Saturday, 22 October 2011


Three envelopes.  White. Crisp. New.

Each of them with our JSK address and symbol printed in blue on the lower left hand corner.

He took them out of his pant pocket and looked at me with such gratitude

His three children had been tested for HIV.

The envelopes enclosed the test reports for his kids.

I didn't need to have them opened.  I could read the result on his face.

All three are HIV negative.

"God has heard your prayers" He told me.

We had prayed earlier in the week.  He was lying on the bed with a blood transfusion dripping into his veins.

Now we were in my office.  Madan had come by to tell me the good news that his children were HIV negative and to thank God.

We face many ugly things every day.  And we thank God for small miracles like this.

Madan and his wife have a long way to travel.  They are both HIV positive and Madan has not been well at all.  But he is back on his feet - and his pocket had three white envelopes which showed that his kids are HIV negative.

We rejoice at every scrap of good news.  These are what hope is built on.  They are post-cards of the Kingdom that is yearning to be fulfilled.  And for which our hearts ache in anticipation.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Rest - with a bit of water mixed in

Finding rest remains an elusive part of our lives.

In the last few months our visitors have usually asked us a question:  when do you rest?

The answer is normally a silence.  Or a muttering.

One family left behind a lovely gift - an envelop with the specific instructions to use the contents to get away and do something.

We did.

A morning bus n auto ride took us to the Gorai creek ferry warf.  There we got on a motorised ferry that took us over the creek to a set of twin amusement parks.

Being there early in the morning gave us a run of the place.

Driving skills were honed.

As were flying skills!

Ride after ride.

Including some that were literally stomache churning.

The brave Eichers passed them all with delight.

But some folks didn't.  We saw some of our fellow revelers providing some extra protein for the plants after some of the more vigorous rides.

I was amazed at Asha - who went along with me on a ride that had us spinning round and round - head over heels -  for what seemed like an eternity.  She weathered it like a pro - and even said that she wanted to do it again as I staggered out at the end.

The beauty of the day was to be together as the four of us.  Together and enjoying it to the hilt.

But the highlight was yet to come.

Since we bought tickets to both the parks - we headed over to the other one just before noon.

This park had water.  Lots of it.

We plunged in.

Swimming lessons for free! With your own personal trainer!

And pleasantly sore muscles the next day - ones that have not seen a workout for many a year!
The afternoon literally floated by.

Kids - big and small enjoyed the various water slides to the fullest.

The smiles say it all.

It was a day of rest.

A day to be together.

Something we need to do more of.  Lots more!

Monday, 17 October 2011


We said good bye to Sashmita Aind - one of our JSK nurses.

She had worked with us for 2 years - had put in sweat and tears - and had done a good job. Never complaining - we saw her go out to homes to meet people there - and look after the odd patient that we had in our in-patient centre.

She committed herself to work for 2 years with us. She did. Now she wants to get married - and so has left us to go home to Orissa - and prepare for the nuptials.

We had had a quiet 10 days at the JSK centre. No inpatients - despite utter chaos at the local govt. hospitals.

On the day Sashmita left us - we admitted 3 men to the centre. All very sick.

We have 2 nurses with us now. One of whom has a small child at home. And 1 nurse aide. It was a tremendous step of faith for Sheba to even admit one person. Let alone 3.

Two of them are really very sick.

One of them - we will call him Tahir - was comatose. Tahir had been in a govt. hospital for 2 weeks and nothing was done. Skin and bones. His wife and mother brought him in to JSK in a terrible state.  I did not have much hope seeing the emaciated unconscious man.  But we prayed.  And Sheba and the team swung into action.  Sheba asked Agnes to put in an NG tube. After a year of not doing so - Agnes did it successfully.

Today Tahir is talking.  He has started eating.  His wife is overjoyed.  But he still has a long way to go- both physically and emotionally.  We can see the cruel way that he has been treating his wife by his actions from the sick-bed.  Its heartbreaking to see him recover only for so much ugliness to surface - yet at the same time, we know that there is so much hope for each person - and Tahir is no exception to that.  Sheba was able to spend time counselling and praying with Tahir's wife too.

The other two men want to go home.

Jackie is very sick with TB.  But this morning he was sitting outside the room with a smile on his face.  He said that he will go home and that his 'friends' will come and look after him there.  His mother was most upset at this.  When Sheba asked who these friends were - Jackie told the names of our JSK staff.  When Jackie's mother asked him to stay at least another day he became convulsed with anger.  His gaunt frame shaking he told his mother that he would kill her.  The poor lady went away and cried.  Sheba talked with Jackie and tried to calm him down.  She then talked with the mother and prayed with her.  All this before she went to church this morning!

This evening the other man - who we will call Babu - was downstairs for our Sunday evening gospel time.  He sat in the front row and listened while we sang and bro. Anil Sainani shared from the bible.  Then when Sheba went up to do a final rounds for the day she found that Babu had put all his belongings on his bed.  Why did you do this? She asked him.  "I am going home now" he said.

Sheba had to explain that a hospital was not like a hotel - where you can come and go when you want.  Babu still has a fever.  She persuaded him to stay another day - and be examined for fever tomorrow.

This is the first time we have been looking after 3 very sick people at the same time.  We go forward with much weakness - but also seeing miracles take place before our eyes.  I am so proud of Sheba for the steps of faith she is taking us into.

Our immediate wish-list:
  1. At least 3 trained nurses with a desire to serve people with HIV in the name and manner of Jesus.
  2. At least 1 doctor with the same desires

Friday, 14 October 2011

The bucket list.

The picture says it all. I saw it in an article in the Sunday Express 'Eye' magazine.

The picture showed the corner of a desk. A small neat stack of books. An alarm clock. A kewpee style plastic doll. 5 photos – baby shots, faded pics of a holiday on a beach. A State Bank of India visiting card is jammed in too. An ugly plug point with the mandatory black cable snaking away. A small pen holder. Soap stone with inlaid ‘Taj Mahal’ kind of designs. Pens jostle with the flouresent yellow of sketch pens.

So far so normal. So far so small town.

But two things mark this corner of a desk from the sleepy town of Jamshedpur in Jharkhand from that of any other student desk.

First a picture. A dusky girl smiles out of it. Below in red letters – crowded together – it says ‘Justice for Malini Murmu.’

Malini Murmu. The tribal girl who hanged herself after 3 months of attending one of the best business schools in India. The papers are rife with stories about this young woman ending her life because of being publicly jilted by her boyfriend with this infamous Facebook update “Feeling super cool today. Dumped my new ex-girlfriend. Happy independence day.”

The ‘Justice for Malini’ picture speaks of a life cut short. A set of dreams abruptly ended. 

The other thing is a list.

It’s the list of the dreams that the girl had.

A handwritten – mostly in capitals manifesto – where Malini spells out her hopes and aspirations.

  1. an IIM tag
  2. a dream job
  3. a mammoth bank account
  4. a beautiful house
  5. my own car (BMW/Audi/Ferrari/Porsche)
  6. A guitar (and the perfect skill to play it)
  7. A financially independent life
  8. The perfect ‘diva’ avatar
  9. Flawless skin and hair
& the most important of all
  1. A life partner who make me feel ‘life’ couldn’t be better
(the perfect man for me)

The article in which I saw the picture of this list spends most of its time lamenting the ‘bright eager girl’ who was not here anymore.

What strikes me is the list itself. We have a generation who are aspirational. This is the young India of today. This kind of a list must be penned out and stuck up in thousands of study corners across our land. Its applauded. Greed is good. Move forward – dream big – don’t be satisfied with small stuff. Seek ‘better prospects.’

A newspaper article of a young business man quoted him with something to the effect of: “I read the Forbes list of richest men every night – as long as my name is not on it – I won’t be satisfied – and I go to sleep hungry for more.”

The more you look at Malini’s dream list – the sadder you feel. Starting with the ‘IIM tag’ – which she got – beating out thousands of others who wanted to get into the institute for a coveted MBA – almost every desire that Malini writes about can be commodified into rupees. And each and every wish on her list is solely around herself.

No mention of friends or family. No mention of society or country. Not a peep or a squeak about justice, truth, change. No whisper of immortality at all. All here and now – lots of toys and finally a boy. The ragged tragedy of Malini’s dream list is that amongst the sought-after riches is a spiritual poverty – her bucket list is finally pretty empty – stripped down to its basics all it contains is her.
Malini got the first point of her list – she joined 381 other students in her MBA batch at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. And it seems Malini thought she had the achieved the last point on her list too - ‘the perfect man for me’ – until he dumped her.

This is the acid test of our dreams. What happens when they don’t show up, or they start to melt? This is where just how brittle this girl’s dreams are – and along with her the dreams and aspirations of so many many other young men and women like Malini.

“Malini was an average student till about Class V” a teacher of hers is quoted as saying in the article“But after that she showed remarkable improvement. It was as if something possessed her” mused the teacher. Interesting that this man uses the word ‘possession.’

Remembering when Malini came back to thank him, this teacher says “That day I saw in her a confident, resolute girl who knew what she wanted.” Or did she really know what she wanted?

Be careful what you dream. You may just get it. And find how hollow your years have been in the pursuit of it.

A peasant carpenter, whose hands had shaped the universe, and whose knuckles still bore the calluses of shaping ploughs and door-frames told his motley crew that they should seek first the Kingdom – and all these things will be added.

I feel especially sad for Malini because I have met so many who have not followed their dreams in the way she wrote them down – and who are living full and rich lives that install pride in their children. We need to look no farther than my parents and Sheba’s parents to see lives well lived. Their lives have shaped ours – and they contributed to building the Kingdom whose foundations will not shake.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Bombay Burger

Yesterday we feasted on Wada Pav.

An amazing woman - Asha David - had come to visit us. She used to work in our home for some time - but has been running a home for kids that others do not care for along with her husband for the last half decade.

Whenever Asha comes she wants to serve. Yesterday it was making Wada Pavs for us.

And Asha's service does not come in small quantities. She made 30 of the savory 'Bombay Burgers.'

The kids (and the kids' parents) were delighted. Wada pav for lunch. Wada pav for the kids' snack at school. Wada pav for supper. Even a few for today's breakfast - with the last one going into Enoch's school bag for his recess snack this afternoon.

Supper was a grand affair - with Asha David's gulab jamuns providing a chaser!

Asha David and her husband are performing the herculean task of looking after 30 kids. They survive on a wing and many prayers. Sheba spent time talking and praying with Asha. There were tears.

The world spins round the better for people like Asha and David. Forgotten, quiet heroes - being used by God to do amazing things that most of us in our comfort and apathy do not even consider.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Drops of Blood

As I spoke I could see the drops of blood dripping.
Small, dark red drops. Falling slowly through the plastic tube.

I was beside a man lying in a bed in the corner room of our Jeevan Sahara Kendra Community Care Centre.

The man – who we will call Madan – was hooked up to a unit of blood. The drops that I saw through the tube were heading for his veins – and then into his heart and to the rest of his body through his arteries.
Madan is HIV positive. He has been getting treatment from the government ART (Anti-Retroviral Therapy) centre. One of these life-giving drugs has caused a severe anaemia.

Madan’s haemoglobin level was only 4. He said that he had difficulty breathing. He was weak and could not work in the small grocery shop he runs.

Madan came in touch with our JSK staff at the ART centre. He did not want us to come to his house since he did not want his mother to know about his condition. We asked him to bring his wife to talk with us. He did not.

Until this time.

As I was talking to Madan I could see the small cluster of the family that surrounded Madan. His brother sat with me on one bed – complete with the martial moustache, curled up and his silver earring that characterises men from the desert state of India. On the other bed – next to her father – sat Madan’s younger daughter. An older daughter sat on a chair. Out of my line of sight was Madan’s wife – her name meaning ‘happiness/good fortune’ and with their youngest – a boy on her lap.

I could have been sitting under a tree in Madan’s ancestral village – with him lying on a charpai - the traditional stringed cot that is the main article of furniture for so many a rural home. 

Instead he is in our hospital. Agnes – our nurse in her white uniform – and Giri – our HIV counsellor complete the scene. The evening sun shines on the trees that block most of the neighbouring apartments. We are having an evening prayer with Madan and family.

I am talking about Jesus. About how men came with a man who was paralysed – and how they were so determined to have him healed that they broke the roof of the home Jesus was in to let him down.
And yet the first thing Jesus says to the man on seeing their faith is “Friend – your sins are forgiven.’
HIV is not the worst problem in the world. It’s a terrible challenge – one that has brought untold suffering. It’s the cause for Madan and his family to be here in our hospital room – getting the blood that will keep him going.

But below the disease is a condition that all our dark hearts hold – and most try to hide – a radical rejection of all that is good in God.

The words of Jesus ring across the centuries. “Friend…. forgiven.”

We prayed for Madan. For his healing. For the blood to help. For the new regime of drugs to kick in soon. For his worries to be stilled. For his family to be blessed. For him to taste the joy of hearing Jesus call him ‘friend.’

The drops of blood kept dripping into Madan as I left the room.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

When you wish upon a star...

The joys of googling….

You might find a comet (or at least an asteroid) with your name.

Well, maybe not your full name, but your last name at least…

So it was with yours truly on a sodden afternoon last month. I put in ‘Eicher’ and ‘Wikipedia’ and hey presto – asteroid Eicher appears!

A bit of searching around tells me that the asteroid was discovered by a Brian A Skiff – a chappie who by the looks of it has discovered like a whole barrel-full of celestial rocks.

The object that he named ‘Eicher’ was discovered on the 2nd of June 1984.

1984. I was a ripe 15-year old then. We visited the US as a family that year. I managed to snag a learner’s licence from the driving authorities in Florida where my grandparents lived at that time. That ‘umble piece of plastic eventually morphed into my driver’s license here in good old Bharat – don’t ask me how.

But back to the asteroid. The bit of rock that orbits the sun which was given the proud name of Eicher can be seen at the NASA site: here Here is a picture of where it was on Sept. 15th this year.

The orbiting rock was named after David J. Eicher – an avid astronomer who seems to have poured his life into encouraging others to peer into the night skies through the Deep Sky Magazine he founded as well as being the editor-in-chief of Astronomy Magazine.

A quick search (google of course) shows that D.J. Eicher seems to be a minor polymath and has published widely on the history of the US Civil War.

Somewhere between Mars and Jupital a celestial object - named 3167 Eicher - is orbiting around the sun.

The universe is full of wonders.