Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Hooray for cousins!

To be with cousins is to be in heaven.  Especially when you are at your grand-parents place in Shanti Kunj for the summer hols.

Not having grown up with cousins myself - with both our parents being single kids - it is wonderful to see Asha and Enoch with Ashish, Anjali and Anita.

We arrived yesterday morning.  They arrived in the afternoon.  And we have now completed a day of festivities.

Anita is the new star of the family.  With her huge smile and winsome vocabulary she has won our hearts.  Of course her happy grannie is very glad to have her - and to have the services of Asha to help out as well.

The 'doll house' at the back of Shanti Kunj is being used to the max with many games of kitchen and cooking and dollies and wabbits and other happy members of the extended Eicher family inhabiting the place.  It seems just yesterday that Asha was a small girl playing in the house - now she lovingly shepherds the two younger ones in their games.

Speaking of games - there are some wonderful sets of badminton and softball and football taking place in the front court of Shanti Kunj.   Enoch and Ashish have worked up much sweat in the enthusiasm of the games - with the older generation also being expertly recruited to add more men to the teams.

Here we see a Lionel Messi taking on.... Socrates?

Last night Enoch was thrilled to get a colourful T-shirt from Stefan and Neeru - and with Ashish getting a matching one - this is what the male cousins wore today as their uniform

 There are of course cuddles to be had.  That's what cousins are for as well!

And books to be read.  Sometimes read aloud - with Asha taking on the joy of reading for the little ones....

And comics to be devoured as well.  Enoch and Ashish wanted a 'cousin lunch' today - so they were served downstairs.  We found out that beside eating their food together, they were also consuming Asterix and Tintin comics too....

And finally, we have the Eicher band!  All our cousins are quite musical - so we do not have much quiet around here!  But it's good to have a joyful noise!

Hooray for cousins!

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The dawn of a home-coming

A jerk woke me up, or was it silence?
We were stationary. 
Sleeping forms in racks as I clamber down,
Search for shoes carefully stowed away a few hours earlier.
Hariwalla station.  A tiny shack with a jack-in-the-box switchman.
The track towards Dehra Dun runs ahead of us - a single line from the web of parallel tracks.
Red light before dawn - the signal stopping our great lumbering beast of a train.
I alight.  The sky is high above me.

A muscley jogger runs by - Ibranovich shirt wearing - a quick 'hi' from him
In the distance rich people walking their dogs,
Others returning from the side of the track, each clutching an empty plastic bottle, their deed done
As I sit on a small bench in the cool of a 5 AM morning
I can see the water colour sillouettes of the hills framing the brightening sky

Soon we will be speeding through the still sleeping city
Passing smudgy flex hoardings praising our new prime-minister
And forest of billboards promising the sky - schools and hotels and academies and jobs
Thankfully most are left behind in the valley - our taxi wants to fly
And just as the sun sends its gold through that impossibly blue sky,
Our vehicle will trundle through the empty gullies of Landour,
Crunching verticality up the fretted concrete ribbon
That leads to the quietness at the top,
And the embrace of parents and goodness of silence

But for now, I await the coming train.
A rumble in the distance, a twinkling of two white lights in the growing dawn
The Jan-Shatabadi heads towards our beast, along the single rail, moving head on
Till miraculously it follows the steel stream to a side tributary, grumbling past us
And leaving our train alone again.

The signal goes yellow.  I clamber up the steep steps.
And join my sleeping family in the cold thrum of the 3rd AC compartment
The threshhold of our home, one of our homes at least,
Is just a few minutes away

The train slowly lurches to life.

A happy dream that I do not wish awakening from.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Violence at what was once a home

He beat her.  She left him. 

With the kids.  Took all 4 of them to her mother's house.

She, he and their oldest son have stopped their ART medications.

Our staff have tried and tried to mediate.

But he will not stop accusing her.  And when he drinks he hits.  Our staff have warned him that he will be taken to the police if he continues.  The warnings are on deaf ears it seems.

A small man.  A smaller woman.  4 small kids.

A family torn apart.

Our hearts are heavy tonight.  And have been heavy for months as we have tried again and again to work with this family.

We were just about to send two children to a shelter home in another city when we hear that they are 'too young' for the home. Heart-break.

We know this family because 3 of the 6 members have HIV.  They have had some amazing things take place.  We have successfully treated the oldest boy - only 11 years old - for multi-drug resistant TB.  A 2 year course of daily medications - including 6 months of daily injections.  But everything is falling apart at this time.

The darkness in the heart of the father has not been cured by the medications we have given.

He will stand and give account one day before the Maker and Judge of this universe.

But in the meantime, the utter destruction that this man has caused in his own home is a gut punch.  

It's not a home any more.

Lord have mercy.  Lord have mercy.  Lord have mercy.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Asha's Orissa Days: A guest blog by Asha

Hi, I am Asha.  My best friend Nikita and I have just had a wonderful adventure and we would like to take you along with us.

It all started with one of my Mummy's great ideas.  A few months ago my mother wanted me to experience something new and so after a lot of discussion and prayer Nikita and I said goodbye to Mumbai city life and started our two weeks in Orissa.  

We flew to Bhubaneshwar with Nalini Aunty as our escort and were greeted by Cat Auntie.   She is a  paediatrician who along with Mary Aunty has been working in Orissa for 8 years.   Mary Auntie was a way in Vellore because her adopted son Soma was being operated for a club foot.   Stepping out of the airplane, we found that we had reached a very hot Orissa which was 39 degrees Celsius.

Thankfully we escaped to an air-conditioned meal at Pizza Hut which was scrumptious.   Then we travelled the 3 long hours by jeep to Behrampur.   On the way Cat Auntie told us all about "Love the One" - the organisation we had come to volunteer with.  Love the One helps and cares for children - especially those which special health needs.

When we arrived at Cat Aunty and Mary Aunty's house, we were welcomed by excited barking.  Asha, Molly and Daisy - the three family labradors - were super happy to be with Cat Auntie again! 
Love the One runs a small but colourful preschool during the week.  There is a tiny one-car garage which houses the preschool of about 15 children.  The staff bring the children from their slum homes in the jeep or local autorickshaws.  We helped the kids brush their teeth.  After this  Steph Auntie read a story and showed pictures with the help of Aarti Didi who translated into Odiya.

To use up their abundant energy we sing a few lively action songs.  Then the kids have a snack break where they get a nutritious mini-meal.

Arts and Crafts is next.  The children were given attractive drawings to colour in which they did with much enthusiasm.     

And of course there are the games.   The paddling pool is by far the children's favourite.  With the average temperature of 40 degrees celsius the tiny tots jump in and splash around with glee.  They love it so much that is is hard for the teachers to take them out.  They enjoyed it so much (and so loudly) that I was tempted to jump in as well! 

At the end of the 2 fun-filled hours of play and learning the happy children were taken back to their homes. When Nikita and I went along with them home we got to see the sad condition of their lives in the slums.

One day we heard that one of the cousins of a boy in the locality had a brain tumour and was in a very critical situation.  The family requested us to go and pray for him.  After a scenic 30 kms drive by jeep through the open countryside, we reached the small village where they were living.

The boy was lying the only cot in the room.  His eyes were half-closed and he was breathing loudly and unsteadily.  Nothing could be done for him.  He was at the last stage.  After talking with the sad parents we prayed with our hands outstretched and some of us even cried.   It was a very distressing time and the journey back was very quiet and subdued.   A few days later, though, we heard that he had passed away.  It was sad to see a boy as young as 14 years old die.

Love the One runs a clinic for children every Tuesday in two alternating slums.  

The first Tuesday we went to a part of Behrampur called Khaza street.

The clinic was held in the first floor (an empty hall) of a local Muslim association.  

We got to see many interesting cases like a child who was only 6 months old and was detected with a mild case of Down's syndrome.  We compared her with another 6 month old and could see the difference.   About 11 patients came of which most were Muslims.   The clinic had two stations where the patients were seen.  At each a doctor sat with her interpreter and a colourful bedsheet, a nice knitted teddy bear and toys like rattles helped to distract the kids.   Nikita and I took turns sitting with them and helping with the registration.  Since many of the Muslim ladies spoke Hindi we were able to talk with them too.

The next day we returned to the same place for a special health awareness for the mothers.  While the children were played with ....

... their mothers had a discussion meeting.

The next Tuesday we went to the other clinic.  This was also in a Muslim locality, though much poorer.

The shack in which the clinic was held was really tiny.  It was the hottest time that I have ever experienced in my life.  We had brought two standing fans only to find that there was no electricity there.  The weather forecast read: "41 degrees Celsius - feels like 48" but under the tin roof we felt like it was 60!  I was literally melting.

Despite the heat both the Doctors Cat and Catherine (another volunteer doctor who was there for 3 months) poured themselves into the work. They patiently explained and cared for all the children and mothers who came.

Even though they did not fully know the language, they were able to communicate in a very nice way - by lovingly touching the kids and respecting their mothers.

I think that paediatrics is really intersting because all of the patients are so cute and adorable.

Halfway through our visit Mary Auntie arrived from Vellore along with her son Soma and another boy called Deepu.

Both boys had club feet from when they were small.  The medical situation in Orissa is very poor.  These boys were born with club feet, but did not get the proper medical assistance when they were young.  Both boys are 9 years old.  This was the second major surgery for Soma.  They were taken to CMC Vellore for the operations and were driven back by the jeep.  They were very happy to be home - and everyone was glad that they were back - even the dogs!

Four days after they returned we went to Deepu's village.  It was 10 kms away.  Everybody was very excited to see him and we gathered quite a large crowd.

As the beach was not far we carried on to the beach to cool off after another hot Orissa day!

That same evening after freshening up we were all invited to a nearby hotel for a fare-well dinner as Dr. Catherine was leaving. 

We could see that  Auntie Mary loves being with children!  Here she is with Soma and two other staff children.

Soon it was time to return back to Thane.  Daddy came early on the 19th of May to pick us up - but there was still time for a final mini-project - to paint Deepu and Soma's casts.  Deepu wanted a Spiderman on his cast - which we did...

... and Soma wanted a Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story.  So we got a picture on a mobile and drew it on Soma's cast.  This is a picture of it just before we put on the finishing touches.


And soon it was time for good-byes.  None of us wanted to say good bye to Auntie Cat and Auntie Mary and Soma and Deepu and the dogs and the Love the One staff - but we had to.  We prayed and went to the station and were off!

But not before a final picture with Soma! 

Soma doesn't like saying 'good-bye' - neither do we!  We are so thankful to Auntie Cat and Auntie Mary (and our mothers!) for making this amazing time possible!  Next year?

Friday, 16 May 2014

A new face in power

We have a new government which has won the elections by a massive electoral victory.  

The votes that largest number of voters have ever cast (some 500 million) Votes were counted today - the Bharatiya Janata Party has won a majority of the seats in the Lok Sabha.  It can form a government even without its pre-poll allies - let alone fish for friends afterwards like most have done for the past 3 decades.

Huge hopes are pinned on one man - Narendra Modi - till now called the Chief Minister of  Gujarat.  Shri Modi is now set to take on the mantle of Prime Minister of 1.3 billion citizens of this planet.

"Ab bar - Modi sarkar" ('this time - a Modi government') has been the rallying cry - one which has tapped into deep seems of aspirational dreams.   The hope of the nation is that the country will see the kind of development which Gujarat has been touted for.  24 hour electricity.  Roads.  Industry.  People flocking to the state for work.  The credit for this has gone to Modi.  And now the country's voters believe that he will scale it up nationally and usher in a golden age.

We will see.  There is a lot to celebrate about our nation.  We have seen some remarkable flowers bloom despite situations that seem impossible.   Our young people yearn for more than the stale old tales that have been handed down to them.  A new government with a fresh face and a kind of rags-to-riches story has a tremendous amount of good-will and can inspire a generation of folks to change. 

But we will have to see whether the aspirations are met.  The ubiquitous 'Modi-masks' cover many different faces.  Will their dreams really be met in him?  A massive electoral wave has swept away the last remnants of a once-arrogantly-dominant political party.  The hard work of building true change lie ahead. 

The Bible instructs us to pray for all those in power and authorities.  Tonight our prayers had a new twist - for our Prime Minister Modi.   And our prayers continue for our dear country tonight - that we will live in freedom to speak and worship and share and care and grow and celebrate.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014


Last week was a whirl of activity around kids.

100+ kids.  In the heat.  And the joy of spending time with them.

Each child is somehow linked with our work.  Kids who have HIV.  Kids whose parents have HIV.  Kids who are neighbours / friends / relatives of kids whose parents have HIV.  Kids whose parents are volunteering at the Vacation Bible School.

We had an amazing set of teachers.  17 classes - 19 teachers.   We had a super group of volunteers.  An average of 17 per day.   We had 2 great speakers - Reuben Mathew for the 11-16 year olds - and Alankrita Singh for the 6-10 year olds.   There were games and stories and songs and small group Bible classes and food and endless cups of water and juice being brought by the volunteers.

A whirl of activity.  A swirl of faces.  A large amazing group of people gathered together for 5 days of continuous love.

Looking back its all a happy blur.

We sensed the very presence of God.

Amidst all the activity and the tiredness and the heat, there was this clarity that bound us together - God speaking to us the theme: "You are special, you are precious"....

So grateful that these kids, who receive so little love and have seen so many terrible things, have had this week of joy.

Many are already planning for the VBS next year...

Monday, 12 May 2014

Modern day thugees?

These last 30 days have seen us go through many deep issues as a family - some of which we will probably have to wait for some years before we write up on this blog... but here is one that deserves to be told.

On the 14 of April we got a series of emails from Dad saying that his dear friend David Masih was missing for 36 hours.  David lives in Dehra Dun and had gone to Delhi.  He was travelling back from Delhi by bus on the 12th of April and called his wife after having boarded the bus at 9 PM.

Then there was nothing.

He did not arrive the next day.  At the end of the day the family and friends started looking frantically for him.

The local police refused to register a First Information Report about his disappearance because he had not disappeared from Dehra Dun.

The search widened.  Bus drivers and conductors could give no information.  The police stations along the way did not.  The hospitals and morgues were visited.  Not a clue.  No sign of David.   His phone was ringing for some hours but was not being picked up.  Then it went dead.

The police finally contacted the phone company.  They showed that a series of calls had been made at around midnight to his wife, son and a friend.  None of them, however received the calls.

No further clues.

When Dad called up on our weekly call on Monday night he mainly talked about what was happening in the search.  He said that they were specifically praying that if David was still alive and wandering about somewhere that he would be given strength and grace to come to his senses and find help.  We prayed over the phone and I hung up.

The next morning this is what I found from Dad in our mailbox (unedited of course):

On 15-04-2014 06:47, Ray Eicher wrote:


At 5:00 am this morning David turned up at his door.  He is very sick, almost unconscious, beaten, bruised….but ALIVE.

In the bus he was befriended by a family who poisoned him. At some point along the line he had tried to phone Usha, his son, brother, etc. and it seems that they then tried to cut off his tongue, as his mouth has bad wounds.

When he was totally unconscious, these people stripped him naked, beat him very badly and then threw his body in the garbage dump.  Somehow (AS AN ANSWER TO OUR PRAYER) he came to consciousness and found himself walking naked in the street.  All this has happened in two full days, he has no memory of details, time, nite or day, where he was, nothing !!!!!!!!!

Most people seeing him would think he was just another mad man walking around, as probably he could not talk properly.  At one point a kind Samaritan gave him some clothes and later another kind truck driver brought him all the way to Dehra Dun and dropped him at the ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminus).  He was able to persuade a vickram driver to take him home, promising that he would be paid there… he ended up at the door.

Rajesh is there now with the family and they have put David to bed. They might be admitting him to hospital as he is totally gone and in need of much care.


As we were praying last nite, the Lord gave Christa this word from Ps 4:1,3-5:

“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!  You have relieved me in my distress;  Be gracious to me and hear my prayer.

“But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself;  The Lord hears when I call to Him.

Tremble, and do not sin;  Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.  Selah.

“Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the Lord.”


Christa last nite was recalling when our son Stefan came back from Uganda with cerebral malaria.  He was unconscious in the LCH hospital here.  Christa was lying on the floor in the chapel, crying out to the Lord.  Usha (David’s wife) came, put her arms around Christa and gave her the verses from Ps 41:1-3:

“How blessed is he who considers the helpless (the poor…as Stefan was doing in Uganda);  The Lord will deliver him in the day of trouble.

“The Lord will protect him and keep him alive, and he shall be called blessed upon the earth.

“The Lord will sustain him upon his sickbed;  In his illness, You restore him to health.”

So, Usha dear, we thank the Lord with you, and we also remember with deep gratitude your love and concern when Stefan was at the point of death.  WHAT A WONDERFUL SAVIOUS WE HAVE.  AMEN AND AMEN.

Thanks too for all of you who have prayed over the past days.  Truly we have a LIVING, LOVING, MERCIFUL LORD.  Amen.

Yours, with tears of joy,  Ray and Christa


Please continue to pray for David and Usha as they recover from this ordeal.  The wounds are deep.

It is sickening to me that we cannot travel in public transport without fear.  Where the simple act of sharing food is now taboo.  How sad.  

Growing up one of the joys of train rides was the crossing of barriers and making of friends by sharing what we had brought.  It is so impolite to eat something in front of others without offering something.   

And yet today, when I was travelling to Delhi last with a male friend of mine, I cringed when he offered biscuits and chocolates to the kids who were travelling with us.  Cringed because now-days people think twice when they see a young man giving things to kids.

How have we come to such a point where the availability of drugs (like GHB?) which apparently do not taste different can be mixed in with food or drink and given to unsuspecting fellow travellers?  Our dear friend Benjamin suffered the same horrific experience 2 years ago - and it is still a miracle that he emerged alive.  

Do we have a new form of Thugees in our midst?

At the end of the day - as with our friends David and Benji - we are so glad for fervent prayers which were heard in such a miraculous way.  Our friends are literally back from the dead.   We pray that the horrors of what they have gone through will be also healed by our Lord.  

But what of all those who do not come back?  Over a decade ago, the chaplain of one of the EHA hospitals in central India went to Delhi and never returned.  His wife who is a nurse in the same hospital has never found out what happened.  One of the many who have disappeared.

And what a bleak set of 'safe-guards' we have to erect - to not accept anything from a stranger - even the friendliest kind.

Cry the beloved country.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Bleak house

He came to the hospital yesterday with his head bandaged with a hankerchief.

No, he did not have a toothache.

He had been drinking alchohol and did not want Sheba to know.

He was here to 'look after' his wife - who is admitted at JSK.

She is sick.  Very sick.  She has disseminated tuberculosis.

Both are HIV positive.  He has TB as well but has stopped his free medications.

The bottle is stronger for him.

We had told them to get an ultrasound for her 2 months ago.  We had offered it at a concessional rate at our parent hospital.  They did not take it.

Instead, she was admitted at two other hospitals.

She did not get better.

No - she does not have TB is what they said.

But now she is hardly alive.

She is here now.  She only weighs 30 kgs.  No appetite.  Vomits up the meds.

Her three children were all part of the Vacation Bible School that JSK organised this week.  3 among 100+ kids.  Almost all of the kids have at least one parent who is HIV positive.  The kids were like all the others - laughing, playing, enjoying the songs and food and personal attention from the teachers.

And yet their mother was at our hospital.  Very sick.  Their father was out and about.  Mainly drunk.

The grandmother - a sorrowful figure if there is ever one - was the one looking after them at night.

And so it goes.

We wish we had a magic button to press.  Where everything will turn right instantly.

We don't.

But we do what we can.  And trust that God will turn the most hope-lessly-mucked-up-situations and relationships - into something new.

Pray for Mrs. Tamam.  We want her to pull through.  We want things to change for her and for her husband.

And for her three precious children.

Though the situation is bleak - we are glad we are here.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Two coasts

As India is being nicely roasted this summer - we as a family are currently experiencing it in two different locations.   Asha and her dear friend Nikita tasted something close to 40 degrees celsius today in Behrampur, Odisha - while we had a still roasting 35 degrees here on the west coast in Thane.

So it is not surprising that the pictures we are getting from our two budding medical missionaries include shots like this:


But we know that they are not just there for the ice-cream!

Our two intrepid girls have now almost completed a week in Odisha along with Dr. Catherine Morris of Love the One - an amazing charity that works with the needs of children in Odisha.  

Dr. Mary Cusak - the other co-founder of Love the One is currently at the Christian Medical College hospital in Vellore where two of the boys that they are looking after have had reconstructive surgery for their club feet.

We understand that later this week Mary and the boys hope to come back - but in the mean time Asha and Nikita have jumped in to the work.
 Being a programme that works with children - there are always lots of kids around Love the One.  And plenty for volunteers like our dynamic two to do!

Yesterday they accompanied Dr. Catherine to a clinic in a slum area where most of the inhabitants were Muslims.  The previous evening they went out to a village and met a 14 year old boy who is dying with a brain tumour.   Growing up in our home we have talked of death many a time due to the folks we are working with here in Thane - so Asha is not a stranger to the limits of life.  But I certainly don't recall ever have that kind of an experience when I was 13!

 Of course, some culinary skills also have to be shown.

Doting mothers (and dads) on this side of the country regularly ask their two daughters the same question every time:  what have you eaten?  how much have you eaten?

Our young ladies show their prowess with the spatula by rustling up a batch of pancakes for their housemates.

The other question is likewise echoed regularly - did you sleep under a mosquito net - and sure enough - we have documentary evidence on this:

We know that our girls are throwing themselves into life at Love the One - including the 4 resident dogs - and the church fellowship that meets at their place on Sunday:

 It is with a deep sense of gratitude that we close off our first week of having Asha away from us on this adventure.  She has 1.5 weeks left till I take the train out to Behrampur on the 17th afternoon - and then the three of us scramble on board to head back on the 19th evening.

Till then - fare well our sweet Asha - and our darling Nikita too!  And special thanks to Dr. Catherine and Dr. Mary and all the Love the One team for hosting our girls for this special experience!

From our perch here at the Arabian sea, our prayers go over to you in the Bay of Bengal! 
1 Cor. 15.58!!

Friday, 2 May 2014

Ready to fly

We are at John and Nalini's home.  Enoch and Jasper are playing chess "I am trying to teach Jasper how to lose."   Sheba and Nalini are with Asha and Nikita in the room - giving last minute instructions and praying with them.  John is talking on the phone and I am tapping on his computer.

Our girls are leaving on a jet plane tomorrow.

Flying across the country to the eastern coast of India - in order to spend just under 3 weeks with Dr. Mary and Dr. Catherine and their work at Love the One in Behrampur, Odisha!  Mary and Cat are amazing paediatricians whom we have had the privilege of meeting at 2 yearly intervals at the EMFI national conferences (and look forward to seeing again in October at the next one in Ludhiana this October).  They were working in the Malkangiri district and doing a remarkable work there till the kidnapping of an Italian by the maoists caused the govt. authorities to order them to leave 'for their own safety.'   To their credit, Mary and Cat have adapted and are now working out of Behrampur where they are able to touch the lives of so many children and their caregivers.

Nikita and Asha have known each other since we met up in 2001 when they were not yet a year old.  They have celebrated their birthdays since - and each year brings them closer together.

Now they are about to step out on an adventure.  Nikita's mother Nalini is dropping them off tomorrow - and I take the train to Behrampur and will be picking them up for the train ride back on the 19th evening.

So our girls will be 'on their own' for a good two weeks - helping out (we hope and trust) with an amazing group of people who are working to bless sick children.

Our hope is that these two weeks will be formational in Asha and Nikita's lives - that it will open their hearts to the needs of others - and the joy of serving.   And we also hope that they will really enjoy themselves and be sources of joy to all the folks there!

Nikita has been praying daily to Jesus that she wants to be a missionary paediatrician.  Asha (as far as I know) has not been praying anything so specifically - but we want our dear ones to stretch their wings and fly.

Do we do so with a bit of fear in our own hearts?  Of course - but here's to our lovely and loving ladies as they step out on this adventure!