Sunday, 25 June 2017

Woodstock meri jaan

I have been blessed with several Alma Maters - but the one which shaped me the most was Woodstock School up in Mussoorie.

Today marks 30 years since the 54 of us from the class of 87 walked across the stage at Parker Hall to collect our degrees.  After filing out of the hall we stood in a line and shook hands and were  hugged by our parents, friends and teachers (not mutually exclusive sets).  Most of us had tears in our eyes - and the post-grad line was called the 'wailing wall' in our time.

30 years.  Time certainly flies.

And time also stands still.  I am so very grateful that my parents decided to send me up north in 1985 after I had finished my 10th at the Deutsche Schule Bombay.  Switching back to English was a joy - and the two years at Woodstock were an opening up for me - for which I am very grateful.

As heavy drops of rain fall into the darkness outside our home here on the HBM hospital Lalitpur, 30 years later, a few words looking back.

Our teachers were out of this world.  Each class I took in 11th and 12th grade was very much college level.  Problems of the Modern World with Ranjit Das.  Modern Myth with David Weidman (main text book: Lord of the Rings), Advanced Bio 2 with Max Dass (we memorized the 10 essential amino acids), European Novel with Kathy Hoffman (Darkness at Noon by Koestler stands out), German with Cherry Gough (Romulus the Great)...  the list goes on.  Our teachers poured themselves into us.  As did the dorm parents (the amazing Criders looked after us unruly lads at Hostel).  And then there were dramas and concerts, weekend hikes and the bazaar on Saturdays, the charms of Cozy Corner as we entered our Senior year and cinnamon buns thrown up to us on the balcony of the Quad art room on lazy Tuesday last periods...

A look at our year book (the first colour pages as far as I know were introduced by us in our 'double vision' themed 1987 Whispering Pine) shows one of the finest of men - Adam Azor-Smith - French teacher and life-traveller - who 'chaperoned' Anand Sinha, Steve Satow and myself on our memorable Senior year activity week to Ranthambhor National Park in Rajasthan.

 And then is the amazing experience of being brought into community.  I joined in 11th standard with about 3-4 other 'new kids' (Danny Watters, Irene Winkler come to mind).  Some of my classmates had been together since primary school.  And yet we were welcomed and made part of the bigger picture. I shared rooms over the 4 semesters with a Bangladeshi who grew up in Abu Dhabi, a Bombay-boy whose father owned an iconic hotel in SoBo, a Punjabi whose Dad worked with a large govt Engineering co, a Thai, an American mish-kid, and an England-returned Bihari.

Beyond these room-mates was a further smorgasbrod of nationalities and cultures - into which we plunged ourselves and learned to the precious gift of mutual joy through the beautiful (and some times tear-streaked) experience of building friendships.  Late night maggi noodles, long conversations with the lights out, small study groups slogging on our Bio, post-play sleep-overs, the seemingly interminable slog up the hill to school - a new world for me.  Early in my first semester I realised that I was trying to keep people out - trying to push through on my own strength.  I had a picture of myself as a miserable little prince walled in with concentric circles of barriers.  I realised that allowing others into my life was not a sign of weakness...

Thirdly, I am grateful for Woodstock for allowing me to grow in faith.  Woodstock School in the late 1980s was intentionally Christian with many staff being earnest Christians.  Most students, however, were not followers of Christ - with various religious and irreligious beliefs and practices lived out by my friends.  With no Mummy and Daddy to say 'do this' and 'do that' - it was a time of discovering and living out my faith in a new way.   Having a small sub-group of friends who were also exploring what it meant to know Jesus was mutually helpful.  My first 'church' was a group of earnest guitar-strumming fellow students who met every Sunday afternoon in Bothwell Bank (a long trek far, far up the hill) for Bible Club.  "BC" was the object of much gentle derision (some of it well-deserved) but having to step out and identify who I was and be intentional about Jesus was a huge step forward for me.  It helped to have others to worship and pray with - as it does today 30 years later.  Some of the songs still echo in my mind (sing that sweet, sweet song of salvation...).

And I have not even touched upon mentors like the Satow family who adopted me, and the Hamiltons, and, and....

30 years ago today those two years of my life ended at graduation - and the seeds sown and relationships nurtured have entwined in our lives to give much so flavour and zest over the decades.

Woodstock is an essential part of the at times almost comically complex person I am - Woodstock meri jaan. 

Friday, 16 June 2017

From the mountains to the sea

As we start this post a few words that may seem almost an apology:

Life is not as perfect for the Eicher pariwar  as these pictures may give the impression.  We have lots of grit and regret and stains that do not seem to get reflected much on this blog.  The many weeks of silence will probably point to some of that.  Will we write about it?  Perhaps - when time and tide allow - and the Spirit gives utterance...

In the mean-time, we want to acknowledge the healing virtues of vacation.  The Bible says that in repentance and rest is your salvation.  And here share some of the this journey are some pictures of our life together as a family ... A kind of photo-album of small snippets of beauty that are woven into our lives, which we wish to acknowledge with thankfulness.

A week ago, this is where we were:

Sheba with Tamana - looking down the hill from Flag Hill in Mussoorie.  We were on a day-hike with Mum and Narendra, Pramila and Tamana.   A beautiful sunny day nestled in the midst of clouds and mist - a gift for us plain dwellers to see sights like this.

And walk down paths that seemed like the central aisles of tree canopied cathedrals...

But this vacation took us to another places as well.

From the mountains to the valleys, hear our praises, rise to thee...

This year we are squeezing in a trip to coastal Andhra Pradesh as Daisy and Ramesh and their lovely kids Frankie and Shofar are in India after 2 years...

So it was good-bye to Oma Eicher - for a few weeks at least - since Asha and Enoch need to report back to boarding school in Mussoorie on the 28th of this month.

And on to a marathon cross country train trip.   We started with a rather trying drive down the hill - a huge traffic jam met us near the bottom with SUVs galore jostling through the narrows - and more than one person with affluenza showing that they thought traffic rules don't count for them - and so further added to the jam of jams.

We were blessed to have given much time as a buffer and so we were comfortably in time for our super-swish train to Delhi that nudged out of Dehra Dun station at 5 PM sharp.

Our Delhi sojourn could almost be counted in humming-bird-wing-beats.  A late night dropping-in at Victor and Sarah's place - a few conversations - packing lemon rice for the journey ahead - some prayer and sleep that was almost in the single digits of minutes.  We came in darkness and left just before dawn - with our dear Joanna Grace along with us for the journey.

As soon as we were in the train bunks were set up and blessed, blissful sleep took over.

And that is pretty much what it was like for the next 36 hours as our train took us across the parched plains and badlands of the Deccan Plateau (passing by our blessed Lalitpur but not stopping as we wooshed by in mid-day slumber)...

And with the second day of our train trip (and third on our journey) seeing us enter the land of the Telegus - 

Here be clouds....

... and the blessed beauty of green thanks to what we hope-and-pray is a 'normal' monsoon

As we trundled into Amma and Appa's home in the village of Tungalam, just outside Vishakapatnam, we were so glad to come home again.  Home to one of our safe places.  To a place of quiet and rest. And a blessed down-pour the next morning:

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And now a few words in praise of food.

It takes so long to make - and seems to disappear so quickly - but what a comfort a good meal is - especially when eaten with those we love.

My mid-riff is showing the evidence of much love (Asha and Enoch have given me a 8 kg loss challenge), but what can you say when your first morning is blessed with a meal like this:

It is a pleasure to be with Daisy and Ramesh - and catch up on their lives being lived out in far-away Arizona.  Amazed that Frankie is about to start as a freshman at ASU this fall - and that Shofar is turning 7 today (more on that in another post).   Time to talk and unwind.  We planned to visit others in the villages, but are just too tired, and to in need of down-time at this point to do that.  Hence we are happily ensconced at Jaba Villa and are doing the essentials of eating, sleeping, reading, talking, praying, eating some more (you get the picture).

Being near the sea, we are blessed with its fruits:

Which means some more serious noshing en familie

As said many a moon ago when Steve Satow and I spent a winter holiday visit to Anand Sinha's family in Patna: sometimes silence at the table is the ultimate complement to a good meal - as all the trenchermen (and women) are blissfully working away at their victuals.

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And then there is the joy of being in a village.  Yes, Lalitpur is rather rural, but there is something about the good folk of  Andhra that makes you want to go out for walks.  

Colours seem more vivid here.  Buildings are painted with what seems a desire to explore the breadth of the palette.  The vegetable market is Kodachrome-worthy:

Local delicacies - plastic footwear - fish (dried and fresh) are all available to the discerning shopper at the weekly market held in the BHPV campus - a large government undertaking which makes 'heavy plates and vessels' (whatever those may be).

And well, when you are walking around in a market, the purse strings do beg to be opened.  Enoch decided to snack on some 'mini-samosas.'

On our way back we are confronted with the paradox of village life here:

A gold colour Gandhi statue - looking rather grim and a bit forlorn guards the entrance to the village. Next to him is a rather limp CITU flag - one of the communist trade unions from the government plant.  On our way in, a young man had chosen to lean against the pedestal of the 'father of the nation' while making a phone call on his mobile (or was he updating his facebook status?).

Behind Gandhiji the village pond.  Complete with ducks.  And a collection of temples and houses that continue to spring up in many-hued splendour under the grey early monsoonal skies.

Meanwhile, the dogs are asleep... and I have promises to keep.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

In a Mussoorie state of mind...

Many, many moons ago, Summers used to mean a magical trip from Bombay to Kodaikanal.

The long 3rd class train trip through the heat down to Madras Central station, then going over to Egmore station to catch the evening train (meter gauge) towards Madurai.   An early morning stop at Kodai road when we got into the bus for the 4+ hours drive up to Kodai.  Stopping at Batlagundu for bondas and coffee.  And finally the climb up the hills, with the wave after wave of beautiful breezes and the aroma of eucalyptus announcing that Kodai was close at hand...

In 1984 our parents decided that Woodstock School would be the place that they would apply for my last 2 years of school.  Providentially, the doors opened (financially and otherwise) and I spent an amazing 2 years at my beloved WS, and then had Mum and Dad and Premi move up here just before I graduated (Stefan had joined after my first year here).

With Mum and Dad shifting to Landour, and eventually being gifted an amazing cottage which Dad rebuilt as 'Shanti Kunj' and Mum filled with love, Mussoorie has become a second home.  More so with last year seeing both Asha and Enoch dive into their own boarding experience at Wynberg Allen School.  Boarding school has its own rhythms which means that as parents of boarders we are called up what seems pretty often.

Not that we are complaining.  After all, who can get tired of a view like this:

Straight out of the window from Shanti Kunj.

Stunning greenery.  Silence so heavy you can cut it with a knife.

The woods are a constant source of delight. Every where you look you see God's grandeur pixillated and multiplied in ever repeating patterns of beauty.

Even random shots capture what the heart hungers for...

And then there is the Mussoorie sky.  That strange deep blue so different from the haze you get down in the plains.

Most of the time clear, but when the clouds do come in...

But let us leave outward beauty and step into Shanti Kunj.

Every nook and corner has its own charm.  The various artifacts and mementos are bathed with love.   You hardly believe that you are living in it all when you are here - I always feel something like being in a dream whenever I walk through the door with its permanent 'welcome home' sign on it.

We are up in Mussoorie to pick up Enoch and Asha from boarding.  This was done happily.  Wynberg is steeped in tradition - each student had their own hymnbook and the day starts with an assembly where the hymns are sung lustily.

We were glad to find out that both Asha and Enoch ran in the 5 K run this month.  Enoch certainly has enough practice it seems - each day he does 7 K with the other boys in his hostel.  Compulsory. But the actual 5 K run was not, so both Asha and Enoch have taken a small step in the legacy of their uncle Stefan who ran a pretty mean cross-country in his day.

What a joy to all be together around the table at Shanti Kunj - with our happy married newly-weds Manoj and Christina.

We missed their wedding - but all were in for a treat when Sheba cooked her fabulous coconut chicken curry.

Which we followed up with Oma's magnificent apricot cake, with ice cream and black coffee - eating off the floral plates from Oma's childhood.  Beauty continues over the years.

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Shanti Kunj is home to so many.  During Dad's time, we had a steady stream of family and friends coming by.  That has continued with Mum playing the happy host and super-mum to a constant crowd.

Yesterday we were joined by our dear brother Narendra Kumar and his lovely wife Pramila and their 10 year old daughter Tamana.

Breakfast this morning was vintage pancakes served hot and fresh off the electric heater - which we received from my grand-parents when they left India after retiring as missionaries.

With today being our last full day in Mussoorie (small tear), we decided we must do at least a small hike.  So we geared up this morning for a walk up Flag Hill.

After the mandatory shuffling about and cooking and packing and repacking and getting all 8 of us present and accounted for, we were ready for the great outdoors.

And so we were off on a beautifully sunny and cool day - so different from the stifling heat of Lalitpur or any of the great tandoori oven that most of North India is at this time (BBC said that a place in Pakistan registered 51 degrees this past week...).

The mighty Himalayan Cedar (Deodar) formed a glorious living cathedral for us as we walked down towards Fairy Glen and Jabbarkhet.

Glorious forests. Greens of every hue.

 You just keep looking in wonder all round you.  Is this real?  Am I alive?

The altitude does remind you of your mortal flesh-and-blood nature - as does the slight film of sweat that any good hike gives you.

And there is always the steady reality of the hills - that when you walk down, you will have to walk up again (and vice versa - every steep climb means a good run down sooner or later).

Here Pramila and Oma walk up the road towards the Flag Hill gap.

 Flag Hill is now a privately run nature sanctuary going by the name of Jabarkhet Nature Reserve.

It was a tiny bit odd to buy a ticket to do a hike which we had done so many times before for free - but we are happy to support conservation initiatives like this - ones that do not only preserve nature, but are also providing employment for local people.

The views continue to be stunning and there did seem to be just a tad more forest vegetation than what I remembered from previous years...

 Any hike worth it salt has to have food - and we had Narendra and Vikram to thank for our spread.  Still warm parathas and alu subji, dahi and cukes.  A feast fit for a king.

And what better place to polish off such nosh as under an oak tree - which post lunch became a nap-site as we lay down and read Jim Corbett's story about the man-eating tiger of Muktesar - a place where I had done my forestry field work in 1993.

A beautiful day.  A beautiful place.  Beautiful people.  

What a life.

Can't we keep living like this forever?  

Someday, maybe.  But there is a lot of work that our loving Master is calling us to do.  And so we reluctantly will be leaving the hillside tomorrow for plains, and work, and all that is in store for us.

Till then we will feast on our memories - and scenes like this:

Au reviour Mussoorie, you remain in our hearts and minds.