Tuesday, 30 July 2013


I had woken up to the beauty of a Mussoorie morning.

Half an hour later I heard Dad calling me: "phone call for you!"

The call was from home.  My gut tightened a bit.

"Daddy" said Enoch "Mummy is very sick"

I was in Mussoorie.  Sheba was in Thane.  In terrible pain.  With two very sad children.  2500 kms between us.  Ugh.

The previous week Sheba had not been well.  Abdominal pains at different times.  And then it seemed to settle.  Self-medication with paracetemol and prayer.

On the day I left for Delhi I was in an agony of indecision.  I was pale and sleepless myself and felt vertigo and did a bit of puking.  But then a nap after dropping off the kids at school (and having them rush back because it was a 'rain holiday') got me better.   I prayed and made the call to go.  Sheba bravely let me.

The next day she was taken to the hospital by Suma and Rachael from our church.  A quick checkup and some pain meds were prescribed.  All 'normal.'   Sheba has been suffering for the last 2 years from a gall stone and a hydrosalpinx - a distended cyst in the fallopian tube.  Both can cause discomfort - but which one was the culprit this time?  Sheba continued to see patients over the past week and kept her pain private.  And there were also times when it wasn't there.

Friday was one such day. When I talked to Sheba on the phone as I and my friend Danny were on the train to Dehra Dun - Sheba was great.  That evening she went out shopping with the kids and hosted the Bible study in our flat.  A call late at night - just after Danny and I had reached Mussoorie and everything was fine with Sheba.

Everything, that is, till 4 am on Saturday morning.

Then Sheba experienced exrcuricating abdominal pain.  After an hour or so she called Agnes over for a voveron (diclofenac) injection.  Agnes came over and gave it.  No relief.  More agony.  Suma and Rachael came over immediately.   Sheba did not want to call me, since I had just arrived in Mussoorie the night before, but at 8 it was too bad and Enoch gave me the news. 

I talked to Sheba briefly.  It was enough.

Shaken, I put down the receiver and told Mum and Dad.  We prayed.  I checked the internet for flights.  There were a few.  I prayed and saw a 3.40 pm flight from Dehra Dun.  6 PM from Delhi.  ETA 8 PM in Mumbai.  I could be with Sheba by 9.30 PM if all went well.   Price not impossible. Click click.  It was booked.   

I went up and told Mum and Dad that I was going.  We booked a taxi down.  Mum and Dad decided to go with me to spend as much time as possible together.  I explained to Danny.  We cancelled my parts of our train tickets.  He would continue on as we had originally planned.

Mum and Dad and I left the house.  The greenery of a Mussoorie monsoon is breath-taking.

The love that my parents have for each other and for Stefan, Premi and myself and all our other brothers and sisters and virtually everyone on this planet - is as green as their surroundings.

Being with them - even just for a few hours - so worth it.

At 11.30 we were up at Sisters Bazaar.  Then we were winging it down to Dehra Dun and then out towards Rishikesh to the quaintly named 'Jolly Grant Airport' which services Dehra Dun (and Rishikesh and points East).

After our goodbye prayers and kisses - I was ready to leave.  But where was the plane?  Half an hour before the 3.40 pm take-off time, it was nowhere to be seen. 

Then out of the awesome blue and white clouded sky drops a beauty of a plane.

A few minutes later, the few passengers who had come to Dehra Dun via Lucknow got off.  And it was our turn to board.

Looking at this beauty of a plane, I had a huge sense of deja vu - and it was only afterwards that I realised what it was....

The plane was definitely like the millionaire's private jet in the Tintin adventure Flight 714.   Behold!

 A last look at the magnificent sky with the first range of the Himalaya giving us the horizon....

 ... and we were away - off into the clouds.  A hop and a skip and a jump to Delhi.  30 minutes of flight time - gobbling up the 6 hour 'express' train journey I had started exactly 24 hours before.

My prayers were focussed to Sheba.  I had found out that she had been admitted at Bethany hospital and was sleeping.

In Delhi's swank airport, I tapped in a Facebook status update to let people know what was going on.  By evening an avalanche of prayers and wishes were sent our way.

Then a clear shot to Mumbai and I arrived in the rainy night and blurry traffic of Mumbai.

Just before 10 PM I got home.  Sheba had told me on the phone to meet the kids first.  She was doing better and could wait for me.

I rang the bell and was greeted with hugs all around.  Their bestest friends Nikita and Jasper were with them.  John and Nalini had also been pillars of support over that terrible day.   Agnes was just about to give them supper and so we ate and talked.

The great thing about kids is that even in times of tension - they can relax - when they know things are going to be ok.  With Nikita and Jasper there - Asha and Enoch were so happy.  Having 3 hamsters to play with helps:
As does having a friend who is willing to play lego with you: 

Then a goodnight to the kids and over to see Sheba.  Nalini and Rachael were with her.  The kids had been to see Sheba earlier.  Now Nalini was dropped of at our place - and she and John took the kids to their home and to church in Borivali the next day.

I spent the night next to Sheba in the hospital.

She was a peace - but had been through so much in the past 18 hours.   The drips were on and I was given a task to monitor it while Sheba had a blessed sleep.

The ultrasound had shown that the hydrosalpinx had contorted - causing tremendous pain.  By early afternoon - and after much prayer - the pain had subsided.  Sheba said that so many had rallied round her. Rachael was at the home in 10 minutes after Sheba first called Suma.  They were singing and praying with Sheba in the casualty ward - and massaging her when the high-level pain-killers given still didn't bring the desired relief.

As I watched the drip that night, small drops falling through the tube, on the way into Sheba's veins, I had to thank God for what he had done.

For me to wake up in the clear air of Mussoorie - and then to be back with my beloved the very evening was more than a miracle.

For Sheba to have come through her pain and be safe and under control was a blessing.

For us to see just how many people love us and go the second and third and fourth mile for us is overwhelming.

And then we think of the people that we are working with - so many who are just so sick - and have burned their bridges.

A man came two weeks ago to meet Sheba and told her 'even if my sister dies - don't call me - I have nothing to do with her' - that about his own sister who we were looking after at that time in the JSK centre.

How different our lives are.

We are, of course, not fully out of the woods yet.

After spending a night in hospital with Sheba - we were thrilled that she did not have more pain - and so were discharged in the morning - returning to an eerily quiet home (the 3 hamsters were having their normal siesta during the day) as Asha and Enoch were with the Gabriel family.  When they returned in the afternoon - there was so much to be thankful for.

This morning we talked to Dr. Stephen about the next steps.

This is what it looks like.  

Sheba is to be admitted at Bethany Hospital today after 5 PM.

Her surgery is posted for 7 AM on Wednesday morning.  It will be a laproscopic surgery.  Dr. Stephen will first remove the gall bladder.  Then the other surgeon will work on the cyst - probably removing the left ovary as well.  

Sheba should be in the hospital for about 3 days and then another 10 days to recover at home.

Sheba's sister Sarah is on the way - arriving tomorrow from Delhi to be with us for the next 5 days.  

We have been overwhelmed with phone calls, SMSes and offers to help out.  This evening Jolly, Suma and Reneta came over to pray for Sheba - and in their inimitable way brought us a meal too. 

No one likes surgery.  But some things have to be done.  Sheba is so brave about it all. 

And so we step into the next adventure. 

Thanks for being along with us for the journey.  And thanks for the many heart-felt prayers and wishes.


Sunday, 28 July 2013


It happened in a split second.  A sudden sickening unbelievable sight of a motor-bike coming straight at me.  Brakes slammed and the next thing there is an impact and the bike and both driver and rider go forward into the air and hit the road.

I am paralysed.  Then pull over.  People gather around.  The bikers join.

First confused thought:  At least they are still walking.

Blur. Fear. What is going on?

The bikers are angry.  One of them is clearly hurt in his leg and arm.  I ask the locals where the nearest hospital is.  Over the bridge some say.  We agree to go immediately for treatment.

The injured man is put in the back of our car.  The other man drives the bike slowly behind me.  We make it over the bridge.  Up the stairs into a small private nursing home.  The man is put into their ‘ICU.’  The doctor goes in to see.  I wait outside. 

A call to Sheba to tell what happened.   A call to Vasu who I was due to meet.  He tells me he will be right over.  SMSs to a few folks to pray for me.  The ward aide comes out with a list of things I should buy.  I go to their pharmacy and purchase them.  Antiseptic cream, gloves, gauze bandage, tetanus toxoid, some medications.  I give the items back to the aide who goes back in.

Finally the man comes out.  His name is Deepak.  His friend, the motorcycle driver is Dinesh.  Young men.  Working for a computer repair company.  They were driving to a client. 

I was in an unfamiliar part of Mumbai.  Was turning onto a main highway via a small side road, going up a slope.  I had been following a trio of auto-rickshaws.  I hadn’t seen the traffic light.  It was red.  I was clearly in the wrong.  What could I say but ‘sorry.’  What was going to happen to Deepak?

The doctor had done a checkup.  No head injury.  No altered sensoria.  Scraped leg and arm.  Dressing done.  Advised x-ray.  They did not have x-ray facilities in the nursing home.  The ward aide took us over to scan centre for the x-ray.

Deepak was hurting as he walked.  His sandals were broken.  His pant was shredded.  Dinesh – amazingly as I think about it now – seemed unscathed.  He had been wearing a helmet.  Deepak had not.  They talked about how the bike was totaled and that it was their boss’ bike.

While we were waiting for the x-ray to be done Vasu and Devan managed to find us.  They leant a sympathetic ear.  We got the x-ray done.  No obvious fracture.  But the radiologist would only give the final report in the evening.

In the meantime we called a mechanic to assess the bike.  Vasu’s pastor lived near-by and knew a reliable fellow.  We took Deepak to get some new sandals.  Then Devan took him to get a new pair of pants.

The mechanic stopped by and did a quick dekko.  Amazingly, it was minor damage – on an old beater of a motorbike.  A missing pedal, a broken taillight (the other already missing), a broken brake handle, some impact on the fork.  The mechanic told us that he could fix it in half an hour.

Devan came back with a newly outfitted Deepak.  They agreed to let us fix their bike.  We took Deepak with us in the car while Dinesh followed on the bike.

All along the terrible weight of fear.  And the prayers that kept taking things forward.  I found it hard to call Sheba since it all seemed so unclear as it was happening.  A maze.  A fog.  But one made easier by the prayers of the people. By SMSes that came in telling that we were not alone.  By Vasu and Devan being their and patiently helping work through the relationship with these men.

And then at 4.30 it was over.  We shook hands.  Deepak and Dinesh got on their bike and headed off.  Devan took the bus back to work.  Vasu and I went for a long-overdue masala dosa. 

While at one point Dinesh had said that the cost of repairing the bike would come to Rs. 5000 – as the time went on they did not make any direct demand for money.  We worked to get all the treatment done in the best way possible, and provided the modest restoration of Deepaks clothes and sandals.  We also got the medications needed and promised to pick up the final radiologist’s report.  No demand for money came from them.  As time had gone on, they also understood who we were.  I had given my card and address immediately to them at our initial meeting. 

I wouldn’t say we parted as friends – but there was mutual respect and a kind of simple camaraderie.
Answers to heart-felt prayers.


Even now I am still carrying part of the weight of the incident.  That freeze-second sight of the bike hitting the road and the two men falling off.  The haze of confusion afterwards.

Just a little bit different in any of a myriad ways and I could be dealing with one or both of these young men suffering from life-time paralysis due to the accident.  Or I could be knowing that I had played a part in the death of one man.  Or in the earthly end of both.

We live our lives on the razor edge of destiny.

As I look out on the monsoonal green tree outside our flat here in Thane, as I hear the pigeons landing on the tin awnings above, and hear the sounds of the big city filter in – grinders and polishing machines from a near-by building where someone is doing up their flat – the low groan of cars punctuated by various beeps of horns – as the grey monsoonal sky bathes the house with soft ochre light – all I can say is that I am grateful.  Very, very, very grateful.

The quaking inside me will probably go on for some time.  It must go on.  I was not just skipping stones on a quiet pond.  The stakes were not trivial.  Multiple lives, multiple futures had come together on that day. 
As the rain has now started slanting down from the grey skies outside, I can say that nothing less that God’s own hand was somehow involved.  Whether angelic beings directly intervened is beyond my ken.  But I do see something far greater than chance operating.  In keeping the Dinesh from getting any injury at all.  In limiting Deepak’s wounds to abrasions.  In stopping a mob from forming and executing their brand of ‘justice’.  In building rapport between us over the hours.  In having friends who came immediately. 

The Good Book says that God listens to the humble and opposes the proud.  I experienced the utter helplessness last week – and felt the gracious hand of Jesus on me.  And continue to need His mercies on me as I heal from the shock.  My prayers continue for Dinesh and Deepak too as they heal from their experience. 

Monday, 22 July 2013


She dissappeared from the radar two weeks ago.

We had known her for over 5 years.

These have been hard years.  We met her on the street.  Her husband used to drive and autorickshaw.  Alcohol meant they ended up living on the pavement.  He was sick.  We found out he had TB and HIV.  She was also found out to be HIV positive as was their middle child.

The initial days were good.  Her husband responded to love and care.  He even sobered up enough to start driving an auto-rickshaw again.  We were hoping that they would rent a room again and move of the street.

He went back to the bottle.  Dropped off his TB meds.  When our staff went to meet him he would look for ways to dissappear.  He died.

She found another man.  To the detriment of her kids.  We nursed the middle child back to health from his emaciated state.  Got her a new place to stay.  Brought a local church volunteer in the mix.  This elderly lady would go every day to try and meet her. 

But it all went hay-wire.  She kept after the man she wanted.  He was married.  Her kids were locked up at home for most of the day.  The neglect told.  The middle child eventually died.  Heart break for all of us.

The church volunteer stepped in and pleaded with us to have the other two kids put in protective care.  We worked hard and found a wonderful place.  The kids thrived.

She continued her affairs.  One man was put in prison.  She went regularly to meet him.  A few abortions later they had a child. 

All along our staff tried to keep contact with her.  It was hard.  Very hard. 

The man she was after eventually left his family and moved in with her.  They lived in a shack in a slum.  He was not good to her and beat her regularly.  Alcohol showed up again.

"Why is this happening to me?" she would ask our staff.  But sadly she just did not make the positive steps that our staff kept suggesting to her.

Three months ago her slum was cut off by a large wall.  To even get to her place was a challenge.  Then the rains came.

In the mean time the children's home shut down.  Her kids were transferred to new shelters.  Split up.  Her older son - a brilliant boy - ran away from his new orphanage.  He ended up back with his mother and her man.  And his new half sister. He was miserable.

We were trying to find another place for her son.

And then she dissappeared.

Gone.  No trace.  Whole family up and left.

Lost to Follow-up.

LFU is an abbreviation used in surveys when we are unable to meet a participant again.

This lady is now LFU.   Along with her bright boy.

Will we ever see her again?

She knows where we are.  But we do not know where she has gone.

What is the sum of all the hours of love put into that family?  Will we ever know??

She may be lost to us, but we do know that despite all the wrong turns she has taken in her life, she still has a good shepherd who is looking out for her.

But she needs to let Him pick her up, instead of running away from Him as she has been doing all her life.

Oh that she will change from being Lost to Follow Up - to being Lamb Found Unharmed.

Will you say a prayer for this hard-bitten woman?

And will you say a prayer for her son who we assume is with her... and her daughter who is in an orphanage?

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Himalayan Tsunami

What do you say when the world slips away?   When all of a sudden things that were solid and dependable turn to slush?  

Last month three days of solid rain over a large part of the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand saturated the mountains with water.  This lead to landslide, flash floods and unprecidented damage.   As the news started trickling out to a stunned nation, the word "Himalayan Tsunami" was coined to describe the utter devastation that took place.

Flash floods in the Himalaya are nothing new.  They happen.  Not often, but often enough.

Over a hundred years ago, a famous swash-buckler called 'Pahari Wilson' was out fishing with his entourage.  To their horror, a wall of water swept down the valley and took Wilson away with it.  The survivors went back to Mussoorie to tell of the death of their 'sahib' and a funeral service was held.  His second son took over the family fortune, but was none to pleased a few weeks later - when his supposedly deceased father showed up again - very much alive!  The flash flood had swept him many miles down stream, and he had managed to live off the woods and then make his way back to civilisation.

So what is different today?

Well for one, the hills are criss-crossed with roads.  Deep long gashes which you see every way you look.  And next to each road are clusters of houses.  Some big enough to be called towns.  And with the Himalaya being very vertical - most of these buildings are perched precariously.  So when the land starts to slip - it takes the buildings with it.   And finally, there is a huge business in religious tourism.  The hills are called the abode of the gods - and something like 60,000 tourists were in Uttarakhand - the majority of them of pilgrimage / holidays - when the rains fell.

The rains did fall.  Mum and Dad were in Mussoorie at the time.  They said it was like someone pouring water out of a bucket.  For 3 solid days.  They had never seen anything like it.   There were a few landslides in Mussoorie, but no real damage.  The real damage took place further in.  Hundreds of roads washed out.  Thousands of houses collapsed, crushed under landslides, washed away by floodwaters.  And in all of this, there were millions of people.

So many died.  The numbers will never be known.  There are figures of as many as 13,000 missing and presumed dead.

Mum and Dad were actually just about to host a group of families who are associated with their church.  Immediately These men and women were coming to Mussoorie for a time of rest and restoration - and a number of them were to stay with Mum and Dad.  Immediately after this retreat they were going on a 2 week holiday.

Then the water came - and soon the landslides prevented any travel.  They called and told that it was impossible to come to Mussoorie.

Mum and Dad heard the news with horror and prayer.   After a few days they had to decide about what to do about their vacation.  After praying, they decided that they needed to spend time away, and so they did.

Going to a secret place, they spent 2 weeks at a hotel.  They read, prayed, listened to music, went on local hikes, prayed some more.

After some time, Dad felt that he had to make some kind of a gesture to express the deep sorrow he had about all the loss people were going through.

Then the idea came to him.  Why not get shaved - as men do when they lose their parent.

And so he did.

The result was heart-warming.  Dad has had so many conversations where he shared his love and concern for people - and why he shaved his head - and how much Jesus also mourns the deaths and destruction that took place.   People have been really touched by his gesture.  Knowing my father, this is no gimmick.  It's a genuine sharing of grief with others.  And a genuine sharing of the joy that Dad has in Jesus.

We understand that they are planning to go deep into the hills now that the roads are being repaired.  The church is planning relief work, and Mum and Dad want to be part of it.

Their heart of compassion continues to beat.  Their attitude of love continues to bear fruit in actions that care.

Mum and Dad and the folks they are with will not erase the pain of the survivors with some kind of flash-in-the-pan conjuring trick.  They are around for the long haul.  Working with local people who themselves are living out lives as Christ-bhakts in the very places where the rains swept life-as-they-knew-it away.

Oh that we would see a Himalayan blessing, where the scars of this terrible episode will be healed - and many of God's simple people equipped to touch the lives of others.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Fur balls!

It's not often that you leave the home with four excited children (Asha and Enoch plus their super super friends Nikita and Jasper).... and come home with five hamsters!

Sunday was H-day for the Eichers in Thane.   After years of subtle and overt demands for pets - and a brief and tearful experience with fish a few years ago - we finally are a family who are not just humanoid - but who also exist at a very small scale - enter the hamsters!

Our dear sister Chinnamma told us that her son Sheryl and his wife Annette had more hamsters than they could handle.  They started with two last November - and ended up with nineteen earlier this year.  We heard that they were down to five and so set up an appointment for Sunday evening.

Since John and Nalini's girls were with us - Sheba and I and the fabulous four piled into our Papaya (the lovely little Nano who has been with us for over a year now) and tooled over to Sheryl and Annette's place.

Once there they graciously showed us the hamsters - 4 males and a female - and the kids went into raptures of excitement.   The Eicher adults were excited too - but we have 40 plus years of learning to hide our feelings!  And so we took a deep breath and said: "we will take all of them!"

Our generous friends gave them to us.  Lock, stock and barrel.  Make that two barrels - the hamsters were housed in two large plastic bins, with lots of tissue paper for them to make nests with, and each had a hamster wheel.   We were overwhelmed with Sheryl and Annette's generosity - and so went out into the monsoonal night richer by five hamsters.

When we got back home, it was delight central.

Nikita and Jasper immediately went about pleading with their parents to let them take one or two - and when John and Nalini relented the only task left was choosing which ones to take.

Sheryl and Annette told us that the males were more friendly.  They kept the single female apart because they knew how fast they breed.  The gestation period is only 16 days!  No wonder they ended up with 19 hamsters at one point.  They also said that they did not want to interbreed them too much - since they were all from one pair.

Later in the evening we unearthed our old fish-tank - and Nikita and Jasper took two males (who have been named Caramel and Peanut) - and one of the hamster wheels - and rode off happily into the night.

So now we have 'only' three hamsters.

The lady has been christened Cinnamon!  Take a bow dear! 

She is a bit shy - and doesn't allow us to hold her easily.   But we are working on it - and its still early days.

Cinnamon really likes to run in the hamster wheel.  Just keeps on moving when we put it in with her.

She is also very interested in smelling it when we bring it from the 'boys' bin.  In fact we have started to wash the wheel before we take it back to the males - after they started acting funny after getting it back the first time after Cinnamon had run on it.   Another hamster wheel has been ordered off the net.

What about the lads then?

Well - strictly speaking they are probably Cinnamon's sons - but we have two lovely chappies who are cute as buttons - and seemingly always ready to be lifted out of their tub!

It took a few hours to come up with their names - but now we have them fixed as 'Garlic' and 'Pepper' - based on their colour.   Asha had chosen Garlic and Enoch had selected Pepper.

Garlic, Pepper and Cinnamon are a variety of the normal Syrian hamsters called 'Teddy Bear' or 'Angora' Hamsters because the males end up having long hair.

What we have to do now is adjust to caring for some very small and very cute lives.

These chaps are nocturnal - so the time when they most want to run around and be picked up and explore is when we are horizontal.   During the day they spend a lot of time curled up in their little nests.

While we are waiting for the new hamster-wheel, we have come up with some alternatives too.  Thank God for the duplos that we have kept for when we are visited by small kids.  Enoch and I were able to make something for the lads to run up and down.  They also use it to jump off - trying to get to the rim of the plastic tub they are in.

Asha and Enoch tell us that all through their school day they are thinking of the hamsters.

For the last two evenings their parents have been working on what it means to be kind to hamsters - and make sure that they are 'having a good time.'

Asha and Enoch have yet to pick up the little fellows without dropping them with a squeal.  But we are working on it.  Asha is allowing them to sniff her hand - and I am getting strong advice from all sides to take them out of their bins - and let them wander around on the floor.  Again with squeals when they start looking at what they can find under the sofas - or decide that the next room is also worth visiting!

As parents, Sheba and I want Asha and Enoch to learn how to look after their first real pets.  We are hoping that they will carefully feed them and clean up their tubs weekly.   We hope that the little ones will learn to trust the kids and that Asha and Enoch will learn to control themselves and be kind and loving to these lovely balls of fur!

But we know that as parents we are going to be taking the major role in hamster care.

Growing up, when the guinea-pig (one of which we had in Nana Chowk for at least a few months) started noisily announcing that it was hungry every morning - it was Mum who brought it something to eat.  When Mum would come into the kitchen, it was normally with all the Eicher cats rushing in along with her, looking up to her, rubbing against her legs, or running ahead with their tails up straight like so many flag posts!

But even if it's 'more work' for the two of us - the sheer joy that is splashed over the faces of Asha and Enoch (and their dear friends Nikita and Jasper) makes it oh-so-worthwhile to have these three little fur-balls named Cinnamon, Garlic and Pepper with us!

And so now to do at night (its 23.43 according to the trusty-rusty computer clock) what these fellows have been doing for most of the day - to sleep!  In the other room, three wide-awake hamsters would love to have someone playing with them.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Nana Chowk - then and now...

Growing up in Bombay was a blast. 

And we never even dreamed that saying that would make you queasy so many years later.   Today we trully are living in a 'bomb'-bay - a time when you get an SMS from the police telling you 'don't believe the rumours' -- and you start asking 'what rumours? what's going on?'

But lets go back in time - to the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s when we had the privilege of growing up in the John Wilson Education Society Compound at Nana Chowk.  The whole compound had one number - it was 19 on the August Kranti Marg.  And our house was called 'Elim' - an ancient bungalow from yore which stuck out into the road and which we swore 'shuddered' when heavy traffic passed by outside.

First time visitors from abroad often hardly slept on their first few nights - and it wasn't the jet-lag - but rather the constant noise of traffic.

But for us it was a heaven - because we had a home that we stayed in from 1975 till 1987 (after having moved something like 11 times in my first 6 years of life).  And the compound itself was an oasis of greenery in the concrete jungle that Bombay was even then!

What is it like today?  How different do things look today to what Stefan, Premila and I grew up to?

Last year we were blessed with a precious trove of digitised slides - almost 800 of them - from Stirling and Karen Swan who were in India around 1980-81.  Since they had an office in the Elim building, a number of their slides captured that era.

Earlier this month I went down to Nana Chowk for a meeting at the 'Ursula' building.  I took some shots of what it looks like today. 

And so here we have - Nana Chowk, then and now!

The street sign that we could see from right outsitde the lower floor of Elim.  In the second shot this is the street sign's current avatar  with the windows to our old dining room and living room seen behind it

The best way to get to Nana Chowk is by train.

After some early morning judo with about 200 other men who were crammed into my section of the local on the central line from Thane to Dadar - and then another 130 odd fellow grapplers on the Western Line from Dadar to Grant road I emerged to see something fairly familiar.  The droopy block facade of the Grant Road railway station - pretty much like it had been in our childhood.

But if you turn your head to the left then everything changes.

Instead of a narrow road leading to the main Nana Chowk intersection - there is now the same narrow road and in the middle of it like some kind of Japanese uber-robot is a huge sky-walk.... 

.... which if you follow the shiny silver legs (at least the pods are currently shiny because it is still being constructed and is weathering its first Mumbai monsoon) and you end up in the heart of the intersection.

What was once a large open space where cars, busses and various trucks and other two wheeled vehicles carreered about flanked by the characteristically curving art-deco parsee buildings (Ness Baug being the most prominent one) which looked like this in about 1980....

 ... now has the same constant roar of traffic, but underneath the surreal circle of the sky walk (which I understand will go all the way out to chowpatti beach) and a huge central collumn that has to be about 12 stories high - and which holds up the circle with steel cables.   

Rather different from where what it was like when we grew up.

'Our house' is now hidden behind the steps going down - and presumably the folks walking down will be able to look into the second floor of  'Elim' - as well as the first floor where we lived.  That was certainly not something that we had to deal with in our growing up years!

You can still see the small "Fire House" of the local Fire Brigade unit that was to the left of 'Elim.'  The small original shed has been preserved as a heritage structure, while behind it a huge 6 story new fire building has come up.

As we come to the gate of the compound we see a familiar sight.  Its 9.30 AM and there is a wave of parents dropping of their children to the pre-school and primary school sections of the St. Columba girls school which is also on the compound.

The crowds outside and the lush greenery inside were all too familiar.

But what was not was on the other side.   Looking out of the gate, instead of the 4 storied tenement appartment called 'Hari Niwas' - there is now the colossus of a building called 'Shreepati Arcade'!

Shreepati Arcade is 45 floors high - and was for some time the tallest residential building in India.  All the flats are sold and rented out to vegetarians only!  Needless to say, its a rather different look to the down-at-heel building that used to occupy its space.

And so we finally venture into the heart of the compound - and to our own home of 12 odd years - 'Elim'

The greenery is the same - though the trees we climbed and built a tree-house in are now fallen down - and new trees have grown up in their stead.  It reminded me just the faintest bit of Narnia when the children return to Cair Paravel and find an apple orchard has sprung up.

But the grand old lady of a house is still there.  More or less - at least from the outside - what she used to be when we lived in 'Elim'.

Take a look at the 'then' and 'now'....

The two things that have changed...

The first is that everything seems to have shrunk.  Distances that were epic (especially when we were called home for supper on the long summer evenings) now are just a hop, and a skip.  Not even a jump.   And someone has definitely shrunk our beloved Elim.  It used to be the largest house in the world... now it seems so small...

Secondly, there are guards everywhere.  Two gents came out and asked me not to take pictures.  The steady stream of kids and parents on the main road under the leafy canopy was peppered with security people - seemingly every 10 meters or so.

We used to have one elderly man who was so weak and frail a cat would have probably got the better of him - and a mustachioed Nepali who would tell us about his village in the mountains.

Looking back I just am so grateful for having grown up in this green oasis in the middle of dirty grey Bombay.

The dirt would come in every monsoon when the low-lying drains would flood and the high tides - much to our delight since the whole area became a large brown swimming pool - and much to the horror of our dear mother as she was forced to see us splashing away in the muck!

Looking back at our parents - I think they definitely were on the side of letting us 'tough it out.'  I don't think that us antiseptic types would allows Asha and Enoch to muck about in a monsoonal floods like we did 35 odd years ago!

Then and now!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


Our kids love pigs.

It's a short-hand that they have among themselves.  A little secret joke that they have going.  A shared set of laughter that is strung over weeks.

Yesterday Enoch took over the whiteboard and gave a rendition of the various varieties of porcine faces.

Strangely enough (or maybe not so strangely) I used to draw pigs when I was a year or two older than he is today.

When I was in the German School in Bombay, we had quite a thing going for cartoon pigs.  'Schweine' were all the rage for us.  Possibly because they were easy to draw - and of course had the delicious attributes of being dirty and disgusting. 

But my memories are not all happy ones.  My circle of friends drew these pigs and then personalized them.  There was a boy in the class below us that we targeted.  His father was an honorary teacher - filling in since the school did not have a chemistry master - and we were merciless in our cartoons with the father and son repeatedly shown as pigs.

I was able to contact the boy in question many years later.  We linked up over the internet (he was a PhD candidate at that time in Germany) and I tried to apologise.  I don't remember his response, but to this day I regret my cowardly participation in a kind of bullying.

My hope is that the next generation of Eichers will learn from my errors.  Let pigs be drawn, but lets keep them de-linked from anyone we know.  And lets be very, very careful when it comes to making fun of others.

The real pigs were my friends and I.  Schweine.

Sunday, 7 July 2013


Two weeks ago.  Saturday.  We were conducting a training for church members in HIV care.

This is a course that we have developed over the past decade.  Each year we change it a tiny bit, but the basics have been in place since 2006 at least.

She stood out among the other participants.  Her hand went up more often.  She spoke from the heart.  Her questions were insightful.

Lets give her a name.  We will call her Tanya.

Tanya came to our training with an elderly lady - a retired nurse who is a real prayer-warrior and who clearly is a mentor to Tanya.  They both are from a fairly far-away church well outside Mumbai.  We learned later that Tanya sells trinkets in the local trains to support herself and her daughters. 

It was our second session.  The one we talk about treating people with HIV.  Tanya and her mentor had attended the first session and were actively participating in this one.

Sheba took the talk on treating our Positive Friends when they fall sick.  She went through a series of common symptoms that people with HIV get when their immunity is lowered.  And then talked about what opportunistic infections cause these symptoms.  The next step is helping our participants discover what can be treated at home, and what needs to be referred for medical advice... and when do you need to bundle the person into the nearest autorickshaw and immediately take them to the hospital!

As she went through her presentation, Sheba came to 'Herpes Zoster.'  This is actually a recurrence of the chikenpox virus - and it happens occasionally with people who have low immunities - from a pregnancy - or some stress issues.  But for people who have HIV, it is often the first symptom that they might have HIV.

Herpes Zoster usually manifests as a line of painful blisterlike sacs, usually following the line of a nerve.  Locally it is called 'nagin' (snake).  People who get it are often afraid that if it manages to 'encircle' them, that they will die, because the 'snake' will kill them.

In reality, Herpes Zoster does no real damage.  It usually resolves in a few days - sometimes taking up to 2 weeks to do so.  But it can be quite painful. 

So Sheba asked the group.  "Do you know anyone who has had 'nagin'?"

Tanya's hand went up.

"I have had it" she told us all.

Sheba was surprised at the answer, but continued the conversation, and Tanya told how she had experienced Herpes Zoster some months previously.   I felt a slight catch in my chest when Tanya shared about

At lunch Sheba sat next to Tanya and asked her when she had been tested for HIV.  "Me?  I have not been tested."

Silence.  Sheba then gently probed about her family history.  Tanya's husband had left her for another woman 2 years previously.  She is currently a single working mother, who has found tremendous hope in Jesus through the local church she is part of.

Sheba broached the issue of getting tested.  "It's always better to know " Sheba said.  If you are negative, then that is great.  But if you are positive, then here is the place to get help, and now is the time to know.

Tanya agreed to be tested, and that evening, after the day of training, I saw Tanya and her dear mentor-friend go into our HIV testing and counselling room to talk with our counsellor and have Tanya's blood sample taken.  It had been a long fulfilling Saturday.  Here was another of our trainees who agreed to be tested.  We have always told folks that we train that it is good to get testing for HIV if you have any question in your mind.  Over the years we must have counselled and tested at least 50 trainees.  The reports of each one of these had been HIV negative.

Sheba and I talked later.  Would Tanya's report come positive?  We so much hoped it wouldn't.

On Monday we knew.

Tanya is HIV positive.   She came the next day with the stalwart friend and mentor of hers, and another lady from her church.  Sheba told Tanya the news.  It was hard to tell her, and Tanya was deeply shocked.  But this brave woman decided to face the truth - and trust that God will help her.  Her friends were a great help as well, being with Tanya through this ordeal, helping her have her children tested too.  Encouraging and praying with Tanya.

Yesterday Tanya and her mentor came for the third session of the Training.  Only Sheba, the counsellor and I know that over the past 2 weeks, Tanya's identity has changed from being a person who has come to learn to help people with HIV - to being a person living with HIV herself.

She is a remarkably brave woman, choosing to participate just as much as before.

We are now waiting to see how much the HIV has progressed in her.  I thought she would seek Sheba out with the reports from the CD4 test she did last week.  But she did not.  Along with her mentor, another lady who does not know about her new-found status came as well.  Tanya told Sheba that she would come back tomorrow for a further consultation.

At the beginning of this batch of training church members in HIV care, we would never have imagined that one of the trainees would end up as a person that we are directly helping to understand and live with their HIV.   But at the end of the day, what better place for Tanya to be than to be with people who have been able to help her take the first steps of addressing HIV in her life.  What a blessing that she has a wonderful prayerful mentor who is such a rock of support to her.  

What an honour for us to serve Tanya.  We have quite a road ahead, but she has taken some very courageous first steps.

Monday, 1 July 2013

An old friend

I met an old friend recently.

He looked quite different from when we first met many years ago when I was studying in university.  I still remember the first few times I first met him in the computer lab at the School of Public Health in 1995.

We have kept in touch since then, and I am pretty sure that I last saw him about 5 or 6 years ago, but this time he has really changed.

But hey, like any old real friend any strangeness you get when you see that he or she is different since our list meeting usually evaporates when you look beneath the surface.   And sure enough, beneath it all, my friend was still the same.  Once we got going, it was like old times.

My friend is not a flesh-and-blood-and-spirit kind of  guy - but an amazing piece of software.

Step forward 'EpiInfo'....


Early in the computer revolution.  In days when words like DOS were used and boot-up etc., the Centres for Disease Control in the US developed an amazing piece of software to help epidemiologists in the field quickly design surveys and do rapid data analysis to help understand disease spread and control.

From its humble start in 1985 as a set of floppy discs, the latest version has come a very long way.  Over a million downloads of this free programme have included at least 3 by my good-self.  The latest version - Epi Info 7 can be downloaded here.  It's a real mouth-watering treat and offers mapping capabilities.  Since we are now in an age of Google maps we can think of actually linking our data to real spatial data for our teams to work with. 

We at Jeevan Sahara Kendra have just done a census-survey of all our HIV Positive Friends who are getting active care through our home-based care teams - as well as a number of Positive Friends who are stable and not being followed up intensively by our teams.  233 surveys successfully completed, and over 60 possible questions to analyse.  In previous years we had set up an excel sheet to help us do this... but now I have Epi Info to the rescue!

Its lovely to have the ability to take any variable - and check how it relates to others... Want to find out how many women have reported headaches in the last month?  Epi Info can do it.  Do the women report more headaches than men?  Epi Info can do it - and tell you whether any difference seen is statistically significant or not.  And so on and so forth.

Its been so long since I have done this - I feel like a boy in a sweet shop.

But there is a serious side to all of this.  One of the agendas that we have at Jeevan Sahara Kendra is to become partners with the government in providing free Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) for people with HIV.  Currently, since the government is giving this free - and its our tax-payer money that is supporting this - we steer all our Positive Friends to the govt. ART centre in town.

But there are over 3000 registered there - and 2 doctors.  So the patients do not get the kind of care that we would like to give.  We would like to take on about 200 - 500 of these patients and provide them with care here at JSK.   We have requested politely, but no response so far.

So we are hoping that this set of data will show that our HBC Positive Friends are showing high levels of adherence to the ART - and therefore we should be included as players and partners in the government health care system.

We are already partners at one level with the government - in the area of doing HIV counselling and testing.  The Maharasthra State AIDS Control Society has trained our staff and provide us with the testing kits.  We conduct the pre-test counselling, take the blood, conduct the test, give the post-test counselling, and report to the government.  We cover the staff costs and overheads.

For our ART programme - all we want is the meds - and the recognition.  We are willing to fund our staff salaries and other overheads - but we want to be able to give govt. meds to people with HIV who need them - and be able to transfer them to another government centre if they need to leave Thane and move to a different location.

So here is where my old friend Epi Info comes in - I am hoping that with his help I will be able to show something meaty from our survey!

Here's hoping!  Here's praying!