Monday, 29 February 2016

Watershed wanderings

We need to do better community organization.

That’s in a nutshell the basic recommendation from the recent TEARFund evaluation of the HBM Hospital’s watershed management programme.   Our CHDP staff is working in 15 villages of the Bar block to help villagers manage their environment better through the vital task of saving water.
In the Bible Moses tells the Israelites who are about to enter the promised land that ‘this land drinks rain from heaven.’   That’s a good description of the Bundelkhand region as a whole – and our district of Lalitpur in particular.   Most agriculture is rain-dependent.  And the rain water falls mostly during the monsoonal months, and a little bit in winter (‘Christmas rains’). 

And most of the rain runs away and does not recharge the ground water.  Further, as it gushes along the ground it takes soil with it too.   Poor land use leads to less vegetation, less plants means that water flows away even quicker and so the pattern continues.

So when there is a drought (like in the last two years), then the options for small farmers are few and far between.

Which is why we want to break the cycle.

We want to see each village understand the watershed that they are in.  Be able to look at the land and work out the best ways to slow the flows of water down.  To let the gushing water become moving water, and the moving water stand still, and that standing water replenish the ground water.

We want to see soil cared for and protected.  To have the mosaic of different land uses that every village has be managed for the best use possible.  For the land to be flourishing rather than be degraded.

It’s a huge task, of course, and the challenge of it all is that the human element is key. 

How do you work together to manage your environment – when you can’t trust your neighbor? 

Besides doing good hydrological mapping and making proper technical decisions about how to use a particular plot of land – or even a whole chain of them – there is the other issue… how to work together?  How to come to agreements… how to build community ownership and cooperation.

Here is where it gets tough.  People are not machines.  We make choices.  We nurse grudges.  We can be wonderfully helpful and awfully destructive.

The TEARfund folks are right about our work.  Too much of it ends up being project driven:  we have funds for some activities, and so our staff meet with villagers and form various groups – with the primary task of seeing that the activities are fulfilled.

But is that enough?  Our desire is to see transformation.  We don’t just want folks to come together for a short time and then dissolve.   And we also want to see groups formed who really care for each other, and who include those on the margins, the poor and neglected and vulnerable.

So last week our HBM Hospital CHDP team went on an exposure visit.  Our watershed wanderings took us to Madhya Pradesh to see how others have done and are doing community organization of watershed management in other parts of the Bundelkhand area which are similar to ours.

Thanks to the “Jat Agitation” in Haryana, the train I had booked 2 months earlier was cancelled at the last minute – meaning that I was unable to come back to Lalitpur as planned.  But then I managed to get a ticket on the Garib Rath to Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh – and was picked up mid-morning by the team who had driven down from Lalitpur in our project jeep. 

Will you join us, gentle reader, for a trip to a remote village which seems to be doing things right? There is (virtual) space for you in our jeep, so please hop aboard!

A good 2 hours drive out of Jabalpur brings us near to the village of Jangaliya in the Niwas tehsil of MP's Mandla district.

This is where we are headed - and also welcomed on arrival by the members of the village watershed committee.  

We are late - arriving at 1 PM - and so after the initial welcome we get down to business... Lunch!

Here is what is on my plate - a delicious potato and cauliflower subji, with mango pickle and amla pickle too - with papad and puris (rice and dal came later ... but I am a sucker for puris and so filled up with the delicious deep fried treats)...

But we were not in the village just to eat.  We were here to learn.

And learn we did.

Our hosts shared their experience.  It all started in 2007 when an agency who pioneered village level watershed management in Maharashtra reached out with their expertise to this village.

The villagers were asked to provide shram-dhan (voluntary work) before any concrete steps were taken.  They talked it over and decided to give 5 days of work.  All of them.

And so they got to work on this hill.

At that time it was a common-use hill, the land being under the revenue department then.  The villagers decided to do land treatment to increase ground water recharge.  They built contour bunds, dug pits, made gully plugs...  and then when the 5 days were over, the organisers asked them to do another two days to really see that the job was done well.

The results were jaw dropping.  Just the treatment of that hill led to real changes in water levels in the next year.  It also brought the community together and showed the value of such work.

In the next year, the community had organised its watershed management committees and started mapping out the land of different farmers and making detailed plans for how the water retention of the land would be improved.

The decisions on what do to with the land were made by both husband and wife - and then implemented by the committee.

We asked about the original work - didn't some people sit out and not participate?

Yes, our hosts told us, there were some.  And when they saw how successful things were and what work was going on they later wanted to join as well.  The committee decided that those who did not do the shram-dhan could also participate in the land treatment work, but were asked to pay a Rs. 600/- fine - which some did!

Shanti Devi, one of our hosts, told us about the women's savings groups which were an important part of the work.

The village has 10 hamlets - and they were able to start 14 different groups!  Each group meets each week - and the members contribute Rs. 10 each time - and Rs. 20 on the 4th meeting so that each month Rs. 50 is collected per person.  At the end of the month, the money is deposited in the group bank account.

The ladies have saved... a lot!  The government has come along side and  has added Rs. 1 lakh to their kitty to help their revolving funds.  They now have over 2 lakhs on hand.

We asked them what they were using the money for.  Another lady told us that they had given loans for marriages... and for the house that we were sitting in - which has been newly built!

It was wonderful to hear about what has been done.  

For me one of the most exciting things was to see the confidence that our hosts had.  Each one of them was articulate and able to explain, and clearly capable of taking the process forward... which they have!  Today the main watershed project work from the initial implementing organisation is over.  And has been for the past 4 years.  But the institutions which were formed then - the village watershed management committee and the women's savings groups - have gone from strength to strength.

They are now able to approach the government authorities themselves.   The area is under a drought right now, and the villagers have been able to access funds from the NREGA - the national rural employment guarantee act which is meant to provide at least 100 days of labour for everyone each year.

All around the village we saw evidence that NREGA was being accessed - and how!

Cooperation has spilled over into other areas too.  Like local politics.

On my visit to the villages we work in here in Lalitpur district, I saw plenty of poll-related graffiti. Vote for 'Imli' symbol, vote for 'whistle' symbol etc.   But not in the beautiful village homes in Jangeliya village.  Our hosts explained that the panchayat elections had been very easy on everyone - because they came to a consensus candidate who was declared elected unopposed.  Wow.  When have we heard of something like that?

Our walk around showed us the physical evidences that cooperation pays off - and that land can bring people together rather than separate.

Our hosts showed us a well which 13 women had banded together to contribute towards - and whose efforts were met by the implementing agency.  It is still strong and compared to the costs of today was build for a very reasonable amount.

We walked over a gabion structure which they villagers built to slow water flows - and which has brought the blessing of a field being cultivated despite this year being a drought year.

We were shown concrete plinths that the villagers have received from the agriculture department - to make vermiculture pits with.  The villagers have shown that they are now adept and accessing government schemes meant for them!

And encouragingly, almost every house that we saw seems to have a toilet built.  And that too not just an small lonely shed which ends up becoming extra storage space, but actually being used.

And so we left the village of Jungeliya with a fair amount of wonder.  Amazed at a community that looks pretty perfect - at least when it comes to making decisions about land and how to work together.

We left as the sun was going down - and drove out to the hill where it all first started - the land has now been taken over by the forest department - and so further land treatment on it is forbidden (ironically) but the work has been done.  A hill that brought a village together - and multiple on-going works being seen today.   Something that our villages would do well to emulate.

The one small jarring note?  A request directed to me and in private by one of our hosts - about whether I would be willing to extend our work (and help) to them.  Is this a sign of healthy self-reliance and taking initiative at the right time, or is it being a leech?  Hard to tell, but it did show that these people are also human, that they do have aspirational desires too.

Overall - an amazing day and well worth the long drive out and back.

In the evening we drove back to Jabalpur where I was picked up by Bro. Biju Mathew (the director of the HBM Hospital) and Rev. Emmanuel (who teaches at the local seminary and leads the church which meets on the HBM hospital campus).  They were there to visit the Lakhnadon Christian Hospital - and took me along with them, while the CHDP team drove on to Damoh to meet our colleagues who are working there with the EFICOR watershed management programme.

But that is a story for another day.

Friday, 26 February 2016


Feb 19th 2003. 

Feb 19th 2016. 

Thirteen years in between the two dates.

Each year Feb 19th is special for us.  Special because our own ‘Special One’ was born on that day (along with the venerable Chattrapatti Shivaji Maharaj) – Enoch Anand Graceson Eicher.  

Each year we celebrate.

And each year there is a bit of a different Enoch.

But this year – perhaps more than the previous ones - we are seeing someone that we have not met yet. 

(picture per kindness of Dr. SP Mathew – most of the pics were taken by him)

Welcome to teen-aging Enoch.  Enoch in transition.  Enoch the new and being shaped.

As a house-fellowship we had ‘home-work’ last week.  Our task?  To memorise 1 Corinthians 13.  The chapter on love.  “If I speak in tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am nothing…”

Enoch came up to us the day before his birthday and suggested we use the 11th verse of 1 Cor. 13 for his ‘birthday verse’:  “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”

Well.  There we have it.

It sure is exciting to see work in progress!

Now, we know that as a family we like to celebrate birthdays (half this blog seems to be documenting them it seems).  But this year we had a stripped down time.  Only three families involved.  The extended Eichers of course (Oma and Opa flew in the day before).  And Drs. SP and Vinita Mathew with Mark and Nancy (2 of their 3).  And at the end of the evening we were joined by our dear John and Nalini Gabriel with their super twosome of Nikita and Jasper.

We started the day with prayers and simple gifts as a family of seven….

… and we ended the day with prayer and games with the other two families. 
And in between there was cookin’ n bakin’ (courtesy of Sheba) and some cake shapin’ too [Eicher traditions die very hard]…

This year’s cake was a deliciously light chocolate cake that Sheba whipped up in the morning – and then late afternoon yours truly did the honours of making it into a shape. 

As a family we really enjoyed seeing the “Peanuts movie” in one of our rare visits to the theatre, so Snoopy got the honour of gracing Enoch’s cake.  His red dog house was a bit chromatically challenged (the red colour had dried up…) with an ersatz orangeish shade filling in – but Snoopy still slept soundly on top of his roof…

You can tell by now who likes the ‘kiddy stuff’

And the final product:

Enoch’s good friend Mark came – along with his younger sister Nancy (how she has grown!) and their lovely parents Dr. SP Mathew and Dr. Vinita.   

What a family – one of a kind in so many ways – and such loyal friends over the years.  You get dizzy when you see all that Mathew and Vinita do. Besides running their lovely Ashok Hospital in Dahisar (and planning a new whole-person-care expansion soon), this couple have spear-headed the home-schooling movement in Mumbai, been involved with local environmental activism, networked among doctors – both for EMFI as well as the Borivali Medical Brotherhood, taken various leadership in their local church including hosting a ‘life-group’ in their home and been really good friends to us.  

We couldn’t have our friends come from far off Borivali and not have a game or two – and this time Oma and Opa were also involved.

The task:  to be the team which first put together a ‘museum exhibition’ of 13 different items ranked in a particular order and listed in a ‘museum catalogue.’

Good fun was had by all:
The “Oh Yeah” team in action – times are obviously tense in the museum world…

While on the other side the “Ancient Findings” team was also working up a storm of cooperation together:


The end products?  Fun discoveries of what was available in the house and the (sometimes challenging) joy of working together to solve lots of little problems and achieve a common goal. 

Here we have Dr. Mathew guiding us through an exhibition of objects ‘from living things’ (the bulk of which ended up being sourced from the inside of our fridge!).

It is always good to pause and reflect together in thankfulness to our wonderful Lord Jesus.

By His grace and mercy, we have seen another year go by.  For all of us.  And by His love and faithfulness we are able to move forward (often painfully slowly) as a family.  And by his care and mercy we are seeing Enoch make some of the first steps into adulthood.

Speaking of ‘leaving childish ways behind’ – we want everyone to ditch the selfish, whiny, petulant childish bits of us – while retaining and growing in child-likeness.  We want to have less complaining and more wonder.  Less grabbing and more giving.

Birthdays are good measuring sticks – excellent times to look back and see what God has done in our lives so far – and how much further we must quest on in pursuit of His imprint being seen more and more in and through us.

And so we have Enoch.  2016 vintage.

13 years to the day on which I had the privilege of being with Sheba in the operating theatre as Enoch was being delivered by C-section at Lok Hospital in Thane.

Happy Birthday No. 13 Enoch!

The good ole B-day song was duly sung and candles blown out and the knife drawn to chop up it up for happy consumption (married with mango ice-cream) by all and sundry.


And this is all that remained in the end:

It was time to for the Mathew family to go – not all however – as Mark stayed over for a sleep-over with Enoch. So a photo of all of us was definitely in order (taken by Mathew himself hence his absence from the frame).

Just after they left, the second half of the party came.   John and Nalini and their sprightly daughters Nikita and Jasper had arrived.  John flew in from his day trip to Chennai – and the local traffic jams did the rest so we had party mark 2.

It was past Yohan’s bed-time (his medications need to be taken at 9 and since they are quite heavy we have him go to sleep by 9.30) but the rest of the young folks were up to a game of monopoly while the parents (and grand-parents) were chewing the fat together.

And even then the party did not end.  Enoch and Mark had a sleep-over to take care of.  So after John and family had headed off, and Oma and Opa had gone over to Happy Valley for their shut-eye, three youngsters (one of them bald) were locked in a world-conquering game of Risk. 

A long day’s celebration came to an end at with armies poised to conquer at an unearthly hour – but alas a communication not received meant that all three lads were well past their bed-times… the unilateral cease-fire had the 3 whisked off to their repose.

The rays of the morning light on the 20th saw this scene:

Welcome to your teens Enoch.   Thirteen is just the beginning.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Casteing stones (and other reasons for trains to be cancelled)

I was with Sheba at our local supermarket, buying things for the home and food for my journey back to Lalitpur tonight.

5.35 PM and we were checking out, planning to have an early supper with Mum and Dad and the kids and then do my last minute packing before leaving the home at 11 PM for my 12 AM train back to Lalitpur and the next 2 weeks again away from home.

Then my mobile beeped and I saw that it was our good friends from the railways.

Opening up this is what a read:

Train No 11057 has been cancelled due to unavoidable circumstances.  Inconvenience caused to passengers is deeply regretted.

Well that was my night train.  The one whose ticket I had booked 2 months ago so that I could spend the weekend here and be in Lalitpur on Monday.  No train to board now.  I am very much here in Thane, tapping on the keyboard late at night while the family is blissfully sleeping (and a shade happy that I am not off to Lalitpur I guess...).

So what are the 'unavoidable circumstances' that caused the good folks to cancel the august Amritsar Express that I was to board in a few minutes from now?

Well, its a small matter of utter chaos in the BJP-ruled state of Haryana.

Take a look at this fine picture taken by our good friends at the Indian Express:

Who are these people?  Well, they are the Jats my friend!  Or at least people claiming to represent the Jats.   Another group of caste-based folks who feel that their 'community' has been left out of the affirmative action 'reservation' pie - and so they are hell-bent on making sure that they will get their piece of the pie.

When their 'demands' are not met, they do the 'normal' thing to do these days.  You block the streets, smash up cars and loot, burn homes of ministers, torch police stations...  the police then fire at a few and you have some 'martyrs' to push folks forward... and then the 'agitation' spreads and finally the big people meet your leaders and promise you this and that.

We have seen this  before of course...

There was, and still is, the issue between the "Meena" communty and the "Gujjars"

Here are some shiny happy people blocking a main rail line and milking our country of Rs. 2 crore lost due to their antics:

Its a happy day for most folks it seems...  some seem clearly on the juvenile side, but then again, never to early to start grooming the leaders of tomorrow eh?

And then there was the kerfuffle in the great state of Gujarat - where everything is supposed to be golden and all the lights shine all night because of the wonderful administration and all-round brilliance of our current national leader...

But who should pop up but Mr. Hardik Patel and the Patidar agitation... to get more reservations or something to that effect.

Yes Beta, you bring everyone together and shout, and then if demands are not met, then let the boys out...  

The Indian Express says that this shot is of 'policemen' patrolling in the outbreak of rioting from the Patidar protesters.  Interesting uniforms and equipment for 'policemen' - look more like the rioters themselves, but then, who are we to quibble about little things like this.

The article title says it all: "Who are the Patidars and why are they angry?"

You can now cut and paste almost any 'community' in our country into that title.. who are the Kapus and why are they angry?  (hint: Andhra Pradesh), who are the Matangs (randomnly chosen by googling 'caste agitation') and wo kyon gussa hai?  Who are the blah-blahs and why are they upset?  Who are the you-know-whos and why are they burning busses?  The list goes on and on.

Wasn't none of this supposed to happen with the current dispensation who are ruling from Delhi?  All those 'bad years' of 'dynastic rule' was being swept away by the 'Achhe Din' that our dear leader was bringing with him from his beloved Gujarat!  A strong patriotic government calling on all people to work together, the achieve the good life we all want?

Instead, we have a depressing pattern.  Protest.  Burn.  Loot.  Then have your 'community leaders' ushered in to meet the high and mighty.   Instead of being given a bill for the damage to our nation - and being told to pay up or rot in jail - they perpetrators get a handshake and a sizeable chunk of their demands being given to them...

Which means that the next 'aggrieved group' is getting ready with their agitation too...

The current chaos in Haryana has meant that the Army had to be called out.  For crying out loud - the army!  Don't our men (and women) in uniform have other things to do than riot control?  What happened to the various levels of army police constabulary?  One thing is sure - we as a nation are swinging ever closer to moral bankruptcy on the part of our rulers. 

And so we are 'blessed' with these folks as our 'rulers' and 'leaders'  (from this afternoon's 'taaza khabar'):

A wise Frenchman (ok his name is Joseph de Maistre) said this 200 years ago: ... que toute nation a le gouvernement qu'elle mérite  We would say "every nation gets the government it deserves."

We live in scary times. 

But one of the perspectives on all of this comes from the Bible.   After all, there is a long sweep of human history - and we have some pretty nasty folks who have cropped up over the eons...

Scripture talks about how every leader will be held accountable for what they have done.  There will be an accounting - and it will not be a meeting with our home minister.... before the great white throne, the books will be opened, and every deed will be read out and justice will be done.

My reading yesterday in Deuteronomy was of a very different vision for leadership than what we currently have in our dear Bharat Desh.

Look at the vision for what the Hebrew King was supposed to do ... and be:

[The King] must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests.  

 It [his personal copy of the law] is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.   Deut. 17.17-20.

Woah!  A lot to chew on there - and so much that would set our nation right-side-up if it were implemented here. 

In the mean-time, ours is to do and pray and speak out and read and talk with each other and do and pray some more.

And for me, I have to try and get tickets to go up north back to the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital in Lalitpur!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Fists that speak

The scene: the court room of one of the most prestigious legal benches in our national capital, and the grounds just outside the main building.

A high-profile case is going on.  A left-wing student leader has been charged with sedition and arrested.

The press are present as are students and activists of the Marxist parties. 
Being the court of law, so were many lawyers.

Now the shocker:
BJP MLA OP Sharma assaults CPI leader Ameeque Jamei outside Patiala House Courts, Delhi on 15.2.2016 
(picture courtesy Indian Express - photographed by Ravi Kanojia) 

BJP MLA Om Prakash Sharma assaults CPI leader Ameeque Jamei outside Patiala House Courts, Monday. (Source: Express photo Ravi Kanojia) - See more at:
BJP MLA Om Prakash Sharma assaults CPI leader Ameeque Jamei outside Patiala House Courts, Monday. (Source: Express photo Ravi Kanojia) - See more at:
A group of lawyers, along a prominent local BJP leader, descends on the students, activists and press persons … and beats them up!  

Yes, you heard right.  Black-suited-booted Lawyers.  And the sadly increasingly normal ‘patriots’ who show their love for the country by beating up those they despise.

This takes place both inside the courtroom and outside.  And the police on duty remain silent spectators to the whole tamasha!

Where is our country going, when in the heart of the capital, in front of the national press, men can strut their power and flex their muscles to cow down (oops something bovine has slipped in) those who they disagree with?

If this is happening in New Delhi, what is happening in Tikamgarh, and in Mount Abu, and in Muzzafarnagar, and in the countless little places that make up our 1.2 billion plus nation?

Listen to the words of the leader of the pack – one of the only two BJP elected members of the Delhi Legislative Assembly (ironically just over a year ago another party ‘swept’ the others out of office).  This is what he said later:  “Mein goli bhi maar deta agar bandook hoti.  Koi Ma ko gaali dega to kya usey maarage nahin?”   Loosely translated:  “I would have shot them if I had a gun.  If some one abuses our mother, won’t we beat him up?”

A senior police officer make these comments: ”there was a minor scuffle” and “excesses were committed on all sides.”  

 The question is not whether there was a ‘scuffle’ – the question is why police on guard in a court of law do nothing?  And surely if there were ‘excesses’ (which sounds stronger than a ‘scuffle’) then our nation’s guardians of the peace should have been clicked in action as they waded in and settled the matter with their many years of training in crowd control and dealing with unruly situations.

The reality is our men in khaki are scared.  Very scared.  If this was a bunch of rag-pickers from the street who burst into the courtroom, the police would have jumped into action and hustled them out.   

But those raising their fists and bringing them down on others are at the very core of power.  The lawyers of the court.  The members of the party ruling our country.  And they are using their fists to enforce this power.  And so the men in khaki will remain quiet, mute spectators, since they know which side of the bread the butter is on. 

The people who have on behalf of our nation called the world to ‘make in India’ (and ironically had a high-profile evening in Mumbai last week literally go up in flames), the people who calling for global investments in India saying that ‘we have the skills, we have the commitment, we have the drive’ – are showing their true colours.  And they have added black and blue to their till now rather monochrome palette.

Here are the words to shouting that went on yesterday at the august Patiala House Courts:   the Rule of law be damned.  We will enforce our will and might with our fists (or more if we have fire-power).  And don’t cause trouble or you will be next.  We can do this in Delhi with the press and the world watching.  And we will do this in every place we are in control of.   

And here are the words for the men in khaki who were silent spectators:  Be quiet and don’t disturb those in power.  We are not here for you.  We are here for them.  

Cry the beloved country.  

Come Lord, come.  Let justice and righteousness flow.
BJP MLA Om Prakash Sharma assaults CPI leader Ameeque Jamei outside Patiala House Courts, Monday. (Source: Express photo Ravi Kanojia) - See more at:
BJP MLA Om Prakash Sharma assaults CPI leader Ameeque Jamei outside Patiala House Courts, Monday. (Source: Express photo Ravi Kanojia) - See more at:

Monday, 15 February 2016

To Do List...

"If you want to paint a picture, or make a sculpture, make sure you don't wait till you retire till you do it!

You will be far too busy in retirement to do anything like that!"

Our dear uncle Stefan Winkler gave us this droll advice (accompanied by his wonderful booming laugh - and Aunty Maria dry quiet smile) on one of his and aunty Maria's visits to us here in Thane a few years ago.

I haven't retired yet (yikes! what a thought!) - but have found that time seems to be behaving in strange ways.

I am officially working half time with EHA - and have spent my first 2 week stint in Lalitpur plunging into the work there.   I am now over half way through my 2 weeks in Thane - which I had set aside for writing... except that life at large seems to be eating up the writing.

So here is what we are hoping to do in the next 6 days before I get on the train at 12.10 AM on Monday morning and head up North for the next Lalitpur sojourn...

1)  Write, write, write.   Mum and Dad have sent me some of their thoughts so I have plenty of material to chew on.  These precious days are not going to come back again...

2)  Work on Yohan's papers.  We are still apparently far from getting the hoped for permanent documents... but hope springs eternal - and we serve the Lord of Lords.

3)  Be part of our church here in Thane.  We have a Tuesday night Bible study and meal at Sister Shanti's home - and are currently meeting on Sundays in our home for the next few weeks.  I plan to finish off a small 2 part series on God's love on the 21st.

4) Make a decision on our Happy Valley Home flat.  Its been a wonderful home for us, but we need to decide who should use it next.  We are talking and praying with some of our friends on this.

5)  Share about our next step with two evening meetings - Wed night at our place, Thursday night in Mulund (so far).  Need to get a presentation up and running for this.

6) Ferry the kids to school (a daily activity) and also attend the 'founders day' exhibition where Enoch's group will be showing their prize-winning science project and two of Asha's canvases will be on display in the art section (proud Dad speak).

7) Welcome Mum and Dad - they are coming in on Thursday evening for a month-long time with us.

8) Celebrate Enoch's 13th birthday.   19th of Feb. is the big day - which he shares with the legendary Maratha Warrior King Shivaji.  Details on what we will be doing are still a bit sketchy, but hope to firm up plans soon.

9) Be quiet.  Spend time with Jesus.  Listen.  Read.  Talk.  Pray.

A great week lies ahead.  Plunge in!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016


I took Sheba to have two teeth pulled today.   On the way too and fro we passed places where the Thane Municipal Corporation have cleared illegal buildings.

We had seen them at work a couple of weeks before.  Police men on guard.  Big yellow JCB machines were knocking down walls.  People were scrambling to pick up metal bits.

So much of what is built is illegal.   And yet to build something is almost impossible ... legally.  And there are so many layers of corruption around everything that you really don't know where to begin.

Yesterday we found out that Sony, the lady who helps us out in the home with cleaning and making chappatis has had a terrible experience.  Over the past few years, she and her husband have worked hard to save and borrow money to purchase a home of their own.

They were to get the possession of this home but for some reason the builder kept stalling.

Last week they found out that the whole housing complex has been demolished.  It was all illegal in the first place.  The builder duped them, lied to them and others that he had received the correct permissions.  Their money is as good as gone.  The builder says he will give money back - but only half of what they put in...

 Last night we had a Bible study and looked at Zacheus.  We talked about restorative repentence.  We explored how followers of Christ have to be different in a world that is steeped in corruption.

One of the young men present shared at the end of the time.  He said that his father had died leaving no clear title to the small 2 rooms in the slum they are living in.  His mother died illiterate and blind when he was 14, leaving him in charge of his younger brother and sister.

Recently the municipality is saying they will widen the road and demolish all the homes there.  They said that if they have clear title and evidence of tax payments that they will give alternative homes.

But this family does not.  They have over the years tried to start paying the taxes, but have been refused, with the officials demanding money under the table.  Last week he gave in and gave Rs. 20,000.  He asked for prayer.

Meanwhile the breaking goes on.

Our hearts are broken with the horrible apparently no-win situation that engulfs so many.  Rules that are meant to protect end up breaking people.  And being broken at will.

May our Lord heal us and give us true hope to move forward in this rubble of a society we are in.

In the mean time, we cry for the breaking that continues on...

Monday, 8 February 2016

Writing about writing


First words have been written.

Will they make it to the final book?

Yes, I just used that magical word 'book'.

Earlier this hour, the first 'official' writing session started for my parents' memoir.   I hope to put in at least 4 hours a day for the next 2 weeks.

We have a long, long way to go.

In listening to the kind words of gentle readers who have chimed in so far, I am writing in the third person.

Today's FaceBook stream has a note that Jamie Dickinson's father has a memoir out of the family's years in Nepal: A Yak in the Fridge.  Jamie was a year ahead of my at Woodstock and has contributed a chapter too.  I met Dr. John Dickinson briefly at a workshop in Bangkok in 2001 or so.  A lifetime of experience in missionary medicine.

Encouraging to know that others are writing too.  And that words written down end up as books.

For me, the big mountains still lie ahead.  For this long-hoped for project, I have just gotten off the bus at Manikaran, the last town on the road-head in Himachal Pradesh, and have been organising the supplies for the expedition to scale the Dharam Sura peak.  Today's words on screen are the first limbering up of the long haul, the big hike, the climb up the pass which I cannot see yet, while still down here in the valley.


"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." is what Laozi is attributed as saying 2.5 millenia ago.

Write on!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Mumbai Darshan (again)

“We must make a list of things to do before we leave Mumbai” said Sheba to me as we were out for a walk yesterday afternoon, “things that we can only see here, or places we haven’t gone yet.”

“I don’t really think there are many places that I really ‘want to see’ at this point” I replied.  “I would rather we make sure we spend some time with key people from our time here” and then we made a mental list of folks that we ‘must meet’ before we shift to Lalitpur in April (if God wills and sends the miracle of Yohan’s adoption papers).

Later in the evening, Enoch mentioned that he wanted to go to the aquarium.  A school friend of his had been there and spoke highly of it – and said there were piranha fish there.  I broached it with Sheba and she broadened the trip to take in the current wide-screen science film at the Nehru Science centre.  Quick check on the internet: yes, both places open on Saturday.  Google maps:  not too hard to get to.  Saturday so kids are not in school – parents are around (including yours truly freshly arrived from Lalitpur).  Picnic lunch?  Why not up on Malabar hill!  I scooted off to D-mart to get supplies and was back in time for supper at 9 PM and prayers afterwards.  Another Mumbai Darshan was been started.

As they say in German: gesagt, getan!

This morning broke bright and slightly foggy.  We bundled into our beloved Papaya and were soon zipping down to Mumbai town.  The first bit of the ride was mundane for Asha and Enoch – they drive it every day as it is part of their way to school – but we had good company with Sheba reading out to all of us from “Charlotte’s Web” – a book that Yohan can understand too.   And so we were transported from the stench of Mumbai’s large landfill to the pleasant farm smells of a rural US set in the middle of the last century.  Books have the power to take you places don’t they?

The book was put away as we came up to the beauty of the Worli Sea-link Bridge.  A huge suspension bridge that sends us shuttling over the waters.  On a clear day you get a broad sweep of the Mumbai skyline in the back ground, with the tiny Mahim fort jutting out on a peninsula in the foreground (surrounded by – what else – the standard Mumbai shanty-town of course).  This morning wasn’t clear – so we saw the dim shades of skyscrapers through the haze – and the Mahim fort looking underwhelming – a dark shape riding on a small hill of slum.

But the sheer beauty of the massive cables holding up the bride, cream yellow, curving up and swishing symmetrically by as we drive through the middle of the road, a dream of lines. 
It’s a pity there are so many reminders that ‘photography is forbidden.’  Whatever ‘secrets’ there may ben have long evaporated in an age of google maps, but here once again the latent influence of the Indian state (and the baggage for ‘secrecy’ from our erstwhile colonial masters) continues to linger on.  Maybe it was good that we were not able to snap the shots.  The images are probably crisper in my headl.

Soon we are pulling into the worli sea face and I see a statue of the cartoonist R.K. Laxman’s ‘the common man.’  “Who is that?” the kids ask and I give a quick recap of reading the Bombay edition of the Times of India religiously every morning and looking first for a political cartoon by Laxman (usually on the front page) and then down at the small daily ‘As you Like it’ panel which he drew every day – and which usually had ‘the common man’ which his glasses and dhoti and lower-middle class scruffiness silently observing the lives of those around him.

As we come to the beginning of Peddar Road I make a quick decision – how about seeing if we can visit the Deutsche Schule Bombay?  The family says yes and we are scooting through early-morning Breach Candy (since when did everything become so small) and soon are outside Lincoln House which was the old US Consulate building – bought from a maharaja for a princely sum just after independence.  The good consular folks have long since moved to a spanking-new purpose-built place in Bandra-Kurla complex and they recently sold Lincoln House for an absolutely obscene amount to one of the maharajas of today - the jet-set that continues to rule the roost in our dear nation of India.

Our days were more innocent.  Of sorts of course.  To get to the school you have to enter the gate of a housing complex and walk along its side till you come to the two-story building that houses the Deutsche Schule.   In my day some enterprising chaps had actually got up to the top of this building and thrown some kind of a bomb into the US consulate.  No one was injured: this was decades ago,  well before the now sadly normal levels of lethal attack that the terror brotherhoods (and sister-sets) have sadly scaled up to.

But for us the task was more pleasant.  We were standing before the entrance of the school – now heavily guarded with a revolving gate opened by security cards, multiple CCTV cameras and a guard on duty.   We explained that I was an old student and requested a quick look-around.  It was a holiday and later in the day a parents carnival was being readied for, but the person on duty graciously allowed us a quick peek in.

Wow, does the place ever look attractive.  Every inch of space is covered with beautiful drawings, words, thoughts.  The building is now only used for preschool and classes 1-4, other students are in a separate building.  In our days the whole school - kindergarten to class 10 – were only 75 strong, with the largest number in kindergarten!  My class 10 graduating class of 1985 was a ‘big class’ with 7 students.  The class bellow us had 4.   All of our courses were taught with two classes together.  In half the subjects  you were a year ahead of your normal curriculum – and in half the lower class who was with you were a year ahead of theirs.   An amazing school with wonderful teachers.
We left after our quick tour of a place bursting with colour and learning (and a lovely library) with Enoch telling me “I wish I was studying here.  You can drop me off.”

But the aquarium beckoned and so we were soon tootling along up the hill to Kemps corner, covering the distance that Stefan and I used to ride our bicycles (or take the local busses) while Mum did her prayer cover thing sending us off and waiting for our return.

Our Papaya took us to the aquarium and we joined a dense line of tiny-tots  (and their continuous high decibels of chatter) from at least 2 local schools in a room lined with fish-tanks and many kinds of finny friends.

The place has been renovated as is better than before, but again the gap between this dear aquarium and a truly world class one is still large.  The fish looked faded and jaded.  The displays were spotty.  The tanks turbid.  So much more can be done, but we are mired in murk it seems.  Excellence in public seems to have gone a.w.o.l.  for many a year.

At the same time, the sheer beauty of creation can just not be dismissed.  How amazing to see colour and form in so many ways.  How much of the marine world is deeply hidden from sight, with only the eye of the Maker to behold and enjoy it?  

There was a piranha, but he seemed a bit out of sorts.  His teeth looked like they were ground down – but maybe he had not been brushing well?  I wished we could watch at feeding time…

Back outside we were peckish and so decided to drive up Malabar hill to the Kamala Nehru park.   It was the first time for me to drive there and so I found myself following the vaguely-familiar roads of youth with new eyes.   We got to the top and found an empty bench right next to the iconic boot house that generations of kids have trooped up into.  The sign said entry was for 12 years and below – but that did not stop many an older soul from popping out at the top.

We had our cheese-n-veggie sandwiches and multinational kala-paani and watched the tourists go by.  One group of 3 Japanese (?) men had a young Indian guide speaking to them in their mother tongue. 

Sandwiches done, Yohan went up the boot and showed up at the top (like I did many a time in my growing up years)

A quick look out from the viewing deck showed that the Marine Drive can still be seen from there (and family photos taken too!).  

We then explored the rest of the park and found swings and climbing things.  A lot better than when I was growing up.  There was even a fenced off special park which we figured out would be opened for children in wheel-chairs so that they could also o on swings and use jungle-gym kind of bars.

Since we were on top of the hill I couldn’t resist a quick peek at two other areas of childhood.  My first school – the infant section of the Cathedral and John Connon School still stands.  The futuristic architecture has been wonderfully painted with cheery frogs and other welcoming words on the front. 

Next to it is the All Saints Church where I occasionally attended and where the German School children had their confirmation service.    I thought we might be allowed into the compound – and was pleasantly surprised when the caretaker allowed us into the church itself.

We not only looked at the beautiful little church, but had some quiet time of individual prayer in that beautiful peaceful congregational hall, with the gleaming brass plaques commemorating the departed gleaming the words of sorrow and celebration of lives well lived.

Walking back to the Papaya we finally got through on our mobile to the Nehru Science centre.  When was the English show of “Adrenaline Rush: the Science of Risk” which was being shown on the big screen projection?  1 PM.  A glance at our time: 12.40.   We have 20 mins to get to Worli.   Into the Papaya we bundle and off we go.   We are in our seats at 1.08 PM.

The film is a blast.  A total thrill.  We fall out of planes with sky divers, fly with wing-suits, recreate Leonardo Da Vinci’s design of a parachute, and then go base-jumping with people who live on adrenallne.   The camera takes us on these “base jumps”  including a 4000 foot jump off a cliff over a Norweigian Fyord.   The images are lyrical, balletic, hypnotic – and all so mouth-stoppingly crazy.   We emerge jubilant.  I still have the pictures looping through my head, and will do so for some time hence.

We have had a smashing time, and as our Papaya wends her way through traffic we pass the Worli Sea face and our iconic ‘common man’ statue.  We stop to pay him a visit!

Then back over the beautiful Worli Sea-link (alas again –no photos allowed) and up the long high-way back to Thane.  Most of the car is now dozing beautifully when we slip into town and arrive alive at home – 7 action packed hours since we left!

We got back home and got spaghetti and sauce and garlic bread for the evenings guests.  Our Indonesian friend Alva and our old colleagues Emmanuel and Mokshaa who we have not seen for a long time!  It was great to be together and fellowship and sing! Alva is stopping through on the way back from the Comprehensive Rural Health Project in Jamkhed,  

It's been a wonderful day.  One that will linger on for a long time to come.  Thank you Jesus for giving us your strength and your long-suffering to carry on!

A final pic of our common friend seated at Workkus :

Friday, 5 February 2016

Please pray for Mahesh

Our life seems hospital centered - at least for the near future!

After lunch I stopped in at the Bethany Hospital today to see how our amazing successor as leader of Jeevan Sahara Kendra - Jolly Phillips - was doing.  Turns out he is doing great.  Its his first full week on the job and he and the staff just finished their monthly review meeting - so it was wonderful to see all the lovely smiles of our old friends!

One of them was Mahesh Kamble, who along with his wife Bhavani are looking for a new place to rent.  We had a short chat before I had to head off to try and meet Dr. Stephen to schedule Dad's next appointment and a possible hernia operation.  I waited outside Stephen's clinic for some time - but there were plenty of patients so I had to push off since it was time for me to do my turn of the car-pool and pick up Asha and Enoch and their 2 friends from school at 3 PM.

Just before 6 PM I got a call from Jolly.

Mahesh has been admitted at Bethany Hospital.   I was in the car (our beloved and slightly battered 'Papaya'... ahem - we interrupt this blog to note that Asha has corrected me to say that there are 'huge dents in the side') with Enoch having just done an errand.  I dropped off Enoch outside our complex headed back to the hospital to meet Jolly who was also driving to the hospital.

While waiting for Jolly, Dr. Stephen walked up.  He says that the patient load at Bethany continues to rise and that he now starts working at 6 AM on many days.  The challenges of success.   Jolly joined us as we were talking.  He had been trying to meet Stephen for a week!  Life in the fast lane.

We went up to see Mahesh.

He is not only admitted in the hospital - but into the ICU.  It seems that he has had a mild heart attack.

At 34 years of age.   1 year into his marriage.   2 years into his work at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.  A quiet pocket of dynamite of a man.  A deep convictions.  Sacrificial living.  A faith in his sweet Lord Jesus that galvanizes all that he does.

Now he is the the ICU.  We understand that he is not in serious danger, but that the doctors want to monitor him.  Its hard to have a heart attack before you are 35. 

Mahesh's life has taken a totally different turn today.  Will you please uphold him in prayer.  Pray for his wife Bhavani who is spending the night with friends.

As a family during our evening prayers we sang a simple but powerful reminder of whom we serve:

Ah Lord God, thou hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power
Ah Lord God, thou hast made the heavens and the earth by thine out-streched hand
Nothing is too difficult for thee (no, no, no), nothing is too difficult for thee
Great and mighty God, great in counsel and mighty in power,
Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing, nothing is too difficult for thee.

Thanks for praying for Mahesh and Bhavani.


Post-script:  Saturday 6th Feb. 2016

Mahesh has been discharged.  The ECG showed that something was wrong with his heart and so he was admitted for observation and treatment.  The other tests, however, such as 2D Echo etc. did not find further problems, so Mahesh was discharged from Bethany hospital this afternoon.  Thank you Lord!