Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Heart problems

Pankaj and his father came to meet Sheba at the clinic today. They are in poor shape. We have been trying to encourage them to go back to Kerala and continue treatment there.

Pankaj does not want to go. His father - who has been trying to help Pankaj - is trapped.

Pankaj did not take his TB medications for the past 8 days. He feels that he can control things on his own. He wants his father to rent a house here in Thane so that he can get treatment here.

Pankaj's father says about Pankaj not taking his medications: "its my fault, I did not give them properly to him."

There is clearly a very unhealthy relationship going on. On one hand Pankaj has a low immunity. He is still sick - and though he has been nursed back from death - he is hardly healthy.

But on a different level - Pankaj is sick in the heart. Sick with selfishness. Sick with always having had his own way. His father has never, ever, challenged what Pankaj says or does. Even when it has lead to disastrous consequences. His father cannot. The threat that Pankaj has over him is total. Pankaj basically is saying "if something happens to me - then it is your fault."

And so the father continues to borrow money for his son's 'treatment'. They live in a fantasy world - putting up in a local lodge and watching TV most of the day - especially looking at the movements in the stock markets. In between they are angry and miserable with each other.

We will one day get a 'gold standard' cure for HIV/AIDS. One day a set of medications and interventions will be developed (we hope and pray soon) which will rid the body of the virus. For good.

But we will never get a cure of the twisted heart out of a bottle. No chemotherapy can change the relationship that Pankaj has with his father. No set of exercises can mend the deeply unhappy - and ultimately blind codependency they have on each other.

Oh that our dear friends see the miserable reality that they are in. Oh that they would take hard but real choices and move from darkness to light, from foolishness to wisdom, from bondage to freedom. These are things of the heart - but which also bring life and health to the whole person.

As the Bible says: a heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. Prov. 14.30

Short notice friends

Bombay is a big city. Waaaaay too big.

People come from near and far. And work and work and work. But for all the cash - do we actually get time to be with each other? It seems that for most of our 16 million plus who 'live' in the greater Mumbai area is it just work - commute - tv - sleep - drag out of bed to work again. Repeat cycle ad infinitim. Ad naseum.

Last Saturday evening we were wishing we could be with our friends. John has recently taken up a new job in Navi Mumbai - which means he passes within 200 meters of our house every day on his 1.5 hour commuting drive (if the traffic is ok). So we called him. Maybe he is on his way home. Maybe he could take us with him to meet Nalini and their lovely kids Nikita and Jasper.
We called. He was already home.

Hearts sank. Then the small glimmer. Could they possibly come here? We called up again and asked. The answer was yes! Some of our favorite folks of all time were on their way! Pure joy reigned in the Eicher home.
And so we had a dinner. And what a dinner. Nalini had brought crab currey! Sheba had rustled up coconut chicken currey. Watermelon rounded it all off.

As my Dad would have said - the only unhappy ones were the crabs and the chickens. Having had a childhood aversion for any seafood - I am proud to say that I really enjoyed the crabs.

I am also very glad that I do not have to follow kosher dietary rules. This was one tasty crustacean. And my favorite chicken curry as a chaser only added the culinary joy.

But what more delicious than the food was the sheer pleasure of being with dear friends. Talking, soaking up what they have been going through. Hearing encouraging words. Listening and praying with each other. Heavenly.

The kids were blessed as only kids can be with their good friends. What a total joy to see these four - who have been growing up together - though we are separated by our own mini-geographies and busy-ness. These four are really special - and there are always shrieks of delight when even the possibility of meeting up is mooted.

The kids have a go at drinking watermelon juice with miniature straws

The next morning it was pancake time. Crepes with coconut and syrup were served. A bleary eyed but cheery lot as John and family scooted off early so that they could be in their church fellowship on time.

We has spent most of the night talking with each other. Man to man. Woman to woman. Kids to excited kids. We had also spent time in family prayers. John shared about how when Jesus came to a house in the area near Tyre that his presence could not be hidden. John's challenge to us was whether Jesus' presence in our lives has a similar impact.

There were the normal tears in Asha and Enoch's eyes when it was time to say good-bye. At the same time, what a blessing it was to have them come and spend the night with us. Short notice - and just what we needed as a family. To come at the drop of a hat. Wow.

Later in the week John stopped by - this time on his way back from work - and thrilled Enoch with a small remote controlled car (packaged as only the Chinese can - in a simulated cold-drink can!). Needless to say our young 'un did not do much studying that evening. Exams are upon us - and though these two little ones have done excellent so far - we do need to help them prepare a bit for their terminal tests.

How much we cherish our dear friends John and Nalini. How very valuable such trusted, loving, tear-sharing friends are. We hope that each one of you, gentle readers, have such friends. And are such friends to others. If not yet - you can start today. We are still learning.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Mother and child asunder

She was lying on the sidewalk. Perpendicular. It was 6 in the evening. Was she asleep? In another world?

This morning our staff had taken her child. Taken the child to an orphanage. We had previously taken both mother and child to an amazing home for destitute women and children. Sadly she ended up stealing, disrupting the work there - causing 8 other women to leave - before she finally persuaded a young woman to leave with her - and ended back here on the sidewalk.

For the past month she has been here. She acts mad - but is not. She is clearly sick in the head and heart - and very broken in many many ways - but she is not out of control. Her behaviour has a certain logic. Part of it is to keep men from abusing her. Her filthy unkempt appearance was so dramatically different from her beautiful child - and the toys that local appartment dwellers gave the little 1 year old girl. At one point she said that a local shop keeper was allowing them to sleep in his shop at night. But we have seen her out on the street too often for that story to be true.

A few days ago she said that she keeps waking up all through the night - trying to protect her child. She wants to be with the child - but knows that she cannot care for her. She said that she wanted to give it for adoption - and that someone would be taking her. But no-one did. How much of what she says is pure fantasy - and how much has shreds of reality mixed in is hard to make out.

It now turns out that she does have a husband - but that he has abandoned her. Her brother who is looking after her older boy has gone back to the village as the man he was working for died - and so he lost his job. Where the village is is hard to tell. How much truth is in it is maddeningly difficult to tease out.

Our nights have been spent in discussion and prayer about the two on the pavement near our house. How can we sleep while they are outside with the dogs. No easy answers. No easy sleep for sometime for us. Anguished cries - and more anguish about what we felt was our total helplessness in the situation.

As I said - we have already been through a lot with her. Our staff took her and then she burned bridges and came back to the pavement. We did not think there was any chance the place she left would take either of them back. But we prayed and tried again. No - was the reply. A few more days of anguish for this woman and her child. We prayed and talked with her. She said that she wanted to be with her baby - but was ready to have someone look after her. We tried again. They agreed to take the child - but not the mother. They said they would not put the child up for adoption - but would care for her until the mother was ready to take over again. She could come every 3-4 months to visit the child.

And so the heart wrenching step this morning. Mother giving up her child. Our two lady staff going by bus - on beyond Pune. Mother lying on the pavement. Perpendicular.

No easy answers. No easy answers. Lord have mercy on us all.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Summer is here

Four signs that summer is upon us:

1. The terrace that our 7th floor flat is just under heats up nicely during the day - causing our bedroom to turn into something like a tandoor-oven at night. We wake up having tossed and turned all night with pillows wet with sweat (and woe if we have a power-cut sometime at 3 am). Having the fan on full blast all night long does not make much of a difference. Hence Sheba and I take refuge with the kids in their room (which for some reason is cooler).

2. Asha and Enoch's final 'exams'. Spread nicely over 3 weeks. Fun times till April 9th. To be fair - they have done wonderfully well so far - and do not stress at all!

3. Tickets booked well in advance for our yearly pilgrimage to the blessed coolness of Mussoorie. We have confirmed tickets this year - for the 14th of May (D.v.) returning on the 29th of May (ditto).

4. The first mango of the season was eaten by Asha and Enoch today. Thanks John and Nalini for this luscious piece of saffron sweetness!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Football in miniature

It has been too long since we had our last lego posting. (By the way - the company has yet to give us any royalties for the extensive promotion we do of their product - maybe because most of the purchases done in the Eicher lego collection were from the early 1980s in Germany).

But enough words - here is Enoch's vision (with help from Asha and Mummy) of a football match between Holland and Australia! Is the World Cup fever somehow quietly infiltrating the Eicher household?

We join the action just as the kick off is getting underway. The crowds are in the stadium. The players are on the field - ready for the referees whistle to blow.

The helpful man in the corner will sell us a ticket for this match. Amazingly - there are still some tickets to be had for this crucial match.

The tension on the pitch is palpable as the referee whistles for the game to commence. Holland playing in red (the closest Enoch could get to orange) is up against the Socceroos who are in the blue and black strip. Amazingly - the good Oz-men actually play in blue when they are away! Enoch did not know this - but there we have it.

The crowd is clearly loving the match - and the TV crew is on hand to beam the proceedings to the millions of lego people who are watching from their lego tv sets somewhere in the darkness children's toy boxes around the world.

But what makes this match extra special is that royalty have joined in the fun.

Since both countries have queens - it was a hard call to make about which one is the one actually at the match. We plumped for the Netherlands - since good old queen Elizabeth II would hardly be showing up for an Aussie football match (it would probably lead to no amount of unrest from the supporters). Also we have a king at hand and some fearsome bodyguards as part of the royal party.

Ah, the magical world of lego - which allows for countless worlds to be made and played with. And which allows grown men the vicarious pleasure of living life in miniature with our children.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Super-size this!

I'm usually not much of a fan of Jesus Christ paintings. Its not that I am against any painting about my Lord. My main issue is that he is normally shown as some European chap wearing colourful robes - spotlessly clean and surrounded by hair-permed chaps in their own robe-sets.

But here is an interesting thought - has the size of a meal changed over time?

Well the boffins are at it again! They looked at a series of 'last supper' paintings from AD 1000 to about AD 1700 and measured all manner of things. The goodly chaps then compared the size of the bread with the size of the head! They found that both bread and plate sizes increased as time went on.

And hence the cry goes up: "beware of the large serving of food!"

Ah the marvels of technology.

It does not surprise me is a whit that there has been a 2/3 increase in the size of food served over a thousand years. The futility of the study is shown in its endpoint. Why stop at 1700s. The industrial revolution - and the availability of food crops on a massive scale has totally revolutionised how much food we have.

Muriel Elmer once taught us that after the 2nd world war, school benches in Japan had to be changed 3 times - because the average size of a young Japanese was increasing so much. And we are not talking just of girth - but of overall bodily stature.

So much of what we talk about certain 'ethnicities' being small (just think of the British Raj project of classifying the different 'castes' in India) may have much more to do with not having sufficient calorific intake - and that too for generations - than some inherent genetic basis. If my mother has a small pelvis (and she does - I was a very difficult birth) - it is probably because her mother had one and she as an infant was not able to develop as 'large' as she could.

So what about the last supper paintings? Well - for one it would be interesting to note changes in average bone size over centuries - and then compare that with the post world war II era. I am not a betting man, but were I, I would wager that for the so-called 'industrialised countries' the change in the last 60 years has been greater than the past 1000!

Its interesting to note that the picture (shamelessly swiped from the BBC website as usual) has some pretty small looking pieces of bread - perhaps a reflection of the Haitian condition where it was painted? In fact comparing the amount of 'bread' to the amount of 'wine' - it looks like a pretty liquid dinner for all!

Its also interesting to note that Jesus and all his disciples would have immediately left the room if the bread as shown in all the 'classical' Last Supper paintings was served. Today being the Passover feast - which was what Jesus and his followers were eating - they would not have eaten anything with yeast - considered a picture of impurity. The 'bread' present would have been our 'chapatis' and not the 'buns' that western religious artists litter the Last Supper pics with!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


Enoch called his 'Opa' earlier this evening. They were in a meeting and so were not able to take the call. When Asha called later, 'Oma and Opa' were trying to prepare food for 18 people. Turns out the meeting was a prayer meeting and was held at Shanti Kunj - the amazing home that Mum and Dad have filled with love, high up in the Himalayan foot hills.

What with the cool air of the hills - that would make 18 very hungry people to serve. I can just imagine the hustle and bustle in the warm kitchen - the laughter and conversation in the dining area - some music on the CD player and the night lights of Dehra Dun twinkling in the valley below. Our kids will certainly get to talk to their grandparents tomorrow - we expect a call from Oma and Opa sometime before they go to school in the afternoon (Asha and Enoch that is - not Oma and Opa).

The sheer breath-taking beauty of Mussoorie can mask some of the pain that goes on. Dad sent an email yesterday saying that one of the women that they as a family have been helping died. She had HIV and passed away at the Landour Community Hospital. HIV doesn't only live down in the gutters of slum-dog Mumbai - but also clings on to the sides of the mountains where the wind whistles through fir trees.

We are so proud of both sets of parents that God has blessed us with. Both are continuing to live out lives of love. Reaching out to people who other people steer clear of. While we always want them to 'slow down' - it looks highly unlikely given the big hearts they have.

Mum and Dad have created an amazing home. And it is not the staggering view from Shanti Kunj that makes the place - or even the interiors with the quaint beauty that Mum has filled them with. What really draws people there is the love that they receive. The real sense that they are cared for and special. The beauty of two lives - who have grown old together - and are still seeking to reach out and touch others with the hope that they have in their Lord Jesus.

Mussoorie all seems very far away for us here in Thane - as the heat has come upon us with a bang - and as the old mixture of tiredness and mental and emotional fatigue works its way into our days. But as I parse back in time I remember the same things taking place in Nana Chowk. Mum's kitchen had a small table put there so people could sit and talk with her while she cooked. That place had a special beauty and was treasured by those who spent time with her. For all the people that Dad touched through his speaking and visiting the teams - perhaps just as many were blessed through Mum listening and speaking with them over coffee - while half the traffic of Bombay droned outside in the manic intersection of cars that Nana Chowk was.

How much we underestimate the gift of hospitality. Would that our home would be a place where we show a big heart. We love people - but get so tired. But that can't be an excuse. We have seen how much our parents went the extra mile in their lives. I certainly relished having new folks at the dinner table almost every day while growing up. May God grow our hearts bigger.

We saw a little bit of the kind of hospitality we would like to practice more of in an unplanned visit of two little girls to our place today. One of them had had her 4th birthday the day before - but her mother had been sick and depressed and so had not come for work. It was a public holiday today so none of the kids had school. We made up for the little girl's lost birthday by holding a small impromptu party here - and a lunch together with Asha and Enoch. How proud we are of our kids. Asha and Enoch just took these two little ones under their arms - patiently playing with them - and even feeding them the remaining part of their lunch.

May they follow in the footsteps of their grandparents - both the ones in the Himalaya - and the ones on the Bay of Bengal!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A circle of hope

Sheba met a lady today. She was brought by her brother-in-law - who plies the streets of Thane as an auto driver. We will call her Meera. She is HIV positive.

How did this lady come to us?

Some time ago, our main nurse - Sandhya Sainani - took an autorickshaw to the JSK centre. During her ride she talked with the driver and told him to send anyone to our centre who had HIV.

The conversation stuck with the auto-driver. He remembered his sister-in-law - Meera - who had been widowed 7 years ago. He brought her today.

After Sheba saw her and talked with Meera, she asked her whether she had ever heard about Jesus. We usually ask our friends if we can pray with them. Most agree.

Meera's face lit up: "Yes I have!" she said. And she proceeded to tell about how some years ago, when she was living near Varanasi, her son had become very sick. They were taken to the Mission Hospital in a place called Kachhwa - where the boy was looked after for 4 days. People had prayed there and he got better. On the last day, she had heard bhajans being sung to Jesus.

And here she was - thousands of kilometers away from the place - and with people who were also followers of this Jesus.

And here we are - again linked with a small town in eastern Uttar Pradesh - where a century-old hospital continues to be full of light and life. We are proud of Dr. Raju Abraham and the team who have continued to touch so many lives in and around Kachhwa - and have touched an HIV positive lady all the way here in Thane.

Kachhwa Christian Hospital is one of the 20 odd hospitals run through the Emmanuel Hospital Association. KCH has a special bond for us - since it was where Stefan worked for almost 3 years - helping organise the community health and development programme that is now called Nav Vikas. It is a project which I had the privilege of nudging its beginnings into existence during conversations with Dr. Santhosh Matthew who was then serving at KCH - many, many a year ago.

And so, in a small way the circle is complete - our paths here in urban Thane have crossed paths that our dear friends have trodden in far away rural Mirzapur district (best known for its colourful - and late MP Phoolan Devi).

Meera left the JSK centre happy. Though she still faces huge odds in her life - there is hope. Its not going to be easy for this brave lady - but what joy to know that she has already been in touch with people we know - and who have loved her.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Loose change

Our coins tell us something about who we are as a nation. They are small durable metal pictures that give little glimpses about who we are - or at least who our government thinks we are.

Growing up in Bombay - our home was a transit point for visitors from near and far - and so it was almost natural that my first 'hobby' was collecting coins from different countries.

It was a small step from there to start collecting Indian coins too. I tried to get a coin from each denomination and from each year.

Compared to some of the exotic ones that I had from abroad, most of our coins seemed pretty drab - often ridiculously light and quickly worn out. It was after all the time of austerity under Indira Gandhi rule of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The designs were bland. Period. Our dear government did manage to mint commemorative coins in the lower denominations (a 10 paisa coin actually bought something in those days! - indeed it still existed). Most of these commemoratives were government 'public awareness messages' printed on small bits of metal (a.k.a. propaganda). We usually got something 'nation-building' like the 1974 10 paisa coin that states: "planned families: food for all" or coins celebrating some UN year - the year of the youth, the year of the family, a particular slogan being touted by the FAO etc.

The last two decades have seen more commemorative issues - but in small circulations and rarely seen in your pocket change. The main coins of low denominations (the 50 paisa now being the lowest coin) being pretty boring repeats of the same design each year - only the year change to show when it was minted.

A few years ago there was a small storm in our national chai cup when it was alleged that the Rs. 2 coin had a Christian cross. Some dear folks thought that this was part of a great conspiracy to turn India into and Christian nation - and put the blame for this on the doorstep of dear Sonia Gandhi. Now I have no idea about how religious this lady is - but one thing I do know - if she is a Christian of any sort - she certainly has never said so publicly. I have seen photos of her in all places of worship of every conceivable religion - but have never seen a photo of her at a church or a Christian prayer meeting.

Our dear government was stung into action. The offending cross design on the Rs. 2 coin - which was supposed to show national integration - was replaced with a grand design of... a lady's hand showing two fingers! Then the 1 rupee coin followed ... with a hand showing a thumb stuck up! And a fifty paisa piece with just a fist! So much for our much touted leap into the 21st century - we are left with semi-literate symbols to grace our currency.

You just don't know whether to laugh or cry.

I was reminded of all of this by a pleasant discovery the other day. I was about to give a coin to a shop keeper when I noticed it was different from the standard 'two finger' Rs. 2 coins.

It turns out that last year a commemorative Rs. 2 had been minted - to celebrate the birth bicentenary of Lois Braille. I was particularly pleased to see braille lettering on it - which I assume is the name of the inventor of the braille script in the script through which so many blind people around the world have been able to read.

Since the braille text does not match with the rendering of Lois Braille's name in English - I assume that it is written in Hindi - with the half vowels kicking in - the last part seems to be the letters "b" "r" and "l" instead of a letter by letter English version.

We have so many amazing people to celebrate through coins. A rich and varied country which has much to offer and inspire. Surely we can have some more little portraits in our pockets to celebrate who we are - and where we want to go.

Saturday, 20 March 2010


Mrs. Maninder lives in one of the many shanty-towns that 'house' most of the people living in greater Mumbai. She is a widow with two small children. She is being helped by a local church. She is HIV positive - though her landlord does not know this.

Yesterday Mrs. Maninder went to the toilet. She does not have one in her room that she rents and so has to go to a common toilet that the municipality has constructed. It was 9 PM at night. She did not tell her landlord - as she normally does - she just went, leaving her two children in the room.

She also left her mobile - charging.

When she came back, her mobile - charger and all - was gone. A man had come in and stolen it.

Her two small daughters said "one uncle came and took the mobile."

How slender the thread of security. What could have happened to the daughters in that moment. How many eyes there are - eyes that know when she has left the room - and know what she has - and what can be stolen from a poor woman like her.

Its a hard life.

Friday, 19 March 2010

TB musings

It isn't easy to work with the government health system in our beloved country of India.

Our annual health budget per person is said to be a paltry Rs. 320 (about US$ 8!). Most of this goes into staff salaries. There are always so many people asking for help - and a creaky infrastructure - and all the joys of being 'served' by people who have jobs for life (and for which many have paid hefty bribes to get).

But in our work we strongly feel that when services are available - and they are in the areas of Tuberculosis treatment and Anti-retroviral treatment - both available free - that we should do as little duplicating as possible. Since you and I are paying for these services through the many hidden taxes that are levied on us - we want these to be used as much as possible.

So whenever we can - we encourage our friends who have HIV to get TB meds and HIV meds from the government.

Most people with HIV in our country get TB. And so we are constantly in the business of trying to access TB care.

Though the overall programme (the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme) is pretty good by government standards, occasionally is a bit hard to get started into the system. This is particularly true for people with HIV since they often present with unusual symptoms. But over the years we have been successful in getting varied people started on anti-TB medications.

Our latest miracle is Mrs. Sashta. We had admitted her at JSK last month with a long-term fever. She was on the point of death and was not responding to care. By God's grace she stabilised to soe degree. During the 10 days we looked after her at the JSK centre, we were able to control her vomitting - and start her on anti-retroviral therapy from the government. But it was with sadness in our heart that we discharged her still having TB.

Last week we finally decided that though we could not find where in her body she had TB - that it was about the only option open for her. We sent her to to government centre fully expecting them not to start her on the medications - and for us to have to begin arguing and negotiating with them. But they started her immediately! We were so happy to see the system working. Much prayer goes into each step - but what joy when things click!

A few months ago a person came to us from Tamil Nadu. We will call her Diana. She was from a village - and had had long-term fevers and a terrible arthritic pain in her knee. A distant relative was working at one of the better hospitals in Thane - and so they brought Diana here.

Sheba tells me that 'mono-arthritis' should always be suspected as TB. Diana was brought to a orthropaedic surgeon. Then during the work up an HIV test was done. She was found to be HIV positive. The surgeon dropped Diana as a patient and somehow she found her way over to us.

After counselling and listening to this lady, Sheba diagnosed her as having TB of the knee. She was referred to the government TB programme. She went down south for short time and talked with her husband - who works at a hotel. He refused to be tested himself. She talked to other family members who were more helpful and supportive. When she came back to see Sheba yesterday, she had gained 4 kgs. in weight! It is amazing to see what a transformation of this dear lady. She will still need help and support, of course, as the fight against the virus is a life long one - but what a huge leg-up she got due to her good start with the TB treatment!

We trust that Mrs. Sashta too will benefit from the TB meds available - and from our fervent prayers (and the prayers of many!).

This coming week is World TB day (March 24th). Our hats off to workers around the world who ware involved with helping contain TB. May your tribe increase! And even better - may you one day be worked out of a job - since there is no more TB to contain!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Kids' rhymes

You can learn a lot by listening to children.

Yesterday I heard Asha and Enoch do a school-yard chant I had not heard before:

Hero Honda
Police ka danda
Kaise maare?

They were in another room, playing by themselves. Intrigued, I asked them to do the chant in front of me. They did - doing it the classic school yard clapping of hands. The last line started with one finger - and with each round another was added - till the final bit - a small 'playful' slap on the face.

So lets 'deconstruct'.

This rhyme was certainly not around when I was in school.

For one "Hero Honda" wasn't even a glimpse on the horizon. This company is now "
the world's single largest two-wheeler motorcycle company".

So we have someone with a motor cycle.

Then enter the police. Not just a normal policeman, but the 'Police ka Danda' the infamous 'lathi' - a bamboo pole used with considerable force in various situations.

A recent photo gives an example. In this case - Police vs. Lawyers in Kashmir. The lawyers seem to be giving it back just as good as they are getting it.

So the question "Kaise maare" - is how does the policeman hit?

Aise - like this!

Believe me, policemen in our blessed land do not tap as lightly as my children did in their game. A friend of ours recently spent a night in custody at a police station and told about hearing the cries of a man being beaten up at 4 AM. The 'police ka danda' is used, usually quite viciously.

There is a real fear of the policeman. This fear is used by many men in khaki to have their way - bullying others - taking things without paying for them etc. I understand that there are even clear bribes given when someone is taken into custody so that they will not be beaten by the dreaded 'danda.'

What I found amazing was how this fear has been brought out in a children's rhyme. Who came up with it? Was it a child? Was it a mother whose husband had been in a lock-up? Who put the 'Hero Honda' bit together with the 'Police ka danda'? Someone who had been booked for not having a license (rare - most give a small bribe and keep driving)?

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


One of the joys of being a Dad is packing the tiffin for Asha and Enoch each day. Most days its pretty simple - a sandwich or two - some biscuits perhaps - the odd banana - maybe a pancake left over from breakfast.

But today I had the joy of putting in two hot idlis and some fresh coconut + peanut chutney. Thanks to Sheba's hard work the kids had a royal treat. I added a chocolate each that their Uncle Peter had sent from Kenya.

There is so much joy in small things. In being able to be part of our children's lives as they grow and develop. In the pleasure of food and books and word games. In reading the Bible together and discussing what it means. In the games and shows that they put on for us.

The sad part is how the 'grown-up' flaws of worry and irritability seep in at times. We mess up - and then fess up. God is very very good at forgiving us.

One of the greatest blessings we have as a family is to be so close to our workplace - and to be able to be so flexible with how we structure the work - and to have children who so lovingly participate in their own ways with what Mummy and Daddy are doing.

With the kids having afternoon school - I am at the office by 8 AM and come back by 11 AM. Sheba is in the clinic from 11 AM to 3 PM. I am with the kids till they get their bus at 12.30 PM before rejoining the office. Then we come back at 6 PM and are there when the school bus brings Asha and Enoch back at 6.30. An amazing blessing - for one of us parents to be with our children the whole time outside their school hours!

And so the joys of making 'tiffins' - of ironing school uniforms - of seeing Asha do her violin practice and Enoch his keyboard exercises - of eating lunch together and washing up quickly before the bus comes down stairs. Of polishing shoes and praying and seeing them in the bus and off to their school day.

Having been a person who has never fantasized about what the future will hold - esp. about how my family will be - I can only say that it is a voyage of wonder to be with our two. Sheba and I are deeply grateful for these days. Long may they last!

Pictures of Hope

I just said in the last post that many have never had their stories told. Well, we do have a small group of artists called "Creative Conscience" who meet each year to explore a theme of social value together - and make art out of the experience.

After covering challenging topics like "religious violence, female foeticide, and economic disparity" the good folks at CC are exploring celebrating the reality of ‘hope’ through their art this year.

I am proud to say that our dear brother Stefan is one of the folks behind this movement, and that they are hosting the "Hope" Exhibition - now - at Reflection Art Gallery & Studios, New Delhi.

Gentle readers living in Delhi are cordially invited on 19th March, 6pm onwards for the opening ceremony at Reflection Art Gallery & Studios, 40A Shahpur Jat (near Asiad Village), New Delhi 110049. The rest of us will have to see it vicarously over the net at:

Exhibition Dates: 19th March- 3rd April
Gallery Hours: 11 am - 7 pm Monday-Saturday
Need help? Call 011-26495088 or 9711104374.

How to get to Reflection Art:

Sand painting

Is it possible to express grief and hope through sand?

Here is an example of a woman who has 'performed' a set of pictures placed to popular and patriotic music of Ukraine. Please disregard the setting (one of those "India's Got Talent" style TV tamashas) and look at how she is able to express the pain of war - namely the World War II invasion of Ukraine (part of Soviet Union at the time) by the Germans.

The words at the end say: "you are always in my heart."

Apparently the words to one of the songs goes:
"Sometimes it seems to me, that soldiers who didn't return home, do not lie in beds-of-honor, they turned into white cranes"

How much art can touch lives. Would that we would see more stories told. Sixty years on the images still haunt - because they are part of the deepest experiences that people go through in war - loss, confusion, hope, memories...

How many others have never had their story told, have never had a song written about them.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Garish garland

I opened the Indian Express this morning and idly glanced at the front page picture. A political leader was being felicitated with a huge garland. But, there was something funny about the garland. It was not made of flowers. It was simply gigantic. Elephantine. A motley crew of politicos was draping it around their leader.

For some reason I thought it was made of sandal wood.

The garland was made of wood - pulped into paper - and stamped by the Reserve Bank of India in 1000 rupee denominations. Could this be the most expensive garland ever? The Indian Express estimated it at Rs. 21,00,000/- various other websites have it between Rs. 2,00,00,000 and Rs. 5,00,00,000/-.

Why does this all matter?

Only because the person being garlanded is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh - which would be the 6th largest country in the world if its 100 million plus inhabitants were an independent country. Only because the lady in the middle claims the mantle of leading the Dalit millions of our country forward. Only because you don't get 21 lakhs rupees for nothing.

Politics in our country in 2010 is simple. There is no free lunch. Money comes - but it always demands a price.

How totally crass, totally ludicrous, totally sham this looks is clearly irrelevant to all the actors in this picture (and many many more off camera).

Its a show of power. A declaration that the party in question - the Bahujan Samaj Party - plans to be a major player in the years to come.

Its a show of the same grinding sycophancy that all our dear parties exhibit. Great public spectacles of loyalty towards our 'netas' (leaders). Anyone who dares criticise is immediately in the dog-house.

Its a show of total unblinking corruption. Look at the folks around the lady. No prizes for guessing where many of these men have spent time. Tough. Shades. A glint of menace. Its no surprise that so many of our politicians are wanted by the police for everything from rioting to rape to murder.

Flash back to 1989.

I had joined Vishal Mangalwadi for his attempt to enter our national parliament. The Lok Sabha elections were on. Vishal chose to contest from his native Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh. His opponents were a lady scion of a Congress political family - and another lady who later became known as the fiery sadhvi - Uma Bharati.

The party Vishal chose was a totally unknown unit called the Bahujan Samaj Party. Based on a prior set of political mobilisation of scheduled caste and tribe government officials knows as the DS4 - the BSP was making its fledgling steps onto the national scene.

They won only two seats - and even that was considered a break through. Vishal lost his deposit.

But what struck me from the 2 weeks I spent observing the campaign was the passion of the people. The BSP at that point could hardly even hire a half dozen jeeps to canvass. They faced formidable odds to start anything. But they had cadres who were mobilising. Who were holding meetings.

One dusty evening I saw a young girl stand up and address a crowd. It was the end of the day. The power was off. She was speaking using a small battery powered mike. She must have been all of 15. Her slight frame barely stood out in the gloom. A maroon salwar-kameez. She talked. People listened. She had a mesmerizing effect - a young firebrand.

Where is that girl today? Did she use her skills and piggy back the caste-based parties move to power like Mayawati did? Did she get married off and is now living a domestic life in some small town of Madhya Pradesh? Did she suddenly die in an 'accident' (stranger things have happened). Is she still holding forth to a small crowd somewhere?

How sad to see our political process so denatured. So horribly wrong. Every Rs. 1000 note in that garland is at least half a months salary for most of our population. One website estimated it was made of 50,000 such notes.

So much for social justice and uplifting the Dalit. Mayawati has showed what we have known all along - that politics is the art of doing what it takes to stay in power. Just as others have used various pulls and currents to push themselves forward - so this canny lady has allowed the aspirations of the many down-trodden to push her and her clique into the same space of those whom she accuses of being the oppressors.

The Good Book says that we are to pray for all in positions of authority. I shall be praying for Mayawati and the BSP. I have on and off been praying for our friends in the BJP. I need to be more serious and consistent in doing so for our Prime Minister and other folks. We have a long, long way to go in our blessed land. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Public health heroes

Today is the Ides of March.

Besides the day when Julius Ceasar was murdered in AD 44 - its also the day when John Snow was born in 1813.

Who is John Snow you ask? Well - many call him the father of Public Health. He certainly set the field of epidemiology in motion through a brilliant set of deductions that found that most of the cholera cases in a slum suburb of London could be traced to a single contaminated pump. By shutting the hand-pump down he helped stop the cholera outbreak. And thus was born epidemiology - the art and science of understanding how diseases spread through populations - and making interventions based on data.

Interestingly, it was with the help of Rev. Henry Whitehead, a local clergyman and amateur scientist (professionals did not exist then...) that Snow was able to do much of the footwork which helped prove that the cholera was not from 'miasma' (impure airs) but rather by germs - and that too through water polluted by human faeces. Their partnership is just one of many often unsung collaborations between what has in some minds become an intractable 'conflict' between 'faith' and 'science.'

So why does all this come to mind today?

Well I got an email from Uganda - where one of my brilliant school friends Dr. Sundeep Gupta is living out an amazing life as working with the Centres for Disease Control in Entebbe.

Sundeep informed us that a legend in community health has passed away. Dr. Carl Taylor died had died at 93 - like it was said of Abraham - "old and full of years". Sundeep tells us that Dr. Taylor spent his 90th and 91st years in Afghanistan, helping set up community-based primary health care programs with local women's groups there.

Dr. Taylor was born in Landour, Mussoorie and went to Woodstock School, graduating in 1932 and going on to study medicine at Harvard. Returning in the late 1940s as a missionary doctor - he was saddened by the many preventable deaths that he was trying to treat and decided to take public health training - again at Harvard. He came back to India in the early 1950s and set into action a set of community health initiatives which changed the world. It was Dr. Taylor and others who showed the village health workers could be trained in basic maternal and child care in their own rural environments. Dr. Taylor's further career included being one of the founders of the International Health programme at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (still arguably the best in the world) - and many posts with the UN and WHO including being the head of UNICEF in China. Probably the biggest impact Dr. Taylor had was to be a key figure in helping get the Alma Ata Declaration where 134 countries pledged to make Primary Health Care a basic right.

Another of our classmates - Suzanne Hurley - is Dr. Taylor's niece. She remembers her Uncle Carl:"He truly was a remarkable man--such an incredible heart for people." But in a strange way I feel that it is through Sundeep whom I share my albeit distant link with Dr. Taylor. Sundeep counts the legend as a mentor and a friend. He worked together with Dr. Taylor and has authored an amazing study which evaluates the evidence for community health programmes being effective around the world.

I have been blessed with some amazing friends - and Sundeep ranks up there among the most remarkable of them. Looking over his career so far I can only say that I am deeply challenged by Sundeep. A clinical doctor and public health specialist Sundeep has over the years combined his intellectual brilliance with a deeply humane vision of service and care. He has worked with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in multiple settings around the world. At one point he was considering working in Maharashtra - but finally decided to work in Uganda for the past few years along with his amazing wife Fatima (from El Salvador) and their two lovely daughters.

Sundeep finished off his email by saying: Although, as stated in the [New York Times] obituary, his ground-breaking professional achievements have already become a permanent part of the history books, it was his caring and inspiring personal nature that will be remembered by those around him.

So there we have them - a few of my public health heroes - Dr. John Snow, Dr. Carl Taylor - and my latest one - the one whose story is still unravelling, still unfolding - my very own friend Dr. Sundeep Gupta!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Tears on a sunny day

Hot sun
Post noon funeral
Small crowd gathered in quietness
Fans whir in the shed while we wait
Two wooden horses - small - black
Five plastic chairs up front
Await a small coffin

We had arrived minutes earlier
To a small knot of well known faces
A few hand-shakes and then to our chairs
Now others have flowed in
The quietness deep
A tear is starting to form

And now the family has come
A small dignified knot of love
And grief, borne stilly
The heartbreak of a light white coffin
Flowers arranged with a little face
Peeking out

They carry you - sweet prince
No breath comes out anymore
But did you ever breathe freely my child?
Your valiant fight
Enmeshed in tubes and ventilator
Is over
For now
For ever

Arrayed in tiny majesty
Sweet child of promise
We sang and wept
Words of hope mingle
With seeds of sadness
Because He lives
I can face tomorrow
Hope wins out on tear-stained faces

I listened as a brother spoke
Recalling his own loss
Of a little one
How his wife and he asked why God gave
Only to take away

I listened as the old good Book
Spoke truths
And tear-smeared, faith-tested realities
Our todays will be swallowed up
By His tomorrow
By His sorrows
Are we healed

Your parents loved you child
And gave you the name
It belongs to you
And your memory belongs to them

Then all too soon we walked round
To see you close, my child
Your tiny face
Eyes closed, silent amidst flowers
My children came and saw
I felt my son's warm hand in mine
He did not cry then
Just like your three elder sisters
In their childlike oblivion
But he cried later
Outside in hot sun
And at home this evening
When will his small reservoir of sorrow
Run dry?

Moments later
We were walking over bleached grass and dust
To the distant corner
Where a hole opened up into hard earth

So many faces
So many prayers were said - and thought
We were joined in a community of grief
And comfort
So many things we wanted to tell
But this was a time for silence
Punctuated by hymns

A final psalm
A final prayer
A goodbye - parents kissing the little face
And then the coffin put down
Into the hole

As dust was thrown in
I took a handfull
And added to the covering
Of a small body

One life on earth is over
One life in heaven carries on
Waiting for blessed reunion

As we left
Our small breathing family of four
We saw two of little buried Adhar's sisters
Playing among graves

We will continue to cry
For young Adhar
For others who have left
Before their time
Until the hope of our hearts
Becomes the tear-less reality

in memory of
Adhar George
Born 'before time'
Died on 14.3.2010
Safe in the arms of Jesus

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Old age question

Enoch asked me earlier today: "When you get old - are you going to be still working with HIV?"

How much our kids have heard about our work. We try not to talk too much about it at home - but it seeps in.

What does my 7 year old son know about HIV? He has seen plenty of our friends with it. He has played with kids who are HIV positive. We have all eaten meals together with people with HIV - sometimes in our home, sometimes on camp. He has sat in on Mummy and Daddy's trainings - reading his books in the background while we seek to prepare church members to care...

A lot of exposure of words (and some works) for a little fellow of 7.

I told him: "I don't know. It all depends whether God wants us to be doing then..."


I have had the privilege of reading Makoto Fujimura’s elegant book Refractions twice. The first was conventionally – at home – sprawled in bed and draped over our settees while various cups of tea for company. The second reading of Refractions was while travelling without a reservation on a rattling train cross India from west to east. Most of the book was read scrunched up on a tiny bit of space –while my family slumbered on the floor of the train – with Fujimura’s words illuminated by the light of a weak lamp.

Refractions is a collection of essays that Fujimura originally wrote for his blog. Their quality makes their transition to the printed page seamless.

Throughout the essays we see a constant thread woven in and out of Fujimura’s life as an artist – his quest for beauty and his celebration of his craft. Fujimura is an American of Japanese origin who chose to apprentice with a master painter in the Nihonga (Japanese-style) painting tradition. As an outsider – being American – he managed to gain an unprecedented acceptance into an advanced course of study led by a doyen of this painting style with clear roots back to 14th century Japan.

Refractions uses words to flesh out the colours and textures of Fujimura’s experiences. He paints with reverence – celebrating both the texture and quality of his papers and hand-crushed dyes – but also expresses his reverence for his Creator who his Christian faith allows him to celebrate through his art. While most of Fujimura’s art is more about colour and texture than exact representations – his concerns see to it that his art reflects on the human condition – and the concreteness of history.

The major event resonating through this set of essays is the catastrophic attack on the World Trade Towers in New York City on Sept. 11 2001. Fujimura experienced this terror first hand – and many of his thoughts in this volume reflect back on the terrible events and aftermath. Faced with the chaos and hurt, with the swirling uncertainties and dust, Fujimura the artist responds with beauty and prayer and reaching out through creating safe places for expressing the inner.

A second strand that is woven through the essays – and which appealed deeply to me – is the novelist’s eye Fujimura shows when describing his travels – especially in the Japanese countryside. This delight in the beauty of things, the essential wonder of the material may have been accentuated for me due to its contrast to my dingy conditions during my second reading on the train. But Fujimura’s faculty in distilling the essential – and instilling a rounded image in the mind makes the book worth a read in itself – even without his meditations around these images.

The final strand which stands out golden is that of Fujimura’s ruminations on his Christian faith. As an artist Fujimura believes that the world is pregnant with meaning. As an adult follower of Christ he approaches life with the twin lenses of a faith the seeks to make sense out of chaos and one that seeks expression of his deepest issues through his understanding of the person of Jesus Christ. The fact that he expresses these aesthetically not in the classical tradition of representative western religious art – but through the his own Japanese-rooted Nihonga style makes it all the more refreshing to me.

If I have any bone to pick with Refractions as a book, it is in the visual representation of Fujimura’s art. For one who makes such vivid images, the pictures in the small volume I have seem strangely small and dark – almost faded. I wish I could see more. Perhaps the publisher needs better paper? Or a more compelling layout designer?

I came away from the book feeling that I have nibbled a bit into the person who Fujimura is. His ruminations about image and meaning – and his taking me along with him through some of the fascinating circles he treads has stretched my world a little more. Whether it be while drinking chai at home – or reading while hunched over sleeping forms while hurtling through the night on a cold train – journeying with Fujimura to lands of expressed aesthetics left me all the more richer.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Blood speaks

Uncle Madhusudan Das came to visit yesterday. It has been years - absolutely years - since we had a decent conversation. Yesterday erased a small part of the great deficit in communication that has grown over time...

many of the OM faithful at Uncle Madhu and Aunty Esther's wedding - the happy couple in the back row of course. Yours truly second from right

Both my parents were are single children. We grew up with no biological uncles or aunties to speak of. Our parents' cousins were distant - sprinkled lightly across the US and Germany other foreign lands.

We did have many 'uncles' and 'aunties' though. Growing up in OM - the commune-like Christian mission that shaped my parents (and was shaped by them in turn) - we were literally part of a large family. Anyone 10 years older to me was an Uncle (or an Auntie if the person was a she).

Uncle Madhu was one of our favourites. He always had a joke and a story to tell. His cooking skills were legendary. His big smile and hugs were looked forward to. Hailing from Orissa - his shape soon enough fit his jolly nature. My earliest (admittedly faint) memories of Uncle were of a thin man - but most of our growing-up years Uncle's shape got him frequent good-natured ribbings to join the "skinny club."


Today Uncle Madhu serves in various capacities - speaking, networking, encouraging Christian work across the country.

We were talking about our work with people with HIV and Madhu told me a story.

Some time ago a person had come to Hyderabad for some complicated heart surgery. Madhu helped organise various aspects for this person. He was told that they needed a lot of blood before the surgery and so put out an appeal to OM folks to volunteer. In a short time he had 6 men step forward and so took them to the blood bank.

After the testing had been done the lady doctor in charge asked Madhu to come and meet her. "Are you Chrrristians?" she almost snarled. Taken a bit aback, but still maintaining his composure, Madhu answered "Yes, we are ... have we committed a crime?" "What is the 'OM' you are part of?" the medico continued. Madhu explained how young people came together to live with each other and share about the person and love of Christ. "Hmmm" said the doc and dismissed him - telling him to come tomorrow for the actual donation.

The next day the six came and donated their blood. After this was over the main lab tech motioned to Madhu. "I can tell you why the doctor was reacting that way yesterday" he told Madhu.

Apparently at just about the same time as Madhu had brought his posse of donors, carers for another patient from Vijaywada had brought 8 donors to give blood. In the pre-donation screening (usually done under the guise of 'testing compatibility') 6 out of the 8 were found to be HIV positive! The lab techs could not believe it and retested the lot - only to find the same results.

None of the 6 donors that Madhu had brought were HIV positive. All the blood they gave was used - in fact 2 units were left over and Madhu gave permission for it to be used for other patients.

"Blood speaks" said the lab tech.

Indeed it does. The words he said that day burrowed into Madhu's mind. He immediately told the lab tech how true his words were.

The first family recorded in the holy writ saw the terrible murder of brother by brother. Afterwards Abel's blood cried out to God. The scarlet line of blood twists through scripture in various forms. The blood of animals in sacrifices, the various laws forbidding the drinking of blood since people believed it contained a life-force.

Most importantly for Christians - it is the sacrificial blood of Christ that gives hope of redemption. The blood that gives hope that the terrible consequences of our rebellious acts have been paid in full - and that our own spurning of our Loving Father is fully forgiven.

"Blood speaks". It does. Little did that lab technician know the depth of what he said.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Sad cheers

My mobile is lost. Somewhere between 5.45 and 7 PM tonight.

At a late dinner Enoch said "Two sad cheers for Daddy's mobile".

My sentiments exactly.

post script: late that night I found it. You can call me again! Amazing how much relief I had when the lost was found...


He works as a clerk at a local railway station.

I see him sometimes - he normally asks me to come back and jump the queue. I have escaped this most of the time - though he got me once to come back.

He is HIV positive and lives out in the hinterland - commuting in on the same railway he works for.

He and his wife have not had it easy - made worse by his drinking and the mental imbalance. But somehow he has held on to his job. His HIV medications and his psychiatric treatment have carried on over the last few years. He has hardly been the considerate husband. Their 11 year old daughter has seen and heard many, many, many fights.

And now the HIV meds don't seem to be working much. His virus seems to be resistant to them. His most recent CD4 count is a paltry 44. He basically does not have an immune defence at this point.

He still comes to work. We are trying to get him onto the next line of anti-retroviral therapy. The govt. hospital in Mumbai which dispenses this has a constant demand for the therapy - which is about 5 times as expensive as the first line meds.

No easy solution for this couple.

44 is a paltry figure. Would that it be more.

Monday, 8 March 2010


Asha has been bullied by a boy. Lets call him "Manoj". Manoj studies with Asha in 3rd standard and has been pushing her and poking her. Last week it got a bit too much and Asha told Sheba about it.

Sheba wrote a small note to the teacher in Asha's diary and that seemed to settle the matter.

Yesterday evening - as we were catching up on the week with each other Sheba mentioned this to me. A few minutes after we talked, Sheba got a call from a parent saying that he would like to come and meet us at home along with his son.

Sheba said that it was ok to come over.

About 1/2 an hour later our doorbell rang.

We looked out to see a small crowd. A man, two women, two teens, and two kids Asha's age. I thought that they were coming to collect some donations for a festival or something. We opened the door and they came in.

The kids were Asha's classmates. The adults the parents of one of them and the mother of another. The teens were older siblings - one per child. The Indian upper middle class has been scrupulous in following the Hum-do-hamara-do family planning formula (the Eichers being another piece in this giant jigsaw of our country).

What unfolded next was not what we expected - Manoj's father coming to challenge us about what we had written to the teacher. Rather it was the parents another boy who had been scratched up by Manoj - and the mother of a girl who sits next to Manoj and gets another variety of the same.

Sheba has been the class Parent Teacher representative for most of this year - and now at the fag end of the year we have received our first request to do something. The parents had brought a letter that they were going to submit to the principal. They seemed concerned for Manoj - as much as they were concerned for their children.

In the course of our conversation a small picture of urban upper class India emerges. A well-to-do family where the father is not seen. Is he dead? In Dubai? In the army? Starting a new factory? The parents who came said that different people have told them different things.

A mother who has tried to get Manoj's elder sister into modelling. A mother who says that Manoj has done no wrong - and that it is all the other children who are tormenting him. A mother who calls the other children up and tells them not to be bad to Manoj, but hangs up quickly before the children can give the phone to their parents.

The flip side is also there. Parents who network amongst themselves - comparing notes - triangulating the lives of others. All deeply concerned about their children's future and well being. Mothers who strive to speak in English and somewhat sheepishly slip into Hindi when they get animated. Older siblings eager to put in their two bits. The drama of the Indian extended family (we missed the grand-parents on this visit - but they would surely also add their vim and vigour to the mix were they physically present).

We were a bit taken aback by all of this. All we could say is that they were welcome to share their concerns with the teacher and authorities at the school - and that Manoj and his family are in need of care and understanding. Sheba hopes to meet the teacher about this today and may end up meeting Manoj's mother too.

So much of our outward behaviour mirrors what goes on inside our hearts, mirrors the sad pallid dramas that are played out inside our 4 walls. So many of our little ones act out what they see happening at home. How much of the rowdy behaviour is a plea for help? Is a deep desire to be touched and loved?

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Prayer for Pankaj

Sheba came back last night after having done rounds at the JSK centre. We only have one person admitted - Pankaj - and she said that he is really ill.

It had been a good day for us as a family - we went out to Dombivili for a time of common worship together with others from the various house-fellowships we are part of. It was a challenging and uplifting time - and wonderful to meet up with some dear friends again and make new ones too.

After a late afternoon nap I was with the kids while Sheba went over to do her rounds.

Pankaj had come to us as a last resort after his uncle in Kerala tracked JSK down on the internet. His immunity is very low and we admitted him at the Jeevan Sahara centre late last week. Sheba has diagnosed him to be suffering from tuberculosis - among other things. Pankaj continues to have high fevers - but has regained his appetite and is sleeping well for the first time in months. With the loving care our nurses and others are giving him - as well as the listening and prayers we are hopeful, but still conscious of the grim fact that Pankaj could pass away soon.

It was this feeling that Sheba came back with last night. She asked me to go over and pray for him. And to anoint him with oil.

I did.

Walked over in the darkness of a Thane night, past vegetable vendours at the corner and people across the street digging into samosas and bhel puri, past the motely huddle of rough-and-ready shops that abut the JSK centre. Walked through the bright blue sliding metal grille of JSK and into the small space where our inpatients are cared for.

I had just started talking with Pankaj and his father when the mobile went off. An unknown number so I decided to take it - and walked outside into the night to talk. It was an acquaintance who said that he has a friend with HIV who is very sick. Can he bring him for treatment. I told him to come on the morn with his friend and all the medical papers he had. Then headed back in to be with Pankaj and his Dad.

Pankaj is a large young man. Mid thirties. Well built - looking bloated and pale. His skin a maze of rashes. His moustach full but drooping. Sad, veiled eyes. He was lying in the bed. His small father seated on a chair - hand wearily on head.

We talked. I told him that we were hopeful but also concerned. I told him that Sheba had asked me to come and pray for him and asked his father to read out a passage from the Bible in Malayalam. The copy we have has very small text so the Father said he could not read it. I handed it over to Pankaj who read halting the while lying down the following words which we find James 5.13-16:

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

I explained that our heavenly Father loves to hear us talk to Him - just like I love to hear Asha and Enoch talk to me. And even more so when they are in some kind of problem. I also shared that we are told to ask church leaders to come and anoint with oil and pray. Not that there is any 'magic' in the oil - I told them - but because God's word says so and we want to humbly obey what it says.

I had a small container of oil with me (coconut oil from the tree outside Amma and Appa's house in Vishakapatnam - prosaically stored in an old Ponds cold cream container). I told Pankaj and his Father that the leadership of our churches had asked me to be one of the leaders and so I wanted to pray for him and put the oil on him. He was willing. I did.

I walked back out into the night. The prayer of faith will make him well. How big is my faith? Pretty small. But I want to obey my Master. And know that if he can accept the faith of a small child - he can accept the desperate prayer for healing this dear sick man.


Dark night
Fan spinning away with clanky-clank
Thoughts spill in and out
A distant dog barks - make that two
Lights in neighouring houses flip on
Autorickshaw growls in short sputtering bursts
What goes on in the mind as it shuts itself down
For the day
For the night
I am not alone
My love lies beside me in her own dreams
And yet something switches on
Birds are chirping madly in the darkness 1.08 AM
Sleep remains such a daily mystery
Our rest in suspended animation
Waiting to be brought back to life
By tinny alarm on mobile
Or love who wakes me with tea

Morgen frueh wenn Gott will, wirdst Du wieder geweckt...

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Day of Service

We are just minutes away from this year's first "Day of Service" - a time when young people from different churches are getting together to go out and make a small but real difference in the lives of people with HIV.

I will walk over from our home to the JSK to do the final set up for the day - and then at 9 AM Joash Pravin and his group will start the time of worship with which we intend to start our day together. After a time of sharing the challenge - splitting up into teams for briefing on what to do - and mutual prayer - the 10 teams will fan out across Thane to spend the day with families affected by HIV. Each home is precious - and each young person who is coming along has the potential for being a leader in touching people with HIV - and getting others involved too.

At the end of the day we will be gathering together for a time of sharing, de-briefing and celebration. It promises to be an excellent day! The sun is up - the birds are chirping - after a quick cup of chai and a bun we will be in the thick of it!

Carpe Diem!

Thursday, 4 March 2010


Pankaj came to the JSK centre today with his father. An uncle of his had called up from Kerala a few days ago. Pankaj came back from Dubai 3 years ago. He was found to be HIV positive and deported.

Now Pankaj is very sick. So sick that we wonder if we can really treat him. His immunity is very low. He has pneumonia. Its likely that the has other infections too.

Pankaj clearly needs help. His father has come up from Kerala to look after him. Pankaj's father is at wits end. He wants to take his son home - but Pankaj refuses to go. He doesn't want others to know about his condition. He doesn't want people to know he has HIV. He knows that tongues will wag.

In the meantime - Pankaj has not been able to keep himself together. His skin has multiple rashes and infections. He has trouble breathing. He came with a fever of 105 degrees F.

Sheba strongly suggested shifting him to the main govt. hospital in Mumbai. Pankaj refuses to go. He went there earlier and was treated shabbily. In the mean time he has been admitted multiple times at different hospitals. He kept his HIV status hidden each time he went. He has been treated for various ailments - has had drips and drugs - but keeps getting sick.

His father is at wits end. This noble small man is heroically looking after his recalcitrant son. A laboratory technician, this dear man knows about HIV and yearns to take his son home. As a father he is getting a barrage of questions about what is actually going on with Pankaj. He cannot bring himself to tell people about the HIV status - and so is telling people that Pankaj has liver problems - and that it is not getting better quickly.

It is clear that Pankaj does not only need meds. He needs love and acceptance too. He needs courage to make a step in the right direction - and start to accept love and support from his family.

We have admitted Pankaj for treatment. Our hope is that we will be able to stabilise him. We then hope to have him go back with his father to Kerala. One of Sheba's batch-mates from the Fellowship in HIV Medicine that she did at Vellore is practicing in a large govt. hospital close to where Pankaj lives. This doctor has won a national award for his excellence in HIV medicine.

Though we have a long way to go with Pankaj we are glad that he has a safe place to be tonight. Our hope is that we will be able to start the necessary treatments, based on understanding what opportunistic infections he has. At the same time, we firmly believe what king Solomon wrote a good 3000 years ago that "a heart at peace brings life to the body" (Prov. 14.30). Would that Pankaj will find some peace here - and would that this peace will go with him when he leaves.

I have to cry when I think of the noble man Pankaj's father is. He has been through so much - and still is serving his son - hoping against hope. This is love in action. What a privilege to serve this small splintered family.


Its the first time in a while that we have two patients admitted at JSK. They are at close quarters with only the green screen separating them. We are discharging Mrs. Shasta this evening. She will need further care at home as she still has a spiking fever, but she has been stabilised by her 10 days of care at JSK. We are really proud of our staff who make it possible to love people with HIV who are very ill in this way!


He lost his sight 8 years ago.

Lost it to HIV. The virus in his blood affected his eyes.

Detected and treated in time - there is hope. But if the eye infection is not treated the damage is irreversable.

She was pregnant with their child at the time. The child had been developing 4-5 months within her. The doctors told her to abort. They did.

They haven't had a child since. Though they now know that the chances of the child getting HIV from them is slim, he is still too scared. She dearly wants a child. He lives in sadness.

Sheba met this couple after a long time. They live well outside Thane - far from our range of home-visits.

He has a good job. Despite his blindness, he works with the govt. telephone department. During their visit calls came in - and he made calls - with a dexterity of a sighted person.

But he still wants to see. Every time they come he has this basic question. How can I see? Is there nothing that can be done to make me see?