Sunday, 18 December 2011

Radio silence

A lot has happened in the last 2 weeks.

But for some reason the computer at work and the laptop that I sometimes bring home (in the absence of the deceased Macbook) both 'blow up'(read crash the firefox or chrome or ie browsers) everytime I try to do something with blogger or gmail. For some unknown reason I am able to 'work' again at it today so I am counting my blessings.

I shall be (D.v.) going back in time and posting about some of the amazing things that have happened over the past 2 weeks...

Stay posted! I hope we will be able to post this... here goes!

Friday, 2 December 2011


It is late at night - but we are awake.  Awake but separated by 1890 kms

Sheba is awake doing her last night call in oby-gynae at the Duncan Hospital in Raxual.  

I am awake taking a last look at the computer before I hit the hay.  Our kids are asleep in the bed behind me.

We are about to make the distance shorter.  Sheba will finish her night call (which will inevitably have at least 3 deliveries and perhaps a C-section to do). Then she will pick up her luggage (packed already) and leave the hospital at 8 AM tomorrow morning.  At 8.50 her train is due to leave the station.

Its been a long 5 weeks.  The longest we have been apart since we said 'I do' to each other on the 15th of Dec. 1999.  The longest time that the kids have been away from Mummy.   We have been counting the days.  Our generous lego calendar tells us that we have 4 more days till Sheba returns.

We are amazingly proud of Sheba.  She has poured herself into the work and has been a real blessings.  Being on night calls every third night means that she has delivered a lot of babies.  One night alone she did 3 ceaserian sections - alone.  We are eager to see how she can put the management of very sick patients that she has been doing in Raxual - along with Dr. Philip Finney and the team - into practice among our very sick patients here at JSK.

And so tomorrow - which cannot come too soon - the train will start shrinking the 1890 kms as Sheba is pulled steadily towards Delhi.  By Wednesday morning that distance will shrink to 0 kms - infact we will be 0 cms apart.  Speed the day.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Another WAD...

India woke up to AIDS in 1986 when the first cases were reported from Chennai.

Well.  That's when the first cases were detected.

Have we ever really woken up?

We are now a quarter of a century down the road.  We are glad that our HIV prevalence rate (0.31% of adult population) is lower than that of the US.  At least according to official estimates by our National AIDS Control Organisation.

The government has - perhaps gleefully - announced that the rates of new HIV infections have decreased by 50% over the past decade.

Good.  But there are still new people getting infected.  And we still have a lot of people who have been infected and still don't even know their true status.  And the overall quality of the data - and availability remains abysmal.  How we wish we could have a summary like the CDC puts out for HIV in the US.

"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" someone said.  Quite.

That we are a quarter century into HIV in India and still do not have the most basic understanding of the disease is sad.  Especially when it is a reporter for a national newspaper.

Yesterday a prominent Mumbai paper put out a howler of an article whose headline breathlessly announces that "Aids cases fall by 88.64% in Mumbai."  Just seeing someone quote a double decimal point shows that here is a person who does not understand statistics.  No govt. figures are going to be accurate even for a single decimal point - let alone the false sense of precision that a double one gives.

The article goes on to claim that "percentage of HIV positive cases fell from 10.56 of the Aids cases reported in 2007 to 5.84% till October in 2011"  This is pure gibberish.  Every person with AIDS is HIV positive.  The reporter seems to have gotten even the most basic distinction of what HIV is and what AIDS is on its head.

My favorite part of the article was this statement: "The number of deaths also came down from 233 in 2007 to 15 so far this year"   Wow.  According to this reporters understanding - the govt. figures show that only 15 people died of AIDS this year in Mumbai.   15 deaths out of 16 million inhabitants.  That means that you probably have a better chance of having your ear bitten off by a rat than dying of HIV in Mumbai town.

If this were only true. Only 15 deaths. My word - wouldn't that be just great!  We could shut down Jeevan Sahara and do something else.  Maybe start helping people not fall while taking showers.  I am sure that more than 15 people in Mumbai have died while slipping in the bathroom this month - let alone this year.

Sadly it isn't.  We know.

We have seen friends with HIV who were alive as of 1.1.2011 - and who are not as of 29.11.2011.   I will use some of their real names just to prove it.  I am using their first names because they are so common.  They could be anyone - but these were real flesh-and-blood people:  Irfan.  Pushpa. Deepali.  Sonali. Anant. Sudhakar. Villas.  And the list goes on.  These are people we have touched.  We have loved. And who today are dead.  Dead because of a virus called HIV that knocks out our beautiful God-given immune system.

Off the top of my head I have just named half of the people who supposedly - according to the govt. stats - have died in Mumbai this year of AIDS.

And so we lurch towards another Dec. 1st.  Its World AIDS Day and we will continue to do what we have been doing for this past decade.  Loving people with HIV.  Telling others about it.  Praying.  Caring and sharing.  Whatever the so-called statistics tell us - we know from our experience on the ground - that there is still so much to be done.

We will see an AIDS-free generation someday - but its not just round the corner.  In the mean time we have our hands on the plow.  And our hearts talking to God.

Monday, 28 November 2011

A mini concert

Asha and Enoch love to sing and play.  One of the joys we have is seeing them develop their musical skills.

They both have excellent teachers - Elaine Thomas is guiding Asha with the violin and Trevor Ross helps Enoch with the keyboard.  Both teachers see the music the kids are making as not just a set of notes and skills - but as an expression of praise to God himself.

Here is a small snippet of one of the songs they are playing these days.

If you come home - it may take a few minutes for Asha and Enoch to warm up to you.  But should they get the violin and keyboard out - then you are in for a treat of at least 3 songs of not more.

What a difference from my musically challenged childhood.  My mother - bless her heart - tried so hard to coax something musical out of me.  We went through the piano, recorder and finally guitar.  Mum tried to teach me the first - and got me to go for recorder lessons and finally paid good money for guitar tutoring.  But of no avail.  I was too lazy and uninterested.  How different this next gen is.  Yes, we do need the occasional ''strong suggestion" to have our twosome practice their instruments - but both teachers are happy (and both parents thrilled) with what we have going.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Cyrus and I

Late one night last week I saw a small article on the BBC website stating that the Tata's had chosen the successor to Ratan Tata - a man widely credited for moving the mammoth Tata Group from being a big old-money industrial house in India to becoming a major world player.  The Tatas are now the UK's largest industrial employer and own well-known automobile brands like Jaguar and Rover, as well as Tetley Tea, and Corus steel.  That is in addition to their own home-grown but world-class Tata brands of Tata Consultancy Services as well and the whole stable of industries in India and other parts of the world.

Curious to see who the new person was I clicked and found myself looking at a familiar name.  Cyrus Mistry.

A few years ago I received an email from an Irish journalist asking if I had gone to school with Cyrus Pallonji Mistry - the son of Irish-Indian real estate tycoon Pallonji Mistry and what my memories of him were.  I was not familiar with the middle name and anyway did not want to answer the enterprising hack - so I sent a short email response declining comment.
Cyrus P. Mistry - director designate for Tata Sons

Seeing the name again was a real surprise.  I was staggered to think that my classmate from 5th standard at the Cathedral and John Connon School in Mumbai is now about to take over one of the biggest business houses.

Till now I had thought that only one of my classmates was from an industrialist family - Tanya Godrej - the daughter of Adi and Parmeshwar Godrej.  And it was It was many years later that I even realised that - reading about her wedding in the papers and putting two and two together. 

I had actually thought of Cyrus a few times in the last few years.  Not because I knew anything about his family (which a cursory reading of the papers shows that they have been a major part of the Tata group for decades).  But because of his name - Cyrus.

In the Bible studies that I lead on many a Friday night we have spent some time recently looking at the history of the Jews in their Babylonian exile. One of the most remarkable emporers is the great Persio-Mede emperor Cyrus the Great. Fulfilling the seemingly improbable prophecy of Jeremiah - the Emporer Cyrus (whose empire stretched well into Hindusthan - making him king of our people too - or at least part of our ancestors) decreed that all the Jews who wished to could return to their ancient city of Jerusalem and rebuild the temple there.

The Bible records this in the 2nd Chronicles chapter 35 and verses 22 and 23:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: 

This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:  “‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the LORD their God be with them.’”

Reading the name of Cyrus in the Bible reminded my of my own Cyrus.  The Cyrus Mistry who studied together with me in 5th standard.  His name a direct tribute to the great Persion King who ruled most of the world at the time.  A king who was a Zorastrian by religion - a faith which continues to be followed by the Parsee community which my classmate Cyrus - and for that matter the Tatas and Godrejs are followers of.

The Cyrus of my mental image was a skinny boy with specks.  Of course most of us boys were small and skinny then.  Yours truly was the third smallest in the class for what seemed ages.  As 5th standard boys we spent much of our time wrestling and getting our white uniforms completely brown / grey with dirt - and splattered with the blue ink-trails of our beloved Chinese fountain pens.  Actually the only clear memory I have of Cyrus was talking to him one afternoon in a craft lesson which we had in a room that was not our normal classroom.  Other than that only faded photos remain on my part to link us together. 

When I told my daughter Asha about Cyrus she said I should call him up - or at least send him an email.  I can just imagine his inbox at the moment - he must be getting 500 or so emails a day!  Everyone who never noticed him will be hounding him now - seeking favours - trying to get onto his contact list.  I don't think I will add to that.  But just to for the record - I am really proud that Cyrus is taking up this amazing responsibility.  My earnest prayer to Jesus is that Cyrus will be diligent in leading the Tata group and that as the result of his leadership his employees will be blessed and our nation strengthened. 

Thinking back I am so grateful for the amazing schools I have had the privilege of attending.  Cathedral and John Connon from first to 1/2 of sixth standard.  The Deutsche Schule Bombay from 6th to 10th.  And then of course Woodstock School for my 11th and 12th.  Each school was not only a place where excellent teachers poured themselves into us - but also where I was blessed to study with some wonderful boys and girls.

The genius of wearing uniforms at Cathedral (despite the pain it caused my mother to clean the mess I brought back on me everyday) was that no matter what our house-hold income was - at school we all wore the same clothes so I never realised just how great our income disparities were.  Further - we were all taught the same way.  My classmates whose parents were captains in industry did not get more attention than those of us whose parents were not.  Our dear 5th standard teacher Mrs. Mahableshwarwallah - herself a Parsee like Cyrus and Tanya are - direct descendants of those Zorastrians who left Persia and received shelter in India generations ago - poured herself into us.

I wonder what her thoughts would be if she were to see where we have all ended up today.

Cyrus Mistry - fifth from the left of the second row standing.  Tanya Godrej - second from the right in the first row standing.  Your 'umble Chai Chat wallah - Andreas Eicher - first row seating extreme right.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Blue blistering barnacles

I grew up in a pretty sober home.  We didn't have a TV.  Movies were rare.  Books were plentiful.

Along the way a special group of comics crept in.  I don't exactly remember when I read the first. But I think it may have been The Calculus Affair.  I must have been about 8 at the time.

Over our growing up years the various characters in Tintin's world became our friends.  The 22 volumes that were available to us (the early crudely-drawn Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and Herge's final unfinished Tintin and Alpha Art remain unread).  But the rest of the books - with the irascible Captain Haddock and the bumbling Thomson and Thompson (with the silent p) and Professor Calculus and Bianca Castefoire..  all are part of who we grew up as.

The next gen of Eichers have taken up the same love for Herge's ligne claire drawings.  One of the high-lights of our annual pilgrimage to Shanti Kunj are the endless hours lying in bed reading and rereading Tintin comics.  The fascination continues here in Thane town.  Our two Tintin volumes that we have (Tintin in Tibet, Land of Black Gold) are endlessly re-read. One year we made Enoch's birthday cake as Tintin.

It was thus with a little trepidation that we embarked upon the highlight of the week - going to see Spielberg's big-budget Hollywood adaptation of The Secret of the Unicorn.  I asked my good friend Vasu Vittal what he thought - he told me to be prepared for Hollywood.  I did.

The film was a pure adrenaline rush.  Tintin on speed. Tintin in the most lush jaw-droppingly beautiful locales.  Wow.  The battle scene between Sir Francis Haddock's Unicorn and Red Rackham's raider stupendous.  The desert scenes achingly beautiful.  The clarity of the lostness of being adrift at sea. Every image yearned to be seen again and pondered over.  Like a comic book.

Having gone in with low expectations - and not expecting every bit of the beloved books to be reproduced the kids and I had a non-stop whooping and laughter marathon.  Our very dear (and for security purposes nameless) friends had drove all the way from Mumbai-town to give us this treat - and we all enjoyed every bit of it.  Not for me the fulminations of Tintin purists.

I will take my Thomson and Thompson as they come.  In ligne claire and in Hollywood too.

A stray line I read a few weeks ago suddenly made sense. The author said that the genius of a comic strip is that our minds have to fill in the blanks of what happens between the images.  This does not happen in a film.  Everything is there.  The challenge for the comic creator is to show enough and get your mind to fill in the rest.

Just like no set of Narnia films will ever do justice to the simplicity and the spriteness of Lewis' works - no set of Hollywood behemoths (and likeable ones at that) will push Herge's volumes into the trash.  For one thing - the totally painstaking research that went into all but the very first volumes will continue to shine forward.  A recent article shows how Herge meticulously drew the various cars of the day into his stories.  And then there is the slapstick and the adventure and the quirks of characters that draw you through.  And did I speak about the colours...

Our kids will in all probability be having to pry their own brood away from the ye olde Eicher Tintin volumes sometime in the distant future...

So I say 'blue blistering barnacles' to all who dislike the film.  Give Spielberg his due.  And keep reading Herge.  After all - as Cuthbert Calculus said at the end of the orginal Secret of the Unicorn: "All's well that ends well!"

Lionel - Part 2

Lionel was admitted at one of the large municipal hospitals in Mumbai.

He was HIV positive.  He needed orthopaedic surgery.

Lionel's boss who runs a well-known nursing home first promised him that he would do the operation.  But then he backed out.   He filed and accident report and sent Lionel to the govt. hospital.

It was almost a death sentence.

Lionel was taken to the hospital.  And dumped.

No one came to help him.  He was alone.

The doctors didn't touch him.  The nurses treated him like dirt.  Ward boys?  Forget it.  Lionel said the doctors acted like small time mafiosi.

Lionel was eventually shunted out onto a balcony.  Alone.

There he lay in pain.  Unable to move.  No one fed him.  His hair grew.  He weakened.

Somewhere in his misery he prayed.  He had never been the praying type.  But in his weakness and misery he called out to Jesus.

Over a thousand kms away things started to move.  Lionel's mother realised her son was missing.  She tried to contact people and got no info.  She finally called a relative who lives in Thane and asked her to see if she could track down Lionel.

It was this lady who found Lionel.  She brought one of her nephews with her and they searched for Lionel in the govt. Hospitals.  Then they found Lionel.  He was emaciated.  He had not passed stool for 2 weeks. 

Lionel's relatives were shocked to see him. Shocked at the knowlege that he was HIV positive.  But even more dismayed by the near death situation they found him in.

Together they started to look after Lionel.  Gave him a bath and a shave.  Fed him.  Talked to him.  Heard his story.  He had never met them when he came to Mumbai.  But now they were there for him.

I got a call from one of them a few days after they found him.  They were looking for options.  A place where Lionel could get his surgery done.  A place where he could recuperate. 

We talked to Lionel's cousin and told him that it was not just a matter of getting a surgery done - Lionel also needs a place to recuperate.  A place to live and make a new life. Lionel needed a home.

Lionel's relatives swung into action.  They took him to the Kalwa hospital where they were told he could have his operation.  After they actually brought him to the hospital they were told that it would not be done.  The reason is always the HIV.  Surgeons - especially orthopaedic surgeons - just do not want to operate on people with HIV.  An the way hospitals are - hearing from one person does not guarantee a procedure will really be done.

But Lionel's relatives did not give up.  They had not only found Lionel - a man who had never had the time of day for them in all the years he had lived in the Mumbai area. But now they also have a new relationship with him as fellow worshippers of Jesus. When they first met him they asked Lionel if he had ever prayed to Jesus.  He told them that this was all he could do when he was lying helpless on that balcony.

Lionel's relatives worked and prayed.  And a week later managed to get his operation done a the KEM hospital.  After a few days the hospital wanted to discharge him.  He needed to go back home South - but no trains were available immediately. 

We agreed to have him stay at the JSK centre. 

He said that the time he spent with us was like being in heaven.  The care he got from our nurses.  The love and prayer from the JSK staff and visitors.

Finally it was time for him to go South.  Sheba and I had already left - so we did not seem him off - but we know that there were tears.

Lionel's story is not over yet.

He is alive.  He still has HIV.  He still has to fully recover from his injury. 

We believe his post-op healing is taking place.

But the home front remains grim.

His father refuses to speak with him.  He had called Lionel's relatives and told him not to bring Lionel home.  Part of the matter seems to be Lionel's father's own alcoholism and the deep unforgiving spirit he has.

Lionel's wife and child are still estranged.   He is still not sure what his next steps should be.  He calls up our staff and talks to them and has said he would like to come back and work again at the nursing home here.

Lionel is an unfinished book. The next chapter is still being written.

Lionel - part 1

"You really must write a book about your experiences"

The young pastor I was talking to yesterday leaned forward to me.  "I will translate it into Kannada"

We were sitting in his living room.  His paintings adorned the walls - Jesus sitting on the floor with his disciples - a rangoli infront of him as he divided the chappatis.  The pastor's wife sat next to him on their couch and was beaming as they had just told me that they were expecting their first child.

"I do write" I replied.  "I write some of  them on the blog"

"We have so many stories that unless we write them down - we forget them"

We have many stories because the lives of the people we meet at Jeevan Sahara are all so completely different. And so intense.  And they just keep coming.  The people - and with them their stories. Our hard drives quickly fill up.  This blog is one way of trying to remember.  

I realise - however - that when I write the words so often barely do justice to the experiences of our HIV positive friends.  Each life is so layered and varied - and many a time I write something only to realise that I didn't fully get the picture (its always good when Sheba read blog and corrects me).  But at the same time - I marvel at the miracle of language - of how a few words are able to capture significant - if not exhaustive - parts of our friends lives.


Here is a story.

Lionel is a man in his mid 30s.

His parents are wealthy land owners in the South.  They had a daughter.  Then another.  Then a third.

The prayed for a son.

They got one in Lionel.

Lionel was not a good son.

After some time he left home and struck out for Mumbai.  He trained as an X-ray technician and married a nurse - his state is famous for nurses - and the moved to Thane.

Lionel had another mistress though - the bottle.

Lionel wanted to go abroad (his state is famous fr the number of people who migrate for work).  As part of the medical he had an HIV test done.  He ended up HIV positive.  It was a terrible shock. After some time his wife could not handle it anymore - and took their son away.  Leaving Lionel to his bottle.

Homeless Lionel managed to persuade the owner of the nursing home he worked at to let him have a small corner to live in - in return for doing odd jobs and working as the care-taker.

This arrangement went on for some time.

Then one day Lionel climbed up to check on the water tank.  It seemed to be overflowing - so Lionel climbed up - and then slipped and fell down.  Lionel broke his upper femur.  The nursing home director told him not to worry - that they would take care of eveything.

They did not.

After 10 days, the director said that he could not do anything  anymore since Lionel had HIV and that Lionel will have to go to a govt. hospital for treatment.  A form was given to Lonel to sign - and then Lionel was taken to a large municipal hospital in Mumbai.

This is where the real drama began for Lionel....

(gentle reader - there will be more tomorrow about Lionel's next steps)

Thursday, 24 November 2011


Out here in India that rumblings of the 1% and the 99% are faintly heard. The morning papers have a slow drip of info about them.  I wonder how many papers in the west have stories about the street struggles we have here.  Its not only pepper spray - people often lose life and limb to the brutalities of security forces of various stripes.

We live in a sea of poverty and basically close our eyes daily to the desperate struggle people have around us to survive.

Here is a short note (clearly for a western audience) but one that we have to admit fits us to:

To the last line you can add that if you are reading this message on the Chai Chats site - then you have another feather in your cap - many who can read do not have access to the internet.  Slap another 1.5 billion or so to that number...

We have so much to be grateful for.

The Good Book says is succinctly.  Godliness with contentment is great gain. I Timothy 6.6

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

13 days

I came home at noon to a teary boy.

He had not eaten breakfast.

Tomorrow marks 3 weeks since Sheba went North and we went South.  We all miss her very much.  Enoch is now vocalising what is in his heart.

Yesterday night at the dinner table he asked "Mummy's not eating with us?"

Today the tears started to trickle. 

"I want to see Mummy.  And I want to see her right now"

Enoch and I went into the next room for some Lego therapy.  We made a calendar which we will now use to count down the days.  Tomorrow we will cross out the 13 by sticking a big old lego cross ontop of it.  Then we will have only 12 days left till we see Mummy.

The heart yearns.

Enoch enjoying a delicious rice and chicken curry lunch today!  His morning 'fast' made him quite hungry at lunch!  We are being wonderfully blessed by having Ammamma cook for us during these days.

A day

End of a day.

Got up at six-something.  Late. Got a mini-brekkie for Asha.  Got her tiffin ready.  She ironed her clothes and combed her beautiful hair.  The girl is growing up.

We were out of the door at 6.40.   Enoch was with us.  He loves dropping Asha off at school.  Scooter on the blink so we hoofed it over to Vasant Vihar High School.  There was actually the faintest bit of coolness in the air.  Saw more than the odd sweater on folks.  Was still wearing my t-shirt and shorts I had slept in during the night when Enoch and I walked back home.

Boiled milk.  Had a cuppa.  Quick look at the word.  Too quick.  Had a shower.A conversation on the phone with my darling.  Counting the days - just over 2 weeks now till Sheba returns home.  Kiss to Enoch.  Walk over to work.  In the door just after 8.

Emails and FB.  Trying to figure out the day.  Its going to be a logistic one.  A foreign visitor pops in the door.  Forgot her.  Yes its Tuesday - and I had said she could come over and see the project.  Dr. Marise is there so I will ask her to give the visitor an understanding of our work.

In staff prayer at 9.  Translate Sandhya's sharing from the word for our visitor.  Hand her over to Dr. Marise and do a quick strategy with Moses, Manoj and Santosh - to get the materials out for Mumbai AIDS Sunday.  We pack and repack.  Count and get the letters in order.  Its past 11 before they are out the door.  Way late but thats how it is.  Things take time. 

A frustrating fight with the ancient printer. Turn off the computer repeatedly to try and flush the phantom print commands out of the system.

The policeman who came with his brother to see us yesterday is back.  This time to show his brother to Dr. Marise.  I introduce them.  The brother is from the southern border of Maharasthra. He has come to Thane because he has HIV.  He has tried suicide at least once.  Yesterday - when talking to him I told him that his name in Hindi meant 'priceless' - and that's what he is - so valuable in the sight of God and all of us.  We prayed together before he left.

A young man comes by.  He has had HIV since birth.  He is 22 now.  An orphan.  Living in a half-way home and working at a call centre.  His carers have asked him to be checked up.  Marise stops by and tells me that he has not been looking after himself at all and has oral candiasis and swollen lymph nodes.  Not a good sign at all.  He sounds like he is deep denial - probably just so tired of HIV - having had it life-long.  A young life already dripping with weariness.  We link him up with Giri who takes him to the Civil Hospital to get registered for ART and to get a CD4 test.

Its time to grab lunch.  Some photocopies need to be done.  More books to be packed for distribution.  I get Agnes and others to help out.  Stop off and drop off the photocopies so that I can pick them up later.

Up to lunch.  Enoch wanted to watch a Tintin cartoon.  Then I see what Amma has made.  Chicken biryani. The smell is heavenly.  We can't sit in another room and wolf down a meal like this.  I talk quietly to Enoch and we decide to shelve the 'Cigars of Pharaoh' for later.  He's a great kid.  Lunch is terrific.  His shirt is ironed - I make his tiffin and then we are out.  Walking over to school in the heat of the sun. A huge road-roller patching the road outside our complex.  Road work seems to take place most often at the hottest part of the day.

We reach school well in time.  We have counted 'Nano' cars on the way and talked about lego.  The line of boys is still waiting outside the gate.  A quick prayer and Enoch joins them.  They soon file off to join the girls who were already allowed in.

I wait as the stream of older kids starts to flow from around the corner.  After umpteen kids- there comes our firstborn.  Asha looks happy.  We walk back home.  I drop her at the corner - once we have crossed the crazy intersection near Lok Upvan (where we live now).  I pick up the photocopies.  They have been neatly rolled up in so many slim cylinders.

A walk over to the Jeevan Sahara Kendra again.  Our black beauty's zip is well missed by my feet today.  But then again a bit of walking never did any harm.

The afternoon is a blur.

At one point three ladies come into my office.  Since it is the size of a biggish shoe-box - we need a bit of squeezing.  I quickly find out that the two better dressed professional ladies have brought another lady who is small and thin - for help with understanding what to do with her HIV.

We go over to Sheba's office.  I wish she were here.  Its 3.20 pm and Dr. Marise has left for the day.  I ask Agnes to join us.  We talk.  Laxmi (not her real name) lost her husband 10 years ago.  She looks thin and has been ill.  A small file of medical records shows her CD4 count is low.  334.  It should be between 900 - 1200.  She has a daughter.  I start to explain that she has come to a place where we care for her.  She starts to cry.  Her employers are embarrassed and try to shush her.  I want her to be able to cry and try to tell Laxmi that.  Its hard to talk to her with such an audience around.  I ask Agnes to talk with Laxmi while I help the helpers.

They are both interested and want to help.  We talk about HIV and what the options are at this point.  I let them know that Laxmi can live long if she fights the disease and is consistent and if we pray.  We discuss food.  Medications.  What to do next.  They look visibly relieved. We set an appointment for one them to come with Laxmi to see Dr. Marise on Fri morning.  I go back to my office.  Agnes is still talking with Laxmi in another room.  I ask the helpers to sit for a while.

Agnes arrives breathless at my office a few minutes later.  'Please come brother'  Laxmi had cried a lot and told her story.  At the end, Agnes asked her she would like prayer. Laxmi said yes and asked for prayer for her daughter.  Agnes closed her eyes and prayed.  When she looked up mid-prayer, Laxmi had loosed her hair and was jerking her head around strangely.  Not a pretty sight.  Daniel and I were called in.  We prayed and Laxmi calmed down.  The helpers outside asked what was the matter.  I said it happens with some folks.

In the meanwhile phone calls.  Emails. An ache for Sheba. A phone call from the mechanic telling me the scooter will be repaired for a cost only slightly less than the moon.  I tell him I will meet him at 6.  A quick bill payment of the electric bill on the way, and I am at the grimy motorbike repair wallah just before time.  He is out somewhere.  His trusty lieutenant briefs me.  The scooter is scattered about in so many pieces.  What can I say?  No, I don't want if fixed. The sum boggles me, but I grimly nod my head and ask the chap to go on with what 'has to be done.'

A stroll over to the school and its time to pick up Enoch.  An sms from one of our just-left-from-JSK-after-7-months-here interns thanks me but informs me that the brain surgery that I thought had happened yesterday is still to come.   Enoch comes bobbing along.  He is most concerned that we get the Tintin flick under our belt. 

We breeze in home.  A quick hello to Amma and Appa and we repair to the computer to see the Cigars of Pharaoh.  Good stuff.  Amma brings in tea and her home-made 'diamond biscuits'.  I watch the clock.  Asha is downstairs playing with her friends and cycling.  We see over half of the flick and then I have to be off again.

Appa and I head over to the bible study at Shanti's house.  Asha meets us a we get into the lift.  She has hurt her leg.  We escort her to the door and then ride down the mechanical marvel.  6 floors everyday.  Multiple times.

Miracle of miracles.  We get an autorickshaw immediately.  We arrive at Shanti's home to see that one lady has already come.  More trickle in as we get the singing underway.  Eventually we have 4 ladies.  8 kids.  Plus the host. And a single man and a couple too boot.  Appa shares from the word.  He weaves his own stories in too. And what he has read in newspapers.  He talks about Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus.  Of how Jesus wants us to ask, seek and knock.  But also how Jesus wants us to have clean hearts of repentance.  How much we need to look into ourselves and talk to God about what we see.  We end up praying for a woman whose husband beats here.  Another who wants to have a small room of her own.  Another who is troubled by horrible dreams.  A young man whose brother is tying to juggle a job and college.  We pray.  Shanti serves us soup in cups afterwards.  An auto back.  We are home.

A few calls come in but supper is taken with Amma and Appa.  The kids had eaten earlier.  I tell of some of the days experience to Amma and Appa.  Enoch listens open-mouthed to the story of Laxmi.

Family prayers and then bed.  For Asha at least.  I find myself stuck to the computer. Enoch joins me to watch the part of the flick I did not see earlier.  Then he turns in too.  And so I end the day in the silence of a fan whirring and two kids sleeping behind me.  Somewhere over a 1000 kms away, Sheba is probably on night-call helping mothers birth babies in the obstetrics section of the Duncan Hospital.  I read the news.  Read some blogs and then write the words you - gentle reader - are reading now.

A quick nip to the fridge for me - and then it is off to bed - joining the rest of the house in tha charming mystery called sleep.  Dogs broadcast themselves outside - while my eyelids prove the law of gravity.

A day.  Its over.  Almost.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Fearfully and wonderfully made

Every child is a special child.  Ask their father.  Ask their mum.
Here is what our friend Raja has to say about his son in an email we recently received:
My name is Dr Raja who was at Burroughs Memorial Christian Hospital in Alipur, Assam. I am sending out a email to raise support for treatment of my adopted son at UNC Chapel Hill, USA.

Baby Adam is 8 weeks old and was born in a small mission hospital deep in the heart of Northeastern India where Jessica and I were working . Adam was abandoned at birth due to a rare genetic disorder that caused multiple birth defects (including an absence of eyebrows, severe cleft palate and lip, absent fingers, and significant webbing on his legs). His life may have seemed hopeless in those first few hours as he was left alone in a small infant bed. Many people discussed what to make of him and his future.We named him Adam that He is in God's image since some people were telling that he is ugly and disfigured.

My wife Jessica and I felt particularly burdened to care for this child. As we went daily to wash him and care for his needs, we  began to realize that baby Adam needed a family. Even if his life and condition were uncertain, he needed a home. He could certainly sense rejection and could certainly sense love. He had found a lot of rejection but what he needed was love. Adam was officially named . He was loved and visited by many.

We took to New Delhi to be seen at the All India Institute of Medical Science for further treatment but all the options seemed hopeless. Despite a healthy heart, brain, and other internal organs, operations did not seem possible. That is, until we heard from UNC (University of North Carolina Medical School ) Chapel Hill. A team of specialists were committing their knowledge and skills to help repair Adam’s external defects. In this last few weeks, we have seen more miracles than ever before. We got Adam's passport in one day and US visa in one day....God has been so good to us. 

Baby Adam is now in Chapel Hill, NC awaiting treatment. Specialists have seen him and surgeries have been planned. We are now awaiting the necessary funds to complete treatment. Please join us in this journey. We are hoping to raise the $100,000 by Nov 30th in order to provide the 1st stage of surgeries that is needed for Adam . If you want to contribute please make checks payable to “The Baby Adam Fund” and send to The Medical Foundation of North Carolina.

Adam was given general anesthesia for central venous line today and successfully recovered. Praise God. Ever since we have adopted Adam .There were lots of encouragements and some discouragements in this process specially within 7 months of marriage adopting a special need child..and so on. However , we feel that God has brought Adam to our life with a purpose and asking us to obedient in caring for Adam.

Please continue pray for Adam 

Some of the updates are available in the following web links: 

I will really appreciate if you can pass this information on.

Thanks .

In Him

Chapel Hill ,North Carolina.

Dr.Raja Paulraj
Consultant Psychiatrist
Herbertpur Christian Hospital
P.O. Herbertpur, Distt. Dehradun
Uttarakhand - 248 142

Word from Bihar

Let us give thanks for the mobile phone.

This small piece of plastic and metal - that has become a second heart for us.  For which should leave the house without the reassuring weight of the mobile in my pocket - I inevitably notice within 15 minutes of being out the door.  I think I have a greater chance of walking out without my trousers than sans mobile.

Over these weeks - whenever the fine talk-machine starts vibrating I look double quick to see whether the caller or message-sender is my beloved Sheba.

Here the kids and I are - near the Arabian sea - and there she is - off on the border with Nepal.  Plunged in head-first in a large mission hospital where there are very few doctors at this point.

If Sheba had any thought that her time there would be mainly observational, that idea has quickly evaporated.  She is up to her elbows in work. 

In a hospital where 25 or so kids are born every day - there is a lot of birthing to be done!  Sheba worked through the night yesterday.  She was on-call - which basically meant that she was in the labour room or theatre the whole time.  Talking to her this morning on the blessed mobile Sheba told me that she had lost count how many kids were born.  Was it 10 or 11?  Sheba had to do a difficult ceasarian section on a woman whose child had turned to a breach-presentation.  She did it on her own.  With the help of chief surgeon Jesus of course.

And so it goes.  My darling off on the border of Nepal.  Delivering kids.  Doing lumbar punctures. Counselling women in depression. Being salt and light.

The word from Bihar comes via our little black and red hand-set.  Crackling across the 1000+ kms that lie between us.  Linking us in love and prayer.

Blessed are the mobile-makers.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Out on the streets

At Jeevan Sahara Kendra we deal with many people who have HIV.

People's lives which are so devastated by the disease and the suffering linked with it.

How often we wish our Positive Friends could have prevented the disease instead of getting it.

By God's grace India remains relatively low in its HIV prevalence (the US has a higher rate per population than we do - at least if you believe both governments...).  But we do not want to pat ourselves on the back. There are still too many new infections taking place.

Today 32 young people are out on the streets of Thane to try and stop the spread.

We have structured today's Youth Against AIDS Day of Outreach and Service - as a time when young people will get the word out about HIV prevention and testing.

This morning we gathered at JSK to set the stage.

Our JSK Staff demostrated the street play that the young people will be performing across Thane.
We then split into 5 groups and practiced it on the grounds of the JSK.

Its a small step forward.  Putting our young people in a role of communicating a life-and-death message.

Something that most of u

The skit is simple.  It shows our immune system as a guard who effortlessly keeps diseases like fevers, diarrhoeas, pneumonias and TB away from the body.  But one night after the body went to a prostitute - a new disease has entered - HIV - which gradually erodes the power of the immune system.  As they fight it out the immune system weakens and the body is now open to the attacks of the other diseases around it.

The pitch at the end is to protect - but we are not just interested in people knowing some facts.  We want people to actually get tested.  After the street play is over - the participants will give out pamphlets about our testing centre here - and talk with the people on the street about HIV.

Why testing?  Because when a person gets tested for HIV they find out the truth.  They see what their condition really is.  If they are HIV positive, then we can immediately start treatment.  If they are negative - then they have a new life ahead of them.  A chance to change their behaviour.  A chance to live in a different way.

As I type this - our 5 teams have fanned out to different parts of the city.    We gathered around a large map of Thane and dedicated ourselves to helping others prevent HIV.

Its a new start.  We hope that we will have people come here for testing.  Today.  Or some other day.  But we trust that our work of getting the word out will touch lives and bear fruit.  In changed lives.

Our youth are out on the streets.  Doing something that will last.

Friday, 18 November 2011


Palliation.  Not a nice word. The very wince of it seems to suggest defeat.  Seems to say that whatever we did has not worked.  For me the word reminds me of pallid - a husk of a word - giving-up stretched out as long as possible.

But for us palliation is a reality. And one that has its own joys despite the imminence of death.

We brought Mrs. Candy back day before yesterday.

Mrs. Candy has been on treatment for years.  She had TB. Was treated. Poorly.  Had to be retreated.  At the end of her retreatment she was still coughing up TB bacilli.

With the help of another agency - we got Mrs. Candy on multi-drug resistant TB treatment.  She took a mountain of medicines for 2 years.

She survived.  Sort of.  At the end of the time she was culture negative.  But not well.

Her hard small body has been battered for many years.  Besides her HIV - her late husband battered her.  Beat her with his hands.  Beat her heart by taking other women into his home while she was there.

When we first met her she was begging outside a local temple.  Her son was almost feral. 

These years have been hard ones for her.  A woman for whom destitution is not an abstract noun - but a daily reality. 

It has been hard at times to know how to relate to her.  But through all of the ups and downs we have seen a smile and a depth of character that belie the chaos that most of her life seems to have been.

Last week she had a lot of swelling.  It seems that her heart is giving out.  Sheba is away so we had to take her to the civil hospital.  After a short time there, we were told to vacate her.

The Civil Hospital was on strike and they said that she needed a sonography done for her heart.  So they sent her to JJ hospital.  When our staff arranged an ambulance and took her there - they found that it too was on strike.  We were told that Sewri hospital would admit her.

After some cajoling they did.  But they are a TB hospital.  And so they insisted on restarting TB treatment. 

This after she has already been through the most gruelling course of medications you can think of.

It was time to call it quits.

We talked to Mrs. Candy's daughter - who had finally shown up - and brought them back to the centre.  Dr. Marise came over and explained things to Mrs. Candy.  She has to be ready to die.  We will be giving medications for her heart condition - but its unlikely to improve much.

We are switching to palliation.

How much longer Mrs. Candy will live is anyone's guess.  Her son - once a vagabond - is now studying at a hostel run by a small Bible college.  Mrs. Candy wants him to become a pastor.  We will be bringing him to spend some time with his mother.

Our team will be visiting the family every other day. 

Mrs. Candy says she is ready to die.  She has seen life and she has met God personally.  Her simple faith puts most of us to shame.  Her sufferings and her complexities continue - but that bright flash of a smile that peeps out every now speaks of a different reality that she is experiencing in these last days.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


At the beginning of every month Asha and Enoch eye the mail box expectantly.

When will this month's edition of Tinkle magazine come?

When the cherished white plastic cover is seen - the mag is quickly devoured by our eager readers.  And read again and again over the next few weeks.

The past few months have seen our twosome looking especially eagerly at one section of the mag - the "Shout-out Soap-box" where children write about things that matter to them.

This week there were squeals of delight in the Eicher household - Asha's letter had been published in the November 2011 issue.

Written together with her friend Noopur - the letter had been sent eons ago - but now finally it appeared.

Asha's first taste of being published.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Mrs. Candy

Mrs. Candy (pseudonym of course) is desperately ill.

We wish we could look after her here at the JSK Community Care Centre - but Sheba is away for a month in Raxaul and we do not have round-the-clock medical supervision.

So our staff admitted her in the main govt. hospital in Thane - the 'Civil Hospital.'

This afternoon we find out that they are on strike.

About what we don't know.  And in a way we don't care.  The horrible fact is that the govt. hospital is shutting down again.

Our staff have been told to take Mrs. Candy away.

Mrs. Candy is a widow.  Her teenage daughter 'married' 2 years ago and has an infant in her arms. 

What to do?

We are trying to organise an ambulance to take Mrs. Candy to the main govt. hospital in South Mumbai.

Peter and the staff are in crisis mode.  Charting out the plan.  Contacting the ambulance.  But then they hit a roadblock.

Mrs. Candy's daughter 'Meena'.

Our staff have been trying to contact the girl - but Meena is nowhere to be found.

Without any family member we just cannot send Mrs. Candy to another hospital. Death is very close to all of our patients.

And so we have ratcheted down our response.  We will wait till tomorrow.  If Meena emerges - we will help get Mrs. Candy to JJ hospital.

If not?  She will probably have to go home to her small shack.

Our staff will do the home-care that we have been doing for the past decade.  Looking after those who do not exist in the eyes of others.

Caring for a dying woman in her tiny shack in Thane - perched at the edge of the great glittering city of Mumbai

Climbing in small dimensions

When I was small I read a book called "The Borrowers" which told a fantastic tale about a tiny family that lived below the floorboards.

There is something totally compelling about having things lived out in a small scale.  One of the joys of lego for Enoch is being able to build and play out adventures with the little figures. 

I found the following shots in our camera - Enoch has taken them all.

The scene opens on Mount Trunk.  Where the men are climbing up to get to the top of this massif.

Its a long way up and the climbers have to use ropes to make sure that they do not fall down.

Looking at the angle that Enoch took this shot, I could not help but remember my own small brush with mountaineering - many an eon ago.

The sheer thrill of climbing up - and the wonderful safety of a rope combine beautifully - in the small scale that he was playing with - and the in the large scale of his imagination.

The clinging on of another man with all his might as he looks over to the rope is another classic.

How long will he be able to hold on before a rope comes to his rescue to.

Is he trapped there - or just taking a rest while others use the rope to climb up to the top of Mount Trunk?

All of these questions can only be answered from inside the mind of Enoch as he plays with these little men.

What is clear - however - is that the top is place of rest.

Enoch has constructed a small camp site with little tents for each of the climbers - and a pretty blackened bonfire in the midde.

Successful climbers are probably swapping stories well past their bed-time....

.... which is true for your humble of this blog.  The joy of sleep has been calling me for some time now - and in a few seconds I will be sprawled in the bed next to Enoch - and beside the small folding cot that Asha is using now that Amma and Appa are in the Kids' room.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Living Legends: Selvanayagam

Of the many rich experiences we live through - a special joy is to be in the company of saints.

I am not talking about folks who moon around with ghostly halos glimmering over shaved pates.

I am talking about flesh and blood people whose tears have stained many a floor as the bitter challenges of life have hit them - but who have stood up after their time of prayer and carried on with the messy business of life.

I am talking about people whose ugliness has been evident to themselves - and who have cried out for forgiveness - and how move forward in newness of life.  Only to be back on their knees when their closeness to God shows them again a new previously unseen stain.

Over the past 12 years it has been my joy to be blessed by Uncle and Auntie Selvanayagam.  I met them for the first time at our marriage.  By then they had already been impacting Sheba's life for over a decade.

When Sheba went to Cuttack, Orissa for her medical studies she was looking for a church home.  She found it in the home of Uncle and Auntie Selavanayagam.


The church met in their home.  And after the Sunday service Sheba was always there for a meal.  Out of their slim resources, the Selvanayagams were liberal with love.  Many a time Sheba caught Auntie adding another morsel to her plate during Uncle's saying grace over the meal - a time while all eyes were supposed to be closed.

Sheba was informally adopted as the Selvanayagam's eldest daugther.  Their three girls were literally small girls when Sheba and the other medical students of her time camped at the Selvanayagam's place time and time again.  Amazingly, when we came to Mumbai - we found that all three of the girls - Prisci, Susie and Hepsi ended up marrying and living in the greater Mumbai area.

What makes Selvanayagam a saint?

It all starts out with him leaving Tamil Nadu for the Navy.  A hard-bitten navy man, Selvanayagam was posted in 1974 to Pune to do pharmacy studies when he came across some street-preachers.  Selvanayagam listened in and heard God speak to him through the messages.  He confessed his sins and received forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Shortly afterwards he was baptised.

That began his life-long adventure of faith.  He eventually left the navy.  Together with his wife the moved to Orissa and nurtured others in the faith through their words and their love - lives that were seemlessly meshed together.  Sheba was just one of many whom the Selvanayagams poured themselves into.

Over the years they have seen many tears as well.  As a couple, and as individuals they have made mistakes.

But I saw them this morning, sitting together before dawn on the corner of our living-room couch. Two old grey souls reading the Bible together and praying.  This is a life well lived.

The Selvanayagams do not have a bungalow down south waiting for them to retire to.  Their only building project is in heaven.  Where others have poured in years of work and funds into land and bricks and mortar - the Selvanayagams do not seem to have anything concrete.  Other than the concrete love that they poured into others lives - like the young thin medical student who was born and brought up in Orissa and was making her first foray into the world outside her home - our dear Sheba.

Uncle Selvanayagam is also a cancer survivor.  He was operated for cancer of the gall bladder - and is living in total remission!

And they are parents of a cancer survivor too!  Many months of tears and prayers went up - but their daughter has survived and is working and a mother as well...

We are so happy that the Selvanayagams  have not just remained in our past - but are very much in our present as well.  Over the years they have become adopted grandparents to Asha and Enoch.  Visits by 'Appachan' and 'Ammachi' (Malayalam for Grandpa and Grandma) are always a joy.  Uncle has a calm and deep faith - and the lovely conversations we have about books and theology - and Auntie's bustling love us expressed mainly in smiles and gestures as she does not know English or Hindi - and Asha, Enoch and I do not know Malayalam or Oriya.

Being near the Bethany hospital where Uncle and Auntie are treated whenever they come to Mumbai to be with their daughters' families means that we Eichers get a lions' share of them.

Yesterday I got a call from Uncle telling that they had some checkups at Bethany.  We are so glad to be able to host them as a family.

After spending the day in ministry with the local Brethren Fellowship - uncle and auntie returned in the evening and we had another pleasant time of fellowship together - with Amma and Appa with us as well.  The only person missing - and we sorely miss her - is our dear Sheba who is currently in Raxual, Bihar.

How much longer will we be blessed with the joy of spending time with the Selvanayagams?  We don't know - they certainly are not getting younger.

But we know that each visit is something special to savour.

This morning, as Uncle was preparing to go church - where he was due to speak - he confessed that he was filled with a sense of trembling.  To be given the responsibility of sharing the word was no small thing.  The immensity of being asked to speak on behalf of God was something that Uncle was acutely aware of.

Saints are saved sinners.  Uncle and Auntie Selvanayagam have lived this out to the fullest over their 70+ years on this spinning blue planet.  What a privilege to have them feed into our lives too!

Concert time

Friday, 11 November 2011


The SMS came late in the night.  I was asleep - having just come back from the South earlier in the day - and not having slept most of the night before in the train.

Beep beep beep.

I got up and looked.

It was from Daniel - one of our JSK staff.  It was about Jamil (name changed)

Jamil has died.  Please pray for his family. 

My mind went back to the bony body.  The one seeing eye that he used to look at me.

Our staff had cared for Jamil at his home.  And also at the JSK centre when he was too sick to be cared for.  HIV had decimated Jamil's imunity.  His drinking had taken out much of his health.  His TB had eaten away at his lungs.  And on top of it all his mind was far from normal.

Through it all his widowed mother looked after him.  Jamil had raged at her while he was admitted with us.  What he told her at home we will never know.

But she kept loving him and looking after him.

This morning she is widowed and has lost her son as well.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

I am the 3,602,056,764th

According to a nifty BBC website - I am the 3,602,056,764th person alive of this planet. 

Its been estimated (with some fanfare) that we now have 7 billion image-bearers of God on this dear earth (though the dear friends who tout the numbers usually do it in a more gloomy way). 

Looking at my rank in the world - it would seem that just under half the world is older to me and the other half has been added since I was born. Sobering stuff to know that 3.5 odd souls are alive today

Among the many strong narratives that went on in the background of I had two which were apocalyptic. 

The first was the great Malthusian dillema about our population increasing geometrically and food arithmetically.  By the late 1970s all the food and oil etc were going to be used up.

Didn't quite happen.

We have added so many more people to this planet.  But the standard line I heard growing up - we are poor in India because we have lots of people - isn't true at all.  We are poor because our people do not have opportunities. Because of poor choices and bondages from within and without.  Because laws serve the rich and crush the poor.  And many other reasons - mostly to do with the stain of our rebellion against our good and loving Lord.

Food supplies actually increased over time.  Though we do have lots more people.  And numerically the poor are more than ever before - the overall increase in material well-being is undeniable. 

The other apocalyptic event that was supposed to take place was the 2nd coming of Christ.

Some authors had figured it all out.  EU was a 10 member conglomeration at that point.  10 horns on the beast.  Various numbers were put into play.  Various calculations and codes discovered.  And then a date or two were proposed.

Hasn't happened yet.  At least not in the way the literature that was floating around me in my 1970s boyhood seemed to predict.

So what do we make of the futurologists?  What do we make of those who sift through the entrails of population numbers and cryptic bits of the book of Daniel?

I think that we are called to live humbly, to seek justice, and to enjoy the real presence of God Himself.

Just because some of the well-meaning predictions didn't quite end up the way they were pitched doesn't mean that the messengers should be shot. 

I continue to be a closet environmentalist.  Concerned about how we are tending the garden, how we are stewarding the resources that we have been entrusted.  If anything - the aspirational and aquisitional materialism that is the new normal in our society has been fueling far more damage to our dear planet - than just the basic number of people per sq. km rubic.

A look at most of the 'western' world shows that having lots of people who are aging and want to be supported at high levels of comfort - and very few young people to work and produce - is a recipe for all kinds of problems.  China's own strains from having fewer kids show themselves in other ways.

And as for Christ's return - even in the generation after His death and resurrection there were mumblings among His followers about the apparent delay.  Addressing these comments the apostle Peter writes that: But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter3.8-9).

I trust - and try - to live each day as if it were my last.  As if I am on the threshold of eternity (which we all are of course).  To keep short accounts.  To love and forgive.  To make the most of what God has given me.  To be ready for the joy of hearing 'well done, good and faithful servant.'

And of course for the last 12 years the walk has not been alone.  I am so blessed to be on this pilgrimage with the the amazing 3,602,464,780th person in this world. My remarkable wife Sheba entered the world 2 days after I did (a mere 418,016 currently living people later)!  Sheba has helped shape me is so many ways - though some of the (re)shaping has (and at times continues to be) pretty painful. Very much a work in process.  As if to emphasize this - we have the breath-taking responsibility of bringing up the next generation - at least 2 of them! In 2001 we were joined by the 6,163,475,701st person and in 2003 the 6,322,282,619th person in the world was delivered into our family.  The story continues!

And here is where our Lord takes us further.  Among our 7 billion fellow earth-dwellers He knows each one of us by name.  The work is on-going in each one of us. Only He knows the completion date.

A song from 'Bible Club' in High School echoes in my head (from Phil 1.6 and 2.13)

I am confident that He
Who began a good work in me
Will carry it through to completion
Until the day of Christ
So I'll work out my own salvation
With fear and trembling
For God is at work in me...
yours truly with no. 6,322,282,619 and no. 6,163,475,701 

Monday, 7 November 2011

Post-cards from Vizag

Lets start at the beginning.  Well - lets put to clock back almost a week ago.  Sometime in the swirling past. 

Take a look at the eyes of the man in the photo above.  Yes, you are seeing correctly.  They are barely open.  The result of a good two months or so without adequate Sabbath-rest.  The last few weeks were ones of chronic exhaustion.  Of a lingering headache that felt like a monkey biting my brain - or something like that.  Needless to say - I was not always sweetness and light to my colleagues (and dearest family members too).

Thank God for kids.  And kids holidays.  Diwali hols are 3 weeks long.  Its criminal to spend all that time in Thane.  It forces you to move.

With Sheba heading over to Raxual - absolutely immersed in the work at the Duncan Hospital - it is my special privilege to bring Asha and Enoch down to Vishakapatnam to spend a week with their Amamma and Thatha - and then have the 5 of us head back to Thane for the rest of the month that Sheba is using to re-immerse herself in clinic medicine.

I needed a clinical rest.  And by God's abundant grace - I am getting excellent doses of it.

Start with the sheer joy of train travel.

In which aircraft can you do something like this?  We spent a lovely day moving ever southward and eastward as we swapped the Arabian Sea for the Bay of Bengal.

And for all the ugliness that you do see from the train window - esp. in our wretched cities - once you get into coastal Andhra Pradesh - your eyes are soothed with green balm like this:

Photo courtesy Asha Eicher... who took tons of shots of paddy fields and coconut trees as we whizzed towards Vishakapatnam (which the Brits called Vizag).

The one draw-back was a small miscalculation on the amount of food we were to take - and thus we succumbed to the promise of a 'chicken biryani' which clearly had seen its better days - probably many days previously judging by the taste and texture of the 'bird' and the rice around it.

Asha spend the first two days of our time in Vizag vomitting and on the pot - and Enoch joined as a member of the throw-up-club on our first full day here too.

But whose complaining?

Amma and Appa had swung into action and arranged a taxi to take us on a tour the day after we arrived.

We went out to the zoo - to see stately birds like this amazing specimen.

And many other beasts as well.

Coming from the potholed-roads of Thane - to be zipping along baby-bottom-smooth highways was a minor culture shock.  "World Bank money" informs Appa knowlegably.

Sadly even the smoothest road doesn't seem to stop road sickness from the Eicher juniors.  Thank God for plastic bags!

Next stop was to go up to the peak and look down.  We chose to look away from Vizag town to the other side and were richly rewarded with this view:

Given the car-sickness of our juniour two-some we were home-ward bound at that point.  But a glance down at the beach proved irresistable.  We just had to spend some time in the water. 

A few minutes later we were at the beach.  Amma and Appa stayed and the taxi while our little trio of Eichers descended to the sea.

The sea water revived Asha and it was all I could do to extract her from the briney joy of jumping in the waves and making the obligatoyr sand castles.

The next day we were in church - and participated in an after-service love feast.   Amma and Appa fellowship at the Bethany Prayer House - a Telegu speaking fellowship that meets in the austere style pioneered by Bro Bhakt Singh and his associates.

 I was given the pleasant task of speaking.  Twice.  An hour for the main message in the morning.  And then another hour + in the afternoon with the young people (and young at heart).  It was a joy to share what God has been teaching us over the past few months. 

In the evenings we have been devouring books together.  I just love reading aloud to the kids.  We were working through "The Secret of the Shadow" by the Miller brothers.  After polishing off that meaty tale last night - we ploughed through an Enid Blighton "Famous Five" book today.  Famous Five Run Away Together has been packaged in a new format (at least for me) - one where you get some chances to choose what the characters should do - and try to keep points for getting the least number of 'red herrings.'  Good fun.  And good medicine to be lying in bed, being pampered by Amma and Appa with delicious food and having the joy of reading with our wonderful 2!

And so to the current report on yours trully.  The photo below seems to show almost the same level of tiredness in the eyes of yours trully - but I feel very much on the mend.  A few nights of actual sleep have left me very much on the road to being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  These days are exactly what the doctor ordered.

But do say a prayer.  No, say a bundle of prayers.  For my beloved Doctor who called up earlier today to report she has already seen scores of patients, has successfully done a lumbar-puncture procedure on a patient and has absolutely plunged into a maelstrom of care that the currently-understaffed folks at the Duncan hospital are dishing out!