Thursday, 28 July 2011

Moving home - bye bye Happy Valley

Its been just over a week since we packed everything in boxes and came over to our new home.
We have somehow emerged. Emerged from a haze of a string of late nights spent packing – and then the daze of the D-day of moving (mercifully with very little rain) and now a week of what can only be called a craze of the unpacking – and scrubbing every nook and cranny of the new residence. We have emerged somewhat intact – and in a pretty beautiful flat to boot!
Lets step into the a time machine and travel through the last fortnight again.
It all started just under a month ago. Enoch told Sheba that “wouldn’t it be good if we were living close to the Lok Hospital building.” Sheba told me. We talked and prayed and called Dr. Stephen. Could we move into one of the Bethany Trust flats which the nurses were vacating. “I don’t see why not” came Stephen’s reply.
The flat is a minute’s walk away from the Jeevan Sahara Kendra Community Care Centre at the Lok Hospital building. It is 5 minutes walk away from the children’s school (1 minute by scooter). We prayed and had a real peace to move forward.
And so with a sudden spurt our shift of house started.
Once the Bethany nurses had left the flat, we went to take a peek at the house. It desperately needed paint. The kitchen was caked in grease. Tears flowed.
We called a friend of ours who paints. He agreed to start in 2 days. A week later the flat was ready. During this week Andi burned the midnight oil – packing away different parts of our house in endless boxes.
The day before we were to move there was still work being done in the house. The day we moved the final painting and cleaning of the floors was still going on. But at 3 PM the truck and the 4 workmen came to our door. The shifting had begun.
All the boxes and the flotsam and jetsam of our Happy Valley home (minus a portion that we were able to give and horrors throw away) – all that was in boxes was transported out the door.
How some of stuff went out was a miracle. The sheer volume of it all meant that the truck had to do two journeys.
After it was all out – the Happy Valley flat – which has been our home for 6 long happy years – was eerily empty
Our stuff had all gone down and was stacked in the front of the building – and then packed in tight into the truck
They then drove the 2 km distance to our new house and unloaded everything. Most of the things went up by lift. But our elephant of a teak sofa would not fit in. So it was carried by hand. Four sets of hands and four backs did the work. Down 7 flights of stairs at Happy Valley – and up 6 flights to our new flat at Lok Upvan Ph. 1.
Needless to say a cheery chaos rained as the boxes kept flowing in.
Selvaraj – the owner of the truck told me that he had helped us shift when we moved into Happy Valley in early 2005. I vaguely remember him doing that. And then he said this us samay aap ka kum saman tha (you had less things then). Ouch – that hurt – and yet it was too true.
We tried to set things up – at least the basics – like the getting the gas hooked up.
And then it was suddenly 10.30 pm and time for our first supper.
We managed to set up the table and find the table cloth ….
… and then we sat down to eat our first meal in the new home. Food which we had cooked at Happy Valley and brought over with the boxes.
A tired foursome went to sleep in our old beds – but in a very new place
And a tired Daddy slept in later than usual the next morning (pic. by Enoch of course).
Over the next week the piles of boxes got smaller. The late nights continued. The war on grime was sounded again. Scrub, scrub.
On Tuesday night we had our first guests – Agnes and Annie who looked after Asha and Enoch while Sheba and I took the Bible study at Shanti’s home. On coming back we had a joyous meal together.
Finally on Friday most of the things were away.
We had a time of prayer to thank the Lord for His wonderful goodness in giving us a new place to stay – so close to our work.
We are so grateful for this new accommodation. We loved the Happy Valley flat – and are currently looking for someone to rent it from us – so that we can pass on the rent towards our new accommodation.
It is amazing to have shifted so quickly. Some things are still at loose ends – but all things considered it was a remarkably smooth transition.
We have been given such a god-like set of opportunities – to move when we want. How we want. So many of our fellow countrymen are stuck in the most horrible ‘homes’. Though we really enjoyed the 6 years at our Happy Valley flat – it is surprising how quick we were able to up and leave.
The pictures are now up. The books are (almost) all in place. Our family rhythms have started up in a new space. The key to it all – of course – is the amazing love that God has given for each other.
6 years ago, Enoch as a 2 year old stood up in the middle of the first night and said pointing to the door “home” “home.” He had spent the entire life till then in one place – the Vasant Vihar flat we were in then. Today Asha has moved 4 times in the 10 years of her life so far. How many more times will we (esp. the kids) move again? Who knows. What matters is that we are together.
And so we can go to sleep knowing that wherever we are – it is family that counts.

My family and other animals

Down in Nana Chowk – that large intersection west of Grant Road station in South Mumbai – next to the fire station – a 2 story bungalow juts out into the road. It’s the corner of the John Wilson Education Society compound and shares the wall with Mumbai’s finest. Every morning at 9 AM our fire-friends would test their air-raid warning siren. And every now and then a bell would peal and firemen would run pell-mell to the big red Bedford fire-engine – which would go clanking off to quell whatever fire had been reported.

We lived in that building. For over a decade. We arrived there by God’s grace when it was time for me to start my 1st standard of the Cathedral and John Connon Infant school on Malabar hill. We left when I finished my 12th at Woodstock School in Mussoorie.

In between were many amazing years.

This picture is from somewhere in the early 80s.

photo by Karen Swan

Our Nana Chowk house was a small ark.

Our home was the home to scores of animals. Pets which we acquired over the years. Most did not survive long. Some like the cats were multi-generational presences.

All were loved by us. As kids we would earnestly promise to look after the newest pet. But of course it was Mum who did all the work.

She would come in at the cat feeding time and have them tumbling over her feet – running ahead and behind her – making small jagging sorties with their tails held high like so many flags. Food time. They knew who it was who fed them. Never did our feline friends show such excitement to us kids.

Shall we count the animals?

In no particular order – and certainly not all at once – we had (ergo – Mum fed and tended for):

  1. Cats (lots of them – sometimes as many as 4 at once – depending of the fertility of the then current mother cat). The originals were Snowy and Tiger – which were our first pets – right when we landed up in Nana Chowk.
  2. Dog – one ½ Labrador (inherited from a Scottish missionary family). A real heart of gold. Would waggle her entire rear end when excited. Good rat catcher too.
  3. Doves – 2 – they laid eggs – but they did not hatch – possibly because I put a crows egg in along with them…
  4. Parrot – 1 – very loud.
  5. Guinea pig – 1 – inherited from a family of German hippies who drove around the country in a modified truck. His original cage was a plastic milk carton.
  6. Hamster – 1 – a birthday gift. He managed to escape and lived under the wooden floor for sometime. We managed to recapture him and loved him dearly.
  7. Rabbits – many. They lived in a hutch outside. Sadly, they were eaten by folks when we went away to the US for a year in 1977. We were heartbroken at the news.
  8. Fish – lots – mainly guppies. Some angel fish. A few neon tetras. The occasional "fighter" fish too.
  9. Tortoises. A few. Another set of hand-me-downs. Never really bonded with these. Today having them would be illegal.
  10. Chipmunk. 1 – I really loved him. Very sweet and small. Did not last long from what I can recall.
  11. Budgies. A few. Didn’t last long as far as I can remember.
  12. Owl – one – but that was in Mussoorie and that too only for 2 weeks before he decided to fly away – so it does not really count
  13. Snake – one – but that also does not count since it was when I was in college. George was a boa from Venezuala that the infatiguable Nathaniel Tuggy smuggled into college – and then was banished to our off campus home. A very gentle fellow.

Hats off to Mrs. Noah – I mean Mum – for handling this vast menagerie (barring the last one of course)!

It was wonderful to grow up with animals.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


He is 18.

Not his age.

This man has seen at least 35 revolutions around the sun since his birth.

18 is his weight.

18 kilogrammes.

He is basically skin and bones.

The ravages of HIV. The product of an immune system that has been run down – and allowed tuberculosis to take over. The result of many days of not eating. The end-point of many months of not being cared for.

We will call him Yohan. He came to the JSK Community Care Centre last week. He had been admitted at the civil hospital in Thane for 2 weeks without any improvement. They discharged him to die.

Yohan came to us with very little hope.

His friends brought him. Strapping lads. Who promised that they would be with him.

They have kept their promise so far.

There is always someone with Yohan. It may be his aged mother – who herself has suffered a stroke. Or one of his friends. Vikas is a particularly faithful presence.

Yohan is being loved. Our nurses are caring for him. Bathing him. Feeding him.

Sheba is with the nurse on duty as I type this. It is 10.10 PM. Yohan has a full bladder but cannot pass urine. They are working to help him.

Yohan came semi-comatose. He could not speak. He could barely move.

This morning there was a twinkle in his eye. He has started eating some food. He polished off a masala dosa yesterday. Two chappatis today. He has started saying a few words.

Yohan still has a long road to go. He needs lots of calories. He needs to overcome his TB. He needs to be knit back together again.

Yohan has a bed sore on his back. It was from the previous hospitalization. He has so little flesh that unless he is physically shifted every 4 hours – more sores will emerge. Our nurses are dressing the wound. The saintly Sister Chinnamma takes special joy in caring for Yohan. We are blessed to have a team like this serving at the Jeevan Sahara Kendra Community Care Centre.

Every morning and every evening – and several times in between Yohan is prayed for. It will be a miracle if he pulls through. But even if he does not – and we are working hard to keep that from happening – even if Yohan does not live too much longer - we know that his last days will have ones where he experienced some comfort and love in the midst of his sufferings.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


Our kids are part of who we are.

They are growing up hearing the words "HIV" "death" "orphan" and "widow".

But they are also in a ring-side seat - watching their parents live out the calling that God has given us.

They see our short-comings. And they see the amazing ways that God has used us and the team to touch people's lives.

Asha is in the JSK building as I type. She has morning school and came here at 1PM. As I had to go to Mumbai for the CORINTH meeting - Sheba (who had brought Enoch to the hospital at 11 AM) stepped out to drop Enoch off at school and pick up Asha.

In the meantime Sheba admitted a very sick woman. Anita (as we will call her) has a sudden on-set hemiplegia (partial paralysis). She has a fever - and it is probably due to a viral meningitis (brain infection). All this because her immunity is very low due to her HIV. A church partner of ours brought Anita in. Sheba admitted her. Anita may die. But that is what we are here for. To try to do what we can. To treat. To pray.

Asha got a ringside view of this.

And at the same time - had a wonderful afternoon. Agnes (Sheba's cousin) who is off duty also lives in the same building (all our single female staff are now housed with the Bethany Hospital nurses who live in the 2nd to 4th floors of our building). Asha went up to Agnes' room and spent a wonderful rest of the afternoon. She just popped in - her hair done up in two adorable pigtails - and asked for money to buy snacks at the canteen down stairs.

Its a wonderful life. A strange and trying one at times. But one where our children are part and parcel of the God-drenched solutions we are working through.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Dealing with Discouragement

We all love to hear happy stories. Especially when a person has been terribly ill and is now so much better.

Its heart-breaking when that person relapses back to their previous situation. Mr. Bali, for example. We first met him when he was at death's door. A long-term alcoholic, he lived in a shack 50 meters from our clinic. He was HIV positive and dying from TB.

Our JSK team got him started on TB treatment, nursed him back to health, fed him, talked and prayed with him. And amazingly he pulled through. He stopped drinking. Started walking. Got a job as a security guard. Things were rosy.

They are not anymore. Mr. Bali is back to the bottle. Our staff try to meet him, but he is nowhere to be found. When they do find him, they can hardly talk to him as he is in a drunken stupor.

He is still walking, but how long?

Our staff feel like they have been kicked in the gut. No happy, happy tales at this point. But they continue to try and meet Mr. Bali. We continue to pray that somehow he will listen to the still small voice to God speaking to him. We keep trying to reach out to Mr. Bali - with the hope that he will listen.

Listen and not drown out the voice with another plastic packet of country liquor.

Listen and act, making real steps forward into hope. Again.

Thursday, 14 July 2011


Its 11.15 PM. The walls of our house are empty. There are cardboard boxes in every room. Some empty. Some full and taped shut and marked with black sketch pen.

We want to know what is where - and will soon be trying to figure out how to fit everything in at a new place.

The Eichers are moving again. It seems barely possible that we would do so. To leave our own home and take up a rented flat. With the hope that we will find people to rent ours.

The reason for our shifting?

Ever since we started work at the Jeevan Sahara Kendra Community Care Center at the Lok Hospital building - we have found our closely choreographed days slowly unraveling.

Asha now starts school at 7.15 AM in the morning - which means she needs to be down at the bus stop at 6.30 AM. Enoch still has afternoon school - so he goes at 12.40 PM. Asha returns at 1.30 PM and Enoch comes back at 6.40 PM. One of us has to be home when our kids are. And so the dance has become stretched and wonky.

Plus this - with the new phase of our work, we are going to be dealing with new HIV positive people who will present to us in a very sick condition - since they are coming to the JSK CCC for admission for complex (and usually grossly untreated) conditions. Sheba already had a night call last week - where she arrived at 8 PM only to find that the poor man had expired already.
With no other doctor in sight - we expect a lot more of this in the time to come.

And so the rather sudden decision to pull up and move. We are shifting from our Happy Valley flat over to an apartment at Lok Upvan Phase 1. We will be a 1 minute walk away from the Lok Hospital building. The children will be 5 mins walk from their school (though I think their Daddy will be dropping them off alot on the scooter).

And so every night over this week we have been packing. Putting things away. Decided on what to keep - what to give - and what to bin. It is good to do this. We sequester so much stuff away. Time to carve out the fat (though most seems to be disappearing into the boxes to be hauled off to the new place...).

In the mean time our new place is getting a painting and cleaning up. The process is (as usual) painfully slow. We go over everyday to see to the workman (yes it is one guy with the occasional side-kick) is doing.

Today we said the classic lines: "You want to move in by Saturday?" As if he had never heard of such an idea. As if we had not been telling him this since he told us 'one weeks time' 10 days ago.

Its only been 2 weeks since we made the decision to shift. And it looks like in 2 days we will (at least we hope to).

There is still more packing and paper work awaiting me before the midnight hour strikes.

Our latest leg of this raggedly grand pilgrimage that we are on together as a family unfolds.

Onwards ever. Backwards never. Or at least not most of the time.

Prayers always accepted on behalf of the Eichers. Strong backs and willing arms welcome on Saturday afternoon too (D.v.).

Not again.

The SMS beeped on my phone at 8.19 PM last night.

I was washing dishes.

The SMS was from a friend telling me he would not be able to come to our home for the regular Wed. nite men's prayer meeting
"Bro i cant come today here very tight traffic bcoz of blast"
Because of blast?

A minute later I called up Jolly (one of our elders).

Yes. 3 bombs went off in Mumbai. 20 dead so far. Many injured. Rush hour. Crowded market places.

I felt sick. The whole day the rain had been pouring down. Things were pretty grey. And now this.

Sheba was with the kids. What to tell. Another blast. Should I wait till the kids sleep? But they will find out anyway. In I go. Tell the news. Another blast.

The BBC website tells us that 21 are dead - so far - and over 100 injured. Over the next few days their stories will drip in. Some will die. Some will be maimed. Some will fade away. More numbers to the cruelty of the human heart.

What a world Asha and Enoch are growing up in. One where parcels are to be feared. Where the news flashes and then people pick up their phones to check if everyone is accounted for and ok.

How long till I know someone personally who has died in a blast? Pakistan has seen over 30,000 people killed by fellow Pakistanis over the past decade. We are not as high in this sorry contest - but the drip drip drip of killing continues.

We were three of us who met for prayer last night. Three men praying from 9.30 to 10.30 as we do every Wed. night. Three men calling out to God as the rain pounded down in the darkness outside.

Come Lord Jesus and set things right. Come Judge and King and Restorer. We need you more than ever. The brutality of yesterday tells us this again and again.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Happy Birthday Neptune!

I was thrilled to discover that the planet Neptune was discovered a year ago tomorrow.

Yes you heard it right. Neptune was discovered only a year ago. And July 12, 2011 celebrates this great occasion.

Not an earth year mind you.

A neptunian year.

A mere 164.79 earth years.

The last time Neptune was where it is tomorrow in its spin around the sun - astronomers from our dear planet spotted it. The planet had been discovered!

The trusty BBC website breathlessly reports that Neptune was the first planet to be discovered intentionally. The planet Uranus' orbit (found in the late 1790s) didn't fit with Newtonian calculations... prompting a bright spark to postulate that there was another as-yet-undiscovered heavenly body that was the case for Uranus' strange orbit.

Right on the money!

The boffins calculated - and predicted it would be found in a certain part of the sky. Armed with the coordinates the astronomers looked - and after only an hour of searching on the 24th of September 1846 - they saw the new planet!

Happy Birthday Neptune! I am so glad mathematics works! Here's to the deductive approach!

Hooray for the wonders of space! But please do shed a tear as the space shuttle glides into history - after spending billions and twice providing terrible disasters... (the flip side of our confidence in deduction).

We have so much more to discover...

Friday, 8 July 2011

The Railway Children

Since we came back from Mussoorie in June - I have found myself in a land where I have gone too little in the last decade.

The land of books.

There are just so many great ones to read.

Old classics. New voyages. The joy of cracking a book open and letting the text swim into my mind. The desire to keep going. The wonder at seeing the clock having spun around while I was in another place, another time...

I hope to share some of these journeys. So lets start with a delight. I had never heard of E. Nesbit. We were in a bookstore (one of those places which has sadly seen too few footfalls from us over the last decade) and I saw this book.

The cover hooked me. We bought it.

What a wise and wonderful tale it is. The three children and their world opened up. We laughed and smiled, shed the odd tear and lived along with the family as they grew together in the absence of their father. As the main reader I could not help but find my voice thickening a number of times - triggering memories of my own father reading to us as kids.

While the story has plenty of adventurous incidents to take you along - what Nesbit does so well is to build up the world of friendships that the children manage to create. Someone said that fiction allows us to see the truth that reality hides. This book rings true. The freshness of the children. The challenges that they and their mother cross. The child-level vision that Nesbit captures - while seeping the book with a deeper (and at times sadder) wisdom. The sprinkled incidences of Providence. The quiet commentary on class. The gentleness of love and devotion - and the dawning of understanding in a child. Its all there and more. Read it.

I wish I had read this a long time ago. But am glad that Asha and Enoch gave us an opportunity to go into this world together.


Interestingly E. Nesbit and her husband were founders of the Fabian Society and involved in British Socialism at the turn of the century. Most of her books are available as free ebooks and audiobooks.

Here is a quote by Nesbit: “When I was a little child I used to pray fervently, tearfully, that when I should be grown up I might never forget what I thought and felt and suffered then.” (from an essay on Nesbit by Gore Vidal). We are glad that she didn't. It has made us the richer

Thursday, 7 July 2011

24 hours

Its been a tough 24 hours.

For the first 2 weeks after our shifting the Jeevan Sahara work to the new premises, we did not have a single in-patient.

Then this Monday we had our first inpatient. Leelamma.

On Tuesday our second patient came. Nelson.

He is one of our contacts in the home-based care team. Nelson is a very complex man. A long-term alcoholic - he has suffered a stroke which has left him paralysed on one half of his body. He has lost the power of speech and communicates through grunts. It is hell at home. He continues to drink and flails around - beating his wife and mother. His mother, a tiny waif of a woman has been supporting him so far. His wife comes and goes.

We admitted Nelson in one of the rooms.

Yesterday we found out a terrible fact. His good leg is blue. It looks like a clot has moved down into his leg and is cutting off the blood supply. An emergency surgery could help - but Nelson's wild and erratic behaviour means that an post-op care is almost impossible. We talked to his wife and mother. There is no one to go with him. They want to take him home.
Then last night a man came.

He was brought to the center at 8 PM. We got a call saying that a very very sick person has come for admission. We live 2 kms away from the Jeevan Sahara Community Care Centre. Sheba left immediately, but by the time Sheba arrived at hospital the man had already passed away.

Lets give the man a name. We will call him Yashwant. Our staff had met Yashwant earlier when he had been admitted to the civil hospital. Like Nelson, he had only an aging mother with him to look after him then. When he came to JSK at 8 at night it was only with his mother again.

After he died, however, many relatives appeared. Where were they when Yashwant was alive?

The lot of a person with HIV can be very lonely. And most of the loneliness is due to purposeful neglect. Shame by other family members. Weariness from caring and giving money. Coldness due to past wrongs done and bridges burned. Fear of the disease and the stigma that surrounds it.

Each person so complicated. What we are finding is that the Community Care Centre is putting us in touch with people who have had extreme experiences. Though we have just started this phase of our work, I think it has already begun to take its toll on us.

At 11 AM noon today, Sheba was about to go over to the centre when she had a severe pain in her lower abdomen. She could not stand. We had to put her into bed. Sheba has remained in dull pain for most of the day - and sharp pain when she stands. She has dropped off to sleep now.

In the meantime - in the early afternoon - an HIV positive boy came to the JSK Centre with a 104 degree fever and shallow breathing. With Sheba unable to come, Agnes our main nurse called Dr. Marise who helps out 2 days a week. Marise came over, and the boy was stabilised. Our staff was about to discharge him home in the late afternoon - without having to be admitted.

Nelson's family took him home this afternoon too. How long he lives is a hard question. How his family is to look after him with his violence and anger is another. We don't have any simple answers - but that is why we are here. To serve. To show the love that God through Jesus gave to us in the first place - undeserving, wild, ungrateful, incoherent us!

Its 23.18 as I type this and another day starts at 5 AM tomorrow.


Wednesday, 6 July 2011


I have written a number of times about 'seeing' people with HIV. I see people with HIV who are invisible to others because people with HIV have no outward sign that they are living with the virus. They blend in with the crowd. We meet them when we buy fish from them, when they sell us a train ticket, when they drive a bus, when they sell and insurance policy or get us a PAN card, when they run a chemist shop, when they serve in the police (just a few of the professions that our positive friends are actively - and completely safely pursuing in Thane).

These people are visible to me, because I have seen them in our JSK centre. I know their CD4 counts. We have prayed with them and are so proud to see them living normal productive lives.

But today I want to write about the missing.

HIV still has a massive, crushing stigma attatched to it. For every person who is brave enough to come to JSK to receive help, who is open to our staff's discreet health visits to their homes - there are plenty of others who have resisted our coming to meet them. They are afraid. And they have reason to be. People have lost jobs, people have been turned out of rental homes, people have been ostracised when others found out that they have HIV.

Some of our friends have told us upfront that they do not want us to come to their homes. We reluctantly agree.

Most of the time they say that 'they will come when they need help.' Very few do.

I have been thinking about this because I have been missing one woman. We will call her Tanvi. Tanvi came to us through her brother who was a rickshaw driver. Her brother had been given a small card about JSK and he knew that Tanvi's husband Babu was very sick with AIDS. He brought Babu to us and we looked after him.

Initially Babu repsonded well. He was able to start work again. Then we got quite ill. We admitted him at our clinic. When he did not respond immediately, Babu's brother came.

'I will take care of him at the govt. hospital! I know people there. You are not doing anything here. I will make Babu well in 3 days.' was what Babu's brother angiliy told us.

Babu never recovered.

We tried to keep meeting Tanvi. Our staff met her regularly at her home. She buried herself in work. As she did not have children, her days were empty. She filled every available hour with work. Tanvi cleaned houses. Now she started leaving at 7 AM and coming back after 8 PM.

The told our staff to stop meeting her at her in-laws home. She would seek them out when she needed them.

I used to see her at our building complex. She cleaned some of the homes there. When I would pick up our children from the school bus - or be waiting to drop them off I would see Tanvi walk by. She normally would give a small greeting and walk on.

But now she is missing.

We have not seen her for almost a year.

Where is she?

Has she gone back to her village? Unlikely. She would have done so immediately after her husband's death. But we know that Tanvi stayed on for some time.

Has she got more jobs in other housing complexes? Perhaps - but again unlikely. Even if she is working in other homes - one of us will run into her on one of these days.

Is she dead?

Sadly, this is the most likely possibility. One of our last conversations was that she had TB again. Tanvi said she was taking meds from the local health authorities. I told her to come to the JSK clinic and see Dr. Sheba. Tanvi said she would. She did not come.

Most of us don't believe we will ever die. Even if we have seen our loved one die.

Did Tanvi not believe we could help her because her husband died despite getting some level of care? Did Tanvi fear that others would find out about her status if she was seen coming to our centre? Did she commit suicide and end it all? Did she just discount her own HIV status - postponing treatment and care for later - and then come to a point where there was no later? Did she try to get treatments from the quacks - not believing the sober statements (which we try to tinge with hope as well) that she got from us at JSK? Was she angry with one of our staff?

Her disappearance gives us no answers.

I wish I would be proved spectacularly wrong by meeting a hale and hearty Tanvi one of these days.

I don't think I will.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


We have our first patient admitted at the Jeevan Sahara Kendra Community Care Centre.

The call came on Friday. From a church-member in a house-church that meets in Mulund. He knew a poor family where the mother was sick. She had been repeatedly to hospital and had used up all the money they had. She was still sick. Could I put her in touch with a large private hospital and get admitted under charity there.

I knew that this hospital was full up - having just started the operations last month and still not running at full capacity. So I suggested that he bring the lady to Jeevan Sahara and Dr. Sheba would assess her and see what could be done.

They came the next day. The lady - we will call her Leelamma - brought her reports. Amidst all the papers was one statement. HIV seropositive.

Leelamma was HIV positive and no one had told her about it. Her husband who was with her had not been tested. We tested him.

Leelamma is in stage 4 HIV sickeness. What we call AIDS. She had a fever of 102 when she came. We wanted to admit her immediately.

She did not. She said she wanted to go home. That she was not ready. That her children needed her. That she wanted to go to church on Sunday. That she would come back on Monday.

We didn't force her. But we told her and her husband that Leelamma was very sick.

On Monday morning they did not show up at 9 am. At 11 I called up the man who had referred her intially. He looked it up (and probably gave her a nudge to get going). At 12.30 Leelamma and her husband showed up.

Her husband is also positive. We told him the news.

Leelamma was admitted.

Last night she spent her first night at the JSK community care centre.

This morning - as I type this - the first strains of songs from our morning staff prayers have started. Leelamma and her husband are sitting with us.

Another step in our journey.

Sunday, 3 July 2011


I almost see her smile before I see her.

She is wearing the uniform of a contract employee.

She is taking bags at a nearby supermarket. You hand in your bag or helmet or whatever - and she puts it in a shelf and gives you a little plastic number for you to reclaim your belongings later.

She is dressed in the dark blue uniform of the contract agency. The supermarket doesn't want to employ staff - so it 'outsources' the bulk of its staff to these agencies - who 'provide' the services.

She is HIV positive.

None of the shoppers know that. She has not told her employers. And she does not need to. Nothing that she is doing will put anyone at any risk of getting HIV.

The shoppers all have a far, far, far higher risk of dying to by falling into the mayonnaise jars and cutting up their faces - than getting HIV from her when they give her their helmets and bags and she gives them their little numbers.

She, on the other hand, will almost certainly lose her job if she discloses her HIV status to the agency which has 'supplied' her to the supermarket.

How do we know she is HIV positive?

Well, we know it because of the many times we have prayed with her.

Four years ago Tina (name changed of course) was dying. She could not keep anything down and was continuously vomiting. The doctors at the civil hospital had washed their hands off her. She came to us as a matter of last resort.

Sheba and the nurses looked after her. They cared for her at our clinic for two prayer-soaked weeks. She pulled through.

After she was discharged, Tina continued to grow strong. She was working with a travel agency. Then she wanted to start a business on her own with a friend. That fell through. Tina went through some ups and downs - but physically she remained very much on the mend. She had the courage of standing up infront of 400 young people at one of our YAA Festivals and telling her story.

Then one day she told us about a great new opportunity she was getting. A group had encouraged her to invest money. She was going to get an astounding rate of return. And what's more - she was being given a dream job. This group were Christians no less. And they wanted people to be praying round the clock. And so they were hiring her to be on their prayer team. She was going to be paid to pray.

It sounded too good to be true. My hackles went up immediately. But Tina was firm in her decision to join this group.

As expected, what sounded too good to be true .... just wasn't.

My blood boils when I hear about these pyramid schemes that use Christianity as a bait to get people involved. They keep saying the same thing - if you join us - you will benefit. No problems if you want to leave. You can do ministry too. Yada yada. The basic pull is simple. You can get rich.

The typical pyramid scheme (also called Ponzi schemes, multi-level marketing etc) is built on people selling something - and passing a commission up the line. The more people you recruit into this - the richer you get - because you are now benefitting from the money others are passing up to you. If you have been able to get a lot of people excited about your scheme - then you are going to get a lot of money coming your way.

There will always be a few who - at least early in the game - rake it in. They are never silent about what they are earning. Their stories are what push the others forward. "Oh so-and-so - well he pulls in 12 lakh per month!" "That person has two swimming pools - and we got to swim in them!" and other such aspirational gossip flows around.

When I was at college in the US - there was a group of students who were selling water-filters. That in a country where 3 cases of diarrheoa makes the headlines of the local papers. The reason they were sold on selling - was to convince folks that their water tasted funny and needed this filter. They achieved his by adding some chemical to 'unfiltered' water - which turned it an unappetising deep-urine-yellow - and then doing the same with their 'filtered' water - which remained beautifully clear. No one wants to drink urine was the not-so-subliminal message. But the real driver of it all was the big boss who used to call up his troops and tell them about how much he earned - and cajole them to recruit others.

At the base of it all is a simple question. What is really adding value? If you are making something real - then you can expect profits of 10-25% per year. Competition kicks in and whatever you do - there will be others making a similar thing and giving good rates to your potential customers.

So anyone who says they are making 100 - 500% profit per year is lying - or they are syphoning off the 'pay-ins' of folks who are signing up to become their dealers - and will soon run away with the money - leaving the lower level guys high and dry.

For Tina's group - they dolled it up with Christian-sounding jargon like 'blessings points' and 'super-natural'.

Tina lost her money - for all I know - and also her job. It was over 5 months since she was paid. She prayed. She regularly did her 'job' of supplicating for others. But she was not given the salary that she was promised - and that she received when she first joined to group. Tina got nothing for the past 5 months. And so she had to 'quit.' The heavily 'Christian' rhetoric did not match up with reality.

And it cannot.

So Tina is now working as a contract employee for an agency that 'supplies' her services to the supermarket. She works 12 hours a day. 7 days a week. No offs.

And she continues to be HIV positive.

And Tina's smile remains bright.

Though life continues to give her hard knocks aplenty - her faith in God (despite the slimy ones that claimed to be working in His name) continues to be strong. Sadly, because of the terms of her current job she cannot go to church on Sunday mornings.


In a faraway land called holiday there lived a little boy.

His name was Enoch. Just before he travelled to this magical place he made himself a list.

Wrote it down. Put pen to paper. What he wanted to do when he got to this enchanted isle.

Here is that list:

How did he do?

Well chocolate chip cookies were made:

The second food item - 'jelly' was also served - as part of a 'trifle' that Oma made for us:

The 'doubles badminton' did not get played - because for the first two days of our time in Mussoorie it was a form of 'baseball' that reigned supreme:

Some Tintin books? Many. Every last one of them that remains from our boyhood collection. Enoch's Daddy also explored the world through Herge's eyes again...

But the big one. The very first item on Enoch's list. That was the one we were really hoping to do this time.

'Camping (2, 3 days)' is what he wrote.

For most of the time we were at Shanti Kunj going camping seemed almost as distant a dream as it seems to us know down in sweltering monsoonal Mumbai-land.

The reason was that at the end of my second joy-filled day in Mussoorie my old back injury showed up again like an unwelcome visitor. The next 3 full days I was horizontal. And in pain. Going hiking was the last thing that we considered possible.

Added to this was Opa's own injury. A few days before we arrived, Opa was involved in an cycle-rickshaw accident. The aging peddler had swerved to try and miss a speed breaker. In the process the contraption turned turtle. With Opa beneath it and in a ditch. Mercifully there were no iron or glass pieces in that gutter. But Opa did get a very bad gash on his foot which needed stiches at the Landour Community Hospital. And the recovery process was slow.

So the two men of our Holiday home were invaldided (Stefan and Neeru and kids had gone down after the second day). The camping dream started to fade.

But hope does spring up.

I all happened on the penultimate day. With only packing and saying-good-bye day and going-down-to-the-plains-to-catch-the-train to look forward to - we actually did it.

We left at 4 in the afternoon for a hike. And a camping experience. The very first one that Asha and Enoch and their cousin Joanna had ever had.

Our destination - the peak of Flag Hill.

How were we going to get there?

Down the beautiful walk along the ridge that passes over Fairy Glen, then past First Jabbarkhet and up the road to the gap. Then up the ridge to the top of Flag Hill. Opa and Vicky and Prem were taking a taxi with our saman to the gap. From their they carried up the things to the top - with Opa remaining there and awaiting our arrival.

The walk down and then back up was exhilarating. So much beauty all around us - the stately Deodars take your breath away:

And then you pass through the delightfully mixed forest of oaks and cedars and deodars and blue pines and Himalayan maples - not to forget the glorious chestnut trees... and you know that just below you are the lovely picnic areas of Fairy Glen.

Sooner than you expect (after a water and cinnamon bun halt of course) you are down at Jabbarkhet and climbing up again.

Then the real fun starts. The metalled road is behind you. Small tracks lead you up. The ridge of Flag Hill beckons.

A little bit of huffing and puffing later, you come to the top of the ridge and gaze in wonder at the hills unfolding around you.

This is not some lofty Himalayan peak - but the joy of getting to the top, of seeing sky above you it terrific. The kids and Oma have gone far ahead by now to search for Opa. They find him sleeping peacefully with the luggage.

In the late afternoon sun there is a lot to explore at the top of Flag Hill. The name, incidentally, seems to be linked with the Tibetan prayer flags that festoon the top of this hill.

But wait, there is work to be done! We need to set up camp before it gets dark!

Ok everyone. Fan out and collect dry wood. And pine cones.

Joanna does her part in preparing for the night:

Meanwhile, Opa starts the fire and tends it carefully. A pot is put on the fire almost immediately to brew up some tea for us.

And then the tents are pitched.

What fun.

You start with a flat area, covered with pine needles. A short diligent search is made for stones and sticks that would trouble you during the night. These are tossed away into the bushes and the tents are unrolled.

We had one two-man pup tent:

As well as a 4 man dome tent (borrowed from some dear friends of Mum and Dad). Young and old helped pitch the miracle.

And as soon as the tents were up the little ones wanted to go inside. And sleep they said. But the smiles tell the whole story.

Its all first time for Asha and Enoch. And terribly exciting of course.

After the tea - the pot is put on the fire again to cook the evening meal.

Wai-wai noodles - here we come!

Good hot food in our bellies - and the onset of the evening at hand. Time for an extended sit around the camp-fire as the evening wind start wailing along the ridge that we are on.

With Opa faithfully tending the fire - it takes on a beauty of its own. The orange flames dancing and licking the wood - alternately blossoming like a bouquet of light - and then calming down to a dull red bed of glowing embers - the the occasional tongue of flame.

And in another first - our kids had marshmallows for the first time. And what better way to eat them than by impaling them on a stick and holding the marshmallows close to the fire, till the puff up in a sweet sticky mess that our mouths gladly - if a bit gingerly - welcome in.

The kids found the heat of the roasted marshmallows a bit hard to deal with - but their sticky mouths and cheeks showed that where there is a will, there are ways!

And so it was time to hit the sack. Or crawl into our sacks at least. The initial bravado that Asha, Joanna and Enoch showed about sleeping in the pup-tent soon evaporated. They were to be with Sheba and I - while Oma and Opa shared the small tent.

Snug as bugs in a rug. No less.

The night passed. With the normal shifting and surging that anynight slept under the sky does. But what a joy to be up on a mountain again, surrounded by people you love, and cuddled up in that warm cocoon that your sleeping bag becomes.

After a few waking ups in the night, I saw that the morning had come.

One of my sleeping beauties had also opened her eyes. The other three sets of eyes were tightly shut as the first rays of lit up the cloudy skies.

I went out to collect fire wood and make some tea. The embers of the previous night's fire were still glowing and a few sticks on them soon had the flames dancing again.

And then our mini-adventure began.

The heavens opened.

First a light rain. Just pin-pricks in the mist that swirled around as I walked through the woods - picking up twigs.

Then the big drops started falling. I headed back to the tent. On my way there the drops turned to ice - we were being hailed on. I dove into the tent door and put my wet shoes in a corner.

The little ones were awake by now and thrilled to see the ground covered with icy pebbles.

Being true Eichers - the next gen had brought books along with them. These were out in a flash.

Oma and Opa got wet. The little pup tent was just a bit too small for them. And a bit too wet.

We happily welcomed our 'refugees' in the spacious dome tent we had.

And were so glad we had brought in all the materials the night before we slept.

Breakfast in bed- or at least in sleeping bags!

And after breakfast - Narnia! We read from 'The Horse and His Boy' and were taken to a different world.

This was very precious for me because here we were recreating for the current generation of Eichers so much of what was precious for me growing up. The joy of being out doors. The pleasure of being with each other. The excitement of hearing stories read out (and the joy of reading them out to others).

As the rain continued to fall - we were exploring the deserts on the border of Archenland and how the intrepid 4some were going to make it to Narnia in time to warn them of the invasion...

... in the mean time, the sun decided to come out.

At just the right time.

We were up and tearing down our tents at 10.30.

As the adults packed up - the kids did some final exploring of our wonderland.

And then it was down the mountain for us.

We were rewarded with some breathtaking (and camera-defying) glimpses of the snow in the high Himalayas to the North - and an amazing vista that the rain-washed mid-morning air gave us to the South.

As we ended the great camping experience - we were just so grateful that it had happened. With all our weaknesses - we were still able to go out and camp this time. It was not quite the 2-3 days Enoch had written on his list before we went to Mussoorie - but it was very precious to us as a family.

So grateful to loving God for the many experiences of His love that we are given. Its a great life. And continues to be. Praise Him.