Patrick D’Souza jovially announced that he had scored 98 on his latest certificate, up from his previous score of 50. We may be forgiven for presuming he was speaking about some exam he had cracked. The 40-year-old from Goa was referring to the percentage on his disability certificate! He has Muscular Dystrophy (MD). His hands function partially but his legs are severely affected.
Incidentally, this wisecracking government employee did write an exam recently. Currently an upper-division clerk of the Rajbhasha Sanchalanalaya (Directorate of Official Language i.e. Konkani), he aims to join the civil service and in January he sat for the exam for the post of Junior Scale Officer of the Goa Public Service Commission. In school he was more interested in sports than in studies. A “lost-and-found dropout” is what he calls himself. We cannot capture, in this limited space, his vivid and jocular narration of his life story. And a rather colourful life it was, before he found his niche as "king of the office" and “the face that runs this place”.
Born in Margao, Patrick was 10 when his father died; his mother Julie D’Souza, a government school teacher, has been his motivating spirit ever since. When he was 14 his mother’s brother detected a slight change in his gait. That year an orthopedist who treated his fractured hand suggested he get his leg checked at Goa Medical College (GMC). The doctor in GMC, after running tests on him for two days, asked Julie whether she had married a relative. Children from consanguineous marriages are more likely to inherit genetic diseases, and this was probably what the doctor was pondering as he revealed to them that Patrick had MD.
At first his mother and two siblings didn’t realise the gravity of the disorder. After all, he was still active in sports. His tenth grade marks were nothing to write home about but he loved to play cricket, football, hockey and table tennis. His muscle weakness and loss of body mass increased inch by inch over the years. After tenth grade he wanted to do a diploma course in Hotel Management because he was passionate about cooking (he still is!). He stood first in the written exam but during the orals, an examiner noticed he had a problem with his legs. He explained that working in hotel kitchens would involve standing for eight to ten hours and suggested that a deskbound job would be more appropriate.
Disheartened, Patrick completed his 12th grade in Commerce, lost interest in his studies when he entered college, joined the government polytechnic in Panjim which offered a diploma course in engineering as well as free board and lodging, got into ‘bad company’ and dropped out. By then his condition was worsening and he was falling down frequently. He learnt typing, took three years to complete a one-year ITI course in Computers, worked for a priest as his factotum, slaved for a pittance in a stationery shop (where a potential love story was nipped in the bud), and worked in another stationery shop where he learnt the ropes of the business. He finally decided to do his graduation through a correspondence course, completing B.Com in five years.
All the while, Patrick kept applying for government jobs in the ‘disability reservation’ category while Julie persistently knocked on the doors of the power-that-be to appeal on his behalf. He attended 20-25 interviews unsuccessfully. In May 2008 he got a call for an interview on a date that coincided with his parents’ wedding anniversary. After partying the previous night, he had woken up late and was in no mood to undertake yet another doomed exercise but Julie said, “At least make me happy on our anniversary.” She had to hustle him through the process of submitting his certificates and meeting the interview panel. In August he could hardly believe his eyes when he got his appointment letter.
Patrick could no longer ignore the inexorable decline of his physique. He started using a wheelchair in February 2015 but was determined to not let it impede his office duties. As his mother told him, “You have a fighting spirit. You always hide your fear and disappointments.” Although he has now employed a fulltime caregiver he tenaciously hauls his body out of bed to use the toilet, take a bath and dress himself. He lives in government quarters in Panjim, just 15 minutes away from office by autorickshaw. On weekends he goes home to Margao.
His passion for cooking remains alive. “Nobody can beat my dal,” he asserts. Among the various meat dishes he likes to prepare are Goan specialties like Pork Vindaloo and Chicken Cafreal. Occasionally, Patrick-the-poet breaks through. “I really don’t mind the pain and tears once in a while,” he writes, and riffing on the lyrics of a pop song he continues: “I will be where the lights are shining on me.”