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Traced: Mumbai doctor who saved Mickey Nivelli from poverty in 1952

Sometimes, truth really is stranger than fiction. A week after SMD carried the story of legendary filmmaker Mickey Nivelli aka Harbance Kumar’s hunt for the man who saved his life 61 years ago, an enthusiastic reader managed to trace his saviour’s family. 

Mickey Nivelli

On reading the story, avid SUNDAY MiD DAY reader, Vijay Mumwani, a businessman from Warden Road, recalled a story his friend told him two months ago. “Norma Talker, a family friend, narrated a similar incident to me over coffee. She told me about how her father had once brought home a starving young lad, who he had found lying in a maidan and nursed him back to health. There was an uncanny resemblance between her story and the SMD article, so I simply had to inform them,” he said.

Dr Joe de Sousa
An old photograph of late Dr Joe de Sousa, who saved a young Mickey Nivelli’s (top) life when the latter was jobless in Mumbai in 1952

The ecstatic Talker family got in touch with this reporter and emailed photographs of the late Dr Joe de Sousa, his daughter and granddaughter to Nivelli. After listening to the doctor’s daugher Norma’s recollection of the events of the fateful day, and looking at the photos, Nivelli confirmed that de Sousa is indeed the man who saved his life.

Dr de Sousa's daughter, Norma Talker
Dr de Sousa’s daughter, Norma Talker (right) identified Harbance Kumar as the boy her father once got home. (Left) Talker’s daughter, Deborah

Meet the Talkers
Narrating her story at her spacious Mahim flat, Norma Talker recalled, “We stayed on the first floor of Karamchand Mansion, close to Metro Cinema. I was around 12-years-old, when one morning my father found a young teenaged boy lying unconscious in the maidan on the way to his clinic in VT. The boy was wearing tattered clothes and had probably not eaten in days,” recalled Norma, an Indian Oil Corporation retiree. Norma added that her father was always dressed in a white coat, which is probably why Nivelli had mistaken him for a priest.

Dr de Sousa's home
(Circled) Dr de Sousa’s home in Karamchand Mansion near Metro cinema, where he provided food and shelter to Mickey Nivelli, aka Harbance Kumar, in 1952

“My mother, Miquelila, was told to cook something to feed the young man, who was made to sit on the terrace,” added Norma, who identified Nivelli’s photograph on the front page. “But he was much younger when dad brought him home.”

“My mother has narrated this story to us repeatedly. Each time we would playfully tell her change the topic. Who knew the future course of events would be so fascinating?” wondered Norma’s daughter Deborah. Taking after her granddad, Deborah’s compassion is evident from the eleven dogs she provides a home for. She also supplies regular food and medicines to numerous strays in the neighbourhood.

Nivelli overjoyed
When Nivelli received the email with the photographs, he was overwhelmed. “I am crying as I write this. All those memories have come back. I do not have to go to a church, temple, mosque or a gurudwara to get a glimpse of god. I saw it in the good that people did for me. My heart is filled with gratitude and loyalty,” he wrote in response.

“It is too much of a coincidence to ignore. Gazing at the eyes of Dr de Sousa’s photograph, I do see the same kindness which had struck me when I first saw him,” he stated, adding that Norma was right his age. “At that time my moustache had not sprouted yet. The photograph with Shammi Kapoor is about four or five years after that incident. I had collapsed due to lack of food and fatigue when a priest-like man dressed in white took me home and from the compound shouted to his wife to make some food, even before I could crawl up to their first floor flat,” he recalled.

The good Samaritan
Norma recalled that bringing destitutes home to nurse them was common for her father. “He once brought home a tuberculosis patient, a scary ailment at that time. TB was his area of expertise and he was able to nurse him back to health. He even got home a man who had stab wounds after a local hospital refused to admit him, much to the anguish of my mother, who was scared of the consequences if the patient succumbed to his wounds in our house. But my dad could not bear to see human suffering,” she said.

Ironically, Dr de Sousa’s patient list included Bollywood greats like Nargis Dutt, Kamini Kaushal and even Dev Anand, who he was in close contact with, until his recent sudden demise. Nivelli has been close to the Dutt family too. The Dutts, he claims, invariably stayed at his apartment when they visit New York.

An extremely grateful Nivelli concluded, “I do not want to forget those days and I do not want to fail to thank those who reached out. Thank you SUNDAY MiD DAY.”  

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