Asif Patel’s hands seem to work naturally on the car engine, his affiliation to the pistons and valves in front of him a little deeper than the others around him.
As he feels around for wires, Patel tilts his head sideways and closer to the engine almost as if it’s speaking to him. Finally, the right wires come in contact, a spark follows and the engine roars to life. The wily car mechanic simply smiles. But for those standing close by, this is nothing short of a ‘miracle’. Patel never ceases to amaze, even though he has been doing the exact same thing for over 10 years.
Blind by birth, the 43-year-old owns an auto repair shop in Lasbela and is no less than a hero in his locality.
Patel was only 15 when he started experimenting with his father’s car and later, bought his own Fiat. The car did not last in its original state for long; Patel hand-picked the parts from the Sunday bazar at New Karachi and revamped it according to his taste.
He, along with his successful musician brother, who is also blind, never felt a sense of loss at this disability and both have turned around their lives despite struggling at first in a society where disabilities have never been fully accommodated.
As a child, he had a habit of breaking toys, appliances and once even pulled down a ceiling fan to ‘study’ the mechanics of it.
It was his passion for cars, however, that put him on track for the cult-like following that he now enjoys and paved the way for his very own workshop.
What kick started his business was an odd request from a friend.
Patel installed an automatic gear in it and boosted the engine. The car got a new lease of life and was the only such FX in the area and perhaps in the city.
From then onwards, his talent caught the eyes of neighbours and friends. In no time, his house was surrounded by a dozen cars waiting to be fixed. Showroom owners would give him unregistered cars to install or change engines when needed. He would diagnose the fault by testing the brakes, starting the car, checking the suspension, relying dominantly on the varying sounds.
“People who have been born blind refine their sensation of sound and touch by making use of the visual parts of their brain,” Dr Saira Farhan, a physician at a local clinic, says.
It is perhaps this ability of Patel which makes him a wonder in his area.
With his growing experience with handling cars, Patel opened his own workshop in Soldier Bazaar on rent with a team of twelve, this too was gifted to him by mere luck.
Muhammad Asif who has been working at the shop for over 10 years says working for Patel has been a rewarding experience and would not trade it for anything.
“We have never been treated as workers here. Everybody contributes in this business like it's our own,” Asif says.
But six years in, the successful business hit a bit of a downturn after Patel was forced to shift his shop from Soldier Bazaar to Lasbela.
“My landlords asked me to move as they wanted to build a hospital, I shifted my workshop to Lasbela with half of my team but my business has not been the same,” said Patel reminiscing of the time his shop would be packed with cars.
“The hospital was never constructed either.”
Despite the downslide, the spirits at the Patel workshop are high and the eagerness to learn is still there. The team is currently exploring hybrid cars and working on Electronic Feul Injection (EFI) systems, another marvel considering that most of the employees are learning on the job.
Apart from Patel’s expertise in cars, he is tech-savvy as well and can be found on Facebook and WhatsApp, which he manages himself.
“I do not see myself as a victim; I have earned respect through my work. Words are not enough, practicality is everything,” Asif says, his gleaming with satisfaction.