Friday, 30 April 2010

Back again

"I am back in your hospital" she said quietly.

The lady has gone through so much. The HIV in her just does not seem to give up - and she is fighting a long-drawn out battle for her life.

We started her on TB treatment and on Anti-Retroviral Therapy.

Now she is severely jaundiced. Her liver just doesn't seem able to keep up. The medications need to be stopped, because the liver is where they are processed and enter the blood stream. A bad liver could mean death.

Earlier this week, this dear lady went to the government centre for her monthly visit to pick up her free medications.

The treating doctor wrote: "NAD" on her card.

No abnormalities detected.

Well - that is true at one level. The treating doctor did not detect the gross abnormality that this lady is very very sick. Her eyes were deep yellow. Her liver basically not functioning.

We had no option but to admit her and look after her while we stop her medications.

Credit to the government health folks - they copied exactly what Sheba suggested into this lady's card - and have stopped the TB and ART meds.

Now to see how she can move forward.

"I am back in your hospital" she said. I told her that we were glad she was with us. That she is very very special. We prayed that night.

Today she went home to continue her treatment there. Her dear elderly mother was looking after her - as well as a confident looking young woman - this lady's grown daughter. What a difference having a loving family makes!

A weekend to remember

Staff retreats are all about getting away.

Well we almost didn't get away (at least all of us) - and we almost didn't arrive.

Last Friday we boarded the Nagercoil express for Pune. One door was blocked so we all thronged into the other. The 20 odd of us from the JSK team and our families and sundry passengers going to Tamil Nadu. In the doorway someone had put big boxes.

Chaos. Shouting. Pushing. Babies crying. Us all trying to get in - knowing that the train would leave in less than 5 minutes.

I somehow got inside and opened an emergency window - which allowed us to bring in some of our boxes. The train started going - I saw Michael and Rahul still on the platform. They somehow pushed in.

Then my heart sank. Some 2o meters away Malini stood alone on the platform. She had not been able to get in. The train was moving away.

I looked up and pulled the emergency chain. Pulled and pulled.

The train stopped. I shouted for Malini to get in. She did. A minute later the train started up again. We were all on board. Tired and shaken.

Then when we got to Pune the heavens opened.

It poured delicious cool rain.

We were strung out in a small army of auto-rickshaws moving from the station to the Bible Centre. The rain lashed us with its coolness.

And then a crash.

A large branch had broken off a tree and fell to the ground. It just missed our autorickshaw - and fell in front of the next one which was following us. A close shave - literally!

We got to the centre shaken - and ready for the retreat.

JSK next generation!

Were we ever glad to be away together. For two and a half magical days we drunk deep from God's word thanks to Bro. Oliver Amana, ate excellent food, talked, laughed, slept, played, sang and prayed.

On Saturday we had challenging sessions by Bobby Zachariah and Chandrakant Wakankar. There is so much to learn - and it is a joy to get good stuff in our minds and hearts!

Next year we will win an Oscar! One of the plays on 'Talent Nite"

Our theme was 'being more like Jesus' - it was a wonderful time to reflect and see what God has done so far - and what He has in store for us as His children. The very thought of us becoming more like Him is mind-boggling.

With all the hustle and bustle of doing things we forget the most important parts of life. To listen. To be. To allow God to speak.

This weekend has been one to remember. It took some getting there - but we left with a lot in our hearts.

Heading out for an 'Emmaus Walk' on Sunday morning

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Crime partner

Its been a long hot summer already - and we are not even out of April yet. 2 full months of heat simmer before us - and then the blessed rains are due.

One of our interns told us that his parents in Bhusaval, Maharashtra have seen temperatures of 47 deg. Celsius! I cannot even imagine how hot that is. Naveen tells me that his parents - and everyone else in the town stay indoors after 6 AM in the morning - and stay that way till 7.30 PM at night!

Yesterday our dear leftist friends called a "Bharat Bandh" to protest against an immanent price rise in petroleum products. This national strike went by without us noticing it at all. Only today's papers that mentioned it in passing. It seems to have been most successful in the two states where the Communists still have some rule - West Bengal and Kerala. The spectacle of the state government shutting down - and effectively keeping private citizens from travelling and doing their business would be comical if it were not so pathetically sad.

From being a stirring method of challenging oppression - the general strike has become one endless cycle 'protests' organised by the small political class of all hues - right, left and as most of our political parties are - hounding after a certain person or dynasty. The loser is the man on the street - who needs his or her daily wages to survive - and has to sit idle while the goons on motorcycles drive by making sure that shopkeepers have pulled down their shutters - and pelting the odd car or two that dares to venture out with stones.

The police? Well, they are here to ensure law and order - to an extent at least. Hence the classic shot above of our finest in khaki - whiling away their time reading newspapers - sitting in front of what must have been a shut movie theatre. Who is the real 'crime partner'? The lurid ladies on the poster? The political lads who have ground at least that part of the country shut? Our bureaucracy that cannot make a decent set of decisions? The constables on display?

And so we hunker down - to see if we can get through the next few weeks. As a family we have the blessed hope of 10 days of cool in Mussoorie looming like a mirage - but with the magical date of May 14th coming tantalisingly closer...


The last Wednesday of the month. A time for people with HIV to meet together. To talk and be encouraged. To pray and see how to move forward.

Kids come too. A few have HIV. Most have come with their parents. We usually have a small separate programme for them.

Asha and Enoch are usually at school in the afternoons and so don't normally take part in our last-Wednesday meetings. But today they were there.

Seema asked the children what they wanted. What they needed.

Asha couldn't really think about what she needed. She has everything. Finally she said 'a bicycle'.

The other kids said different things.

Two children from different families said that they wanted 'a room'.

Asha thought they wanted a room of their own.

They did not.

To these kids - 'room' means a 'home.'

Their parents are being asked to vacate the little 10 x 8 room they share as their family dwelling. Since they do not own (most people do not) - they are at the mercy of the 'room owner.' And the next step is uncertain. Hence prayers are being asked for.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

words spoken in anger

Sheba overheard a portion of an argument today at the clinic:

I am not going to give any money for this man. When I was in jail for 5 years no one came and even visited me. Now I have a proper job as a bus conductor and all I earn is Rs. 250 per day. There is no way we are going to help out.

He is your brother. My family will only help me out - they will not pay for my husband. You are his brother...

The man that they were talking about lay half-conscious. The first speaker is the brother of the dying man. The second is the wife of the man dying. He was discharged this evening for palliative care at home. About 15 different relatives came to the centre to decide what to do. It was finally decided to hire an ambulance and take him back to his village in Karnataka for his last days. It will cost about Rs. 22,000/- for the trip. Rs. 10 per km is the going rate. 1100 kms from Thane to their place. Then the trip back for the empty ambulance.

The lives our friends live are so real, and so raw. It makes what we read in the papers seem like such foolish froth.

News from a far-off land

From far-away Jharkhand comes some good news:

Our intrepid colleague Dr. Cherring Tenzing has been faithfully serving for the last 9 years with other heroes at Nav Jivan Hospital.

Cherring reports that she and her colleagues very rarely see multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in their busy TB unit. That is amazing news. A decade ago we were supposedly one of the best TB hospitals around - but our in-house research showed that only 17% of our patients were documented to have completed their treatment.

Today we see how much can be done by dedicated people. In an area wracked with tension from the on-going Naxal struggle, where power-cuts are oh-so-common, where almost everyone who can leave - does - in that place a small committed band has brought a quiet revolution in health care. Simple, comprehensive TB control has taken place - and the proof is in the pudding of not having the rampant multi-drug resistance that we see in our so-called 'sophisticated urban areas' like here in Thane.

Hats off to Cherring and her merry band of workers! To Drs. Arpit, Jeevan, Augustine - and all the educators and lab techs - and treatment supervisors and most of all - all the patients who faithfully went through the challenges of 6 or 8 months of treatment! Behind the success have been much sweat and tears - but how proud we are of you.

From a very small beginning, they have grown the programme to where the Nav Jivan Hospital is now the main TB unit supporting all the government TB control work in the whole of the Latehar district!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


Nirmal is fading.

This young man - a father of a 5 year old girl - is in what are probably his last hours.

Nirmal has stopped talking. He is very quiet. He lies still.

In the heat of the summer the nurses and his wife have powdered him liberally. He lies in his bed at Jeevan Sahara Kendra being cared for by what can only be called angels - his wife and the JSK nurses who have been caring for him for the last week now.

There was a brief moment when he seemed to be waking out of the semi-conscious state that he was in on arrival. But that moment seems to have passed now.

Cheli, his wife, has been prepared for his death. She has called her mother, and has summoned his brothers. Some have already come, others are coming tomorrow.

As a team, the JSK clinical and nursing staff have worked hard to extend this dear man's life. The fact that it is now slipping away seems a defeat. Death is never, never easy.

But at the same time we have seen the love that our doctors and nurses have given this man reflected in the face of his wife. In all her own sufferings at this time, she has been so grateful and moved by the care our staff have taken for Nirmal.

The ravages that HIV causes continue to be played out in tiny, almost-silent tragedies. Our nation may not have the horrific levels of AIDS as some of our sub-Saharan brethren - but we have more than enough. Nirmal and Cheli and their as yet un-tested daugther are proof of that.

How soon Cheli is from being the wife looking after her dying husband, to becoming a widow living with her own HIV and caring for a daughter who has lost her father to this disease.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Dead man walking

At 3.30 last night a man walked.

Normal stuff (though the hour is one when most people sleep).

Except that the man in question was in a semi coma for a number of days.

His wife had fallen asleep and woke up with a start.

The hospital bed where her husband should have been was empty.

Did he fall down?

She looked and did not see him.

Then she and the nurse on duty (roused too from a small slumber) went to see.

They found him trying to get a drink from a water filter.

He had taken off his catheder, picked up the bottle of saline solution that he had been hooked up to, gotten out of bed and had gone to the toilet.

Amazing stuff from a man so close to death - where the death mask had seemed to be slipping over his face in the past few days.

Nirmal is still far from healthy. But what a miracle to see him take these unexpected steps in the middle of the night.

Will he pull through? We hope so - at least for him to get better enough to go to his home village in the South.

In the meantime Cheli, the amazing wife of his - with all her tenderness and love for him - has found that she too has HIV.

Will Nirmal and Cheli ever be 'normal' again? Hard to tell. But we do know that on this day - at this hour the love and care they are receiving - and the prayers - are making slow but real progress in their life together.

Friday, 16 April 2010


Yesterday morning:

One minute I was scooting along on our black beauty (read: the Eicher's trusty and slightly rusty Honda Activa).

The next thing an autorickshaw had suddenly swerved in my way. I hit the brakes and found myself in the unthinkable situation of skidding and then wiping out on the road.

Bike down. Me hitting the tarmac.

Over in a split second.


A big truck behind me mercifully pulled up well short of me.

The autorickshaw stopped 20 meters ahead. Driver and passenger looked out back at me, slowly getting up.

Gash above left elbow. No bones broken it seemed. Helmet mercifully on (it almost always is - even for short trips - which this was).

As I got up dustily and bruised I have to admit I gestured to the autorickshaw driver to come back in what must have been a bit of a threatening way.

He packed up and scooted off. Even if I wanted to I could not make out the licence plate given how illegibly it was painted on the back.

And so back to the fallen angel on the road. And another quick check of me. Both seemed more or less OK.

I puttered back home bleeding slightly from my arm and rather shaken.

A quick shower and then Sheba's ministrations to dress the wound. Mercifully other than the deep gash near the elbow, the other scratches were minimal.

I was due to go to Mumbai for the dedication of Dr. Shantanu Dutta as the new director of Oasis India Trust and the sending off of his predecessor John Nonhebel. A short think and pray, and I decided that I would go - bandage artfully hidden under a light cotton kurta.

Since the kids are on summer holiday I took them with me. It was a moving experience to be present with key church leaders as we prayed for our colleague Shantanu in his vital new role - and said good-bye to an old friend in John. The kids were the cynosure of all eyes as they quietly read their books during the talks and chatted with their 'uncles and aunties' during the lunch that followed.

At the end of the day - the bruises and the pain of the wound spoke to me. Through the night and into today, this muted conversation has continued - small comments from my 'members' telling me to take care of them and let the healing flow - and also reminding me just how close I came to having April 15th as my last day on earth.

Eternity is very, very close.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Ambedkar iconography

One good thing about the dead - is that they don't speak. Normally that is.

The four of us were bundled on our black beauty last night (read: honda activa scooter - in proper Bharat style) and were puttering through the streets of Thane when we came up to a procession which had stopped the traffic on both sides. A marriage I thought at first. But then I saw police lights flashing. A religious procession of some sort.

It was. Amidst the drum beats and men dancing in front of the drummers - amidst the lights and sound courtesy of the generator van in tow - there was displayed on main chariot in God-like form a image of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. April 14th is the birthday of Dr. Ambedkar - who has easily surpassed Gandhi as the first and foremost icon of backward-caste empowerment in India today.

So much has brand Ambedkar been used that we now have politicians of every hue pasting his icongraphic image on anything that they want to have take on a social justice hue. The icon is one of a plump, slightly serious bespeckled face - usually wearing a suit of some shade of blue.

What intrigues me is how a man whose in life was known for his formidable learning, keen intellect and political acumen today is revered largely as a deity. Ambedkar's choice of Buddhism as the religion to lead his followers into (one of his famous statements being that he was born a Hindu but would not die one) seems largely pragmatic in nature. He does not seem to have had much of a religious bent at all (like many of his contemporaries including Nehru and Jinnah) in the sense of personal piety and devotion. But that certainly has not stopped his own deification - especially as time flows by and the historical Ambedkar conveniently becomes fainter and fainter - while the symbolic Ambedkar continues to grow as a repository of hope.

On our journey to our weekly meeting to break bread and remember the death and resurrection of Christ, we pass through an area of Thane controlled by a local political dynasty. The whole family seems involved in politics - by the numerous banners and hoardings at least. Mother and father beam happily from various huge placards - with sons of various ages (all the way down to what seems a pre-teen local-politician-in-the-making) grinning at various strategic locations. It is no secret what party they belong to - given the generous pictures of Ambedkar who they have photo-shopped into their midst. Our dear Father of the constitution would be sadly bemused - if not outraged - to see how crassly people use his icon to further their own empires.

The question that remains is why is his image so powerful. There have been other powerful leaders of the struggle for nationhood - but we rarely see their images - and certainly not as objects of personal devotion.

I think that Ambedkar has won the icon sweepstakes because he remained true to his vision - a single-minded agenda of social power for many who were in various stages of bondage. While certainly not successful in every effort towards this empowerment agenda - he remains most clearly linked with the formation of a dalit consciousness and laid the organising framework for different caste groupings to demand rights and entitlements. Ambedkar's role as the major drafter of the national constitution is a pale second place in this light. People do not dance in front of an image because that person helped draft a constitution. Worship is always the giving of our devotion to a figure much larger than our lives.

We are hungry for worship. I remember the first experience of watching a Pink Floyd concert on video (back in 1990 or so). The camera opened up in darkness. The occasional strobe of a laser started firing. Then the first notes of shine on you crazy diamond were played, with the guitarist back lit by a coloured spotlight. The crowd roars. Roars. And the camera pans out to show a sea of light - thousands of lighters lit up across the darkened stadium as the worship is complete - individual voices melded together in a cathartic anthem that took them far beyond a set of musical chords.

Dr. Ambedkar has been deified. In big and small ways. Almost endlessly it seems across our nation. Take a look at the pic below:

We have a shot of the head of the doorway to a home. Above a set of deities is Dr. Ambedkar - with the Buddha placed in the background. Below are a set of hearts saying "Shub Dipa.." the last heart is missing to wish the people entering an auspicious Diwali. There are two other objects of devotion though. In the upper right hand corner is a small piece of a horse shoe. Put up for luck it seems. And snaking down from above - into the ventilation hole near the ceiling - is none other than the almost ubiquitous black cable that pipes Bollywood dreams into people's homes every day. Probably the greatest object of devotion in our land today is our TV.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


Sheba admitted a very sick man this evening.

He had come earlier during the day. We will call him Nirmal. His wife and a neighbour brought him. No papers. Critically ill. Probably a cerebral TB infection. Lots of candidiasis - so likely with a very low immunity.

We felt inadequate to deal with such a sick person - and so referred on to the main goverment hospital. We told the family to tell us what happened.

After 3 hours they called. Nirmal was still in the emergency department. Other people who had come in later were being cared for. He was not.

HIV continues to mean neglect.

What to do? We told them that we would try. No guarantee, but we will try.

They brought him back.

And so Nirmal has been started on treatment this evening. In our little centre. A very very sick man. Our nurses are on 12 hour shifts. Our prayers are going up too.

Monday, 12 April 2010


Late last night a person called up saying that his colleague was sick in a small city some hours from us. The man had been admitted at a local government hospital but was not being treated well.

He had HIV.

I say 'he had HIV' - because this morning he was dead.

Last night we had called up one of our ex-staff who lives in that town and asked her to visit the man. She went this morning and found out that he had already died. She was full of tears on the phone - since she knew this man had heard him preached in her church on an Easter Sunday.

He had told her recently that he wanted to talk with her about something. She had been meaning to talk with him - but her mother in the village became ill and she had to admit her to a hospital.

Now when she went to meet this man - all that was left was his lifeless body. And his widow and child.

Loss of any kind is hard. The shock of knowing that people we love have died - and could be living because of the fear and shame that HIV continues to have is horrible.

Please pray for the grieving wife - as she lives through these days and weeks of loss - and as she will now also have to find out her own HIV status - and all that that has in store for her.

Musings on the Maoists

Last week 76 security men were killed in Chhatisgarh by Maoist insurgents.

The slaughter was intense. Aapparently at least 8 Maoists also died - based on phone-intercepts. The security forces were part of 'Operation Green Hunt" - a massive coordinated attempt by the government to hit back at what has now been decades of low-intensity but fierce violence between various Maoist outfits and state security agencies.

Most of Mall-town India has little time or imagination to think about what is going on in the hinterland. Travel any train. Get off at the station and get into a state-transport bus. Take a few hours by road into any area that still has some scrub forests. You will have not only crossed dusty kilometers - but you will have gone back in time.

No more 'Shining India' here. No InfoTech parks. No clusters of Supermarkets and Food Courts. We are back in colonial days. Tiny villages. The local police picket. Empty space and the odd mining concern guarded by various levels of mafia/strong-men/politicians (often a seamless web). This is the forgotten part of our country - vast swathes of semi-arid land that most try to flee from if given the opportunity - the part of our land that sends the endless streams of road labourers and maids and hotel boys.

It is here too where various levels of ultra-left insurgents have been putting down their roots. The stakes are high. Control. Domination. The success of the Maoists in Nepal is clear. Years of efficient military action and local control by the Maoists led them to openly take over large portions of the country before becoming part of the government. The efficiency of the insurgent forces in the North East in sucking the soft parts of the state through efficient 'taxations' is being mirrored at a local level across the 'Red Corridor'. Recent reports suggest that the Maoist enterprise could be likened at least to a mid-level National Industry - complete with growth targets for revenues.

For the next few weeks we will have lots of hand-wringing in the papers about the "Maoist problem" - and then things will quiet down again. For some time.

Having lived in a village in Jharkhand where 'the party' was active, I know one thing. Local people will always lay low - and wait to see which way the wind blows. 'The party' tends to camp out with them. They may be yesterday's local tough men - now wearing 'party colours' - they may be outsiders who are dedicated to the struggle - they may be youngsters forced to pick up the gun similar to how young fighter in West Africa have been running the diamond wars - but the undeniable advantage that the party has is that it remains the most local of the forces.

This is also why one of the more focussed ways that the government has over the last few years of trying to arm local people against the Naxalites - primarily through the Salwa Judum movement in Chhatisgarh.

What has now been added is a massive escalation of the conflict. Why? Is it because as some voices claim - big industry wants to finally get at the mines and natural resources locked in these states - and the Maoists are in the way? Or is it because the years of jungle warfare are paying off - and the Maoists sense a turning of the tide? The sheer spread of the conflict means that we are unlikely to be witnessing a 'last-gasp' struggle where the Maoists are trying to prove they still are alive. The sophistication, the reach and the sheer numbers show that they are anything but defeated.

Who really calls the shots in the great large country of ours? The police officers? Local or national politicians? The voters who queue up every 5 years?

As I saw the images of the coffins of the security-men being sent home for their last rites it struck me again how many of those directly in the conflict are from the very places where the insurgency is the strongest. We are not hearing about coffins being sent to Kerala where the other family members are all working in the Gulf. We see labels on the coffins for common people from interior forested districts - where getting into the security force is one of the only ways to 'earn a decent living' - the monthly paycheck supporting the wife and kids in the village - while the husband is away in other scrub jungles doing things that they never wanted to.

I don't have any nice and easy way to end this piece. It remains unfinished - like the many unfinished and hidden-from-sight situations that are taking place across more forested parts of our land.

Thursday, 8 April 2010


Gentle Readers,

I certainly have not kept quiet. My little counter tells me that we have just crossed 800 posts to this blog. It seems a long way from the first one - and even from the 300th one!

As I write this on a hot, sultry Thane night - with a bunch of dishes waiting for my attention - and my darling family already asleep (I hope) in the fan-whirred quietness of this dark home - I have to just say how grateful I am for this strange and beautiful life.

These last few weeks have been pretty lean - ones when I have dipped in and out of what I think is something like depression - but at the same time I am again and again reminded of the faithfulness of my loving Lord Jesus. We are (at least Sheba and I are) physically and mentally tired at this point - but know that we need to carry on.

So off to the dishes and then to sleep for sometime - till the warm day starts up from her cool repose.


p.s. Suggestions, thoughts, comments all very welcome! Your readership is appreciated, wherever you are on this fair globe of ours...

Wednesday, 7 April 2010


So where are you from?

Its a question that as an Eicher we have to deal with often. Somehow the conversation veered that way at the dinner table tonight.

We asked Asha and Enoch to tell us what they say when people ask them where they are from.

Here is Asha:

"When someone asks me: 'what is your mother tongue?'

I reply: 'pink!'

They then laugh! I then ask them if they have a few minutes and I will tell them where I am from.

If they say yes, then I tell them that I was born in Jharkhand, that my Mother was born in Orissa, that her Father was born in Tamil Nadu and that my Mother's Mother was born in Andhra Pradesh. I then tell them that my Father was born in Mumbai, and that his father was also born in Mumbai (Editor: not strictly true) but that my Father's Mother was born in Germany!

Thats it!"

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Positive Marriage

They came from another city. A pastor and his friend with HIV.

The young man had been quite sick some years ago. He was prayed for. He was healed. The doctors had given him less than 6 months to live. He is alive today.

A few months ago the marriage question came up. His relatives from the Northern State he comes from have been asking why he is not married. He has told them that 'something is wrong' with his blood (Khun kharab hai) - but that he is working on it.

In another church that is linked with theirs a man has been said to have been completely cured of HIV. Previously with HIV postive reports - now according to them - with multiple negative reports.

A marriage proposal has come. The family wanted an HIV test done. This man - who we will call Chandra - also believed that he was healed. He went to the government centre and got tested. HIV positive.

Not only that - his CD4 level is about 290 per cubic mm at this point - well below where most people would be started on ART in the west - and close to the level of 250 where the government gives free ART in our amazing country.

Chandra and his pastor came here hoping that we may have contact with HIV positive women who would be willing to marry him.

We spent the afternoon talking.

There are no easy ways out.

One of the questions I had was why Chandra wanted to get married. His basic reason is the social pressure he faces as a young unmarried man.

Below this issue was another one - he has not really told his family in the village about his HIV status. Its not easy as his family is one of status in that area. They think that the main impediment is the Christian faith Chandra has embraced - and are suggesting that it doesn't matter what caste he marries - as long as he 'settles down.' He is hoping that finding someone
with HIV will ease this pressure on him.

I suggested that marriage is not just an act of convenience - and that Chandra needs to be ready to give himself totally to the service of his spouse - rather than expecting 'his needs' to be cared for. When marrying another person with HIV he is also specifically taking on the healing and restoration of many issues of trauma that his spouse has already gone through - most of the single women with HIV we know have already lost their husbands to AIDS or have come out of prostitution. She also will be working to care for His needs for restoration too. Further - they are likely to be specifically caring for each others health needs even more in the future.

And in all of this our marriages are not islands away from the stream. We must include family - that broad sweep of relationships which can sometimes be so challenging to live with - but into which we are embedded - for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health ...

I shared what my good friend John Forbes has often said - the God 'desires truth in the inner parts' (Ps. 51.6) and that Chandra needs to speak truth to his family first. That sharing this is not easy, but can be done together with others. We offered to try and help identify people living near his parents who could go with him.

At the end of a marathon session we parted ways in what I hope was a realistic but hopeful mood. The on-going silent struggle of people living with HIV continues. No easy answers. No quick fix solutions. Precious, precious people in very hard situations.

Monday, 5 April 2010

A weekend to celebrate

The sign was clear. Adults not permitted. Particularly adults whose birthdays were coming up in the next few hours.

And so the latest round of Eicher revelry got under way. Asha and Enoch - at their inventive best commandeered our bedroom for some serious preparations on the 1st of April

That night - at 12 AM - we had the first of a series of celebrations. Enoch had to be roused - and was relatively catatonic since he had just started the first deep sleep. But there we had it - the procession of loved ones with flowers, cake and gift to celebrate my completing a ripe young 41!

This year Sheba and my birthdays had a special glow to them - since they fell on Good Friday and Easter Sunday respectively.

The April 2nd day was a day of rest and unexpected friends. Since JSK was closed for the day we had a late breakfast with Rekha and kids, then were surprised at our late lunch by Dr. Tom and George from Powai - and finally had the joy of a supper with our dear friends Arvind and Putul Singh and kids!

All 4 in an autorickshaw!

In the meantime - we were able to spend time as a family - and for me to prepare (somewhat feverishly) to share at the Friday night service we had to mark our Lord Jesus' victory over death through his own dying-in-anticipation-of-resurrection on the cross.

Of the many precious insights that I got this year I was particularly touched by Jesus continuing to think about others - even in the agonies of public and naked execution.

As women mourned for Him, following his gory steps towards death - He turns around and thinks about their immanent sufferings in the slaughter that was the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in AD 70.

As He was nailed to the cross, He cries out to Father God - to forgive them. All of them. Not just the executioner soldiers - but all those who bayed for His blood - and all those like me who have rejected His love and followed my own hateful ways.

As He hung naked and gasping for breath - Jesus forgave one of the other men - a convicted murder and probable rapist - who had previously been abusing Him - but who amidst his gasps for breath had asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus came into His kingdom.

I have to think back on one of my favourite songs which we used to sing a lot at Nav Jivan Hospital in Jharkhand: Amazing love, what sacrifice - the Son of God, given for me.

The next day was a blur. Our weekly mini prayer meeting for JSK from 7.30 to 8.30 AM (this time attended only by us senior Eichers and our over-nighting friends Arvind and Putul). A full day of training for church members in HIV care at Jeevan Sahara. Then myself off to what turned out to be a late night meeting with fellow elders and Sheba and the kids having a birthday evening with Jason - a boy from church whose B-day was on the 3rd.

At 11.30 PM on the 3rd I had nothing in hand for Sheba - and the big day was just minutes away! As Rolly drove back I looked gloomily at all the closed shops. No cake. No flowers. Nothing.

Then we dropped off Oliver at Mulund railway station - and I saw an icecream parlour. At least I can get something there I thought. A brief stop in and I discovered something better - an icecream cake! In a jiffy it was snapped up - a styrofoam box and all - and off we sped to Thane.

I managed to get the box into the freezer undetected at my 12.15 AM arrival - a quick wish and prayer and we were all off to dreamland. An early morning wake up to get a card ready - plus a quick run on the scooter to see if any flowers were available - yes they were - roses for the taking at some enterprising flower seller - and we were in business!

At breakfast on Easter morning - we not only reveled in Sheba's delicious dosas and idlis - we had a small procession of cards and flowers and the frozen wonder of a cake!

Much jubilation and hilarity followed. We have been deeply blessed by some of the most remarkable children around (says the proud Papa). Our home is certainly not poor for not having a TV - especially since Asha channel and Enoch channel are on most of the time!

Amidst all of this - we had the beautiful joy of being with people who gather together every Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Easter Sunday has no special significance as a 'holy day' as each day is to be 'set apart' for our loving King. But, having said that - the wonder of being able to all focus together in a special way on glorious resurrection of Jesus makes up for any sloppiness and cant that has been tacked on to Easter (cf. chocolate eggs etc.).

As we gathered at Rolly's home it was a day of great joy to be with the wide variety of people that make up our house fellowships - and to celebrate together.

And then again - our meetings are all the sweeter when followed by eatings - together, a lovely jumble of folks using up every available cubic cc of space in the gracious Jayakars' home.

This being our particular flavour of house-fellowships we had the rousing strains of a big Happy Birthday to Sheba and to Jason (mine having already been taken care of after the Good Friday meeting).

Asha and Urvashi - great friends

And so we moved back home - bellies full, hearts full, ready for the embrace of a nap. Later in the evening we had some more visitors, and some music practice and some preparations for Asha and Enoch's final exams the next day.

Life is full. God is very merciful to us. Beauty surrounds us - and is lived in relationships. Unworthy - but oh-so-blessed.

Thank you.

Κύριε ἐλέησον

On the day that many of us celebrate the resurrection of our Lord - we got some grim news. A phone call telling us that Mr. Tamir has died.

This was quite a shock to me since though we know Mr. Tamir has HIV, we did not know he was very sick. But it wasn't sickness that killed him. Mr. Tamir had it seemed got into a fight. Someone had hit him. He did died from the injury.

This is the second husband whom Mrs. Tamir has lost. The first to HIV. The second (also HIV positive) to violence. She and her little daughter are bereft.

On Easter Sunday our dear friend Daniel Kautikkar and his brother-in-law Pastor Pravin Shinde went to meet Mrs. Tamir in her grief. Mrs. Tamir has been part of their church fellowship for some time now - and they as a church have been living along with the family through many of the tragedies this small family is going through.

On a day when many of us remember the empty tomb - there was a fresh one dug, this one in Airoli. The murdered man was put in, and his grieving wife and child live on. Do pray for these dear ones - and for their church family who are seeking to help and bless them in these days.

Κύριε ἐλέησον, Χριστὲ ἐλέησον, Κύριε ἐλέησον.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Knowing the truth

I was talking to a small group this evening. We have 3 new interns from the Union Biblical Seminary who started their 7 months practical ministry training with us at Jeevan Sahara Kendra today. We were joined by 2 church members from a local congregation. The topic was an overview of HIV - in order to get them up to speed for the next session of our church training which we are holding on Saturday.

One of the many areas we covered was the issue of HIV testing. At its core is the hard kernel of knowing the truth. Knowing what my HIV status is. Knowing whether I have been infected by the virus or not.

In his public confession after committing adultery, king David says: 'surely you desire truth in the inner parts' (Psalm 51.6). For us to change we have to confront the past - in the present. For many of us this will take the concrete form of an HIV antibody test. For others it will be something else - some tangible sign of things we may not want to address.

For a person at risk of HIV - knowing the reality is the first step to moving forward. But it may be a bitter pill to swallow in the here and now. We are natural procrastinators - natural head-hiding-ostriches who want to push the inevitable off a little more, who seek a little more sleep before having to face the dawn.

Sadly, so many are not with us anymore - because they refused to face reality. Their denial - ultimately self-imposed (though many times tangled up in the fear and shame that still surrounds HIV) - kept them from implementing the many things that have helped HIV positive persons around the world live on to fight for another day - for another year - for the rest of their ever-expanding average life-span.

Whether we have HIV or not, we face this issue at so many levels. Do we have the courage to really know the truth? Are we scared of what we might find?

The good news is that we don't have to face our truth alone. The One who lovingly made us is by our side - ready to listen to us if we ask Him for help. He is not afraid of what might be hidden - since all truth comes from Him - who is the Truth. And not only that - His truth is linked with love and acceptance - and a desire to help us move forward.