Young Mukesh had always felt a ‘weakness’, particularly in his lower limbs, when growing up in rural Daman, but since it did not disrupt his regular daily routine, it was ignored. His parents Maganbhai and Sukhibehn Halpati were daily wage labourers who worked on other people’s paddy fields. After school, Mukesh and his brother Sachin, who was four years younger, would supplement the paltry family income by helping their parents tend to the fields.
When Mukesh was 20 his parents decided it was time to find him a bride. Boys in his village married early but he was reluctant to follow the convention. However when he first met Sudhadevi he was instantly smitten! “It is the best decision I took in my life,” says Mukesh, who is now 44. “She is so kind-hearted and has such a sweet nature.” The couple moved to Daman city in search of better prospects. Although Mukesh hadn’t studied beyond school, he found a job in a medical store. Sudhadevi too found employment at a nearby anganwadi where she cooked the midday meals. After being blessed with three daughters Nisha, Gargi and Hitaishi they felt their life was complete. But sometimes life catches you unawares…
Around five years ago, the “weakness” that Mukesh had experienced in childhood suddenly flared up. His legs pained and he couldn’t even stand, let alone walk. Was it Muscular Dystrophy (MD) which causes progressive weakness of the muscles? Although most types of MD begin in childhood, there are some forms of adult-onset MD that show up between 20 and 70 years and typically after 40. Since Mukesh has no disability certificate or a clear medical diagnosis we cannot say for sure. Anyway, the family went into shock.
Shortly after, Maganbhai died and Sukhibehn came to live with Mukesh. Three years ago, another tragedy struck when Sachin suddenly died, possibly because of a perforated duodenum (“his stomach swelled up”). For two years Mukesh was on a regimen of exercises and medication and he depended heavily on Sudhadevi. An angel in disguise was his friend and neighbour Jaffer-dada who helped him with money and groceries and consistently provided moral support until he was able to regain his mobility. He says it was Jaffer-dada’s faith in him that gave him the courage to face his problems head on. Thankfully, his old job was kept open for him to resume when he recovered.
Today Mukesh works at the medical store where he is its oldest employee. During the day he enjoys meeting old customers and after he knocks off work he looks forward to his evening meal. “My wife is the best cook ever!” he says effusively. Clearly, she doesn’t display her culinary skills only in the anganwadi but also at home, where she serves her husband his favourites: dal bati and khichdi. Nisha is married and has a one-year-old son, Kian. Gargi is in 12th grade and Hitaishi in 10th; Mukesh hopes that they study well and become “officers” one day.
Sundays are the highlight of Mukesh’s week. That’s when Nisha drops in and he spends many a pleasurable moment playing with Kian. Sundays are also when he listens to devotional songs or does seva at the Goddess Meldi Mata temple near his house. “You must come visit us,” he said. “I myself will guide you to the temple.”