Thursday, 29 March 2012

An attitude of gratitude

Sheba was talking to a lady yesterday evening.  She is the sister of one of our HIV Positive Friends.  Lets call her Prabha.   We have not met Prabha for some time - but she attended yesterdays monthly Positive Friends Support Group meeting along with her sister.

Prabha is not much to look at.  Small and thin, with a gaping set of buck-teeth.  Her sister is a walking miracle.  So often sick, but still hanging on.  Still here with us.

At the end of the meeting we break into small groups.  Its a time for personal sharing about the challenges that each person is going through - and then we pray for each other - and promise to keep on praying during the month.

Sheba asked Prabha what she wanted prayer for.  Prabha mumbled something about her child having a skin rash and requesting healing for that.  Then she stopped and smiled.

Sheba probed a bit further.  "What else do you want prayer for, what are your other problems?"

"What else do I need?" said Prabha.

"God is so good to me" she said with an amazing smile.

"My husband used to drink so much.  Now he has stopped."

"He used to only go to work 2 days out of 7.  Now my husband faithfully goes to work everyday."

"God answers prayers!"

Prabha has been attending a local prayer meeting for some time now.  She is still living in a shanti-town.  She hardly earns anything, and the prices of daily commodities continue to rise. 

Just hearing Sheba tell me about this encounter with a lady who exuded contentment and joy sent shivers down my spine.

Oh for a genuine attitude of gratitude - like the one our dear sister Prabha has.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Young man

I was revving up our trusty-rusty scooter (a.k.a. Black Beauty), about to swish up the small bridge over the gutter / creek in front of the Jeevan Sahara Kendra Community Care Centre, when I saw a young man.

Graphic T-shirt?  Check!

Slightly gelled hair?  Check!

Keds? Check!
Sling bag? Check!

He smiled at me.

Then I recognised.  It was Tarun. 

I still think of Tarun as an 11 year old boy.  He is now 18. 

I still remember him coming in sick over and over again in our early days.  And the fear we had when we started Anti-Retroviral Therapy for him.  Our first patient on ART.

Today he stopped in to show Sheba his latest tests.  They are great.  His CD4 level is over 500.  He is working. 

I used to remember him always being smaller and more frail than his peers.

No more.  Tarun looks like any other young man roaming the streets.

He is not a child anymore.  He has entered the first lap of adulthood.

And what a lovely smile.

Tarun is an orphan.  Both parents died of HIV in his childhood. 

But Tarun has survived.  He joins the gradually growing ranks of young people living with HIV - who have all their lives had the infection.

Its a whole new ball game for us.  No one really knows how to counsel them.  How to help them live out their dreams.  How to negotiate the already challenging paths of adolescence (enough Sturm und Drang even if you are HIV negative...) and transition into an HIV-aware adulthood.

We chatted briefly and Tarun walked confidently in to meet Sheba.

I drove away thankful to have seen a walking miracle.  And hopeful that many other children with HIV will grow up to be confident young adults.

Monday, 26 March 2012

TB days

After an almost solid 2 months of having in-patients at the Jeevan Sahara Kendra Community Care Centre, we faced a small lull last week.  After discharging our young mother Sarah on Tuesday morning - we did not have any more admissions.  It was strange to have all the nurses with us again in our morning staff meetings.  And strange to have empty beds.

All that changed this morning.

Four patients came for admission.  We wanted to admit all 4 of them.  Three are with us this evening.

Tragically one young lady - only weighing 27 kgs - and most probably infected with TB meningitis - just did not have the family support to stay here.  Her mother and her sister are both heavily pregnant - and her uncle refused to stay with her.  It was heart-breaking to see her leave - especially as she really wanted to be here - and we think she has a very poor prognosis if she goes home.

The other three are with us. All of them are suffering from TB. We are suddenly in a season of TB - and it seems that for some reason people are not responding well to the medications that we have given in the past.  Please pray for us as this apparent failure is starting to weigh down heavily on us.

We just crossed World TB Day on the 24th of March.  India continues to have the dubious distinction of having the largest numbers of people with TB in the world - and the highest numbers of deaths. We also have a situation where TB drugs are prescribed left, right and centre - with very little to follow up on whether they are actually being taken - which is giving rise to increasing amounts of Multi-Drug Resistant TB.

People with HIV are especially susceptible to getting TB.  It is estimated that almost every person with HIV in India will eventually get TB.  Sheba recently attended a workshop where the message was - screen everyone with TB for HIV and check everyone who has HIV for TB. 

We want to help people with TB - especially our HIV positive friends when they are so sick and in need of help - and yet the threat to our staff is also there.  One of our staff members is already being treated for TB - which has really sent a shock wave through the team.

Suddenly we have a sense of fear that just was not there before.  A heavy presence. Our patients now all wear masks. Should all of the staff wear masks too?

At what point does our 'care' about TB start giving way to fear - and actually making us more susceptible to the disease because we are so afraid of it?

We pray for protection - and need to be more regular in our prayers.  And move forward with courage.

Saturday, 24 March 2012


Yesterday night we celebrated a birthday party of a special little girl.  We will call her Pinky.

This little girl's mother Mrs. Maninder is part of our church group.  Six years ago she gave birth to little Pinky in a situation that can hardly be imagined 

Mrs. Maninder had come back to Thane after her husband had died of HIV. Her brother died previously - also of HIV.  Mrs. Maninder completed the trio - she came back to us and told us she was HIV positive too.

In the mean time her first daughter was born. With a massive cleft palate.  She could not breast feed her but had been told by the doctor in Pune that her daugther was HIV positive. Mrs. Maninder was pregant with Pinky when she returned.

She returned hoping to occupy her girlhood home - only to find that it was occupied by friends of her late brother. They told her that her brother had left debts and so they were using the house as repayment.  Mrs. Maninder was alone, very pregnant, living in a shack next to an overflowing garbage heap.

Then Pinky was born.  After a 2 days in the govt. hospital, Mrs. Maninder was discharged to go back to the shack beside the garbage with her 2 day old child and her cleft palate elder daughter.

It seemed so hopeless.

It seems so far away.  So unimaginable now.

Last night we were celebrating not only 6 years of Pinky's life, but the amazing way Mrs. Maninder and her elder daughter had survived.  We were inaugurating the new room she has just moved to - and praying that many would be blessed in that new home.

The church squeezed into the small room - and so did some neighbours.  Neighbours with HIV who Mrs. Maninder knows through JSK.  One family lives just 4 doors away.  Another lady just a stone's throw further.  We read about Isaac and Rebecca coming to Rehoboth and saying 'here we have space, here will we prosper.'  We sang songs. We prayed.  We celebrated Pinky's life.  We celebrated hope that has sprung out of a time of apparent hopelessness.

In the room we had marketing executives, a self-made businessman, home-makers, JSK staff, children.  It was an amazing sight to see so many in that little room - rejoicing together.

The cake came out and a rousing 'happy birthday' was sung to Pinky.  She just gazed around, looking pretty as a picture in her sparkly pink dress.  Her older sister in her new blue dress mirrored the freshly washed sky blue walls of Mrs. Maninder's room.

These are the days of miracle and wonder.  In the tumult that crashes around us, in the seas of selfishness and self-seeking, small seeds are sprouting.  What a hope there is for Pinky.  Who knows where this girl will end up?

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Darkness at noon

Dear Self,

How to make sense of  the tragedy of Anil?  I am going to use his real first name - since there are so many Anil's and since he is not HIV positive.

But that does not lessen the tragedy.

Anil's sister is HIV positive. Her 5 year old son is positive and has lost sight in one eye from an untreated injury caused by an accident with an ice-cream stick many months before we met them.  Her husband is negative but addicted to the bottle.

Anil has cancer.  He has hogdkin's lymphoma.  His neck was swollen with cancerous tissue.

We tested Anil for HIV since we thought the cancer in such a young man (Anil is 25) may be due to a reduced immunity.  Anil tested negative for HIV.  Small comfort.  Anil is married and has two small children.  He lives with his mother in a shack, a tiny lean-to in the shade of towering super-luxury appartments.

Anil and his sister and parts of her family have been coming for prayers on Sunday evenings. 

After a rigorous set of tests our staff started Anil on chemotherapy at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai.  He has gone for 2 cycles so far.  The initial results were heartening. There was a massive reduction in the swelling of his neck.

Then the unspeakable took place.

On Sunday Anil's uncle and another man met with him. They were drunk.

Anil had shaved his head since the chemo is kicking in and he had started losing some of his hair.

These men taunted him.  Apparently telling him "why did you shave your head?  Whose death are you mourning?  Did your mother die?  Are you mourning your own death?"

And then they beat him up.  Savagely.

Anil couldn't handle this.

He poured kerosine on himself and lit it.

Anil is in the hospital now.  He has 15% burns.  His face is all swollen up.

Will he survive?  The odds are against it. Cancer patient. Already on chemo.  Lot immunity.  Loss of precious skin.  Infection magnet.

How to understand the darkness that lurks in each soul?  The torment that so many go through?

A wise friend wrote words of encouragement for another dark experience that we went through last month (which I will write about later):   

A great sadness to carry that your friend couldn’t face life anymore. Like Job may you and the team leave the answers with the All Mighty who loves her even more than you all have over the years.

With great gratitude for each person who has felt the love of Jesus expressed by the care they have received from JSK,

We will do this.  In our darkness we will hold onto the light.  Our prayers may be weak and feeble. The circumstances around my seem to mock whatever good takes place.  But our eyes are fixed on something beyond.  A real hope in the face of apparent hopelessness.

Anil still lives.  However marred his situation is - we still will meet and pray and hope.

Time for the Kingdom to come.


March 27th 2012

Anil died this morning.  

He had been discharged from the hospital yesterday - but it seems that when he came back to his hovel he began bleeding again and so they rushed him back to the hospital.  Our staff are with his family at this point.  Very sad.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Baby baby

Two decades ago an HIV positive mother left her daughter in the trash.

The little girl was saved by a valiant band of social workers - who nurtured the little girl into adolescence.

Everything seemed bright for so long - then things soured.  The girl - Sarah we will name her - made some poor choices.  The institution that she was in could not help her any more. She was shifted to another set of carers. Same story - different issues. The pattern repeated itself.

A few months ago Sarah was brought back to one of the couples who had initially looked after her. She was sick and thin.  In her early 20s she looked both terribly young - and terribly old.  She was dying of HIV.  Over the years she had been on and off her meds (Anti-Retroviral Therapy - aka ART).  Now the virus was taking the upper hand.  Sarah's immunity was almost non-existent.

When we admitted her at JSK we didn't know how long she would live.  We complained of abdominal pains. Sheba did what she does for most cases of abdominal pains in young women - asked for an ultrasound. The film showed a developing child.

The family that had taken her in again was shocked - but rallied around. Sarah's immunity was very low.  The only option was to start her on expensive 2nd line ART.  After stabilising her a bit, we discharged her to the care of the family.  We were able to get Sarah hooked up with another agency who helps out with these 2nd line drugs for free. But she needed a stable place - esp. with her pregnancy.

And so Sarah was admitted back at JSK.  To start her on the 2nd line drugs, and to see her through her pregnancy.

Ten days ago Sarah delivered a baby boy.  She called him .....  We will call the little 1.8 kg - slightly premature - baby 'Timothy.'

Its not been easy for Sarah.  At one point Sheba helped Sarah sit up comfortably in her bed last week.  Sheba reached over and took Sarah's pillow so that it would give support to her back. Below the pillow was Sarah's tablets that she was supposed to have taken that morning. She had acted as if she took the dose - popping them into her mouth in front of the nurse - and then must have removed them and hidden them - probably to throw them away.

We are touched with the love that Sarah's care-givers are giving her.  They have included the whole church in the effort - and especially after little Timothy was born - we have seen a variety of people come to encourage and pray with Sarah.

Sarah has gained weight - and the traces of a smile too. 

Little Timothy has been spending most of his time sleeping and feeding. We were able to help Timothy feed from a spoon and steel cup from the very beginning so that usually un-sterile bottle feeds are not even started. Using infant formula further cuts down the risk that Timothy will get HIV.  We are hoping that he will join the 20 odd kids who have been successfully born to HIV positive mothers with the help of  JSK.  To date not one of these children was found HIV positive when we tested them at 18 months!  Grace of God.   

Yesterday Sarah and Timothy were discharged from JSK.  The social workers helped to set her up with another family where she and the baby will be looked after. The family is also HIV positive and knows the challenges of living with HIV.  They are also followers of Jesus and willing to share their lives with Sarah and her little child.  We are grateful for the people who continue to love Sarah and are sharing this part of her journey with her and Timothy.

Sarah started her life in the trash.  Timothy in the arms of love.  Both need so much more love in the coming days and years.

No easy road forward. But such hope in every child. 

Monday, 19 March 2012


We took an outing on Saturday.  Out to Badlapur to visit Asha and David and see the work they do with children.  Lots of children. 25 of them.

We are a young country.  To say we have many children is an understatement.  Tragically - so many of them do not receive love.  Asha and David have opened up their home for many over the years.  Living from hand-to-mouth this couple have fostered many a young life.  And continue to move forward.

We got to know Asha some years ago - when she was helping us out in our home at Happy Valley. We appreciated her work dearly - and her deep joy in doing whatever she could with all her heart. But the long journey she made everyday to be with us made us finally tell her that she should focus her attention on the kids that she and David were looking after.

This she did.  

Asha knows what it means to be unloved.  As a girl she suffered a grevious injury on her arm.  Her father was too poor and too indifferent to have it treated.  It 'healed' in a crooked way - one that has left her virtually without the use of her left arm.  As a young woman she had a life-changing encounter with the living Christ.  She is a woman transformed and works out of the simplicity of her situation to pour love into the kids.

Where will these kids go?  We don't know - but we know that some have already 'graduated' from the home of Asha and David and are making a difference.  Many of the kids do have a parent - and go 'home' during the summer month - and are such a blessing to their other family members.

We wish that there were no need for Asha and David to open their home to these kids. We wish that each parent would look after their children with love and care.  But yet the grim reality is that we are a heartless society, where so many a young life is being cruelly warped.

Spare a prayer for Asha and David. They recently have brought in 2 abandoned old people as well - and said that a third was on her way.  As a family they survive on less than a shoe-string. That they have come this far is the result of miracle after miracle. They need all the help they can get.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Living Legends - the Winklers

Germany has a new president today.  Joachim Gauck is a pastor from the former East Germany.  Himself the son of a pastor - he did not join the "Free German Youth" (the communist youth party that every young East German was supposed to join) and so theology was the only option for him to study at university.  My mother did not even have that option.  Having not joined the FDJ (as its initials are in German) she was shunted to trade-school and saw her FDJ member classmate go to grammar school and then on to university.  But my mother kept the freedom of her heart - which brought her out of the 'Workers Paradise' of the 'German Democratic Republic' and into a life that eventually led her to follow the Prince of Peace to India.  Her generation was hemmed in by the Berlin wall that came up a few years later to stop the heamorraghing of young people to the West. Joachim Gauck stayed on - and seems to have kept his integrity intact. Today he is president of a united Germany.  Not bad for a pastor.

Dr. Maria and Rev. Stefan Winkler
Speaking of pastors - one of the finest of the lot is the inimitable Stefan Winkler and his amazing wife Dr. Maria Winkler.  Living legends - no less.

It was our great privilege to have this amazing couple with us in January.  The Winklers were one of the only people on the planet to know both Sheba and I before we were married.  Their daughters Irene, Heike and Karuna had studied with us at Woodstock with Irene and I joining for our last 2 years of highschool.  They knew Sheba from a 1.5 month period where she volunteered at the Prem Sewa Hospital in Utraula.  They were thrilled when they found out we were marrying.

But we did not 'know' them well. We did not have access to the treasure trove of stories that they had to tell.  That all changed for us over the magical days Uncle Stefan and Auntie Maria spent with us here in Thane.

You just cannot get through a conversation with Stefan Winkler without laughter. If you don't laugh, he will. A barking, infectious laugh - usually brought on by a funny story.  Always lifting your spirits.  Maria Winkler has her own quiet humour - and to see these two saints - so beautifully in love over all these years - so intimate in their life together - so caring for others near and far - was a treasure for us.

Maria Winkler was born in what is today Poland.  After the Second World War her mother and siblings were refugees in what was then the Soviet Occupation Zone - which morphed into the 'German Democratic Republic.'  Maria's father was a pastor who was part of the confessing church - the small group of clerics who dared to stand up against Hitler.  We were told that at one point Maria's father stopped baptising infants as he became convinced that this was not in keeping with scripture.  A prominent member of the Confessing church was asked to correspond with him and help him out of this stance. That man was the famous Dietrich  Bonhoeffer - who died in a Nazi concentration camp just before the end of the war.  The correspondence between the two men has been published as part of the collected correspondence of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

In the course of the war Maria's father was captured by the allies and taken to Britain till 1948.  After he was released he was in the 'West' and the rest of the family was in the 'East.'  In 1953 Maria, her mother and her siblings ended up leaving the former Eastern Germany for the West - refugees again - but reunited with their loving Godly father. They held on to their faith amidst the chaos and blessed others.   Among those they blessed was a young Stefan Winkler who had come to know them shortly after deciding to follow Christ as a disciple.

Stefan Winkler comes from a prominent family of artists. As a young man he trained as a sculptor and was expected to take over his father's studio in Munich.  His grandfather was a famous orientalist painter - an exhibition in Salzburg of German Orientalist painters had a whole room of his paintings.  Stefan's mother grew up partly in Egypt - where Stefan's grandfather had first come to help document the discovery of the Tutankhamun trove.  Among the people Stefan's father grew up with were prominent Nazis.  Eventually he was adjutant to one of Hitler's inner circle.

For a man like this to marry the daughter of a pastor who had opposed Hitler is a miracle.  But that is what this life is made of.

As a young man Stefan Winkler was searching for peace.  At one point in time - while serving in the navy - he was out in a forest and cried out to God as he knew him.  This cry marked a turning point in Stefan's life - one where he took Jesus seriously.  As the search continued he walked around the churches in the northern city of Kiel. He wanted God to talk to him. To call him by name.

"One Sunday I was outside a church - wanting to go in but not knowing if I should.  I was hoping God would call me. Then I heard my name. 'Stefan, Stefan.'  I was so happy. God had heard my cry.  Then I saw a small boy come round the corner, and his name called again 'Stefan' by a lady from a window above me."

Cut to loud guffaws by Stefan Winkler - telling the story of his pilgrimage to grace.  "Eventually God found me and I gave myself fully to follow Jesus' said Stefan.  I was so sure that I wanted to follow him and serve him in anyway possible that I went to Britain to attend a Bible college."

"One day I was told by the Holy Spirit that I would find out which country I would be serving in. It was revealed to me that the man who would speak in church that morning would be from the country I would serve in.  I prayed that it would not be a German as I did not want to go back to Germany.  I was curious to know who was speaking.  And when the time came for the guest speaker to be announced... who should be there but a brother from Kerala!  So I knew that I would be serving in India!"

What followed were 38 years of service in India along with his amazing wife Dr. Maria.  They served at the Prem Sewa hospital in Utraula for many a year - and then handed over the work to the next generation while pioneering a work on the Indo-Nepal border in the border town of Rupaidia.   "After you leave the Indian checkpost, and just before you get into Nepal, you see a house.  That was where we lived. The last house in India!" said Stefan.

The years of service were many and had many hardships and disappointments - but through it all, we see so much joy in the faces of Uncle Stefan and Auntie Maria.  They have raised three amazing daughters - the elder two both doctors and the younger one serving with people with mental disabilities.  All love Jesus passionately and have provided the elder Winklers with 3 lovely 'sons' ('sons-in-grace' instead of 'sons-in-law') and a host of amazing grandchildren.

There are stories upon stories - which we would challenge Irene, Heike and Karuna to capture and document. There is at least one book to be written about their amazing parents!

The Winklers also have a flood of foster children - having run a home for boys - mainly ones whose parents were suffering from leprosy. During their recent visit to India (for which they took 3 months to travel too and fro meeting people) they repeatedly were hosted by some of the 'boys' who have now transitioned to men.  It was such a joy to the Winklers to see these men having families of their own and proudly sharing what God has done in their lives.

We shared this joy. The joy of seeing in the Winklers a life well lived.  They could have easily made a name for themselves in Germany. He with his artistic talents and pedigree - she with her medical skills. But instead they chose to live out their lives in a forgotten corner of India - with little outward success to mark their labours.  But as we heard the stories spill out - as we saw the joy that animates their loving faces - as we continued to see the evidence of a life of learning (Dr. Maria taking notes during our simple training session that she sat in on) - we came away with awe that such people actually walk the face of this earth.

Sheba and I always knew about the Winklers.  Earlier this year we had the privilege of knowing a bit about them.  They stand apart as role-models - people who have allowed the love of God to flow through them and touch so many.  Including the Thane Eichers!

Thank you Stefan and Maria for who you are! 

Friday, 16 March 2012

Full House

Ever since Sheba came back from Raxaul in early December, we have had a steady unbroken streak of patients admitted at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.

We are currently operating out of the 1st floor of the Lok Hospital building.  When we first moved in last June - the place seemed intimidatingly big. Over the past few months our activities have started to fill up the place.

Being able to admit sick people with HIV for intensive treatment has been a joy and a challenge. A joy because we are able to give love and care to people who have received so little of either.  Some of them were left to die in govt. hospitals - and just to have a clean bed, have their room cleaned without giving a bribe, have a nurse who touches them with love and talks to them, have a doctor who really cares and prays with them....

Some of our friends have come to us in a very very late stage.

Last week Basanti (name changed of course - as are all in this note) was brought to us by church members from Mumbai.  Basanti's parents had died of HIV.  Her brother was negative, but she was HIV positive. She had been under treatment for some time but had stopped repeatedly.  She was skin and bone when the church picked her up and brought her to us.  She was all of 24.

It was never looking positive for her recovery, but we tried.  Three days of loving care later, Basanti slipped away at 3.30 AM on Monday morning.  Sadly, the lady without any relatives had uncles and others coming to pick up her body for the last rites. Would that they had been with her before...

We are sad to lose Basanti - but know that she put her faith in the arms of Jesus.  The last days were hard, but they were in the care of people who loved her. We have a real hope that we will meet her on a glorious day in the future.

Then there is Tarun.  He was brought to us in such a sad state. He could hardly breathe. After being under our care for a few days his relatives gave up hope and wanted to take him home. Two of our staff pleaded for another chance. We thought he would die on the way home - he was in such a terrible state.

Well he didn't!  He survived and lives to tell the tale.

This morning while I was banging away at my computer in the office I looked up and saw Tarun walk up the steps with his wife.  He had come for a follow-up check-up.

We have 6 beds in 3 rooms.  The rooms are the old Lok Hospital's doctor's consulting rooms. We would like to do some renovation and make 2 wards of 5 beds each.  We would also like to construct a bathing space - since the toilets are really not meant for taking baths in.  And we also need some kind of an isolation room - since many of our friends have very active tuberculosis - and another set are distressingly psychiatrically unstable.

Our current highlight of the inpatient care was two weeks ago.  We had a full house.  All 6 beds had sick patients occupying them. Then came Hari - a dear man who is pretty healthy in body - but who suffers from deep fear.  He insisted on being admitted.  We told him we had no beds.  He said he would sleep on the floor. And he did.

We put out a mattress and accommodated him on the floor. The next day a patient was discharged so the 117% occupancy went down to 100%.

An image from the past

A photograph can serve as a slice of time. A voice from the past. A peg on which memories hang.

This picture is of the marriage of Sheba's third uncle, now deceased.  Their first daugther Agnesamma Karri (Sheba's first cousin) works with us now at Jeevan Sahara Kendra as a nurse.  Her mother still lives in the same village. When Agnes went home for her annual leave, she returned with this gem of a photo.

 The whole family was together in Andhra Pradesh for the wedding in the anscestral village of Lankalakoderu.  Sheba and her three siblings take the front row.  From left: Sheba (pig tails), Peter, Daisy (pigtails and clutching her Bible) and Sarah (short hair - but the pigtails will come later).  Another village girl makes up the fifth child in front.

Seated are - second from left - Mary (Sheba's aunt), the happy couple, then Sheba's maternal grandmother, Sheba's mother and a grand aunt.

Standing behind (from left) are Sheba's second uncle, her maternal grandfather (carrying another child) and her father.

Where is her third uncle?  Maybe he took the photo!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


I was talking to Stefan on the phone last night - he said that he recently played a game of football which taught him two things. 

One that all his male friends are mainly people he meets to work with / minister to in some capacity - and what joy there was in just playing a game with other guys.  The guys in question had worked together as volunteer coaches for a youth football league in which their children (including for Stefan the budding footballer Ashish) were playing.  Stefan said that over the space of an hour they became better friends than they had over the 4 months of helping out in the football league - coaching the same team!

Two - that the game revealed muscles he did not know he had any more. It took two weeks for him to get back to 'normal.'

I think I need to play some football....

Space Party

We are a month out from Enoch's birthday on the 19th of February.... but the warmth of our time together continues to seep into our lives.

The theme this year was space.

Somehow it all hit off perfectly.

Paper stars and moons and planets went up in a jiffy.  For the next week we lived in space.

Our nation is trying to put together a manned space programme.  Just making a spaceship cake was a challenge itself.  Hats off to the folks at ISRO  (Indian Space Research Organisation) who are actually trying to put Indians in space.  Yesterday's paper had an article about whether they should be making chappati's and sabji for the future space-farers - or idlis and dosas!  For some reason they seem to have forgotten our North-Eastern brothers and sisters.  Surely they could not go to space without some pork to keep them going?

But back to earth and the amazing 19th of Feb bash that we had for Enoch's birthday (on the 18th this year to set the record straight).

As in previous years - a cake was made.

This time it was a space-ship.  I don't think most countries would colour their space-craft sky blue and pink - but this one took those colours - and proved to be a tasty treat!

The trust commander of this fair ship had an unawaited destination.  Not the edges of outer space - where few have even hopes of going - given the current state of rocketry... but into the glad stomaches of all who came to celebrate with our Enoch on his special day!

My Dad thrilled us each year with a wonderful cake for our Birthday parties.  Its such a privilege to carry on the practice.

Like so many things - it took a long time to prepare - and then the actual moment flew by in what seemed a whiz and a bang!

The 9 candles represent 9 years of delight that Enoch brings us.

We are so grateful to God for this wonderful boy!

Enoch shares a birthday with the great hero of Maharashtra - the great Maratha Maharaja Shivaji.

What kind of a mark will Enoch make in life - should he graciously receive another 9 years - and then perhaps another 9 more ... what if we gets 10 sets of 9?  Our hope is that Enoch's life will make a difference.  We celebrate each passing year as a proof of God's grace to us.  And are so thankful to be living this life!

Enoch was born in the old Lok Hospital.  Every work I day I spend time in the room where he was born.  What was then the operating theatre which saw Enoch enter the world after a C-section at 2.30 PM - is now our training and staff meeting room.  Every morning we have our staff devotions in the room where our wonderful son was born!

Enoch's party was a time to rejoice with his little friends.

But not everyone at the party was small.

We are privileged to have so many people who love us.

People like Agnes Didi who works as a nurse at JSK and who is also Sheba's cousin.

And though neither of the grandparents were with us this year we had another honorary family member with us - the amazing Philip B!

Coming down from cold Delhi for a weekend stay with us - Phil arrived on one of our annual highlights - Enoch's long-awaited birthday!

Keeping with the Space Theme - Phil presented Enoch with a beautiful book on space exploration.

You really wish that we could actually break out from our gravity bound sphere and soar far away.  Barring some kind of drastically new technology, some radically different way understanding of harnessing our energy to send people into outer space, the most feasible thought would be for people to expect that their whole lives (and maybe even generations) would be spent on a single space mission.

But back to our party...

We had the usual bundle of silly games.

Lead 5 people in physical exercises!  Act like a monkey!  Tell us what you like about Enoch! .... whatever was written on the chit that  you 'drew' from the bag - was a command - and had to be obeyed.

Needless to say - much laughter rippled through the group.

Being  a birthday party with a space theme we tried something different this time.  We asked Enoch's friends to come in fancy dress on the space theme.  Enoch and Asha worked hard to make their contribution count!

The Eicher Space team was launched at the party, complete with what looks like a very recyclable space-craft!

We are particularly happy that neither Enoch nor Asha asked for help in the designing and 'building' their costume!

Our learned judges met each one of the particiapnts.  Some had only worn T-shirts that had a vague space theme on it.  But the hands-down winner was Enoch's friend Haniel!

According to his mother, Haniel single-handedly made the spaceman outfit.

And then he did a little demonstration - showing himself to be more than a little knowledge about how spacemen move around outside their craft.

Watching Haniel's graceful movements, we could imagine the joys and terrors of being outside with the black sky on all sides of you as you do the tasks set for you....

But remaining still firmly grounded on earth - the Eicher siblings then gave us a small concert - something that all Enoch's friends (and all the adults in the room too) enjoyed thoroughly.

I then shared the Bible passage that we had chosen for Enoch this year - about fanning the gift that we have been given into flame.

Some snacks later and soon our home was emptying itself as the excited boys start to move to their homes.

But one thing that did not empty or in anyway see a shortage of, was the vast treasure house of smiles that were plastered all over our faces.

We were tired - having been tired even when we started out the organising and then actually preparing for and running the party.  But God filled us with His joy!  Its so important to keep our focus on Him and live out our lives as families in ways that are really please Him.  Celebrations - like this one where we thank God for 9 years of life which Enoch has lived - are so important.

Computer joys...

Picture authentic - only exaggeration is the amount of hair
For most of the last 2 months, whenever I tried to post something on this blog - it would crash whatever browser I was using.  IE, Firefox, Chrome...  whatever had possessed the computer did it repeatedly.

Needless to say, I was not a happy camper.

Today it doesn't seem to be doing that any more.

Why not?  I am afraid I haven't the faintest clue.

But I do know that there is a huge backlog of things that I would love to write.

Life continues to move at a dizzying pace in the lives of the Thane Eichers.  We have seen some wonderful joys - and we have been through the valley too.  I shall try to put up some of them before they get replaced by the newest set of experiences that we are hurtling through.

Thank you gentle readers for bearing with us! 

The Lord of the Rings

It took a long time - but we have finally cracked it open.

Not for want of reading it again.  I still remember the first time Dad read it through with the three of us hanging on his every breath.

The question was whether we were ready for it.  Both in terms of being able to follow the story and being able to squeeze in the time.

Given the prodigious amounts of books that Asha and Enoch devour (Enid Blyton is a current favorite) we knew that the kids would be able to go with us to Middle Earth.  Our membership in a local library chain is barely 2 weeks old - and already Asha and Enoch are well known from our frequent visits.

Squeezing in time?  Well, day still only has 24 hours in it.  A generation ago Dad managed to squeeze reading the Lord of the Rings to us - and he was hardly less busy than we are today.

And so on a glorious day in February we started our journey.

Appropriately we managed to get a Saturday afternoon off as a family and hiked up to the ridge in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.  It was like going to a different world in itself.  The entire time we only saw 3 people.  Out in the forest, we made some tea using sticks and stones for our stove - and then cracked it open.

Reading about hobbit holes and Bilbo's going away party under the blue sky and narry a concrete monstrosity in sight is a perfect way to spend a memorable afternoon.

But then again, the glory of a book is that it can take you with it.  We do not have too much choice - we live  in one of the concrete monstrosities we had escaped from that afternoon.  Our windows are situatied in a way where folks in the neighbouring high-rise can look into if they jolly-well-please.  Our kitchen overlooks a bank of flats and we can see that most of our neighbours on that side spend most of their time with huge TVs on 'round the clock.  The glory of the book - however - is that when we read we go into the world of imagination.

As the words are read aloud, we leave Thane and walk through the barren hills, hiding from the Black Riders and other unspeakable horrors, stepping forward with hope and fear through strange landscapes towards the home of Elrond the Elf Lord of Rivendell.

I have read the Lord of the Rings at least 4 times now - and it still captivates.  The sheer joy of the journey.  The sheer thrill of the clear and present danger.  The beauty and sorrow of recognising essential truths - which are so often drowned out in the static of our day-in-and-day-out-clutter-filled-lives.

Hooray for Tolkein!  Our last few weeks have seen small spurts of us Eichers following the journey.  We finally made it to Rivendell last week and are resting before the next steps in the epic.  Even though I have been there before I enjoy every minute of it.  And it is enhanced by being able to see expressions on the faces of the other 3 Eichers for whom this is all virgin territory!

Its such a joy to share our lives.