PANAJI: There is no walking stick in the Leitao home in Varca. Even though in it lives a centenarian, Pedro Lazaro simply doesn’t need one, instead calmly moving about the house by himself.
Pedro, who turns 103 on Tuesday, is the kind of indomitable spirit that livens up the pages of a Marquez or Llosa novel.
In the 70s, he had a narrow escape from Idi Amin’s brutal regime in Uganda. He played football, tennis, badminton and billiards, loves his whisky, and loves his sweets.
At 99, he retired from gardening. Even now, past 100, he survived three waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, and is in no mood to stop.
In all of his years, ‘Lazarine bhav’, as he’s known in the coastal village, has spent a grand total of one day in hospital. He still doesn’t like taking too many medical tests, but was among the first to get the jab, and is fully vaccinated.
He never drove a car or rode a motorcycle, but he didn’t let that keep him indoors. Till 85, he cycled, and occasionally sneaked out of the house to catch a bus to Margao, even at 95. “Although we wouldn’t let him, he would dress up and go to the bus stop, which is a hop, skip and jump away from our house, and return home by motorcycle pilot,” his wife Alice, 88, told TOI.
However, despite his active lifestyle, his son Paul instead attributes his long life to something else — his never yearning for material things, and his love for his grandchildren. “I have 15 grandchildren. They’re happy with me, and when they ask me ‘how’s grandpapa?’, I’m really happy to hear their voice,” the centenarian said. “Love and laugh forever till you die, that’s what I do.”
Alice said his long and healthy life also reflects on her and the lifetime of care she has supported him with. Pedro asked Alice to be his wife after being presented with her photograph.
His day begins with porridge and coffee, and sometimes a papaya, followed by juice, and a little fish for lunch with a morsel of rice. “He just nibbles and doesn’t feel very hungry,” Alice says. “Biscuits and tea in the evening and soup with a slice of cheese for dinner and he’s done for the day,” she added.
Till recently, Pedro read the newspapers himself with a magnifying glass. Now he can only manage to read the headlines. If there’s something that interests him, there’s always Alice who reads the copy to her husband.
At his home in Varca, Pedro reminisces about his miraculous escape from East Africa. It was the years following 1972, when president Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of Uganda’s Asian minority. Pedro and his relatives were among the 80,000-odd persons of Indian descent living in the country.
Those days, it was dangerous to travel. But against Alice’s advice, Pedro was travelling to visit his brother’s family. Unfortunately, military personnel stopped his bus and offloaded the Asians and took them to a camp. To his luck, a military officer recognised him.
At home, Alice, who bore an excruciating wait for three days, had to put on a brave face when a bus full of armed military men arrived at their house.
Pedro and Alice decided they would leave at the first opportunity. In 1979, they left with a few belongings. “We faced tough times in Goa when we returned. It was a lot of trouble sending six children to college, but we managed, and somehow, all of them are qualified and working, with some abroad,” she said.
Over the past few years, Pedro has been giving himself a coconut and rocksalt massage before bath everyday. “He sits on a stool and rubs it on himself so that there’s better blood flow,” Paul said.
And just like the understated and extraordinary life he lived, the Leitaos will have an understated seaside birthday with no festivities, to celebrate an extraordinary life.