Struggle for freedom: Mervin Vas narrates his battle for wheelchair

Daijiworld Media Network - Mangaluru

Mangaluru, Apr 9: Mervin Vas, a Mangalurean, was recently in the news after customs officials in Bengaluru held back an imported wheelchair he had ordered online and asked him to pay Rs 4 lac as duty in order to release it. In Mervin's interest, daijiworld had decided not to highlight the incident after a special request from him, so as not to jeopardise his chances of getting the wheelchair released. However, April 1 brought him the good news that the customs had agreed to release his wheelchair without any charges. The battle was not easy, but due to efforts from a lot of people who helped him out, he finally won.

Here's Mervin's story and the ordeal he went through in his own words:

"'Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible" - Francis of Assisi.

Words of one of the greatest saint of Christianity keeps reminding me to fight the difficulties without giving up, never to surrender.

Twenty years back I was young, freshly out of college and full of energy. With stars in my eyes, lofty ideals to flaunt and an exciting future beckoning, everything looked rosy. But one fateful incident changed all that. Lying in ICU I heard two doctors whispering between themselves “he will not walk again”! Yes, I had just met a spinal injury which devastated my life, changing it forever. It was like several tsunamies, earthquakes hitting all at once.

Recovery was extremely painful, of course physically you’ll never come out of spinal injury. You are confined to bed and rely on wheelchair to move about. Which means you lose the most precious thing in this world - freedom. Always dependant upon family/friends, it is psychologically a massive, massive burden. Not to mention dozens of health related complications.

Many settle and compromise with the hard reality. I’m not one of them. For me self-respect is non-negotiable. One thing which is most dear to me is freedom. But my own back had betrayed me.

There had to be some way out. I had already gained financial freedom starting coaching classes within a year of accident, now I was looking for freedom from taking help from friends to move about. However, I must add something here. Though I’m unlucky enough to be 1 in 1,00,000 to suffer spinal injury, I wasn't that hopeless regarding friends. I've had great friends around me all the time. Rohith-Padil took care of me from the day one, and still does everything to keep me happy. Jerome Lobo-Angelore is another amazing person, who, despite his busy schedule makes time for me and comes every Sunday to assist me to sit in the wheelchair. From Jerome I learned a lot, to be patient and humble. There were others like Jones, Alwyn, and Sydney. But I always thirsted to move on my own. I did go out thanks to my uncle Mathew and cousins Malcom and Maklin.

Finally, I came across an interesting piece of machinery. Stair-climbing automatic wheelchair aptly named “top-chair”. Pheew, that's it. I couldn't ask for more. My hunt for a machine which would free me from relying on others finally did exist. But excitement soon turned sour - first it wasn't avaiilable anywhere in India as it was manufactured in France and worse, it was prohibitively expensive at over Rs 15 lac - more costlier than top end Ford Eco-Sport!

There was no way I could invest so much on a wheelchair, so I turned to my childhood friend Alwyn, with whom I grew up playing cricket (he still plays fantastic cricket). I asked him whether he could find a similar 'used' chair at lesser price which I could afford on my own. After a couple of months of hunt, Alwyn could not get one. There was no such thing anywhere. As my hopes dashed, I continued searching for alternatives but without progress. In a strange matter of twists, Alwyn had mentioned all this to his boss.

In January this year, Alwyn offered something I couldn't refuse. His boss wished to foot the entire cost of wheelchair! The wheelchair was now available for Rs 10 lac(Aus $ 20,000) from an Australian seller in Melbourne. But that was because the seller Codacare offered the whole package on hefty discount and also agreed to give free shipment (without all these it’d be far more expensive). The generosity of the person who made it possible was unbelievable. How could anyone be so outrageously generous! Giving Rs 10 lac just like that to a person whom you have never seen - that part still baffles me. But now my treasury had enough to buy my dream machine. I placed the order online. Meanwhile I also did my own research on 'how to import' complications, import duty, paper work related to the item on the internet (god bless the inventor of internet Berners Lee!).

Convinced, I asked seller Codacare to ship the product. It left the Aussie shore on February 23, reaching Singapore on February 26 and India on March 2, right at Bengaluru airport. The cargo company (TNT) informed me I was just two days away from having it!! Wow it was too good to be true. But a chain of events which followed, left me perplexed.

On March 3, I received an e-mail from TNT indicating they needed a few signed documents from me to get the wheelchair released. I sought an opinion on this from Asha D'Souza, a CA and one of the finest person I have met, who in turn put me in contact with Capt V F Pais, Mangaluru, and Chandru, who runs a Bengaluru-based custom agency 'Ocean Liners'. I also contacted a few more friends to find out the actual position with customs. Here Someshekar (Nandini hotel, Bengaluru) and Hameed-Shivbagh delivered me the ominous news - My wheelchair would attract as much as Rs 3. 5 lac as duty. The figure they got was informally from a custom official. It came like a huge bomb exploding right under me. By this time already two weeks had passed and I was now incurring daily demurrage charges too, which was according to customs website INR 5/kg per day. My wheelchair was weighing more than 200 kg. I was whacked both ends. It drove me crazy. What began as dream boat was now turning into a virtual nightmare. 

Someshekar, Hameed and Chandru tried their best, met every official concerned and presented all my medical records, but nothing happened. I was repeatedly told there was no way I could get duty exemption. It was that same feeling 'so near yet so far'! At this time, the person who gifted this chair asks Louis Pinto to find a way. After a week of trying Pinto gives up. Now it is almost a month since the wheelchair came to Bengaluru. Just when all hopes were being crashed and I get ready to dole out my hard earned Rs 4 lac for releasing the wheelchair, just in the nick of time like a divine intervention, Jerome introduced his journalist friend Ronnie Fernandes, a highly respected chief of Deccan Herald, Mangaluru. Ronnie has very good reputation as head of Red Cross, Mangaluru, and he’s equally sympathetic to social causes. I am so glad I got a chance to meet him. Ronnie put an article highlighting problems I was facing from department of customs which was then republished in another Kannada daily. The article evoked nationwide response. I got calls from across the nation. Hundreds of them offered all sorts of help from finance to moral support.

I made it all clear to them that the aim of the article was not to collect funds but to highlight flaws in the system. The article wasn't aimed at customs officers per se, but at the strange rule and regulations. As the media report went viral I received a call from no less than the additional commissioner at customs Dr Harishkumar who offered me complete exemption of demurrage but declined to give any relief on duty, again citing rules. Well, my fight had resulted in something.

As I made arrangements for paying the presumed duty of Rs 3.5 lac, a stranger from Bengaluru called up saying he had read the article and said there was a way out to actually bring the wheelchair without paying any duty, and it was not hanky-panky business but strictly going by the book. That angel was Purushotham, working for Flyhigh Logistics, who promised to help me out. Wow, good samaritans do exist! And they come in all forms. Chandru and Purushotham worked frantically as April 1 was the last day before a flurry of holidays began.

At 4 pm on April 1, I was teaching maths to some of my 10th standard students, when Purushotham breaks the news I was yearning to hear for the last 30 odd days. My wheelchair was out of customs, ready to be loaded and I would get it in 24 hours! The best part? Well, it's a thriller - the customs generously waived off all the duty, all the demurrage, all the cess - in fact, they let it go without any charge! Unbelievable right? Yes it is true. After all, customs officers too have heart and it beats fine. I am hugely thankful to the kind gesture showed by the customs officers. Irony is, on April Fool's Day, I got the best possible news!!

On April 3 that is Good Friday, the chair is inside my room after a long and seemingly never-ending battle. Was it a mere coincidence or did it have any larger meaning to it, i don't know.

As the saying goes, 'all's well that ends well'. I have learned several lessons in all - a) there are thousands of extremely nice people who respond positively; b) when you fight a just battle, victory is always yours, but the path for victory is filled with every possible hurdle you cannot even imagine; c) always remain well informed, hope for the best but be prepared to swallow bitter experience; d) never ever forget the people who supported you, be civilized enough to thank them all.



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Comment on this article

  • Naina Preethi, Mangalore, USA

    Wed, Jan 09 2019

    Mervin is a highly intelligent man, especially in complex Math, he is like his grandfather Thomas Veigas Anglore, a true mathematician, excellent in Civil Engineering, good in drawing so on, List is never ending.I am fortunate to be is Cousin sister. He is not depending on anybody but the Lord Jesus Christ!!!God Bless him always!!!

    DisAgree Agree [1] Reply Report Abuse


    Sat, Dec 12 2015

    Dear Mr. Mervin,
    I bow my head as Pranam, for your grit and will power, to win a case, that should not have happened at all. The customs duty exemptions on wheel chair was in force from February 2012 onwards, and Bangalore customs know it. I am shocked how you were thrown into the ring and fight your case. I pray the Almighty for your consistent wellness. May I know Mr. Chandru's Phone number, and can I use his services, in case my clients need at Bangalore. I am a practicing customs empaneled Chartered Engineer

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  • Dr Sunita, Mumbai

    Tue, Apr 14 2015

    Hi Mervin.
    First of all Congratulations for winning such an exemplary battle !. Where there is Will.there is Hope. Let me know ur feedbak on the wheelchair once u start using it. How ease it is to use in Indian scenario, as am myself contemplating for it. Best of luck and best wishes !

    DisAgree Agree [2] Reply Report Abuse

  • mervin,

    Thu, Apr 16 2015

    sure Dr.sunita..le'me have yur email

    DisAgree Agree Reply Report Abuse

  • julie, Neermarga/Doha

    Sat, Apr 11 2015

    God bless Mervin and those who have helped you to get the wheelchair. Wish you all the very best.

    DisAgree Agree [4] Reply Report Abuse

  • Lancy M Pinto, Mangalore/Doha

    Sat, Apr 11 2015

    Mervin. perhaps I could help you in pain management. If interested please give me your contact on email

    DisAgree Agree [5] Reply Report Abuse

  • Crystal Fernandes, Alape, Mangalore/Dubai

    Sat, Apr 11 2015

    Proud of you Sir. My Hats off to you. You are the Best.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [8] Reply Report Abuse

  • Anil Rego, Mangalore/Bangalore

    Sat, Apr 11 2015

    Dear Mervin, The lessons learnt from your life are eye openers to all of us. I had a wonderful sleep that night after you called and informed about the release of the wheel chair. It made by day!. All the best and look forward to seeing you soon.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [2] Reply Report Abuse

  • nirmala noronha,

    Fri, Apr 10 2015


    DisAgree [2] Agree [9] Reply Report Abuse

  • simon lewis , mumbai

    Fri, Apr 10 2015

    Mervin Great Efforts, My Hat's Off to you
    GOD BLESS YOU !!!!

    DisAgree [5] Agree [8] Reply Report Abuse


    Fri, Apr 10 2015

    I thank you all from the bottom of my heart, appreciate it.i value each & every word in your comments.thanks again

    DisAgree [3] Agree [21] Reply Report Abuse

  • Mr., Avinash H N

    Thu, May 07 2015

    Dear Mervin, Can you pl. share the phone no. of Chandru and Purushotham of Flyhigh Logistics? I'm planning to import a powered wheel chair for my son and would like to take their help. I'm not able to get it by googling them. Call me on 09986495042 if possible. Thanks and regards,


    DisAgree [1] Agree Reply Report Abuse

  • preetham, mangalore

    Fri, Apr 10 2015


    DisAgree [2] Agree [17] Reply Report Abuse

  • asha vas, mangalore

    Fri, Apr 10 2015

    Very proud of u mervin,god bless u always.the struggle u have gone thru & emerging as a winner is a lesson for many of us who complain with life.

    DisAgree [2] Agree [21] Reply Report Abuse

  • jeetendra hegde, mumbai

    Fri, Apr 10 2015

    Even i too got this story thru one of my friend melwyn thru facebook..i shared it to narendra modi in facebook...anyway GOOD LUCK..

    DisAgree [1] Agree [14] Reply Report Abuse

  • Vincy, Bangkok

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    A good message for people who feel that they are weak.
    You are great Mervin.

    DisAgree [2] Agree [36] Reply Report Abuse

  • Walter Goveas, Mangalore

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    Please be noted if this wheel chair is battery operated, please contact me if any problem with Battery. Do not struggle like what you had experienced.
    My e-mail:

    DisAgree [1] Agree [29] Reply Report Abuse

  • Sheela Rodrigues, Bejai

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    All the best Mervin and enjoy your 'Freedom' God bless!!

    DisAgree Agree [27] Reply Report Abuse

  • asha Dsouza, Mangalore

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    Yes, all is well that ends well. And God always looks after his matter what their difficulties are. Mr Mervin is a fighter and a strong willed person and he was bound to's always a blessing to see a frown convert into a smile :)

    DisAgree Agree [26] Reply Report Abuse

  • Willy,, Kinnigoli

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    Congrats Mervin. "God sees the truth but waits" God bless all those people who helped Mervin to a success. We all should pray for them. Good Luck.

    DisAgree Agree [22] Reply Report Abuse

  • Ronald D, Udupi

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    Thanks for this wonderful letter Mervin. Wishing you good in everything you do!

    DisAgree [1] Agree [28] Reply Report Abuse

  • Cyril W.Vas, Bangalore

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    Wonderful experience indeed! Congratulations Mervin! You struggled a lot but at the end of the day you realized your dream. You have truly fought the good fight, won the battle and now the crown is yours! As a human being trying to understand and empathise with you, I feel so sad at your plight but at the same time so proud of you and so happy for you.

    Indeed your story reinstates my belief that at any given time, there are always more good people in this world than the wicked. The evildoers seem to thrive not so much because of the evil that they do as the good that are silent!

    Your life and its struggle has many a great lesson for all of us, human beings. Life is so difficult for some for no fault of theirs. Yet there are always people who feel for the poor and the needy and support them generously. If we want, we can truly become Good Samaritans first and foremost to our own family and then to our neighbours in need. Another important lesson is that genuine human beings do help people in need irrespective of caste, creed or colour.

    We are all endowed with a human mind that can perceive and understand the suffering of others and a heart that can feel for and reach out to others in need of help. We have eyes to see and ears to hear and hands to support others who may be suffering more than we do.

    It is wonderful that you had your wheelchair in your room on Good Friday! The day evil was conquered with good, death defeated by life and revenge replaced by forgiveness.

    All those who helped you are great human beings. They are wonderfully being human!

    May your painful story inspire hundreds of thousands of fellow human beings to open their minds and hearts to all people especially to the poor and the needy.

    DisAgree Agree [40] Reply Report Abuse

  • Gracy Dcunha, Urwa/Abudhabi

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    Hi Mervin,Appreciate your strength patience,determination.You are really an inspiration for many in this world.God bless you

    DisAgree Agree [37] Reply Report Abuse

  • Eric Coelho, Mangalore

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    Hardwork and efforts yields fruits and this story is one. God bless Mervin Vas.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [34] Reply Report Abuse

  • v.w.masarenhas, puttur/muscat

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    God bless Mervin and all those who helped in this journey, Jesus Christ never give-up their children, every sunset followed with sunrise.

    DisAgree Agree [36] Reply Report Abuse

  • Af,, mangaluru

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    Bhagvan ke ghar me dher hai andher nahi.never loose hope, god bless all.

    DisAgree Agree [45] Reply Report Abuse

  • Francis, Mangalore

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    Mervin u r not only a good human also good teacher and a good writer. Keep writing . God bless u always.

    DisAgree Agree [36] Reply Report Abuse

  • Antony Cony D Souza, Karkala / Qatar

    Thu, Apr 09 2015


    Sorry about the whole ordeal.
    I am proud to say ‘thank you’ for the determined fight against all odds you stood for, your every friend who stood by you, Alwyn's Boss for his heavenly generosity, Ronnie the wise man, saviors at customs at difficult time, and the all co-workers with God all who toiled deliver the wheelchair till your home.
    Other day, I saw your picture in as you were coming down the stairs by wheelchair freely with tremendous amount of confidence all here on to stay.

    Quotes from St. Francis of Assisi and your own quotes generated / revealed during your tribulations surely will enlighten many.

    God Bless you Mervin.

    DisAgree Agree [52] Reply Report Abuse

  • praveen, Mangalore/Muscat

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    God bless all...

    DisAgree Agree [40] Reply Report Abuse

  • Jossey Saldanha, Mumbai

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    GOD IS GREAT ...

    DisAgree Agree [59] Reply Report Abuse

  • nelson pinto, udupi /oman

    Thu, Apr 09 2015


    whom ever helped MR.MERVIN.

    DisAgree Agree [60] Reply Report Abuse

  • Adil, Thekkatte

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    Hats off to your courage brother and good wishes always be there with the people who helped you.

    DisAgree [2] Agree [57] Reply Report Abuse

  • R.Bhandarkar, Mangaluru

    Thu, Apr 09 2015

    There's so much to learn from your ordeal Mervin...
    1. That there is a 'win ' in your name at the outset.
    2. Never give up.
    3. The world is full of good people too. It is our fault if we do not 'notice' them.
    4.The way you look at things and act is important rather than react.
    5.The 'wheels of your life' move in the direction you want them to only if you are willing to take control.
    Share Your happiness .
    God Bless.

    DisAgree [4] Agree [112] Reply Report Abuse

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