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:
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.