Thursday, 28 June 2012


The stage is set for the big game tonight.  Germany vs. Italy.  Amazingly Germany have never beaten Italy in a tournament game.  Will it change tonight?

On a far, far smaller scale - Enoch has been doing some footballing himself.  The following pictures come from a series that he set up and photographed for his cousin Ashish who just celebrated his 6th birthday this week.

Interestingly enough, the colours he chose could be used for tonight's match.  We will thus run this match with the Blues for Italy (Azurri) and the Blacks for Germany (die Mannschaft).

So lets meet the teams!  The blues come in first - Italy all ready for a great game tonight!

You can use your imagination to assign players to the mini-figures that Enoch chose for this team.

And now the blacks come on - Die Mannschaft all ready battle it out for football glory!

 It looks like the photographer was all caught up with the emotion of the moment and so the determined faces of the German players are in soft focus.

Enoch made sure that each goalie is a different colour from the rest of his team-mates - so here we would have Manfred Neuer surrounded by the other German players.

No game can be played without the match officials.

Enoch brought on a lines-man complete with flag and a referee who is already brandishing a red card.

Hopefully tonight's game will not be a throw-back to the vicious hacking that the Germans used to be known for in my youth.

In fact - they are the youngest team of Euro 2012 and have been playing some gloriously flowing footy!

A sell-out crowd has gathered for the historic match in Warsaw!

The fans have come from near and far - with lots of locals swelling the ranks.  The prize will be a spot in the finals to face the defending European Champions and World Cup holders Spain.  Will Italy break through?  Will Germany live up to the huge expectations that has been piled on them?  The atmosphere is crackling with excitement!  Onwards!

Here come the captains for the flipping of the coin and to hand over the ceremonial pendants to each other.

Gianluigi Buffon, the hero of the match against England, strides up confidently.

And his German counterpart, the diminutive but thunder-footed Philip Lahm comes forward.

Hands are shaken all-round.  The clock is ticking down.

The whistle blows and the game starts!

My word, what a tangle of bodies!

The magnitude of the game is cramping the natural flow of the players - its everyman after the ball!

The crowd roars with approval as the ball passes rapidly between players - each team trying their hardest to get the small round globe into their possession, down the field and into the opponent's net!

Ole! Ole! Ole!    Ole!  Ole!

And then it happens.

The teams converge on the ball - who will get it?  Will Mario Balotelli be able to wriggle it out?  Will Bastian Schweinsteiger boss it forward towards the Italian goal?

In the middle of a sea of black clad defenders the talented Italian mid-field maestro Andrea Pirlo conjures up a magic moment.  Pirlo manages to get his boot on the ball and somehow hammer it through a wall of Germans, fiercely slicing in the air, dipping down towards the German goal

Manfred Neuer, the German goalie stretches out to his full 6 feet plus frame- but the ball fizzes inside the far post!  That was only ever going to meet the back of the net!

Then a heart-stopping moment as the whistle blows - will the linesman call an offside on the blue tide?

The whole stadium goes quiet as the match officials confer.

No, the goal stands!

Italy lead Germany 1:0.

The Italian players make a leaning tower of Pisa on top of Andrea Pirlo!

Its Italy 1 and Germany 0!  Will this put Italy into the Euro Final against the Red Armada of Spain on Sunday night?   Or will Germany gather its many talented players and hit back with a brace or a trio of goals?   I personally think Germany can edge Italy out 3:1  but this is where we will leave Enoch's lego men and their footy game.

In less than 2 hours from now the real game will get underway in Warsaw.  Enoch chose his blue men because that was the most common colour he had in his lego mini-figures.  I think he had Chelsea in mind when he arranged them and took the photos we have enjoyed.

All the Eichers will be getting up at 1.40 AM this morning to catch the second half of the Germany - Italy semi-finals.  Everyone other than me is already asleep.  The alarm is set.  Lets see what happens in the footy game!

Monday, 25 June 2012

The sun also rises

Later today an election speech will be given.

By Enoch.  In the 11 sections that make up his 4th standard.

Each section has 50 students - so that's 550 kids just in 4th standard.  By that reckonning there are over 7000 students in the whole school.

Enoch is one of the two candidates for 'head boy' of the primary section.  Only the 4th graders get to vote.  Boys vote for the 'head boy' and girls for the 'head girl.'

Enoch has been assigned the 'Sun' symbol.

He has to give a 3 sentence speech in each section.

Here it is - in full:

Good afternoon dear Friends!  My name is Enoch Eicher and my symbol is the 'Sun'.

The sun rises every morning and gives us light and joy!

In the same way, I would like to serve you as Head boy and request that you vote for me and the 'Sun' symbol.

Thank you!

Short and sweet.

Lets see how he fares!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A widow's tale

We came into the small Bible study we run on Tuesday nights in the home of Shanti - one of our JSK staff.

There were two old ladies present.  Then the door opened and one of our long-term Positive Friends - who we will call Wendy came in with her son Shaan.

We read about Jesus and the two men in the temple.  And about the followers of Christ pushing away the parents who had brought babies to Jesus to be blessed.   Stories from so many years prior - that continue to teach us what God wants from us.  Humility. A child-like spirit.  A desire for Him alone and not all the trappings that we think make life what it is.

Jesus paints a stark picture.  On one hand a proud 'righteous man' who telegraphs his prayer around the temple.  On the other is a broken and corrupt man who stands beating his breast, crying out to God for mercy, acknowledging the terrible person he is.  Jesus tells us which of the two went home at peace with God (Luke 18.14).

After the study we talked with the ladies about what they needed prayer for.

Wendy said that it was hard with her three teen-aged children.  Tears came to her eyes as she told about how she was trying to be brave and trust God - but just does not know how she will afford the new school books the children need.  The school year has started, and she said that she will be trusting God as tears found their way down her cheeks.

Then Wendy switched gears.

She told about how she had gone to her village to sort out the matter of her husband's land.  His mother had told her that she would make sure that the land got transferred to her name and the names of her children.  When she got there, however, Wendy faced one problem after another.

Her late husband's brother assured her that the land would be put into her name - but said that she should wait till his mother died.  Wendy was able, however, to find out that this was not true - and was assured by her mother-in-law that she was ready to have the land transferred to her name.  And that too immediately.

But the problem was the legal process that this entails.  When they enquired, they were told that to get the land registrar to do this, it would take Rs. 15,000.  This was a sum far, far beyond Wendy's reach.  She prayed (as she had been praying already at every step of the way).

Then she remembered that a local politician had bought a bit of land from their family when he had installed a well in their village.  She contacted him and he remembered her.  In her presence, this man called up the person in charge of transferring the land deeds.  The man assured him that he would help.  The politician asked him how much it would cost.  The man was silent.  The politician pressed him.  Finally he said that he would do it all for Rs. 1000.  And that he would do it the next day.

Wendy and her children wen the next day, which was supposed to be their last day there.  They were supposed to get a Rs. 100 stamp paper for the document.  They looked all day.  No one was ready to give them.  Wendy feels it was her brother-in-law's doing.  But she also put a spiritual dimension to it - 'our enemy was trying to pull us down - I felt so bad, but just kept praying.'  Over and over again they went, trying to find someone who had such paper.  Wendy feels that people were purposely hiding their stock and lying - telling her that she did not have.  Finally she sent her young son Shaan to one place.  The man said that he was willing to give, but would charge more.  He gave it for Rs. 150.  By then it was already 6.30 PM and they were due to catch a 7 PM bus back towards Thane.

They had to stay another day.  The next day they went to the records office.  The person who was supposed to help them did not pick up the phone.  But they did finally meet him.  He told them to come back in 2 days.  Wendy works as a maid - and told the man that she had already spent 5 days in the village and had to get back to Thane - and that the children's school and college was starting too.  He then told her that she would have to wait for a couple hours - but that he would do it.  She gratefully agreed.

And so it was done.  On that day.  They got it all done.

And they missed the 7 PM bus again.

One of their distant relatives saw them at the bus stop standing forlorn.  He was actually a son of a mistress of her husband's father.  But he knew who they were.  And they knew who he was.

He came by 2 or 3 times and finally asked if he could help.  When they told him what happened he told them to get on his motorbike.  Wendy and her 3 teenagers clambered on.  And then the man drove like the wind.  A bike carrying 5 people careened over the roads - and They were delivered to a bus-stop where they got a bus going back to Thane.

Miracles after miracles.  All hidden, of course, to the world around us.

We serve a God who looks after the small people.  The forgotten.  Those on the margins.

No billboards announced what had gone on - but we got a glimpse of how God looks after His saints.

A father to the fatherless, 
a defender of widows, 
is God in his holy dwelling. 
- Psalm 68.5

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Friends in Deed

We got a call this evening.  From a friend we will call 'Billy.'

Billy was calling about a little girl with HIV.  A girl and whose sister (who also has HIV) Billy and his wife are caring for.  They visit these orphans every week.  Talk to them.  Play with them.  Help them with their studies.  Work with the grandmum and see that their financial and schooling needs are met.

Billy called because one of the girls was sick.  She had just vomitted after taking her dose of Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART).  Should she take another tablet of ART?  What should be done about the vomitting.

Its 9 PM and Billy and his wife Denisa are with the girls.

Sheba asked Billy whether they saw the ART tablet in the vomit.  Billy said yes.  Sheba suggested taking another ART tablet - and if the vomitting persists to take a small tablet to control it.

When Sheba hung up I thought back on our early days at JSK.

Billy was with us when one of our first ladies died.  She was living in a tiny room in a near-by shanty-town.  Billy was the go-to man (he still is) at a local private hospital.  He helped us get an ambulance for her.  Helped us help her relatives when she died.  We called him up a lot in the nights in those days.

We are almost a decade later - and Billy and his family are still quietly helping out.  We don't know how many people in Billy's church know about what he and his wife are doing.  Billy's family attends a fellowship where many a right hand does not know what the left is doing - so that the glory does not go to the giver.  But we know that our Father in heaven sees it and is very pleased.

Billy and Denisa - friends in deed.  Indeed!

Friday, 8 June 2012


Sapna.  Dream.

Sapna is the latest offering from our dear friends Chris Hale and Peter Hicks - who form the core of the meditative devotional fusion group called Aradhna.  The album is an extended set of musical dreams with layers of texture and sound.

You can listen to some of the tracks - and purchase the record by clicking: here

We are looking forward to an India tour by Aradhna in November this year.  Delhi. Ooty. Mumbai. Nashik. Bangalore.   A movable feast of music and devotion.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Signs of the times

These were the roadside homilies of my youth.  Shots of our then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi promoting family planning.  I knew what the inverted red triangle meant long before I knew the basics of reproduction.

Still today I hear the echoes of these signs.  Why do we have problems in our country?  Too many people.  If only the ________ (name your un-favorite ethic or religious group) did not breed like flies, we would have so much more to go around.

How totally wrong can we be.  We may have many more people today - but the wealth that our country has generated is enormous.  The gap between the haves and have-seems seems larger than ever.  But what we do have is a young generation who is itching to do something.  A generation who wants to be employed.  Who have stratospheric aspirations thanks to seeing so much more than we could ever imagine in our 'socialist' (Indira) days of growing up.  And it isn't only ads on TV.  They are seeing costly electronic baubles in peoples hands.  Seeing their neighbours installing plasma TVs.   Seeing white SUVs with LED highlighted headlights growl slowly round the corner.

Someone called my Dad while I was in Mussoorie.  I could hear Dad's part of the conversation and guessed most of it.  He told me that the person had called cold.  He was a total stranger to Dad, but had asked him over the phone for a job.  "Please get me a job, Uncle." As if Dad stored jobs were in a cupboard which he could pull out and give to his caller.

But the vast majority are not calling up uncles on the phone and asking for jobs.  They are working.  Somehow.  Someplace.   Some in almost destitution.  Some moving up in life. They may not be happy.  They may grumble and may even be texting someone about what opportunities are elsewhere.  But other than the utterly destitute, most of our vast teeming masses are at work.

What we need is not less people, but more opportunities.  Places where they can learn and be trained rather than just pass the time and be promoted up to the next standard without being able to functionally read and write.  Above all, we need a categorical clearing out of the Augean stables of corruption that dogs every part of our nation.  Last year's Anna Hazare led anti-corruption movement tapped into some of this - but seems to be sputtering out from a combination of naivete and silliness by the self-styled leaders.

In the meantime, I wonder if we are ripe again for another Indira-style strong-man (or woman) who can belt out a one-line mantra like on the sign from the early 1980s.  It could be the old 'population as the source of all our problems' for example - or some other scapegoat could be found.  As long as there is a modicum of progress (see Gujarat and Mr. Modi as an example) most will be happy to fall in line.  Though our nation has so many complexities to it - we all crave simple solutions - especially ones where others have to suffer and we can go to the head of the queue.

The next chapter is still being written.  I wonder what street sign or advertisement would capture the spirit of the India that we inhabit today?

picture credit: Sterling Swan from 1981 or 1982

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Pressing on

The first drops of rain are blessedly pin-pricking the air.  Not heavy enough to splash, but enough to shade in the pre-monsoonal grey - and bring a blessed drop in the heat.

We are back in Thane after almost 3 weeks in the hills.  Where did the time go?  It seems like we stepped into a Narnian world and are now swooshed back against our will into in gritty Britain again.

Sheba has admitted 3 sick people into the Jeevan Sahara Kendra community care centre. 

There is a man who is dying.  We are not able to bring the hoped for changes in him.  We have looked after him here and sent him home before.  But he is not improving and is very sick.  His dear wife wants him to live.  We are trying to gently help her take him home for his last days.  But she insists on keeping him here.  And so we care. And pray.  A brave woman and two quiet late-teen boys.

There is a woman who has stopped taking meds.  She is sick of being sick.  She is angry and upset with having to come back here.  Her husband is tired.  She refused care and food and medicine this morning.  Our nurses lovingly talk with her.  They pray.  Its hard.

There was a man who has made a mess of his life.  He called yesterday from a clinic saying he had low blood-pressure.  We brought him in weak.  He stayed the night and left today.  His wife took her life some months ago after months of his openly cheating on her.  Leaving behind two small children that he loves much.  He has not been able to reshape his life.  The other woman has moved in.  She came to visit him for a while at the centre.  Its hard to know how to respond when we remember our dear friend who took the extreme step.

Early next week we cross a year since we shifted into this new building.  We had pretty heady dreams then.  Things would expand quickly.  We would be catering to so many more people. 

Today doesn't quite synch with the visions we had in our mind.  We are still struggling with staff.  Only 2 qualified nurses are running the shift now.  This week they will be doing 12 hour shifts.  But how long can they do so?  [side note - those of you who pray - perhaps you can pray right now for at least 2 more nurses - pronto!]

The brutal pressure that HIV illness brings with it has affected us too.  We are mentally and emotionally tired as we work through the challenges of our friends' lives.  Its no accident that we do not see other HIV care centres cropping up.  Who has the staying power to continue?  We ask that question of ourselves too.

And yet we press on.  We do not - as narrator at the end of The Great Gatsby puts it - 'beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.'  Rather, we look up and see our Lord who calls us to persevere.  As long as He wants us to we will continue.  And so will our co-workers at Jeevan Sahara of whom we are so proud of.

Every life makes a difference.  

Monday, 4 June 2012

A Bake Box

Here is a picture which tells a 1000 words.

Its a picture of our kitchen at Nana Chowk, Mumbai in 1981.  The large tin oven was a relic even then - it had been used by my grandmother Alice Eicher and somehow made its way into our hands.  On the front was a thermometer in Fahrenheit - and inside were at least 2 racks which allow multiple cakes (or pizzas) to be baked at once.  The whole apparatus was placed on top of a double burner gas stove - and you regulated the temperature by the flames of the stove.

I have many happy memories of this oven.  It was the first one I used to bake cakes.  And in my early teens we used it to make a whole series of pizza-parties where our friends would come over and play extended games of chor-police in the night and then end it off with an endless flow of pizzas.  

Showing my kids this picture their reactions were telling:  'ew, so much rust!'   And looking at it again I can see it.  We were living very much in a hand-me down world at the time. The stove clearly had seen its better days.  The table top was a piece of tin hammered down on a set of wooden cupboards.  The electric heater was used to heat water since gas was hard to get extra cylinders for.

But I also see Mum's hand of beauty.  Behind the oven she has placed a set of dried grasses that brought nature into our urban space.  Just above the tap a small money plant is growing.  The window actually looked out on the main confluence of all the roads that converge on the Nana Chowk junction - a steady barrage of traffic and dust which meant that we could never open the windows.

Most of all, this kitchen was a place of love.  A small table and two chairs were installed on the other side of the cooking counter.  Many a lonely and broken person would come and sit and talk to Mum in those days. That legacy continues today - as over and over we meet people who remember back to the days of the early 1980s and tell about how Mum and Dad changed their lives with the love that they showed.

This is hallowed ground.


This photo is part of a treasure trove that arrived in the mail today.  A CD of 700 slides that Stirling and Karen Swan took during their time in India in 1981-82.  Most of them were human interest shots of Mumbai and other parts of India - with classics of street life which took me back to my early teens.  Very grateful to 'uncle Stirling' and 'auntie Karen' for sharing these with us!

Coming soon to a screen near you...

A block-buster film is on its way - the still untitled movie was shot in Mussoorie by the Eicher brothers and features various talents of the next-gen Eichers.

Stefan is currently burning the mid-night oil with the post-production work.

Here are some of the behind the scenes shots of the film-makers at work. All photos courtesy Oma Eicher.

Elaborate sets were designed and constructed (Asha did most of the building on the Pizzeria that features heavily in the film).  Note the heavy use of cello tape (thanks to the non-union workmen employed in this shoot)

[*** Spoiler alert: do not read on if you have tender hearts ***]  The main cinematographer goes in for close-ups of Gorbage and Smaug - intergalactic renegades piloting a starship to a catastrophic or serendipedous end (your pick).

As with all art-films - a lot of discussion goes in about angles and fade-ins - the need to get the right atmosphere for the tender emotions being portrayed is crucial.  After all the actors are all rather plastic and so it is up to the cinematographer to draw out emotion and pathos from his little yellow crew.

Stay tuned - Daud Prakash films is just about to release a corker!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Going down day

In boarding school the last day of school was called 'going down day.'  Most of your stuff was packed into big metal trunks which were stored up in the hostel attic - your bags were packed and you waited to put the things on the bus that would take you away.

We were crackling with expectation - holidays stretched ahead of us.

Nowadays going-down day has a very different flavour.

Its not the beginning of the hols but the end.

The whole day drags towards the time when the taxi will come and take you down.  Things are packed up in stages.  The inevitable parting looms large.

Yesterday we came down the mountain.   A last lunch on the terrace at Shanti Kunj - and finally the time was up.  A specially slow ride down the hill (to shield my back - mercifully no problems due the the skilled driver Jagdish) and a supper with our dear friends Sam and Margaret Thomas - before we finally got on the night train to Delhi.

Another holiday blissfully over.  Today we are camping in the heat of Delhi.  Tomorrow we return to Thane and the next chapter of our lives.

Going down day.