Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A day at JSK

10.15 PM 

Time to look back on today.

Alarm went off at 5 AM.  I put off the mobile and thought I got up.

Found myself in bed at 6.10 AM.

Gotta get the kids out.  Up Asha, Enoch!  Minimal breakfast.  Pack up the tiffin boxes.  Sheba ironed the uniforms.  Out the door at 6.40. 

Walk to school in the still dark morning.  Big yellow busses disgorging students outside the school.  Asha and Enoch cross the road and are dissolved is a stream of uniforms.

Stretch. Limber up.  Short jog starts.  Up the hill, over down past Glaxo, back past JSK.  Short jog but plenty of sweat.  There is a lot more of me than there used to be.

Shower.  Breakfast.  Bible.  Prayer.

Short talk with Sheba and then out the door.

At JSK at 8.

Daniel will be taking his Theology Extension exam today.  I check the email for the questions.  They are not there.  Start calling up Rev. John.  No answer.  Daniel comes in and gets ready.  More calling.  Not picking up.  Finally at 8.50 get through.  The question sheet is emailed.  Received. Printed.  Given to Daniel.  I can hear the first strains of the singing for the staff devotions. 

Out the door and over to start the day with the staff team.  Dr. Marise shares beautifully.  God's power and promises (2 Peter 1.3-4).  And what promises we have!

Introduce Shubhra and Elisha to the team.  They are here to volunteer, to explore what can be done.  I take them through the centre to explain what we do.  Sparkling clean.  Shiny.  The reception and testing and counselling room being painted.  We stand in a ward, sun-light shining through the windows. Beautiful beds around us.  Sadly - they are empty.  We don't have nurses.

Later, as I am talking with Elisha and Shubra I get a call from Dr. George Thomas.  Two nurses are looking for a job.  They are in Thane.  Can they come over?  Sure!  I text the address of our centre.  It is getting close to 11 AM and Sheba is on her way over. 

Elisha, Shubra and I walk out to look at the wall in front of the centre which faces the road.  One of the projects for them is to help coordinate our adolescent groups to make a set of murals on it.  If we don't paint it, it will be plastered with all manner of advertisements and slogans.  To say nothing of various men urinating on it.

We walked over to our place - where over the Republic Day weekend an NGO has decorated the entire outside perimeter wall with colourful murals designed by school children.  Powerful stuff and very motivating to have our wall in a similar way.

A quick hop in our Papaya (a.k.a. the Eicher Orange Nano) over to Bethany Hospital to see the beautiful photography/verse decorations.  Another possible project for Elisha and Shubra is to develop paintings and encouraging verse / illustrations for JSK.   At Bethany we run into Martin Abraham's parents and the man who had actually designed the Bethany decorations - Sam Thomas from Dehra Dun.

As we come back we see two ladies outside.  Are these the nurses?  They are.  By the time we parked they were gone.  They had met Sheba already.  Sheba offered them an immediate job.  They said they would talk to their parents and get back tomorrow.  Usually this means 'no.'  She asked them what their goals were - both said that they wanted to study more.  They have not even got their official nursing liscence yet.  Straight from Kerala.  We are desperate for nurses.  Still only running on the strength of one - our dear Agnes - with voluntary help four days a week by Lydia.

Back in the JSK centre, I give Shubra and Elisha a task of shifting books while I work on our prayer calendar for February.  Daniel keeps writing away.  The waiting hall has a number of patients.  I don't recognise most of them.  Some have come for HIV testing.  Others to meet Sheba.

Daniel finished his exam at 12.05.  We talk briefly.  He has one more tomorrow.  Then the next day he is hoping to see a prospective life partner.  Times are flowing fast!

We bring Elisha and Shubra back and pow-wow about how the young people can finish off their 15 session adolescent group with a bang - a 'graduation' and mural-painting day.  Tentatively we block off 19th Feb.  Shivaji's birthday. Public holiday.  Enoch's birthday too!

Before I know it - it's 1 PM - time to pick up Asha and Enoch from school.  The Papaya is still parked outside and I am late so I swing in and drive the five-stones-throw distance.  Enoch and Asha tumble in.  We reach home and tuck into the rice and dahi, with channa subji and aloo.   It's a reading lunch - we are well into Great Expectations and are transported along with Pip to the discovery of London - Victorian, grimy London as seen through the eyes of a country-boy.  The dishes washed we continue the chapter in bed.  I drop off for 10 minutes and finish off before I am out the door again at 2.30 with Sheba's lunch packed up.

I thought Sheba would be going for a medical CME but she tells me that a pest-control person will come to our home at 4 PM.  I get back to writing the prayer calendar when pastor Abhay Sharma and Bipin from Manna house come by.  Another tour of the centre and looking at shiny beds without patients. 

Pastor Abhay is working among Nepali speakers - with a special fellowship for women from Nepal who are coming out of prostitution called 'Everest Fellowship.'  They are also caring for those who are sick and have been looking after women with HIV.  Two died this year already.  Over Republic day a prominent local politician visited their home and was deeply impressed.  He has promised to help expand the work.  What a privilege to share some of our experience with these amazing folks who are right there on the front-lines.   We are starting another batch of trainings for local people in HIV care and hope that 3-4 from the Everest fellowship will be there.  We pray and I introduce them to Giri to discuss holding an HIV counselling and testing camp in their area in March.

In the mean time someone has been admitted.  A young man.  Let's call him Omprakash. 19 years old.  Long-term TB case.  Now shown to be suffering from Multi-drug resistant TB.  Our colleagues from Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) sent him to us since he has had a severe diarrhea.  I glance in and see that he is skin and bones.  His parents died in his childhood.  His grandfather is with him to look after him.  

Phone rings.  Enoch telling that the pest control man is outside the door.  Sheba is caring for Omprakash and so I head over home.  The walk takes all of 3 minutes.   The man starts spraying.  We cover the hamster cages.  Sheba arrives half an hour later and I am free to return to the office.

I keep working on the prayer calendar.  The clock ticks away.  A few emails go out.  It's 6 PM before I know it.  Agnes fills me in on Omprakash.  I want to talk to him, but he is sleeping.  The masks are on the nursing station.  A portable fan at the door sends the air into the room.  MDRTB is not fun.  But am I ever glad we have courage to care for this young man.

Walk back and a cup of coffee.  Prepare for the evening Bible study.  Sheba supervises Enoch's home-work.  He is supposed to show his English work-sheets to his teacher tomorrow.  Nowhere to be found.  He borrows from a girl in the building and industriously does the catch-up under Sheba's watchful eye.  I remember a boy who was like that a mere 34 years ago... Thank God we change!

Sheba and I leave the kids at 7.20 and are back into the Papaya.  A short trip over to Shanti's house.  The Tuesday evening puja is going on in the foyer as we come in and go to the lift.  Up to Shanti's flat and the small group there is waiting.  We plunge into 2 Peter 1.3-4.  God's great power and his wonderful promises for us.  Our group has 2 ladies with HIV and a young man whose mother had died of the disease.  An elderly couple who have not been with us for 2 months come in as well.  The daughter of one of the ladies completes the group.  It's all put very very simply.  And yet at the end of the day, that's the miracle of scripture - the unfathomable God has made Himself somehow understandable... tangible to our hearts.

On the drive back Sheba fills me in on Omprakash.  She also tells me of a couple whose home we pass on the way out.  They are both HIV positive and came to meet Sheba yesterday.  They have wanted a child for a long time but are unable to conceive.  Both are positive and he has been taking his medicines privately and now wants to start his ART meds from JSK.  He did not come with any papers.  He was supposed to come back today, but did not show up.  How to help?

But today a woman came who had been admitted late last year in a terrible state.  She was on TB treatment for a long time, but the treating hospitals had failed to do a simple x-ray which would have show a large pleural effusion.  We drained it at JSK and started her back on normal drugs while waiting for the culture sensitivity from the fluid sample.  And we prayed.  Today this lady is so very much better.  Amazing to see some of the fruit of love and prayers.

Its almost 9 PM when we return.  I drop Sheba off as she wants to see how Omprakash is doing.   We heat up the chappatis and sabji and start on supper.  I show the kids the new Sheldon Bangera video.  It's fun to see people we know and places we know too.  The Vinalaya grounds.  The YWAM centre in Lonavala.  Enoch is still working his homework.  Asha has memorised the first paragraph of Nehru's 'midnight hour... tryst with destiny' speech.  Sheba comes in and we finish off the day.

Tomorrow is very soon!

Sunday, 26 January 2014


Nine years ago we were blessed to be able to buy an appartment.   "Buy" in the sense that we took a loan from a bank and have been paying it back for the last decade - and have at least another decade to go in payments.

Our home on the 7th floor of building No. A-9 of the "Happy Valley Homes Building No. 9 to 13 Cooperative Housing Society" was a great blessing to us in many ways.  Airy.  Relatively quiet.  With a view of the hills (until 2 big buildings were built there of course).  And located right next to our then Jeevan Sahara Kendra clinic. The set of events which ended up with our moving in in Feb 2005 was nothing short of miraculous on a number of counts.

Enoch was only 2 when we moved and the first night he stood up in the middle of the night and pointed in the direction of the front door and plaintively said 'home!'

After 6 happy years at our 'Happy Valley' flat - we moved to a rented place a stone's throw away from our Jeevan Sahara Kendra centre at the old Lok Hospital building.

What should we do with the 'Happy Valley' flat?  We wanted to rent it to people who really needed it - and who would use it for God's glory.  Rahul and Anu Thomas fit the bill.  This young couple were working with a local church - and often had young people over. Our pattern of having meetings in the home continued.  We were thrilled by these lovely recently-marrieds.

When they had to leave, we were so happy that the flat blessed another new couple - the very freshly married Anshuman and Alankrita Singh who are serving at field staff of the Evangelical Medical Fellowship of India.   In December Alankrita gave birth to a beautiful daughter - Anandita.  Alankrita and Anshuman both went to his native place in West Bengal for this.

Two weeks ago we were in the flat when we saw that the paint was peeling and the floor tiles were bulging in different places.  The idea came into our head about doing renovations to the flat while Anshumnan and Alankrita are with their daughter in Bengal.   Some prayer, then checking our finances, then calling our contractor Ashok.  The more prayer.  Taking a small loan.  And we finally took the gut decision to 'go for it.'

Before we knew it, Ashok and his mighty men were already hard at work.

The tiles were soon broken up, and large new tiles are being laid the floors.   Next up was scraping off all the paint from the walls , and applying a plaster layer - and then primer on the walls - and finally a make-over using off-white paint.

Here are Ashok (middle) with two of his men.  They have now worked steadily and currently only the bathroom / toilet floor remains.   We are hoping that it that the flat will all ready before Anshuman and Alankrita and baby Anandita arrive in early February. 

We are pretty sure that it will look so much more spiffy than this - but we know that this kitchen has been such a blessing to so many over the years - and hope and pray in its new 'clothes' that it will continue to bless in and through do so with Alankrita and Anshuman - and our new little friend  Anandita come back to Mumbai / Thane! 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

On the loss of hope in young people

A year ago we met an inspirational couple.   Ashish and Namita Shourie are helping run a school in a town in Madhya Pradesh which Ashish's parents founded a good three decades ago - and where his amazing parents continue to serve.

Listening to Ashish and Namita tell about what they are doing there was a thrill - and a challenge. How wonderful to see their dedication to what their parents have poured themselves into.  We know that as they impact the lives of the young people who attend their school, they are shaping destinies of families and whole communities.

But then, somewhere along in our conversation, a shadow crept in.

Ashish told us that over and over again, he has seen some young people losing hope.

When they are kids, they are full of beans.  The world is their oyster.  You tell them that they can be a doctor or a prime minister or an astronaut... and they believe you.

But when they arrive at the early part of their adolescence, many dreams die.

Ashish told me that it hurts to see some of those who used to be so alive withdraw into a shell.

"They look around them and see what their family situation really is like" is what I remember Ashish saying.  "We try to reach out to them, but they become listless and withdrawn.  They have seen reality, and are accepting what they feel is their fate, their lot in life."

Some of them have homes where when they realise the harshness of the business of getting by in life, they stop hoping and dreaming.   Others face inner demons of abuse and neglect.  For girls, the 'reality' that they are about to be married off hits hard - with many parents unwilling to 'invest' more, knowing that they will be leaving the home.

"We try to engage them again" is what I recall Ashish telling me "but, some of them retreat into another place."

As a family we love reading together.  One of the most entertaining reads of this past year has been "The Thief Lord" by the German author Cornelia Funke (we read it in English).   Currently we are reading Dickens' "Great Expectations."

"The Thief Lord" is well worth the read - for young and old - and strikes a number of deep chords, especially on the questions of friendship and being grown up.  Besides being steeped in the wonder of Venice and having more twists and turns than the road up to Mussoorie - the book reaches out to you because its characters discover what friendship, and the loss of friendship mean.  It feeds into our own dreams of belonging - and being part of each other.

What does loyalty mean?  How do we grow together and cherish each other?  The children in the book travel through fantastic adventures at break-neck speed (as well as with a great deal of quirkiness) through the fabled city of Venice.  They are on the cusp of adulthood - and the questions are real.

How do any of us transition from the joy of childhood into the mixed terrain of adolescence and what we call being an 'adult?'

At 44 I am amazed to be in a home with a 13 year old lassie and an almost 11 year old lad.   Enoch just finished reading 'Oh Jerusalem' got his first picture of the brutal struggle between the Jews and Arabs.  Asha is working through being one of the only girls in her class who does not 'hang out' extensively on Facebook.  Asha's closest friend - who is her age - recently decided that she wanted to be baptised.  We have just sent out feelers about whether Asha and her friend could volunteer later this summer with two pediatricians ... in Orissa!   Amazingly our little ones are taking big steps forward.

One of the advantages of books is that we can see the stories of others and live out our own through those of the characters.  I wonder how many of the children that Ashish and Namita are working with have the blessings of parents who read with them.  In our experience here in Thane, we see family after broken family where the father lives his dead-beat life out and the mother more often than not tries somehow to get the kids moving forward, but often just gives up because of the challenges of getting through each day.  How slim hope is for so many.

The challenge is to birth hope.  Which is what Ashish and Namita are so fearlessly doing.  That the tendrils of sadness creep in is due to the vast sea of sorrow that swirls invisibly around us.  Most of us erect the comfort zone of ignoring the needy and so move through life blithely unaffected - it's our main coping mechanism: ignore-ance.  Ignoring the needs of others.

Working to bring hope to young lives means getting messy inside.  Means being vulnerable. Means allowing our hearts to be broken too - especially when youngsters make the same poor choices their parents made a generation ago.  But the choice ends up between doing something - and seeing some fall through the cracks - or doing nothing - and papering over our consciences - no make that walling-in our consciences while this generation falls away.

The strength to carry on cannot come from ourselves.  We are too weak, too porous, too quick to get angry and throw in the towel.  It has to come from the Lord.   Who gives strength to the weary, who makes us rise on wings as eagles...

Lord bless Ashish and Namita.  Let them see many of their young people regain hope again.  Build up new webs of relationships that will see this and coming generations break out of the crippling mistakes that their parents have already made.  Lord send others to do the same work that Ashish and Namita are doing.  Bring about a new generation of people who really love others and are willing to invest themselves and walk with young people.  Lord start answering this prayer in me...

Monday, 20 January 2014

Enoch's Fire Fighting Academy

Howdy folks!  Glad that you could come aboard to Enoch's fire-fighting academy.  My name is Fireman Bob and am I glad that you are with us today.

You see, we teach fire-fighters all about how to fight fires by actually having them learn from real fire-fighters in a completely functional fire-station.

We have a brand new fire truck that was donated by Uncle Ekhard from Japan and we are mighty proud of what it can do!

You will notice that we have a class room and computer lab on top, this is where the new recruits get their first lessons (and where they can watch movies for entertainment too).

The room in the back was supposed to have triple bunk-beds, but somehow the contractor (Enoch's Dad in this case) forgot about it and so it has been turned into a command centre and computer lab.  We will have to build a residential wing soon - but at present everyone is busy learning!

We are proud of our master trainers - like old Smokey Patel - and know that each recruit is just itching to get out and 'do something' - but class-room basics are vital for good fire-fighting.  Besides, if you can't pay attention in a class - how can you do so when there is a 30 story apartment building on fire in front of you eh?

It can occasionally be quite noisy if the command room gets a call and the big pumper is sent out!  But hey, that's why our recruits are here!  Old Smokey will always stop taking a sip from his coffee mug - and gaze into space for a while and tell the newbies that a fire-fighter has to be ready at all times!

 We know that fire fighting is a team effort - and are always glad to know that our fire chief is ready in his super fast chief-mobile.

Our chief vehicle designer Enoch has helped us build a small fleet of machines that quickly and efficiently get our team to where they need to get - as soon as possible - and with all the gear they need!

But I am not here just to yap away friends - let's take a look at the out-door training facilities!

The training starts with the very basics:  running and jumping.  Hey, it's not as easy as it sounds!  Many a gung-ho trainee has met the grass with his face over the years.  And as you can see this batch is no different!

 As a trainer I need to be able to help our future fire-fighters learn. 

You can be sure that today's action is well documented with my handy camera.

With the technology we have we can review every part of the training and help our recruits improve by showing today's bloopers on the big screen in the class room in the evening!

My do we ever get laughs at some of what goes on here.  And I have even found an industrious chap getting my shots and putting them up on his blog!

What these youngsters are up to these days is pretty beyond me... I am pretty happy that I can click with a digi-cam and don't know much about "what's up?" and other greetings that the recruits keep talking about.

Anyway, take a gander at our obstacle course.

We're pretty proud of the little hill that our candidates race up with their fire extinguishers in hand - and then see the next hurdle awaiting them - a lovely little swim!

You see if a fire-fighter is to get ahead - he or she can't be afraid of a bit of water...

And what better place to learn team-work than when you are trying to climb a slippery roof just after getting soaked yourself! 

Stands to reason that the young guns are pretty happy by the helping hand the guys above give them by tossing them ropes and encouraging them to come on up.

Speaking of up, there is some pretty scary stuff for the recruits at the next stage.

Our guys don't wear helmets for nothing you see.  We train them to climb.

And by golly do they ever do that!

You see it's not just going up a ladder.  Anyone can do that.

But at Enoch's fire academy, our master trainer Darab Ooparwalla gets all the recruits to go well beyond - the actually leave the ladder and keep climbing....

Just to reassure any mothers of our recruits who may be seeing these pictures - remember they are all well rigged up for safety - my camera angle doesn't seem to capture the safety harnesses and guide ropes - but ma'ams you can trust me that they are there.

Is Enoch's Fire Academy just a cross country endurance and rock climbing institution? 

No siree!  We are serious about fire - and about getting it out quickly and safely.

So what better way to learn and to fight things when they burn!

Under the supervision of Firemaster Aag Singh the trainees are taken to a lot where old houses are deliberately ignited - and they have to use what they have learned to put out the flames!

 It can be a tricky business of course - but you don't make omlettes without breaking eggs!

Young Vijay, for example, wearing the white helmet.

He has had to climb up with his extinguisher to get the flames under control.

His trainee colleague Martin with the black helmet is learning to operate a power saw used to get people out of accidents - but useful in this situation as well.

At least I think so.

Maybe Martin just likes cutting things.

But we will leave our charges to the watchful eye of Firemaster Aag Singh, and turn to the final test.

Yes, you may have heard about it, but it's the simple contest of man vs. fire:  the fire test.

At the end of the training at Enoch's Fire Academy, the trainees are brought face to face with their worst enemy - fire itself.

I must warn you that the next few images may not be for the faint of heart - but if you are willing to draw a deep breath and look - I am sure that you will see something worth telling the little ones on cold winter nights when you drink masala chai and munch on pakoras.

Yes, we are still under supervision - this time by Firemaster Jaywant Hamesha - but now its the question - can our just-about-to-graduate-trainee young master Anand E overcome his fear and face the flames on his own?

With the gruff voice of his teacher encouraging him on - young Anand plunges into the test.

The fire is hot. Very hot. 

But Anand is determined. 

He has his trusty fire extinguisher with him - and whoosh - on goes the button and out comes the fire-fighting chemicals.   Anand is determined to put into practice everything that he has learned at Enoch's Fire Fighting Academy - and he comes through with flying colours!

All that is left of the fierce place after Anand is finished with it... are some smoky embers (and even those are doused by a bucket of water by our intrepid chappy!)

What's next for Anand?  Well, if he gets hired (and Enoch tells us that all the graduates get jobs because they are so good in the training at his Academy), Anand by get to ride one of those big police motor bikes (after appropriate training of course)

In fact Enoch has designed a separate obstacle and training set up just for those fire-fighters who need to have good motor-bike skills.

I am not sure what a 'jump' has to do with fire-fighting, but we will leave that for another day, and another story for Enoch to elaborate on in his happy hours of playing with lego.

Thanks for coming along on the tour folks!  This is your host Fireman Bob signing off and hoping we will meet up again some day at Enoch's Fire Fighting Academy!

Sunday, 19 January 2014


We love celebrating - and when it's Asha's birthday, then the celebrations start early and continue for a goodly length of time.

This year we had Oma and Opa with us over Christmas and New Year's.  Before they left we celebrated Agnes' birthday on the 4th of January ... 

 ... as well as an advance B-day with Asha and Enoch later that night.

On the big day when Asha turned 13 we had our early morning family celebration, as well as a surprise for her after her normal Thursday evening violin lesson.  Enoch and Sheba were waiting with 13 roses for us at a restaurant that Asha and I 'happened' to walk by (Asha said that she had her suspicions...).

The next day was Friday, and we hosted 2 excited sets of sisters for a sleep-over.   The not-so-secret-Seven of them played Pictionary, read, talked, ate and had a whale of a time.   Sleeping seems to have been low on the priorities with Nikita and Jasper as well as Kirti and Nitya making it quite the night of laughter. 

Enoch joined in for most of it but faded shortly after mid-night.  I was working on the cake and when I finally finished cleaning up it was past 1 AM and the girls were still going strong with gales of laughter.

The next morning was the party - and so the girls reluctantly did some sleeping...  A pancake breakfast got them up and energised to put up balloons and streamers.   The cake was brought out - this year's edition being a treasure chest to illustrate the over theme of each one of us being a precious treasure...

We did something new this year - a 10 AM party on a Saturday morning - and despite what some said, Asha's friends were soon trooping in.

Of course we had to play games...

Finding out your 'real name' using only questions that can be answered 'yes' and 'no' is a good one for different groups to get to know each other!

The animal clapping game was a new one for many in this year's group.

Eating chocolate after you roll a "six" and getting 'dressed up' and only using a knife and a fork... until the next "six" is rolled is an old favorite that Asha specifically wanted (and as a birthday girl actually ended up getting a good many pieces into her mouth!).

In keeping with the theme for this year, however, the 'biggest' game of the day was a treasure hunt - the first time we have done one here...

Thirteen clues had the group wandering far and wide, and exploring parts of the complex that are well off the beaten track.

It was a beautiful day to be outside, and we made sure that every nook and corner of the Lok Upvan Phase 1 society compound was well covered by the 14 youngsters being sent to different parts of the grounds by the clues they discovered.

 ... and finally ending up back in the flat with the 'treasure' being a box of animal chocolates that was hidden on top of the fridge.

We wound off with a time of sharing about just how precious a treasure from God that Asha is to us - and how each one of us is so very valuable - and how vital it is for us to guard the treasure we are. 

On the other hand, on the theme of 'treasure' we also explored how Jesus told a story of the man who found a treasure in a field - and the man was willing so sell everything he owned in order to buy the field.  There are times when we may do things that seem silly - but have real meaning - because we know that they have value far more than what seems so on the surface.

A short break had the girls oohing and aahing over the hamsters (down to only 2 - with Cinnamon and Garlic holding fort since we gave Nutmeg, Ginger and Jeera away to the Andy Bose family).

Sheba had to go over to JSK to see a patient, but on her return she prayed for Asha, we had the traditional song and blowing of candles.

Speaking of treasure, here is one that Asha has been blessed with since we moved to Mumbai 12 years ago - her dear friend Nikita who is only 4 months older to Asha.

This year Nikita brought along a most extra-ordinary card - a massive 3-D object decorated with some of Asha's baby photos and celebratory messages from all of us hanging down and a cutout figure of Asha reaching out for it.

This photo does poor homage to the card that has been put up in a corner of Asha and Enoch's room.

The party itself ended with hot 'wada-pao'  the ubiquitous 'Bombay-burger' which we all love so much.  Our dear Asha David had been with us since morning, cooking up a storm of these savory treats as well as a large vat of fried rice - both of which the Eichers have been feasting on since the party thanks to our large fridge!

Whew!  What a day!

But wait, the celebrations were not over.   Coming in just as the last of our young guests of moving out - a new friend Ekhard Hitzer proved to be another memorable part of Asha's special day...  Ekhard is the nephew of our dear friends Stefan and Maria Winkler.  He is a professor of theoretical physics at the International Christian University in Tokyo, is married to Eriko - a lovely Japanese lady, has two teen-aged boys Isaiah and Joshua and was passing through as he is presenting at a physics conference in Nagpur this week. 

Enoch was thrilled that Uncle Ekhard brought a new lego fire truck for him.  Enoch's Daddy was fascinated by what his son had made...   Look out for a long-overdue 'lego posting' on this blog soon...

And so our celebrations came to an end ... or shall we say a pause.   Enoch's birthday is exactly one month away...

Thursday, 16 January 2014


My dear Asha
13 years have slipped silver-fish quick
Through our fingers since
You announced your arrival with the quietest
Of cries on a cold Jharkhand morning

Today I see a young woman
Quick-silver mind, voracious book-swallower
Looking back at who I was at your age
I catch-breath awe at your spick-span-neat school-books
Your easy joy in explaining a mathematical concept or
A set of grammatical terms
Especially when you have a pupil or two
As you work the white-board
From whence came such as this?

With bow in hand music flows
Your inner ear attuned
Discipline added
Multiplied in my sight as a miracle
You reading notes off a page and playing them 
First time
Like my eyes seeing pictures 
From small squiggles of black on white

Speak nothing of the deeper grace, the kindness of heart
Still developing, still questing forward

Dear daughter
Dear child of Christ
Drink deep and live full

Thirteen sun-spins are done
We step into the next today
Your mother and your brother and I
(and many others besides)
Are so very glad
For you

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Olio rocks Manipur - many a year ago!

Many years ago there was a fellow called Chris Hale - a year ahead of me at Woodstock School - who loved music.  Western Classical. Hindusthani.  Rock.  You name it - he played it!

A number of years after we finished school Chris was back in India after having studied composition at the Berklee School of Music.   He and a number of young men put together a rock band called Olio - and ended up joining college rock competitions - ending up with radio time when one of their tracks Surulurulu was chosen as part of the Great Indian Rock album that an Indian rock magazine ran in those days.

When I started work with the SHALOM project in Manipur in 1996 we had a wild dream to get Olio to Manipur and play for our rock hungry young people.  The dream became a reality and the Olio band drove their band bus all the way from Lucknow and performed at a number of venues in Manipur.  The response was tremendous.  As an HIV prevention and care programme - we were hitting just the people who were our biggest target group - young people who were prone to or already into drugs...

Chris recently took some of the old video footage from 3 of the concerts that Olio played at on that tour and added it to their studio version of Surulurulu.   A noticeably younger, thinner and hairier version of myself shows up in the end of this video wearing a bright yellow Brazil football jersey and giving a talk about reaching out to people with HIV....

Enjoy!  Lets rock and roll!

Monday, 6 January 2014

A beautiful - and real - dream

There are some days that you just want to freeze into a time warp... and slowly unwind them at leisure.  Days that are a daze and a happy haze that you never want to end.  We have just come out of a week of delight where the Delhi Eichers were with us... and so were Mum and Dad as a huge bonus!

It all started - as it should - around a meal.  Mum and Dad had arrived a few days before - and we had celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary.  Then the next day - Christmas Eve - Stefan and Neeru and their pack of 3 - Ashish, Anjali and Anita arrived.

We got out a 'kids table' - just like we had when we were small - and the laughter and conversations began.  Later that night we sang and read about Jesus' birth and the joy He brings us, which was followed by a treasure hunt where the kids unearthed various gifts that we had for each other.

The next day we celebrated at church... and then had another meal - this time with all the folks who had attended the Christmas morning service.

We had plenty to do at home - there were hamsters to play with, puzzles to be done, football to be played downstairs.  What a treat for Asha and Enoch to have their cousins with them.

There are of course chappatis to be made...  
Asha became the heroine of two adoring cousins for a variety of fine reasons.

And there are lots of books... and some comics to be read.  Especially classics like Tintin, Asterix and Lucky Luke.

Plus, when we want the general volume to be a bit lower than it is, there is always the joy of watching a video on ye olde computor...

Since our loved ones had come from so far - and since Thane is not really bursting with family-friendly things to do - we decided to venture further a field.  An over-nighter in Alibaug for all of us!

We started our journey with the early morning State Transport bus taking us towards the Mantralaya.
Crisp, morning air as Mumbai started to groggily get up.  Cruised down and before we knew it were at Flora Fountain.  A quick decision and all 11 of us were out!

Almost immediately we ran into the late M.F. Hussain's iconic horses that he had painted on a wall of a cafe - and which still remain today for the urban art-lover to enjoy - even when everything is still shuttered up...

Our short walk took us past the Kala Ghoda area - with the Jehangir Art gallery tempting us a tiny bit (but being only 8.45 we didn't want to wait till 11 AM to go in)...

Once we got to the Gateway of India, we had to take a good tourist shot:

... and almost before you could say 'Jack Robinson' (or should that be 'Janak Rabinathan') were were on to a ferry plying through the morning murk, surrounded by seagulls.  

Magical.  Out of sight of land.  On the top deck eating (again - this was almost Enid-Blightonian) cheeze-onion-tomato sandwiches and tossing bits of buns to the gulls.

Definitely an experience where the journey itself is well worth the destination.  

And so we burbled across the bay, till the other shore loomed out of the haze and we were alighting at Mandua.  There a bus awaited us and took us to Alibaug - which was a 45 minute ride through rural hinterland - dotted with the play-palaces of the Mumbai elite - and increasingly large smatterings of tourist kitsch.
But in this case, the destination was well worth the journey.  An oasis of quiet.  Hammocks.  And view like this as you gently swing under the coconut and aracea nut palms...

Having your son with you in the hammock is not bad too!  

And add to this place for badminton, swings and a slide, and 3 large male turkeys strutting around doing their 'gobbling thing', a totally relaxed atmosphere is at hand.                             Greenwood Cottages is the name of the place.  At Angaon - another 30 minutes out of Alibaug - but well worth the trip.
With this visit, we saw a whole new person the youngest cousin of the lot - Anita who will be reaching the ripe old age of 2 this month!   

Throw in some ice-cream and we have a winner of a place!

And as delightful as games of badminton and pick up cricket are for the younger generation - as pleasing as eating poha and bread omlettes outside in our green cathedral is for the seniors ... there is something more to Alibag that hanging out at a resort.

We are after all here for the elemental pleasures of running on sand and diving into the murky brine...

Asha must be part mermaid.  She just loved the waves and kept pulling me to go back with her to get some more water time.  Having a jet ski pulling an inflated contraption got a chorus of 'please can I go on that' by our intrepid daughter.  That will have to wait for another day... in the mean-time we enjoyed the water as the sun travelled in its down-ward arc. 

 The sands mixed well - and each receding wave brought tapestries of colour to bear.

What a wonderful world - to be able to be with those we love in a beautiful place.

These were the dying days of 2013.

We look back on these days - and the whole slightly blurry year - with amazement and delight.

Having stepping into the new, we now have so much more to look forward to.
Thank you Stefan and Neeru and kids for the memorable visit.  We are already looking forward to the next time we can link up.  We missed our sister Premila of course - having her would have made the time complete... but a day will come we know.

Thank you Mum and Dad for coming to bless us - despite Mum still being in recovery from her hospitalisation in early December.   We are so grateful for this time.

 And thank you Sheba and Asha and Enoch for your amazing hospitality.

What a wonderful family we are blessed to be in.

May this year unroll more and more of these experiences.

Dreams do become reality!  We have just been through one of these wonderful times!