Mumbai-based Savio da Gama (21) is a musician with a difference. With 26 musical awards under his belt — more than one for each year of his life including a Rs.15,000 annual five-year scholarship and a citation from the Hyderabad-based Rajaji Trust — da Gama has already achieved more than most musicians achieve in a lifetime.
His curriculum vitae is particularly impressive given that he is afflicted with Down’s Syndrome since birth. This is a genetic condition characterised by mental damage, cognitive disability and other developmental delays. Physical manifestations of the syndrome are noticed in epicanthal folds over the eyes, flattened nose bridges and decreased muscle tone.
However, young da Gama isn’t one to let any infirmity get him down. Nor is his determined and can-do mother, Sybil, a teacher at Mumbai’s Learner’s Academy School in suburban Bandra who discovered and developed the latent musical skills in her son.
“Instead of ruing that Savio was born with Down’s Syndrome, I took a decision to ensure he grew up as a normal child. From early childhood he expressed a love of music. His face would light up and his body move rhythmically at the sound of music. Therefore when he showed an early interest in playing the guitar we launched a hunt for a teacher when he was ten,” recalls Sybil da Gama.
But given Indian society?s indifferent attitude towards the challenged, this was easier said than done. Most music teachers declined to teach a student with “short fingers” a fallout of Down?s Syndrome. But after a determined two-year search, she persuaded Bismarck Rodriguez, a renowned music teacher. Since then for the past nine years Savio has learned to play Hindi and English music on the Spanish guitar, even as he finished schooling at Mumbai’ Dilkhush School for differently abled children in suburban Juhu.
“usic for me is playing for myself. It gives me self-confidence and has made me an extrovert. I can face a crowd with confidence now,” says Savio, talking about how music has changed his life.
Inspired by her son, Sybil has promoted a training school for the mentally challenged. Christened Atmavishwas (self-confidence) and sited in Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai, the school admits individuals under 30 years of age and helps them hone their skills to become independent.
For Savio, she entertains modest ambitions. “Music is his passion and if given a chance to play in a band, it will do wonders for him,” says Sybil da Gama.
Ketan Tanna (Mumbai)