Willy's, Morris Minor, Fiat, Austin, Ferguson, Mercedes Benz, Chevrolet, Volkswagen – these are just among the few brands 103-year-old CSR Michael D'Souza has driven.
A veteran of World War II, Michael has been driving for the last 85 years.
But giving up his car keys is simply not an option for him. "I enjoy driving and never got tired of it. I will continue to drive till the lord sends me his vehicle," he smiles.
A native of Ooty, Michael was born to Charlson and Mary D’Souza on October 16th, 1914. Michael's first tryst with a vehicle was at the age of 18, when he and his 13 siblings drove around Ooty in his father's truck.
"The licence issued then was a page-long and it was applicable for all vehicles. Unlike today, there was no such thing as a licence based on vehicle category," he says.
In 1932, he was enlisted in the British Army for 10 years and during his service he travelled to different parts of the country.
"However, due to the loss of my original military documents during transit in Visakhapatnam, my post-service benefits were denied to me. Though I appealed to my superiors for several years, I gave up realising it was a lost cause," he says.
Meanwhile, Michael married Eliza, and the couple moved to the erstwhile Madras Presidency. Though they had no children, it was a happy marriage, he says, and they regarded the children of his elder brother as their own.
A few years later, Michael joined the Public Works Department (PWD) in Mysore and later he was transferred to Mangalore. At PWD, Michael had the chance to drive the general purpose vehicle, affectionately called ‘Jeep’ (GP). He also was given the opportunity to drive a truck, tractors and even road rollers.
"It was quite an experience, since the department barely had qualified man-power to operate such heavy-duty machines. I was asked to drive everything and I took the opportunity to make the most of it," he laughs.
In fact, several roads in Mysore, Udupi and Mangalore were first asphalted and sealed when he drove the road roller over them.
In 1982, he retired from service, but the couple stayed on in Mangalore.
Michael got his first license in 1959, and he has renewed it constantly since then.
"On my last visit, the RTO inspector said in jest that should I make it for my next renewal in 2019, then he will award me the permit driving for a lifetime," Michael smiles.
Michael's license and ID cards.
Considering he has driven so many vehicles, which one does he prefer?
“The GP,” he says, without missing a beat. "It does not skid and in unstable territory you can also shift to a lower gear and drive.”
He has only driven a two-wheeler once. “I got so dizzy, I stopped immediately. I am only cut out to driver vehicles with four wheels or more,” he says.
Except for a brief period in 1993 when he had a cataract surgery, Michael has never stopped driving. At the ripe age of 103, his medical records show that he is incredibly fit for his age and shows no signs of age-related ailments.
His secret, he says, is his diet, which comprises rice, curd, chapathi and bread. Although, up until a couple of years ago, he used to consume meat frequently, lately he has reduced his intake of non-vegetarian food.
"As our age progresses, I believe we should not strain our stomachs. Therefore, nowadays I eat meat only rarely," he says.
He is also incredibly active – no matter the number of floors, he always takes the stairs.
After Eliza passed away in 2013 – at the age of 83 – Michael’s routine changed. He now wakes up at 4 am every morning to tend to his garden and feed his cat, dog and birds. "Earlier, I used to even have a goat, a chicken and a duck. My wife was very irritated with the tortoise I had, so I had to give him up," he says.
Always dressed in a formal shirt, pants and a golfer's hat, Michael still works – he now drives for a local banker and his family. The one concession he does make for his age is that he now avoids going on long drives and driving late in the night.
What does Michael think of drivers today? “Terrible!” he shakes his head. “People just don’t follow lane discipline any more. It’s horrible the way autorickshaws and two-wheelers switch lanes these days. One of the main reasons I don’t drive in the evening is how people thoughtlessly switch on their high beams even on well-lit roads. It can easily lead to an untoward incident.”
In his 85 years behind the wheel, Michael says he has been fined only once for not wearing a seatbelt. "Three months ago, when I was fined, I went to the station to pay the fine. The inspector took the receipt, laughed when he saw my age and the fact I was being fined for the first time, and said he will pay the fine on my behalf and let me go," smiles Michael.
Ironically, Michael does not own a car, although the centenarian does not regret it. "As long as I am allowed to drive a car, I don't have any qualms about it," he says.
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