Monday, 22 October 2012

Radio silence - but plenty of stuff going on off-air

Just a short post to say that we are very much alive - though the number of stories that we are able to tell here on Chai Chats has been slim in the last few weeks.

Laundry list of 10 things happening at present (and the pretty recent past):

1.  We managed to look after a very ill person with HIV over the past week - despite our last recognised nurse having to go to her native place for a week in the middle.  The secret to this?  Two amazing American nurses - Alissa and Amy - who dropped out of heaven and put their whole into helping out.  Thanks to Sheba's care and the marshalling of many others - Mr. Vikrant was discharged today for followup at home.  More to come in a later post.

2. On Saturday we finished off the last session of our current Church Training in HIV Care.  We had a small but enthusiastic group who were there - and had an emotional candle-lighting song to finish off our time "ek aag har dil mein, humko jalana hai" went the haunting strains as we came to the end of this course. Our desire is that each participant will be able to put what they learned into practice and energise their local church to better reach out and care for people with HIV.

3. A lovely visit from Sheba's Rourkela and Cuttack friends - Drs. Famikima and Joydeepa Darlong - who are currently running the Leprosy Mission Hospital in Purulia, West Bengal was a lovely surprise.  We then hopped into our little Papaya (the trusty bright-orange Tata Nano) and drove over to Borivali where we were reunited with Uncle and Auntie Selavanayagam who had been spiritual mentors for Famkima, Joydeepa and Sheba during their MBBS days in Cuttack.  Added blessing:  Asha and Enoch got to meet all of the Selvanayagam cousins at once - their old friends Hannah, Bobby, Benjie, Jemima, Lois and Grace.

4. We said good-bye to this year's last batch of UBS interns - John, Richard and Sanjiv who spent the last 2 months serving with us at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.  We also said good-bye to Dr. Tara Kinra who spent a 3 week global health elective at JSK.  Where did time go?

5.  Work on the Aradhna Concert at Kalidas Hall on Nov. 16th is picking up with passes available (please grab them if you are in the Mumbai area - the FB page is here ).   We are doing it as a benefit concert for Freedom Firm - which means money is involved - a special challenge for us. There are still oodles of things to do - and enough time for me to lose the little hair that is still left on top (Chris Hale seems to have his long locks glued on with Fevicol or something).  But at the end of the day we know that Heavenly Father is very much in control.

6. We are about to leave town for a week - with a mouth-watering time at the Evangelical Medical Fellowship of India's national conference at Mahaballipuram (outside Chennai... and at the beach!) in store for us.  They planned for 350 folks.  Already 450 are on their way (including 4 Eichers).  We will be celebrating Sheba's brother Peter's birthday on Sunday the 28th and then taking wings to be back in Mumbai on the 29th nite.  Though Enoch has an final term exam on that date, the school has graciously allowed him to take it late.

7.  Last weekend saw my boyhood hero Pradip Ayer and his wife Judith visit us - along with their friend Julie who also is part of their church in Memphis.  What a joy to have these amazing people with us.  We felt so loved and inspired by another set of 'living legends' as it were.  Precious.

8.  We are about to start the long-awaited rennovation of the Lok Hospital first floor rooms so that we can operate out of 2 wards with 4 beds each and also have an isolation room for active (and multi-drug resistant) TB cases.  We have had to tell people that the

9.  The little baby that so many of you have been following tested HIV negative using the new PCR tests that can detect HIV in children as young as 2 months.  This weekend, this precious girl was successfully given to home for children which we have a long relationship with, so that she can be legally adopted by a family.  We have already had 3 serious inquiries about adopting her - which we have forwarded for follow-up.  Keep praying.

10.  On my computer are a zillion letters that need to be followed up.  A quadrillion people need prayers.  A quintillion things to be done around the home.  So what's new?  Only 43200 seconds in a day - and every one gets the same share!  But it would be good for me at least to spend more of them in shut eye - instead of being up like now at 12.55 AM - trying to get the word out what the Eichers are up to.

Sunday, 7 October 2012


Most churches suffer from 'the grass is greener on the other side' feeling.

When you meet in a very very small group like we do - you get that feeling a lot.  The motely crew that we look at most Sundays can make you wish for another place - and that too fast!

But that's what family is about.  You don't choose your relatives.  They are given to you. Like it or lump it.  And how blessed it is to be nudged into liking them.

Today was the first Sunday of the month.  And our two house fellowships met together for a day of service.  We started our worship at 10 AM.  Enoch on the keyboard for a few songs - Asha on violin.  Rishav on bongos and yours truly on guitar.  A joyful noise.

As we moved to the Lord's Supper - ably led by bro Jolly - I couldn't help noticing something blessedly unusual.  We were packed.  The house was bursting at its seams as family after family came in.  We must have had almost 50 people there today.

Bro Rolly shared the word - focussing on Jesus' telling us that blessed are those who suffer because of persecution - and I was deeply touched by the account of Stephen the martyr's death - his face looking like that of an angel and the statement that in the midst of his stoning 'he fell asleep.'

After the message it was sharing time.  Since we were overflowing with kids I decided to take the children's session while the adults told each other what God is teaching them, and how they are experiencing God.  I had 6 boys and 4 girls upstairs with me - a super time with songs and a re-enactment of Paul's encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.  One of the take-home messages being Paul's willingness to obey.  He had left for Damascus on his horse - but entered being led by the hand.  A blind man, but obeying the voice he heard.

Then it was time for a love-feast.  A great chicken biryani was enjoyed by all - with lots of mingling and talking and kids darting in between.

A prayer time in the early afternoon and then we broke up into small groups for visiting people in their homes.  Then a gospel meeting at the Lok Hospital building and home.

Despite a very long day - we end it with grace and peace.  Night has fallen and all are asleep.  Except for yours truly.

One amazing thought from earlier in the day.  As we were worshipping God, I counted the people in the room who were HIV positive.  6 adults. 1 child.   Then I counted people who were linked with family members who had AIDS.  2 adults had lost their parents.  1 adult had lost her cousin. 1 of the children is adopted - the child's mother is an HIV positive lady who gave the child up at birth.  Another child is about to be put up for adoption by her mother.

The grass is not greener on the other side.  This is our church.  This is where we belong.

10 years ago there was no one.  Not a single person who had HIV in our church.  We were meeting in the same room.  We still have warts.  Lots of them.  But, we have come a long way.

All glory to God.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

2 kids

Two little girls came to meet Sheba today.  They were with their grandmother - and a local lady who is helping them out.

Priya and Roshini - as we will call them - are 9 and 11 years old.  They both have HIV.  They are both orphans.

When we met them a year ago it seemed all so hopeless.  Their grandmother was trying to look after them - but she works cleaning houses and so leaves at 8 in the morning and is out most of the day till late at night.  She has a son who lives in a good flat, but he does not want anything to do with her and his orphaned nieces.

We despaired when we met this 'family' of 3.  It seemed all so hopeless.  The girls CD4 levels were disastrously low.  One of the had 127.  One had only 27.  Current medical opinion calls a person with HIV as being in the AIDS stage if their CD4 is lower than 200.  To have only 27 means that there is hardly any scrap left of God's beautiful gift of a self-regulating body-defense-force!

But even more. Who would look after these kids?  An orphanage?  A foster home?

Amazingly a beautiful relationship opened up.  A local couple - and their teenaged kids - opened up their lives.  We will call them Ben and Daisy.  Daisy talked with her husband and kids and they agreed to start helping Priya and Roshini.  And help they did.  Regular visits to their home.  Help with food rations.  Paying for educational expenses.  Taking them to see Sheba and helping start them on ART medications.  Bringing the kids to their home during the holidays.  Taking them to church with the family. And on and on.  The kindness and love of this couple is amazing.  They have quietly been caring for Priya and Roshini and their grandmother with such love.

Today Daisy brought the two and their grandmother to see Sheba.

Sheba could tell something was up.  The normally bouncy kids were not making eye-contact.  They were answering in mono-syllables.

Sheba asked the grandmother what had happened.  The story tumbled out.  They had been told to vacate their room by the owner.  And as they were shfiting the single bed they have, the grandmother found something behind it.  A veritable mound of medicines.  The kids have been secretly throwing their ART pills behind the bed because they do not want to take them.

The grand mother is horrified.  Daisy is shocked.  How can this happen?

Well, though Sheba was sad to hear this, she was not shocked.

We know only too well how difficult it is for anyone to take medications.  Let alone life-long.  Let alone if you are a kid of 7 or of 9.

And that too when you are also taking medication for TB.  As Priya (the older one) is.

So Sheba started to talk with Priya.

Why did you throw the medicines?  Sheba asked gently.

Because I was 'kantal.'

We think this means something like 'fed-up'

As the conversation continued, Sheba probed gently about how much this girl knows about her condition.  Priya is bright and usually tops her class at school.

'What sicknesses have you heard of?' asked Sheba.

'Malaria.  Diarrhea.  Chicken Pox.  Measles.'  came the reply.

'Good' said Sheba.  'What about Tuberculosis?'


Its hard to know whether the little girl really has not heard, or doesn't want to know.  Sheba moves ahead carefully and explains that one of the kinds of medicines that Priya is taking - the one she gets from the local govt. health centre is for TB.

'What about the other medicine?  The one you go to the Civil Hospital to get.  Do you know what that is for?'

Priya says she does not.  She then tells that her grandmother has told her she has a disease from her mother.  But she must not tell anyone about it.  No one.

Sheba explained that just telling about that sickness will not harm her.  Sheba told Priya that it is a difficult disease to talk about, but when she turned 13 everything about the sickness will be explained to her.  She assured Priya, however, that whenever Priya wanted to know more they would tell her.

Sheba talked about just how important the medicines are.  How good they are and how much they help make the body strong.

How hard it is for these children.  How hard it is for every person living with HIV.  But especially for children who have known no other life.

Though the meds are real life-savers, they are also so hard to take.  Especially if you don't know why you have to take them.  If you have been told you have a secret and deadly disease.  And yet as a kid the whole adult world with its seriousness and hustle and bustle can just be so alien.

We hope Priya and her younger sister will now stick to taking their meds.  We don't want to put Priya in a coffin anytime soon.  We are so grateful for Daisy and Ben for their kindness in reaching out to Priya and Roshini.  Without the love and supervision of Daisy and Ben, this conversation would not have happened.  And though there is still much work to be done in Priya and Roshini's lives, we are so blessed to see them growing.

Namaste sate

An eon ago a dear friend of mine took to the stage of Parker Hall of Woodstock School with his fellow band-mates of Silmarillion.  I was in the audience.  They then belted out what was for me a pretty mind-blowing cover of the Pink Floyd classic 'comfortably numb.'

Over a quarter century later my friend is due to take a very different stage in Mumbai next month.  We have booked a 1400 capacity hall for Chris Hale and the full strength Aradhna.  Chris and Peter Hicks have formed the core of this group for the last 12 years.  Thirteen years after Chris'  Parker Hall gig, in the dying days of the last millenium, the then nascent Aradhna played as a two-some for the newly-married Sheba and I at our wedding reception in the Woodstock Dining room.

What a musical journey they have had since.  Their debut album Deep Jale with its hauntingly beautiful Yishu-bhajans was followed by Marga Darshan.  Then came the live album Satsang.  As time flowed by the music continued to develop - with their own sound coming to the fore - a heady mesh of sitar and guitar and the whole jugalbandi of other instruments indic and western.  At the core of it all - throbbing along with the varied musical collaborators - are the soaring vocals of Chris and Peter's intuitive guitar work - and a devotional strain that they have continued to explore and shape.  The latter albums Amrit Vani and the latest Namaste Sate show greater freedom with English creeping in at various places and the sound being stretched well past the simple bhajan frame.  But through it all there is a devotion to Yishu Raja - and a desire to share and explore what that devotion means.

This past year also saw the release of Sau Guna - the achingly beautiful series of six music videos shot by Ben Stamper - filmmaker extraordinaire.  A sample can be seen from the promo clip above.

This tour of India will take Aradhna to Delhi, Chennai, Ooty, Mumbai (twice), Nasik, Pune, and Bangalore.  They are a foursome this time - with their veteran bassist Travis McAfee joining and Uday Kumar coming on board from Hyderabad.  Mike Williams - who was part of the Olio experience - will be manning the sound at each venue.  Tour dates are up on the Aradhna website (  Most of the concerts  (ours too) will be benefiting the remarkable work of Freedom Firm ( which helps not only free women from sexual slavery (and work to book perpetrators) but also works to recover and rediscover their God-given personhoods of the girls who have been through such hell.

The concert we have the privilege of organising is historic as after so many years we finally have  Aradhna sharing their soul with our city.  Soberingly - it may also be their last time here as a group.  An email today announced that for 2013 Chris and Peter will be cutting back on their touring to be more locally focussed and listen carefully to what God is telling them for the next steps.

So we are in for a treat.  And some slogging to do before the hall is mesmerised by the beauty of music.  November 16th is 6 weeks away from tonight.

Gao re!