Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Oh little town of Chinchpada....

Chinchpada is a village.  6575 inhabitants as of the 2011 census.

I stepped out into darkness.  The train had stopped at 2.15 AM.  I knew that the next stop was Chinchpada station.  But I didn't see a platform next to my train.  I opened both doors and went from side to side.  Outside, darkness.  A vague shape of a platform on either side - but that could be a good's platform - I was supposed to be at Chinchpada station.  My fellow passengers were fast asleep in the cold of a November night in northern Maharashtra.  The red light gleamed in the darkness.  Just as another red light had gleamed when our train had stopped in the countryside 5 minutes earlier.

Get out the mobile phone.  Daniel was waiting for me at the station.  I got through.  "How much longer to the station?" I asked him. "or are we already here?  I don't see anything outside" "You are here" Daniel replied "get out soon."

I did. I scrambled down to the ground and got one bag out.  The other was at the door. As I reached up, the train started to move.  I pulled it out and watched as the train juddered away into nocturnal ink.

The stabbing beams of a torch come toward me.  Sure enough, there was Daniel and a watchman from the hospital.  The welcoming committee had arrived.

We finally got to the 'train station building' - a quaint relic that looked like Jim Corbett would walk out of it and enquire whether his workmen should start unloading the goods cars.

The new station is being built but the electricity was not on - and hence no clue to me that this was my destination.  In fact, I was the only one on the Surat - Bhusaval passenger train to get off at Chinchpada at that ungodly hour.

Daniel and the watchman helped me carry my luggage (why was I carrying so much) on the 10 minute walk to the Chinchpada Christian Hospital, which was hosting the "RAC meetings" our semi-annual business meetings for two regions of the Emmanuel Hospital Association of which our beloved HBM Hospital in Lalitpur is part of.

The next morning we were up at the crack of dawn to participate in the morning devotions held at open chapel building in the middle of the hospital.

Almost the entire staff of the Hospital were lined up in front - singing with voices of angels.   I have heard my fair share of Hindi Christian hymns - and most of the are the 'make a joyful noise' variety.  With the emphasis on the latter word.  
Dr. Ashita and Dr. Deepak have been leading more than just the singing hospital staff - they have plunged into helping rebuild the small village hospital into something very special.  Chinchpada Christian Hospital - where Deepak has been posted a decade or so earlier as a fresh MBBS doctor - has been struggling for years with low patient loads, debt and decay.   Started by TEAM missionaries 2 generations ago - the hospital has had many dark years...

... but today, you can say that Chinchpada Christian Hospital is a ray of light.   Dr. Deepak (a freshly minted paediatric surgeon from CMC Vellore) and Dr. Ashita (a medicine consultant from the same illustrious college) have poured their lives into the hospital community.  The whole team is energised. We were thrilled to see real signs of renewal - with the decades of crumbling being replaced with rennovated buildings - with most still maintaining the 'cottage hospital' style buildings with their distinctive tiled roofs.

But what is more amazing is the state-of-the-art ICU and the straight-from-the-heart medical care being given.  The fruits of much prayer and much deep-pocket generosity by donors near and far.

Chinchpada Christian Hospital is one of our sister hospitals - and we and 7 other hospitals from the Northern and Central Regions of the Emmanuel Hospital Association gathered for 3 days to share our strategic plans for the next 5 years - and our next years budgets and personnel projections.

Here Dr. Vikram Tirkey from Champa Christian Hospital, is sharing their plans.  To the right of him are Dr. Sunil Gokavi, Dr. Deepak Singh, Dr. Ashok Chacko and our dear Victor Emmanuel.   It was a privilege to share the HBM strategic planning process - and some of what we are hoping to see happen - as well as the figures that our HBM leader Mr. Biju Mathew had worked tirelessly to project for our next year's work. 

We are a 'fellowship for transformation' and I was again struck by how important our fellowship is. The fact of so many amazing folks choosing to stick it out for so many years - like the evergreen Dr. Ashok Chacko who actually started his career of service at Chinchpada and shared some of the experiences of grace during a morning devotion.

More recent vintage are our dear Daniel and Yerusha Kautikkar who are doing a phenomenal job with the palliative care programme.  They have enrolled over 60 cases in the past 3 months - and have already dealt with numerous deaths as these dear ones have been so uncared-for prior to them being met by the Chinchpada Christian Hospital team.  Daniel and Yerusha were with us at JSK before and what a joy to see them taking wing in this tribal dominated part of north-western Maharashtra.

Our EHA Executive Director - Dr. Sunil Gokavi - took the opportunity to remind us why we are here in the first place "We exist for Christ and His Gospel - A Fellowship for Transformation through Caring."

Sunil wants to see us effective - and is passionate about getting us to work in a more focussed and coordinated way.  EHA is now a big beast - 20 hospitals spread out over North India.  45 plus community health and development projects.  Nursing schools.   Tie-ups with government and academia.  Over 2000 staff.   We are blessed to be this far.  We still have a long way to go.

It was entirely appropriate that we could celebrate Deepak and Ashita's 16th wedding anniversary while the whole motley crew of us were there together.  It's a long long way from Bible Club in Mussoorie in the late 80s when Deepak (then at Wynberg) used to join the 'holy gang' from Woodstock.  But what a blessed journey it has been!

As I left the hospital to go up to Delhi (and pick up our dear Asha whom Mum had brought down from Mussoorie) I left with many happy conversations and many big questions buzzing in my mind.

Thank you Chinchpada Christian Hospital for hosting us.  The food - each meal - was cooked by teams of staff (some who came back from being on leave).  The love was real.  We were treated like kings.

A final picture - the humble but functional building that houses the Emmanuel Public School which also operates out of the Chinchpada Christian Hospital.   What an investment in the future!  We are so glad for yet another way that the hospital is shaping lives - and wish that every hospital will have a sister concern like this!

 Onwards.   Upwards.   Soli Deo gloria.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Two ladies

We live in an age where we are agog.

Amidst the brouhaha of a turbulent US election (yes the votes are being cast even as your 'umble blogger types away in far-off Lalitpur) we have a brouheehee of a sudden announcement by our eminent first citizen that as of now all the Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes in India are not valid any more (how can you just mandate that?  Who is our govt. accountable to?).

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne! sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen, und freudenvollere....

Lets take a step back and think about two ladies.

We were in old Calcutta 10 days ago.  It now seems a year back, but that's the pace we are living at.

Sheba, Enoch, Victor and I arrived in Cal for a conference on a red-eye flight from Delhi, to find out that instead of starting right after lunch as I had thought.  And so since this was the very first time Enoch was in Kolkata, we were able to look around a bit.

We dropped off our baggage at the Baptist Mission Society - which was where Victor was put up... and wouldn't we know it, but just 30 meters away was the "Mother House".

Yup, the place where Mother Theresa of Calcutta lived.  Where Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu lived and where she died.  Where the Missionaries of Charity are head-quartered.  A non-descript, dumpy building on what could have been any large road of the mighty city of Kolkata.

Would they allow us in?  Was there anything to see?  I was totally unprepared for this, but there we were at the entrance and saw this sign:

Yes, the dear Mother is 'in,' and yes, we could come in and look, said the gentle nun sitting just inside the door, clad in the blue bordered white sari of the Missionaries of Charity.

I caught my breath at the next sign:  no photography allowed, except at the grave.  

At the grave?  

Sure enough, just a few steps away, and without any fan-fare, we were suddenly in a room where the mortal remains of the little woman whose heart burned with love for Jesus and for the poor has been laid.  

I couldn't believe that I was just there, standing next to the plain white marble cube that is her grave, with a few people praying and some flowers spelling out a message: "You did it to me" 

Ordinary people praying.  A sense of the total normalness of devotion.

In a simple room next door is a mini-museum.  What a life this lady lived.  Stepping out of the safety of the convent to minister to the poor.  Being feted by the glitterati of the world - and still staying mission-true to her calling.

Fascinatingly, the day before I had a conversation with a very experienced development leader. Somehow she mentioned that she had once called Mother Theresa on the phone.  This lady had worked with a Scandinavian country's foreign aid agency, and the royal family of that country was visiting Calcutta and wanted to meet Mother Theresa.  "What should they bring with them" was the question my friend was to ask Mother Theresa.  This she dutifully did.  Mother told her: "Milk powder.  Tell them to bring milk powder for the children."  When this was conveyed to the powers to be, my friend was asked to reconfirm.  Same reply.  And so the royals met Mother T and handed over a few boxes of milk-powder.

I was deeply moved to see the utter simplicity of these lady's life.  Her hidden world of prayer is of course well known, but I was touched by the spartan reality of a life of renunciation - and yet a life of fullness.

Seeing a letter she wrote to her beloved sisters in her order, informing them about one of the many honours that were given to her touched me deeply.  The spidery, fading hand-writing was written all over... an old envelop which had been addressed to her.

And then the picture of her room.  It was Thursday, and for some reason that is the day of the week where her room is closed, but we saw a picture of where this little light of Jesus lived.  Talk about basic, stripped down.  It looked to me like a store room where some old tables were being stacked, rather than the dwelling place of a Nobel laureate and one who received a full state funeral when she was finally called home.

The compactness of it all meant that we were immersed in the life of Mother Theresa for an hour, and then were out on the streets of Cal again.

What do next - with the precious hours on hand?

We decided to go to the Victoria Memorial.

I dimly remember it as a white building with a museum gallery about how Calcutta was formed.  So we hopped in a yellow Ambassador Cab and were scooted away to the centre of the city.

Wow.  Most times when I see something after many years, it always seems smaller.

But this time was the opposite.  Was it having come from the austerity of the Mother House? Anyway, I don't remember at all the place being so huge, and lying in the middle of a massive expanse of open space.

We had to take an obligatory touristy picture with the lions (and sleeping dogs) that guard the memorial!

As  we walked along what seemed an endless space from the gate towards the main structure, we passed the crusty statue of a monarch long dead:  Queen Victoria (the then) Empress of India.

The contrast between this dead woman, the small shrivelled nun, who had emptied herself as her Lord did could hardly be greater.

Her royal doughtiness sits on her throne, with selfie-taking tourists arrayed in front of her (I cropped them out of this image of course).  For all the pomp and glory she enjoyed in her life-time, I doubt whether even 1 in 10 of the folks passing her statue even knows who she is.

At the base of her statue, is this rococo brass work (originally made for another statue - so perhaps an early example of recycle, reduce, reuse).

And the theme continues as we come close to what is a colossal building.

It just towers above you.

Inside, we are part of a stream of folks looking around.  There are statues galore - with a lysome young Victoria portrayed idealistically in her youth in the central done - and other royalty of that era (Princess Ann comes to mind) standing in life-size in various nooks and crannies.   We take the steps up to the viewing gallery in the cupola - and realise that it is a view down to the main floor, and a view up to 12 iconic paintings showing the key events of her Victoria's life - all the way from her christening with Bishops galore, to her funeral.  Ditto.  And Bishops in between too.

I looked at our fellow visitors.  Many seemed strangers to the big city.  Very few glanced up at her gilded life, as portrayed in the 12 art-deco scenes.  The memorial is huge, but few seem to grasp that this is a building to celebrate a great lady.

Reading the origins of the monument heightened the disconnect.  The inscription informed us that after the news of the death of Victoria came to India, the great and the good decided to raise a monument in her honour - so that the whole populus - native and european - could glory in her memory....   We were also informed that the funds for this vast project were raised by public subscription.

Initially I thought of little boys carrying collection boxes and raising funds.  But then I looked at the base of two of the royal statues.  "A gift of the Aga Khan" was inscribed on the base.  Public subscription thus probably meant milking the rich and powerful to make something dazzling.

Now, it's another matter that we don't seem to have made anything really noteworthy as a nation since the Brits marched back to Blighty three score and nine years ago.  We do understand that some collossal statue is being built in Gujarat of course, but will have to wait till it actually is constructed before making a comment.

But the deeper question for me was comparing these two ladies.

Who remembers Victoria anymore.  Yes, you can say that she died a century before Theresa of Calcutta did.  But then another famous British royalty died on the same day too.  Who remembers Princess Di these days?

But a simple, broken lady, who poured out her life in rigorous prayer and focused care for the broken and rejected is feted and remembered all over our land... and in many parts of the world.

As I wrote in the guestbook at the Mother House, I could not help be moved to tears by what others had written too.

I saw no such wonder - neither among the 'Native' nor in the (scattered) 'European' visitors - as they filed out of the cavernous Victoria Memorial.  Selfies - yes.  Tears of wonder - no.

The grand memorial to ole queen Vic is still in fairly good shape.   There is no ruin as Shelley talked about in his poem Ozymandias.... but at the same time, the very purpose of memorialising Victoria has lapsed as generations of Indians have grown up without her successors ruling over us.  So here the voice of the poet anyway:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away

Far better, far deeper, far more reaching is to do small things in the face of God.

Theresa of Calcutta lived this out.  We have opportunities to do so like wise.

The US is choosing their leader as we type this out.  You and I can choose which of these two ladies we seek to emulate - the white-saried nun, or the ruler of the empire where the sun never sets.  Both lie in the grave, but one's life shines forth...

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Ray Eicher: "See you later"

Our dear older brother Rudy Gomez spent a memorable week with us here with Dad from the 25th of July to August 1st this year.   Dad was fading over these days.  Rudy captured some of the experience with his video cam and has put together a montage for which we are all very grateful.

Dad died 12 days after telling Rudy: "See you later."


RayEicher-See You Later! 720p from Rudy and Aneng Gomez on Vimeo.

God be with you till we meet again;
By his counsels guide, uphold you;
With his sheep securely fold you.
God be with you till we meet again.

Till we meet, till we meet,
Till we meet at Jesus' feet,
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again;
When life's perils thick confound you,
Put his arms unfailing round you.
God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again;
Keep love's banner floating o'er you;
Smite death's threat'ning wave before you.
God be with you till we meet again.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Kolkata Daze

We fell out of the sky and into Kolkata last weekend.

The contrast between the celestial and the terrestrial was pretty stark.

The sight of a city from above is always a delight - and as you swoop down you start seeing the its-bitsy vehicles moving like so many ants, the houses become more than tiny little fairy boxes, and then you come lower and see individuals flitting by and the earth rises up to meet you.

Once out of the airport we get into living history - the yellow ambassadors which still ply the streets of old (and new) Kolkata.

My memories of Kolkata as the rickety city seem to still be true.

The busses look like they have been around the world and back.  We pass 2 trams stuck while workmen do something on the overhead electric lines.

Sheba, Enoch and I are in Cal for a few days as part of a conference.  Most of the time we are in the Seva Kendra premises where Christ-following medicos from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka... and Myanmar are meeting up (our Pakistani friends wanted to come, but the current political scene is not conducive of them making the hop over).

We didn't plan on sight-seeing, but end up with a quick peek at the Victoria Memorial (more on this in the next post), 

 Life on the streets of Cal continues to amaze.

The normal amongst the decaying.  Every little bit of land in use, at the same time, much of the old in genteel disintegration.

The thong of my chappal broke.  All I needed was to step 15 meters out of the Seva Kendra premises - and there was my man.   I watched a neighbouring barber ply his trade as the cobbler worked on my chappal - while talking to a young man who had dreams of emigrating to Canada.

Post monsoon showers were with us and had cooled the city down a bit.

I was fascinated by the old - much of where was being overgrown

I had also expected to see more of Mother Theresa around.   The 'Mother House' itself did have a small library and exhibition area, but all so very modest.  We did pass this shrine in a by-lane of Cal, celebrating the declaring that Mother Theresa is officially a saint now...

Enoch wanted to see a tram.  We saw lots of tracks, but few trams plying.  I was shocked to see that there are still some human-pulled Rickshaws around.   All those years of Marxism hasn't removed this misery... and the current govt's "poriborton' (change) does not seem to have touched many parts of the city (other than the now ubiquitous 'blue' on most public utilities.

The long shadow of the British remains.  I am amused to see street after street bearing their original colonial names.  The rest of our nation has happily renamed them at whim and fancy, but in old Cal they keep the hoary past marching forward.

And as we came close to Howrah, we look up to see these gems from the days of the John company...

All very propah of course, but down on the streets the Bengalis do what Bengalis in Kolkata do... they celebrate in a big way, with the local 'youth clubs' making sure every one knows what festival it is (and collecting money from the locals to finance the decorations and other sundry expenses).

We are on our way out, having dropped Sheba at the airport to Chennai (and then on to a week at Vellore), while Enoch and I were heading to Howrah station to catch the Chambal Express.

Who isn't impressed by the mass of steel above our heads as we cross the Hoogly river?

And along with us, escorting us on our way out of old Kolkata, are the rickety busses again.

We get to the station 1.5 hours early.  Plenty of time for a masala dosa and a visit to Wheelers Bookstall to load ourselves down with various newspapers and magazines for the trip.

Before we know it, the train has whisked us back to central India, to scenes outside our window like this:

Kolkata is now a distant dream.  Did we even go there?  It all seems Rip-Van-Winkelish here.

What a city.  If I had grown up in it I would have loved it.  But Mumbai was my childhood city and so my sentiments flow freer for that paradoxical place.  

Adieu Kolkata, till our paths take us back to you.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Wearing my father's clothes

I am wearing a lot of Dad's clothes these days.

After Dad died here in Lalitpur in mid August, I was up in Mussoorie twice, and each time came back down with more of his clothes.

Today I am wearing his khadi kurta and a set of black slacks.

At first the clothes smelled strongly of Dad.  Or should I say of the Keo Karpin oil that he used liberally on himself.  As the weeks have gone by, and successive trips to the washing machine, the scent has faded a bit.

The memories come and go these days.  Normally when I am slipping on one of Dad's shirts or kurtas, or when I hitch up a pair of the splendid pants I have inherited from him, my mind goes back to him.

How strange to have him not 'around' - at least in the sense that I know he is there with Mum in Mussoorie - praying for us multiple times a day - meeting people with his big smile and welcome - sending emails to various parts of the globe (and to us too of course) with his SOOOOOOO MUCH exclamations.

How strange to know that I am wearing these clothes, because Dad is dead.  Because he does not need them anymore, and because as Eichers we are quite comfortable with hand-me-downs and hand-me-ups.  It's very much what Dad would have wanted.

In the rush of life after Dad's translation to glory, I have to admit that I have not taken much time to be quiet and just reflect and pray.  The on-going cascade of minutes filled with things-to-do (and various levels of leisure) swirl around us, and the business of the present crowds out much else.

So feeling the cloth gives me some opportunities to process.  Little glimpses and reminders.  And I try to say a quick prayer of thanks when the memories come.   The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away.  Blessed be His name.

It's humbling to be wearing Dad's togs.  It is inevitable, and I think in some ways right and healthy, to compare yourself with your father.  The high bar that Dad and Mum have lived out in their open vulnerable lives, their generosity of spirit and deed, the commitment to the Lord and His plans on their lives... all these are hard acts to follow.   As I put on a shirt of Dad hurriedly in the morning a small thought comes to mind - how would Dad have lived this day?   Feeling the still slightly un-used-to feel of his pants when I sit down occasionally spurs a thought about him - and about how my life is being lived out.

Of course, Dad would never want me to imitate him.  His own life was a careful imitation of His Master, the gentle carpenter, the wounded healer, the patient shepherd of foolish disciples, the one who spent hours in communion with His Father.   I hope that I can gratefully look beyond Dad to the source of His strength and the author of all that was good within Raymond Elmore Eicher.

I hope that my actions, my attitudes, my words and my decisions will bear the fragrance of the sweet Jesus that Dad loves so much.   I am not concerned about whether Dad can 'see me' today - as David Rendall said at Dad's funeral - Dad's face is probably glued to the beauty and shining majesty of His Saviour's face.  But I would like the one whom Dad loved to fill me with His love, and clothe me with His beautiful character.


Last weekend had another clothes-related experience which moved me deeply.

Sheba, Enoch and I were attending the South Asia regional conference of the ICMDA (the International Christian Medical and Dental Associations).  Dr. Arul Anketell from Sri Lanka, a saintly man of deep love for God and His word and all the many imperfect followers of Jesus was giving the evening devotions.  On the final night, Dr. Arul was sharing about exchanging a garland of joy for the ashes of despair.  He talked about how he had wanted to get a flower garland and give it to someone in the room, but was not able.  Then he took out a purple shirt and said that instead he had decided to give his favourite shirt to someone.  And then he told the entire crowd that he would like, if I permitted him, to give it to me....

What to say?  What an amazing privilege to have Dr. Arul drape the purple shirt around my shoulders.  Even now my eyes are rather moist as I think about his offering of love - and the amazing privilege of being 'chosen' out of all the other folks whom Dr. Arul knew so well in that room...

We stand on the shoulders of giants.  We are draped with the mantles of those who have quested before us.  We are clothed in the garments of righteousness.

Let us step forward, knowing that we are not worthy, but grateful for the abounding love that is wrapped around us like a cloak.