Thursday, 30 October 2014


I am reading "Freedom at Midnight" with Asha and Enoch. 

It is taking us a long time.  Mainly because we used to 'read during lunch' - and now school has reopened so we don't get as much reading time together.

But it is also taking a long time because of extraordinary complexities of partition. 

I grew up in an era were 'Indian' and 'Pakistani' were essentialised.  Pakistanis were the bad guys.  They tortured brave Indian soldiers by putting them on ice (a story I was told breathlessly by a friend when I was about 10 years old or so).

And yet reading through the book we see a different story.  Many different stories.  And the multiple possibilities that could have been.

We see the confluence of multiple peoples and the rapid end of empire - and the rise of the two (and then 3) nation-states.  We see the hodge-podge of princely states amidst the status quo of rule Britannia (and we are not talking about a biscuit company).  We see the aspirations of multiple peoples coalescing around the Indian National Congress Party, with only Jinnah's Muslim League able to provide a counter-weight with its demand for a separate land for Muslims.   We hear the myriad impressions of people involved in the handing over of power.  The authors have hunted down hundreds of players and we listen in on conversations, are guided through memories, feel the touch and smell the sweat... and blood.

The authors have obviously been utterly charmed by Lord Louis Mountbatten.  So much so that almost half of the book (so far) has been about him.  A rakish and by all means remarkable man.  And so were the key players who got the spoils - Nehru and Patel showing up on the Indian side.  Jinnah on the other (with one TB-infected year to live before he went the way of all flesh as Gov. General of Pakistan) side.  Gandhi at this point seemingly off in his own world.  Other voices heard mainly as participants in the grand sweep of handing over of power by the British and the horrific carnage that burst out upon the nation when the final contours of the new nation-states were announced.

What strikes me on reading this book again - some 30 odd years at least since I last read it - is just how little most care.  And at the same time how much the RSS has moved from being at what seems the periphery to being firmly in the limelight of the current political / cultural dispensation we have.

No one debates about Godse and co's assassination of Gandhi.  No one really talks about the horrors of those who were hounded out of their homes and slaughtered.  It's somewhere in the background - an itch which we subconsciously scratch whenever the next 'riots' take place 'between two communities' (our papers don't even use the words Hindu and Muslim).

So we plug on.  Reading about some of the forgotten stories of what happened almost 70 years ago. 

We talk about Radcliffe and his terrible task of drawing the boundaries that resulted in so many deaths.  We need to talk more.  Ask questions.  Look for answers.  Not just accept things as they are because that is how life is...

How many other untold stories are there - and who is writing the stories of today?  Of the choices and tragedies great and small.  Of the value and vice that we see swirling around us.  Of heroic decisions and sacrifices that only eternity will resound with - and also the basest and most sordid actions that we see happening with a thin veneer of aspiration draped over them.

And what does the weight of such history do to us as people?  Do we know that it is even there?   Does the shadow of the partition carnage still linger - or have we cleansed our mouths with the sweet lies of Bollywood - and washed all of that into the vague background of our lives?  In an age where swiping a mobile has enclosed most folks, are we even open to listening to what is real and true (no matter how grubby and tarnished that truth may seem)?

The next chapter we hope to start tomorrow is called "our people have gone mad..."

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Next gen bakes!

Years ago... was it 2008 or so?  We were on the MV Doulos in Vishakapatnam.  And we bought some books (obvioiusly, there were tons - literally - on display).

One of them was Baking in America by Greg Patent.

A beautiful book with luscious pictures of cakes and loads of recipes.

We thought this would lead us to new culinary adventures.

It didn't.  Rather, it stayed safely on our shelves.  And for the last few years on top of the refridgerator.

The problem?  The ingredients.

We don't have many blue berries around.  Come to think of it.  Nor cream cheese.  Or non-alkanised cocoa or light all purpose flour as well as soft general flour, nor cranberries nor pecans....

Second problem.  The instructions.  Great if you have a gourmet kitchen with what have you widgets.

Not so great if all you have is a grater.  Ok, we have a bit more.  But our electric oven with a guess-what-dial-for-temperature on the front doesn't quite seem up to the heritage recipies that Mr. Patent eulogizes.

But all that changed last week.

As Enoch's exams came to their end (a long and drawn out affair that was), he began reading this book.  Devouring it.  He even took it to school with him.

We finally reached Friday (and a very tough Marathi exam that Enoch prefers not to talk about) - and when I got back from work Enoch announced that he wanted to bake.  Not one, not two, not three, but four different things.

He had made a chart where he pooled all the ingredients needed.  Then he checked to see which ones we had and which ones we needed to buy.  And then it was off to our trust D-Mart to pick up the necessities.

By the time we got back it was 9 pm - and we saw that most of his desired bakes needed yeast - and lots of time.  So we agreed to start the day with some 'Southern Biscuits' and instead listened to part of the 'Hiding Place' radio drama before we crashed.

And so this morning it was 'Southern Biscuits' for breakfast.  Hot, flaky (a few of them a bit needed to rise a bit more), but all round delicious.

No sooner was breakfast done than the next project started.

A Russian Cake Bread.  With yeast and all.   I wondered if it would take off. 

And it sure did.  Part of it was allowing it to rise three times.   It was past lunch when we had our two heart shaped beauties ready.

Soft.  Sweet.  Super.

What next?  Enoch still had 'German Puffs' and 'Chocolate Donuts' on his list.  Both well in the realm of the unknown for us Eichers.

Amazingly, we found ourselves making dough for donuts.  More mixing.  More scraping.  More wondering 'will this even work?' as the recipe kept harping about having an oil termometer to make sure the oil was at least 365 deg. F. hot...  More cleaning (an endless round today).  And finally the batter in the fridge for at least an hour (that's what the book said to do... and so we did it!).

Finally to roll and cut the blessed rings.  What do we use?  We ended up using a metal lid from a spice container and Enoch's metal water bottle for the 'donut' hole.  The oil was hot and in slipped these new worlds for us - only to swell up nicely and be fished out soon after to drip dry and cool.

To our delight we are blessed with some of the finest chocolate donuts on this side of the big pond.

A goodly number of them have already dissappeared into happy tummies.  So many that our donut feast ended up being a basic dinner for 3/4 of the family (Enoch augmented them with some chappati and omlette at 9.30 PM as well).

And so the day ends.

After so many years of silence, the book has seen us bake 3 new recipes in a day (German Puffs will have to wait a little more...).

Hooray for Enoch - who would have thought it possible?

And so we leave you, gentle Reader, with this image of young Enoch:

Bon apetit, et bon nuit!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014



The sweet sound of democracy.

For the first time in my 45 spins around the sun I added my vote to those of my countrymen and women.

And it all took place in a wonderfully mundane way.

Early up.  Kids on holiday today as their school and just about every school in the city has been commandeered to be polling booths.

At about the time when I normally see the kids off in the school bus, I am instead walking the 5 min stroll to the local school where booth no. 95 of assembly seat 148 of the Maharashtra assembly elections.

Polls opened at 7 AM.  I was there at 7.20 or so.   It took me a bit to get inside.  A police man asked my for my voter's slip.  I showed him my voter ID (brand new).  He was not impressed.  I went back to the foyer of the school.  A cheery confusion reigned here.  Ladies were handing out the voter slips.  I asked for mine.  I was asked for my serial number.  I didn't know it.

I walked out to where I had seen some volunteers from one of the political parties.  They had set up shop under a tree in the courtyard of the school, near a police jeep.  They had printouts of the voter lists and were helping folks to identify themselves and their number.

As I waited my turn, a policeman walked up and told them to move on - to leave the premises.  They smiled and complied.   I followed them to the perimeter, only to find that they had a book of voters from booth no. 94, not no. 95. 

I returned to the cheery confusion.  Then the penny dropped.  At the base of my voter ID card was my unique number.  Somehow the volunteers didn't twig this.  Once I knew that my serial number is 1332, I retreived my voting slip from its pile and walked to the 2nd standard classroom which was housing booth no 95.

A short wait as the two people ahead of me voted and then it was my turn.

I walked in past the policeman to a long table where 4 people were sitting and told them my serial number.  The first man found my record in the book of voters and checked it off and announced my number. The observers from the political parties who were sitting behind the officials also noted this.   Next I signed the register next to my number and the notification that I had a voter card as my proof of identity.   I was given a slip.  The lady who I met next asked me to put my left hand on the table.  She took a small plastic stick and applied ink on my index finger.  Half on the nail, half on the flesh. 

I then gave the slip to the election officer.  She pressed a button and told me to go to the booth - a small inclosure at the end of the table which shielded the electronic voting machine.

And there I was.  I looked at the names and pressed the button.


Everyone in the room knew another vote had been added.

I was on my way.   The clock read 7.48 AM when I walked back in the door of our home for a quick bite of breakfast before I was out of the door again to go to JSK.

The beauty of it all lies in the ordinariness.  Normal people, rich and poor coming in and standing in line to vote.  Police and officials looking in and out.   Teachers and other coopted folks fulfilling their duties, seeing that people voted in an orderly way.  Men and women walking out of the school with their fingers inked.

We are reading through 'Freedom at Midnight' with Asha and Enoch - and I just helped Asha prepare for her history term exams - so it is fascinating to look back on our recent history.   The feuding kingdoms which the chappies from the John company took full advantage of sound uncannily like the political dynasties of today.   Most of the young politicians in our country are the sons and daugthers of established Pawars oops powers.  

At independence the princely states were all but wrapped up - but for many it became a short hop, skip and jump before they and neo-ruling elites like them (nicely dressed in the khadi uniform of 'netas') took to the hustings.

That we have not been able to get away from the entrenched corruption that has come to plague our dear land and betray the bright hopes at the dawn of our independent nation (a mere 67+ years ago now - our young nation has already reached pensionable age) is a sad fact.

But at least we get to choose.  Both the hot favourites and the long-shot-dreamer candidates know one thing.  You wont get elected unless you campaign.  Our prime-minister has taken the time to address 25 public meetings to get folks to vote his party into power in our state - and another 11 meetings in Harayana.   All while a hurricane has devastated coastal Andhra Pradesh and the 10,001 and one other tasks of ruling our country have also been in his in-tray.

Because he knows, that who gets the 'beeeeps' gets to keep hold of power.

And being a clever man, with a well oiled political machine (far more savvy than all the other 4 parties who are duking it out with him in Maharashtra) he is appealing to our hearts to vote him and his party into a position where they can rule our state.

Sunday will will tell whether my beep counted in the final outcome.  But at least after multiple efforts to get on the rolls, today marked a tiny contribution by yours truly to chosing our rulers.  It is good to be inked at last!

Jai Hind!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Things fall apart

Today was a sad day.

A 14 year old girl who we have been working with - we will call her Reshma - lost her mother to HIV last month. 

Our staff members and local church volunteers had loved Reshma's mother.  Helped her, cared for her, brought her to JSK for treatment, met her at her home... but tragically she refused treatment and left against medical advice, to what we knew was going to happen.  Death, while still in her late 30s.  Tragic.  Horrible.  Deeply demoralising - especially in the face of so much that was done for her.

And yet even at the end, our staff and the local church folks cared.  They bathed this young woman in her shack.  Cared for her and loved her despite the terrible outcomes of her choices.  And before she died, the mother said that she wanted Reshma, her son Balaji and youngest son Sanjay (who is also HIV positive) to be cared for by the church.

She knew that her own mother was addicted to alcohol, and her husband was a wasted drunk too.  She insisted that it be written out and that she put her 'thumb print' on the document.  A few days later she was dead.

Can things go worse?  Well, life is pretty gritty.

Reshma stopped going to school after the death of her mother.  Her father went back to the bottle with a vengance and has spent the last 2 weeks living under a bridge.  When the family brought him food he waved them away and called for more booze.  

Balaji dropped out of school and began collecting garbage with his grandmother.  At the end of the day he would earn 200 Rs.   Part of this went to alcohol for himself and his grandmother.  Balaji is all of 12 years old.

Sandip fell between the cracks.  He is blind in one eye from an accident many years ago.  He is HIV positive.  A small dwarf of a boy.

And then last week we heard that the grandmother had arranged for Reshma to be married.   The boy and his family had 'come over to see her.'  When they came, they insisted on actually having the engagement then and there.  They had brought some saries and gave it to the grandmother and to Reshma.   The boy is 18.  Reshma is 14.  Any 'marriage' at this age can be criminally prosecuted as rape.  His father is a known drunkard.  And he is a cousin of Reshmas.

Misery loves families.

We heard about this when we met for prayer on Wednesday night last week.  On Thursday Sheba and I were talking about what could be done in what seems the blackest of holes.  The thought of this girl spiralling into the same cycle of destruction as her dead mother had already gone through...

As we talked and prayed the thought struck us that she just has to leave this place.  We contacted a dear friend in Nagpur without much hope that she would be able to take a 14 year old girl... plus her brothers too?

What should we hear but a big 'yes!'

We were stunned.  Our staff brought Reshma and her (paternal) grandmother to the office.  Reshma was ready to go.  But she could not stay in her home.  A loving couple from the church offered to take her in.  Reshma showed up an hour later with a small plastic bag containing her clothes.

And that seemed to be the perfect ending for a horrible, horrible situation.

But it wasn't.

Over the weekend Reshma said that she wants to go back home.  We talked with her.  She changed her mind.  Then she said she wants to go again.  Recycle the conversation.  And again.

This afternoon her (paternal) grandfather and grandmother came to reason with her to stay.  She seemed to change her mind and be willing to carry on with us and the plan for her to go to Nagpur.   But then as the autorickshaw was leaving, she ran out and forced her way in.  Another round of discussion.  But what can we do?  She left.

And to make matters all the more tragic.

Reshma's father died this afternoon.

A young man, in his mid thirties.  Died of booze and HIV and TB and having stopped the treatment that we had started so many times.  Died of hopelessness and squalor.  Lying under the bridge, refusing to be helped.

We don't have any easy answers.  We have to live a day at a time.  An hour at a time.

Eternity is sliced in fine pieces.

But we chose to cling to hope.  And to carry on despite the tsunami of sorrow and anger and confusion that swirls around us.  We will pray and carry on.

And our hope is that our three children Reshma, Balaji and Sandip will be on a train in 4 days, heading for Nagpur.

Things may fall apart.  The centre (if there ever was such a thing) cannot hold. But things will be, will have to be, rebuilt.

Come dear sweet Jesus.  Take us by the hand.  We don't know the way forward.  But we put our hands in yours and ask you to lead us all into a path of life.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Lashing winds and pouring rain

We have been trying to call Amma and Appa.

The cheery voice tells us something in Telegu.  Then we hear in English that 'the subscriber's phone is switched off.'

We call Kishore - our relative and a church member.  Same message.  We call Nagesh, another church member - the phone rings... but he is in Karnataka.  He says that all the phones are out of order.

Hurricane Hudhud hit land this morning 5 kms north of Vishakapatnam.  Winds were estimated at 205 km per hour.

Amma and Appa live some 20 kms to the south of Vishakaptnam, in a small village called Tungalam.

When Peter called them this morning they said that the wind and rain were ferocious.  Water was coming in the house.

We have not heard from them since.

So here we are in Thane, looking at the clips from the BBC of .  Same result.

We are out of touch. 

We wished we had talked to them before hand.  Wished we had told them to stay with church members.

The phones may not be working - but our loving Lord hears our prayers.

Peace be with you.  Do not be dismayed.  Do not be afraid.  I am with you.  I will never forsake you.

The words of Jesus, spoken to hardened fishermen who were shouting as their boat was sinking, ring out across the centuries.

With all our satellite photos of the hurricane, and with our modern communication aids stymied, we are back in the boat like the disciples.  Forced to acknowledge our inherent helplessness, our inherent inability to shape and alter our circumstances.

And also given the stark choice:  to rage and fret, or choose to trust and rest admist the challenges of unknowing.

As for me and my house, we will take the latter path, and speak our concerns to our Lord.

We look forward to hearing from Amma and Appa...  Thank you for joining us in prayers too.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Spoilt for choice? Spoiled choices? Choice spoils?

Someone came to the door and delivered a small laminated piece of paper.

It had my photo on it.  And the national seal.

I finally have been registered as a voter.

After all these years of moving around.  And then the general apathy that settles in, I was determined that this year I will vote.

Four visits to the various offices earlier this year did not bear fruit.  My application was not accepted in time for the Lok Sabha elections.  But another two rounds (I will spare you the gory-boring details) and then they finally accepted my papers.

With the elections for the state government coming up in 5 days from now, I was getting resigned to not voting... but hey presto the man appears and hands over the card!

Sadly, Sheba's papers were not accepted... again.   The reason?  In one of the questions on the form it asks you to declare if you have been registered to vote in another part of the country.   The question then takes the form of a request to have the name deleted.  Sheba dutifully filled this out.

But when I took our forms to the dear folks at the 'voter facilitation centre' they said that Sheba had to have certificate from Odisha stating that she has had her name removed from the list.   That battle will be fought next time.

But here I am - at 45 years a first time voter!

I have a small problem, however.

Who on earth to vote for?

The state has 5 parties that are vying for power.  Each one thinks that they can win the election on their own.  Each is just waiting to find out how many seats they will win - and each one is totally ready to patch up with whoever else will put them in power. 

The one party I was hoping to vote for - the Aam Admi Party - has apparently decided that it doesn't have the ability to put up candidates for this state election.   Last year this party gave the big boys some cause for concern when it actually managed to form a state government in Delhi state.   Sadly, the naivete of the anti-corruption gang was shown pretty quickly and the AAP leader resigned with a huff and a puff, stating that he was going to conquer the nation in the Lok Sabha polls.  

So who should our vote go to - in the choice of electing the rulers of this state? 

Two parties are pushing the 'sons of the soil' rhetoric which was their common birth.  Their main difference between them is that their leaders are cousins who both wanted to take over the helm of the party - and can't stand each other.   One continues with the bow-and-arrow symbol.  The other has quixotically been given the 'train' symbol.  And that too a smudgy old steam engine instead of a bullet train.

The other party (who just broke a 25 year alliance with the bow-and-arrow brigade) is bullish that the prime-minister's triumph will sweep them to power in Maharashtra.   With the lotus blooming, the folks who run it have their heads high in the sky.   We will have to see about that - politics makes strange-bedfellows - and the very people who were trumpeting Modi just a few months ago as the allies of the Lotus-folks are now calling him all sorts of names.

That leaves us with another set of estranged siblings.   One party claims a history that stretches back to the independence movement.  It used to have as its symbol Gandhi's beloved spinning wheel.  But our original iron woman reduced the grand old party to a personality cult almost two generations ago.  The once all powerful 'hand' symbol has and never recovered and was soundly thrashed in the national elections.  The other party claims to be a more 'nationalistic' version of this grand-dame of a party - but engages in the same rough-and-ready strong arm tactics as the sons-of-the-soil chappies - and has leaders who reek with wealth as they 'get things done'.

Alas.  The truth is that all 5 parties that are contesting the Maharashtra state elections are virtual identikits of each other.  And many 'leaders' have hopped from party to party so that we now have a nice bland curry that more or less tastes the same.  Same white Scorpios (or Audi SUVs for the higher ups).  Same posters showing the leader talking on a phone, pictures of mono-rails and whatnot in the back ground.  Same invocations of past warrior-kings.  Same patronage of families, with sons and wives and daughters taking up the family business as they are truly 'to the manor born.'  Same amazing jumps in 'net worth' every time an election is held - the amount they declare, when you track it across the years will make any financial analyst weep given the phenomenal rate of returns they seem to get.  And that is just the stuff they are revealing.  Let's not forget the truly massive mountains of cash (and sundry other valuables) that our ruling classes squirrel away.

So will I choose the "NOTA" option on my first vote?  I sincerely hope that I don't have to.  I hardly want to state that I have no faith in any of the folks on the ballot.

5 days to find out a bit more about our candidates.  And then I go and press the button and get my finger inked.

Democracy creaks on.   I remeber back to 1989 and listening to Uma Bharati give her spiel to villagers in the various election meetings she held on a gruelling day of campaigning out in the bad-lands of Khajaraho district in Madhya Pradesh.  Besides the 'Bharat Mata ki jai' slogans - what she basically told them was that the Congress govt. was cheating them and not building roads and schools - and that when she was elected, she would usher in a new era of prosperity.  

Men were climbing on trees to get a better view of her.  The rapt gaze of the humble Indian elector was a sight to behold.  Ms. Bharati knew that she had to go and meet her voters or she would not get elected.

This week I join the ranks of those men with their thread bare shirts, leaning forward to hear what the 'leader' has to tell them.  In their hands they had one small but powerful weapon.  Their vote.  And at least once in 5 years the great and powerful (and those aiming to be great and powerful) had to come and solicit their assent.

As that crusty old defender of the empire said many a year ago: 
It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.   - Winston Churchill


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Enoch and Daddy's Excellent Adventure

10.30 PM.  Plenty of time to get to the Thane train station.

All bags packed.  Big box of books with us.  1.5 days worth of food stowed away.  Lemon rice and boiled eggs for lunch and supper.  Puris and potato subji for breakfast.  Bread and jam for other times.

We pray and say good-bye to Sheba and Asha.

This is a boys trip.  The first we are doing together.

The reason?  We are attended the Evangelical Medical Fellowship of India as father and son.

We had orginally booked all 4 Eichers to go and come ... but then the Bombay Scottish School announced their semester examination dates - and Asha had a Marathi exam the day before the conference was to kick off (a day we were to be travelling by train) - and all the rest of the exams waiting for her on the day after we were coming back.

Enoch only had a 'craft' exam - so we wrote to the school and got permission for him to skip it and to head up north to the Christian Medical College in Ludhiana for this trip.  A first for both of us - the place being new - and the experience of only the two of us travelling together.

And so we leave by auto for the station.

Then the first little inkling of doubt seeds itself in my brain.

I had thought the train was leaving Thane at about 10 PM.  But since a new railway time table was introduced at the beginning of September - I hadn't really looked - and we had booked the tickets in mid August.  So when I finally got to print out the tickets on the day of departure, I was glad to see that they were at 12.10 AM.

Good.  More time in the office before I leave.

The 30th of September was the last day of an intense 7 day training in HIV care that we run twice a year for folks from North India.  It was a good day and there was plenty of stuff to wind up.  I was looking forward to a good long sleep on the train.

And then it hit me.  What if the ticket was for the previous night's train?  I called up Sheba and asked her to check if the ticket was still valid by finding out the PNR status from the computer.  If the train had completed its journey, then it would state it.  She said it was ok.  Our tickets were confirmed.

But when we got to the station, the niggling doubts turned to ugly reality.   The reservation chart had 1/10 written on it.   Our tickets were for 30/9.   Hope against hope I looked to see if our names were on the chart.  Nope.  I went to the asst. stationmaster.  He looked at me as a simpleton and told me that my train had left that morning at 12.10 AM.   I walked out shattered.

What to do but to call up Dr. Manoj Jacob of EMFI and tell him that we weren't coming.  With heavy heart I did.  Then I told Sheba that we were coming back home.

And then Manoj called me back.

11.50 PM.  Our 'train' had still not come.  We were in the auto-rickshaw with all our luggage headed home.  And Manoj put this thought in our mind.  There was still a way we could make it.  The next day we took it.  And this is the view we had:

Talk about heavenly.

So after a short night's sleep (new tickets had to be booked - including an overnight bus from Delhi to Ludhiana for the two Eicher men), Enoch and I had the puris and subji for breakfast back in our own home (after sending Asha off for her Marathi exam), and got into the waiting taxi at 8.30 AM to whisk us off to the magic of the airport!

Enoch doesn't do well in taxis.  Especially when we go up and down hills.

Well, we didn't do much hill climbing, but it was enough for Enoch to lose his breakfast.

Glad to have a plastic bag handy.

After it was all out - he felt a lot better and was quite his chirpy self again.

Enoch being Enoch much of our conversation was about football - especially on the fortunes of his beloved Chelsea FC in the on-going English Premiere League season.

One of the non-negotiables that we had laid out as a condition for Enoch to come along was that he would have to spend some time getting ready for his examinations.  Especially for maths which he was taking the day after we returned, and English grammar which was waiting for the next day.

And so to the surprise of the stewardesses, a boy sat next to the window seat, doing his maths sums from a classic brown-paper cover textbook.

Needless to say, this did not last the whole flight.

We had lunch after all - and again there were smiles from the man sitting next to me as we pulled out our steel tiffins and had lemon-rice and boiled eggs with masala chips along with it!

Turns out our fellow passenger is a rally-driver, off to compete in the "Raid de Himalaya" rally which runs from Shimla to Leh.  Naturally we devour every word of this and our plane touches down in Delhi with some of our rice still in our tiffins!

Since we are flying, and since we have an overnight bus to catch to Ludhiana, it means that we have some extra time on our hands... just enough to spend a wonderful afternoon with... Enoch's cousins!

 Who would not jump at the opporunity to be with the Delhi Eichers (pronounced like you do when you see the Eicher trucks - not like the Thane Eichers who stick with the 'rhymes with Hikers' pronounciation).

And when the oldest cousin is just about your age, and when you are picked up by Stefan Uncle at the airport and taken to Ashish's school to pick him up... well, our joy is just about complete!

But wait, Enoch has 3 cousins in Delhi.

Along with Ashish, there is the lovely Anjali too!

Over a delicious supper starring two kinds of pasta, we get to find out about the world according to Anjali.

It's a good world, all told.

But a world with now has another  younger member too!

Anita joined the party 3 years ago, and is a vocal member now.

We see our Delhi-rellys so rarely that every minute with them is precious.

Instead of chugging slowly across some part of Madhya Pradesh, here we were in Dwarka, with a whole afternoon of time together with these lovely folks.

Enoch of course was immediately off to play with Ashish.  Hockey down-stairs.  Then Lego computer games.  Then showing the Delhi-cousins a short How to Train your dragon film.  Then lego with Ashish on the floor.

Anita is now quite the builder, and while Stefan and Neeru and I talked, she and Stefan built large towers - which she also gleefully kicked over.

It was all so sudden and unexpected... but thoroughly enjoyed.

And so after a whole afternoon of fun, we were off on the metro to north Delhi where we were to be picked up by a sleeper bus and drive to Ludhiana through the night.

Mistake no. 1.   Take a bus sight unseen.  Though we booked 'on line' as usual, the reality was different from the beautiful image of a set of berths near the middle of the bus. A bit of arguing and we were put into roughly the middle of the bus.  Which then waited for another 1.5 hours before it was full of people and then juddered off into the night.

Mistake no. 2.  Take an air conditioned bus, without a blanket in sight.  We were chilled to the bone throughout the night - and had the air-con vent above us dripping cold water on us every now and then.  For a blanket, I got a thin towel out and my two good long-sleeved shirts.   Needless to say, neither father nor son got much sleep during that night, and my plans to work during the day and finish my presentation for the conference were also put on hold.

But once we hit Ludhiana - just as the first bit of dawn was pushing its way into the night - and were ably picked up by our dear Arpit Mathew (now a surgeon at CMC Ludhiana) - who took us to our lodgings at the KK hotel, just a hop, skip and a jump away from the CMC Ludhiana campus.

And once we were at the conference a whole another world emerged.

Amazing times of worship.  So many old friends to meet.  Tons of new folks to meet up too.

And for Enoch, the best of both worlds - a structured time for young people with all his mates - and plenty of play time in between with the same mates and more.

For the first day I still had to push through with getting my presentation done - and helping lead the prayer time on HIV during the first evening meeting.  The deep residual tiredness that I carried along with me from Thane was on display, but it gradually slipped away in the sheer energy of being with so many wonderful folks.

Our seminar track:  "Alternative Voices of Kingdom Witness" had a lovely set of folks sharing their worlds.  Johnny Oomen talked about working with tribal communities in Odisha, and had us in stitches as he shared his own life story wrapped around it.  A dear friend of mine opened our eyes to the whole world of disability and helped us see how his own daughter Abby has reshaped his world. Saira Paulose and myself talked about the challenges of people living with HIV and how churches can reshape our country's response to AIDS.   SP Mathew helped us step into some of the many worlds he influences through his combination of being a physician, running a small hospital, home-schooling his kids and dabbling with environmental issues, working on ethics with fellow private practitioners.  Finally Vinod Shah gave us an overview of the way that Medical Missions in India had influenced nation building and society in so many ways over the years.  Whew, and wow!  It was exhilarating!

And that is to speak nothing about our main conference speakers!

With the theme being "My Life, My Work, for the King!" we were in for a treat.

Dr. Kuruvilla Varkey - the legendary physician who has served at the Christian Fellowship Hospital in Oddachataram for so many decades shared the devotional talks each evening.  Deeply meditative, using words sparingly, poetically, but deeply grounded in the years of personal devotional experience with his Lord, Dr. KV takes us into the very presence of Jesus.  "Come and see"   We are invited to experience the Lord, afresh, completely, transformatively.

Dr. Ajith Fernando shared the theme talks of the Conference.  His sharing was a marvellous exploration of what following our Lord means - using the book of Mark as his lens.   I was particularly taken by a part of the message where Ajith helped us understand that Jesus was both Lord and supreme, while at the same time being a complete servant.  We veer in either direction, but just as He is both God and man at the same time, our Lord is both Master and Servant.  And demands that we live with humble authority - and empty ourselves just as He did.

And then there were the tea times and the meals to talk and catch up and find out the amazing things that the 500 odd folks who were there are doing all over India (and a few from Nepal and Sri Lanka too).  Of course, I didn't come even close to meeting everyone... but suffice it to say that my Dad's genes seem to be passed on pretty efficiently when it comes to being energised by meeting folks!

Enoch, in the meantime was a busy fellow.  The 'Beyond Barriers' team did a super job with the 60 + kids and teens - and then in the free times Enoch had his gang of boys to play football and other games (including one modelled on American football).  After parting at breakfast in the morning I would see him in glimpses till he accompanied me to the worship and devotions in the evening.

We had, of course, the small matter of us upcoming exams.  But this was squeezed in with maths and English grammar lessons done before breakfast and in the evenings.

The upshot was that when we finally were back at the hotel room, this is how Enoch looked when talking to Sheba and Asha in far-away Thane:

All good things come to an end.  Before we knew it, we were packing on the final morning to head back to Thane.  Sheba asked me more than once to check and make sure our tickets were in order.   Which they were.  Our original tickets had not moved a single place in the month-and-a-half since we booked them.  They were still waiting list 3 and 4.   We didn't want to take the risk.  And so thanks to Renata in Thane, we booked tatkal tickets on a slightly quicker train which left at a slightly later time in the morning.  

Sadly we had to miss the last bit of the conference and left during the Sunday worship service, just as Dr. Vinod Shah who was preaching touched on the marvellous unconditional love of God.

In our hearts, we just did not want to leave.  So many wonderful folks.  So much to learn and know.  But the return back to Mumbai-land has to be done.

And so Enoch and I started our long train trip back to Mumbai - with the train leaving Ludhiana station at 11 AM and us walking in the door of our Thane home at 3 PM the next day.

This was an educational trip - with Enoch and I going through his maths problems and English grammar - while crunching various packets of spicy crispy things - and catching up on a weeks worth of news in the papers.

How much we wished Sheba and Asha could have been with us.  And how grateful we are to them for letting us go on this excellent adventure.