing block of ice with a ship nicely encrusted in it - and plenty of opportunity for the mini-men to walk around on top of the ice.

I am told that one of the pipes protruding from the boat was a thermometer which can measure the temperature.

The mind is a fertile place.

In limbo

Another sad story.

On Sunday one of our church members talked about her company sports day. It was a picnic for all the management and workers and was organised in a gala fashion.

In the middle of the time, however, a pall descended on the day. Word came that the 13 year old daughter of one of the workers had committed suicide. She seemed to have failed in 2 subjects in school and had hanged herself.

A call came that a local news channel had already found out about it and was broadcasting the tragedy on constant churn. This took place even before the father was informed about his daughter dying.

Our church member then shared something that for me made the tragedy all the worse. The company HR head swung into action. Not to comfort the family, but to call up the TV station to stop mentioning that the father was working for their company.

Suicide is one of those tragedies that are real, but just take your breath away in their hopelessness and despair. The scars for the survivors are so deep and intimate. The lies that perpetuate these actions: "no one wants you" "everything will be better if you are not there" etc. etc. are so devilish...

We shared the grief that our church member was going through on behalf of her colleague. We prayed. We spoke out our grief to the Father heart of God.


Mr. Janak died yesterday morning.

He had been in palliative care for the past few weeks. We had admitted him for some time at the centre in order to give his family some breathing space.

The last days were miserable. When he was lucid he was cursing. His children had long since learned to avoid him and were hardly to be seen in the tiny shack of a room he lived in. Mr. Janak had terrible bed-sores - and his wife was lying on a cot next to him - since she too has HIV and has suffered a stroke from a brain infection.

Our JSK nurses went every morning for the past 3 weeks to Mr. Janak's house. They nursed him and cleaned him as he was incontinent. They dressed his wounds. They prayed with him and his wife. They touched and shared God's comfort with this man.

Mr. Janak's earthly life is over. His wife and children are still alive and need much help and comfort.

There is not much of a happy story in all of this. Other than real love and devotion by our JSK staff who have once again gone way beyond the call of duty to care for this dear man.

Sunday, 7 February 2010


There once was a cobbler named Raju. He occupied a small patch of sidewalk on the corner of an intersection close to our home at "Happy Valley." I got to know Raju from our occassional needs to have a shoe repaired or an umbrella fixed. One day he came to us for advice because his child was bitten by a stray dog. We chatted on and off over the months.

Then Raju fell ill. He came back to work after some time, but we started seeing less of him.

Today Raju is in the village. In his stead, his younger brother Suresh mans the stall. From 10 am to 8 pm, Suresh sits and repairs shoes, chappals, bags, umbrellas - anything that needs the skill and problem-solving of a cobbler. Raju was drinking too much - and got ill too often. According to Suresh, Raju is now plying his trade in the village.

The big shopping centre behind where Suresh sat went out of business but the humble cobbler survived. The whole place was empty for some months. Then the central portion was rented out to new tenants. Workers got busy, fixing it up - a big sweet and savory snack was opening. The new business paved the place in front of their establishment to be a food court. They certainly did not want a cobbler sitting there next to their patrons munching on gulab jamuns and pani-puris. So the new establishment made another spot for Suresh - in front of an unused part of the building. A small brick platform was built for him - and Suresh willingly moved to another part of the pavement.

Then in January, that part of the building was leased out to a bank. The bank too renovated, painted and spruced up their part of the building. But had a cobbler - our Suresh - sitting on the pavement in front of their branch.

So what did they do?

They could have turfed him out - using a bit of muscle power from a local goon or two.

Instead they gave him a sun-shield proudly sporting the colours of the bank. Instead of an eye-sore, Suresh the cobbler has become a mini-mascot for the bank.

The new branch manager is a friendly fellow from Kerala who got our name from a friend of his. He came over to the Jeevan Sahara Kendra and invited us for the grand opening of his branch. Late last week he also attended the weekly Bible study we hold in different people's homes.

I am pretty sure that Suresh was not turfed out because of this friendly Christ-follower who is managing the bank.

We met Suresh the day before yesterday. A small job - to get a zipper repaired on a small bag. He did it immediately. He repaired it with a smile. He performed the job before a fascinated audience of the younger Eichers.

Suresh the cobbler - with a potential apprentice

Friday, 5 February 2010

Dear Anjali,

Dear Anjali,

A year ago today you were born there in cold New Delhi. How many smiles and warm hearts have followed you as our world has danced around the sun and come back to where it was on this day, the 5th of February...

When we heard the news from your Daddy and Mummy - that you had arrived - all of us here in far-away Thane let out a loud cheer. Your cousins Asha and Enoch and your Uncle Andi and Auntie Sheba had been praying for you for many months, as God grew you inside your Mummy. And now you have completed a whole year of joy.

photo courtesy Christa Eicher

Sweet niece, your full name of Anjali Eden Rose Eicher is about as fragrant a name as possible. We know that you will fully live up to the beautiful promises that lie in the names your Mummy and Daddy gave you.

We know that you are surrounded with some of the most extraordinary people on the planet - since your Mummy and Daddy have chosen to live lives of deepest compassion and humble following of our Lord Jesus Christ. The uncles and aunties who you meet are people who are being blessed and shaped and changed by the love that your Mummy and Daddy are giving them.

We also know that you have a wonderful older brother in Ashish Christopher Ion Eicher. We have seen him love you so much over this year. Its a great sign for the years of love that you and he will enjoy in the years ahead!

photo courtesy Christa Eicher

Anjali, we really wish we were not so far away. By God's grace your Mummy and Daddy were able to be in Mumbai for a few months in 2007 and so we were able to spend time with your family (before you were there of course - you were only a twinkle in God's eye at that time). We even celebrated your brother's first birthday in our house here in Thane!

Your cousins Asha Esther Alice Eicher and Enoch Anand Graceson Eicher (how many names you all have!) think of you a lot. They tell us that they *want* to be with you. We hope that we will be able to meet up soon.

In the mean time, look at what you and your brother will be doing in a few years. If you become anything like Asha and Enoch, you too will some day be lost in books...

When Asha and Enoch wake up, or come home from school, or have a spare moment in the day - they just jump into the opportunity to read. Your uncle and auntie are both very happy about this - and also almost worried. Surely they should be doing something more active? Will we have enough books to feed such a fierce appetite for reading? I am sure your Oma and Opa felt the same way about your Daddy, Uncle Andi and Auntie Premi too about 30 years ago...

Anjali, we know that your life is going to be really great. Each day will bring new joys and challenges. Each day may have some tears - but we know that you will also have lots of laughter too.

One of the things that your uncle Andi and auntie Sheba are (slowly) learning is how to be thankful to God for the many, many joys we have. Take the miracle of the watermelon! We do not have it often, but when your Oma was here last month she bought us 2 - remembering how much your uncle Andi used to enjoy it (mothers do things like that). Look at how your cousins went at it:

Did you notice anything different in the way your cousins eat watermelon? They are very different from each other - but love each other so much - just like you and and Ashish-bhaiya.

So on this day, dear Anjali, our fragrant Rose, we want to say "thank you" to God for you - and let you know that your life ahead is secure in His hands.

We look forward to many times together in the days to come!

Lots of love and prayers,

Enoch, Asha, Sheba-auntie and Andi-uncle

Thursday, 4 February 2010


Balram was feeling sick. His fever had not subsided despite taking some medicines from the corner Medical Store. He was weak and unable to do anything.

Since his wife lived far away in the village - it was Balram himself who checked himself into one of the best local private hospitals. He was one of the privileged few - his employer had given him a mediclaim coverage so that any hospitalisations were covered.

Then the shock.

The hospital did an HIV test on Balram. Without permission. Routinely.

They told him that he had AIDS.

They also informed him, that since he was HIV positive, his medical insurance was invalid. He would have to pay everything in cash.


I wish the above were a fictional story. Or a case study in what could possibly happen. Sadly its a true experience that a Positive Friend of ours had. This was the way he found out that he had HIV. And added to the terrible confusing news about HIV - he also had to have friends scurry about to pay off the hospital bills.

Many, many people with HIV are not covered with medical insurance - because for most insurers in India having HIV makes a person ineligible to get medical coverage.

How this injustice continues I just don't understand. Here we are in 2010 - a quarter century after HIV was discovered to have reached India too - and yet people with HIV are facing something out of the 1980s - a time of total fear about what HIV was ...

Yesterday a man came to meet us. He represents a large NGO who has teamed up with an insurance provider. The idea is a group insurance policy for people who have HIV. I was sceptical - and still have lots of questions. But it looks almost too good to be true. The premium is Rs. 1500 per person per year - and the NGO is willing to subsidize that by Rs. 750.

The benefits are that a person with HIV can be hospitalised up to Rs. 15,000/- per year. And in addition to that, when a person's immunity goes down to where their CD4 level is below 100 - they get a Rs. 15,000/- cash payment.

The only catch? Well, participants need to have an immunity level of over 300 to begin with - and we need to have about 200 people who are willing to sign up.

Lets see how this pans out...

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


We love to train people in HIV Care.

The problem we have at Jeevan Sahara Kendra is accommodation. Hotel rates here in Thane are stratospheric. We do not have a Catholic Retreat Centre near-by (bless the dear Fathers and Sisters who run these amazing institutions across our land). We once even tried hiring the Forest bungalow in the National Park - but the short hike late at night proved too remote for our trainees.

So stop-gaps measures for housing our trainees are the name of the game, and we have occasionally put up training participants with our JSK staff.

One of the areas we at Jeevan Sahara are working towards is mainstreaming people with HIV into society. People with HIV can work - and should! It would be very odd if we who encourage our Friends living with HIV to actively work in their vocations - would then discourage them from joining JSK as staff.

We are proud to have people serving in JSK who are living with the HIV virus. Their presence in the team is an inspiration and challenge for us all.

At one of the trainings we held, some of the women were housed with our nurses. On the first night, as they got to know our staff they also found out that one of them is living with HIV.

The next morning we had two lady trainees on our hands who were not happy at all. "We need to be housed in a different place." they said. "The house is not clean, the toilets are not clean."

What they were saying was "we don't want to live with a person with HIV."

The irony is that they were sent by a group of churches that ministers to people with HIV. They were leaders in this church. They had 'ministered' to people with HIV before - but not lived with them.

Our response was short and sweet: Like it or lump it.

Over the course of the training, things changed. The ladies saw how the JSK staff treated each other. As the days went on, the trainees met person after person with HIV who shared their story openly. Lives which had been shattered, but which God in His mercy is in the process of fitting together. Some of the stories were told by JSK staff themselves.

At the end of the training, we had a reflection exercise. The ladies shared how they had been changed. "We used to work with people with HIV - but now we know how to live with them."

Our staff told us that when they left both the ladies hugged the lady staff member they were staying with. Both asked her forgiveness for the things that they had told her.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Oscar nomination!

I don't usually click onto the Entertainment Weekly website.

But I did tonight.

I clicked on it because it was the first available site on Google to tell me what the Oscar Nominations were.

As I skimmed down the page, I kept passing well and lesser well known names.

But I was looking for something else.

Down, down I scrolled, past the Best Original Screenplay, past the Supporting Actors, past the best Sound Mixing.

Finally I saw what I was looking for: nominations for best Live Action Short Film.

A short intake of breath - there was only one film there with a one-word name. And it was the one I was looking for - Kavi!

Our friend Gregg Helvey has done it - his short film - a gritty look at a boy in bonded labour making bricks in rural Maharashtra - has made it to the final round of this year's Oscars!


When I first heard that Gregg was coming out to Mumbai to shoot his thesis film for USC Film School in the countryside outside Mumbai - what could I say? I tried to be optimistic and encouraging, but the thought of an American shooting a film on his own - and that too on a challenging issue like bonded labour seemed to verge on the Quixotic.

But then I met Gregg in the flesh. Talked with him. Prayed with him. And followed the amazing progress of his making of Kavi, the movie - through hurdle after hurdle - writing, rewriting, and more rewriting, getting the site, casting, organising his crew, working with his local colleagues - then getting music composed, then mixing, and on and on.

Over time - it all seems a blur - the challenges began to fade into award after award as the film hit the film circuit - culminating with Gregg winning the Student Oscar for this year for Kavi.

Well, I thought it culminated there - but tonight has shown that Kavi has still more road to be travelled on. Gregg will be there in the Kodak Theatre when the Oscars are announced - and may even walk up and hold a golden statuette and give the customary acceptance speech...

In the mean time - if you have not seen the trailer to Kavi - please click onto the movie's website:

More than even the artistic achievement - which is phenomenal in itself - Gregg has managed to be a voice for the voiceless - to help a group of people whose cries are not heard - be heard - and that too all around the world!

Do spare a moment to remember the many children who are sold into slavery by their parents - or who run away from unhappy situations and are swallowed up by the evil city.

Our country has so many young boys and girls who are slaving away because they have no other option. And so many youths and adults who have grown up in this crippling life - and know no other. Many continue to enslave themselves through alcohol dependency and poor choices among the few choices they get.

We are so happy for the Kavi film. We need many, many more such stories for the truth to be told.

And we also want to see many homes opened to welcome these children - and lonely stunted adults - into our lives. If that isn't Quixotic, then I don't know what is - but that is what our Lord has commanded us to do. To love our neighbour as ourselves. To love in deed, not only in word.

To love beyond seeing a story and being moved - but actually moving out and letting the challenges of love move in with us.

Music to your ears

There is music.

And then...

there is MUSIC.

Ten years ago we were blessed with a very special wedding reception that our parents held for us in Mussoorie.

The venue was the dining hall of Woodstock School (in its humbler avatar), which was redone as a mini-shaminah. We were surprised with a colourfully decked up cycle rickshaw and had a drummer and a band of guests dancing ahead of us (quite something for Sheba who had been nurtured in a Bakht Singh fellowship)...

And then we had music. Amazing music performed with deep love by our friends Chris Hale and Peter Hicks.

Pete on guitar and Chris on Sitar - Photo shamelessly swiped from the Aradhna website

At that point in time Aradhna - of which Chris and Pete are the backbone - was just getting underway.

Today the twosome can look back on a decade-worth of melodies - mainly mining and extending the rich tradition of Hindusthani devotional music - but focussed on celebrating the humble King Yeshu Masih.

I hope that our gentle readers of this blog will have at least one Aradhna album on their comp or ipod or whatever music delivery device you use. You can always delve into their music by checking out their website -

Up in Mussoorie - safely stored with our hoard that our parents are keeping for us - is a small treasure. An instrumental piece that Aradhna wrote for us and recorded on a small digital recorder which was a break-through novelty then. They then presented us the piece on a cassette tape which was what we used in those days. We hope Mum still has a working cassette player in Mussoorie to play this treasure on...

Music resonates with the very beauty of God.

Monday, 1 February 2010


The teen-aged girl was scared.

She had come for an HIV test.

Her uncle had been ill for some time, and she was looking after him.

He did not tell her what his disease was - but she had been repeatedly dressing his wounds and caring for him when he was bed-ridden.

Then at the end of last year she accompanied the rest of the family to a special meeting. It was organised by an group that works among people who have HIV.

During the meeting a presentation was made about what the organisation does - and it included the fact that the group monitors the medications of people who have HIV. On the slide being displayed was a picture of a bottle of medications that people with HIV use.

The girl recognised that this was the medication her uncle was using.

She was convinced that he had HIV.

She was scared, because she knew a little about HIV. She knew that it could spread through blood. She was scared, because she remembered the times she dressed her uncle's wounds without gloves.

Our counsellors talked to the girl. They helped her understand the extent of the risk she had exposed herself to (small, but still significant). They encouraged her to take a HIV antibody blood test. They listen to her fears, comforted her and prayed with her.

The next day she came for the test result. The counsellor was able to tell her that she was HIV negative. The girl was *so* happy. Her face just beamed.

Fear is real. Truth helps cut through the paralysis that fear brings.

Its a privilege to be part of the big picture of helping people confront the truth in their own lives.

HIV blood tests are one of the methods we use.