Pictures by Anindya Shankar Ray
I walk in just when the healing’s done. More than a hundred people with all kinds of ailments, physical, psychological, irremediable, have had their minute with the healer, Patrick San Francisco, and gone away convinced and cured. He enters from an inner room. He has a firm, confident way of shaking your hand. He has long hair, very long hair but it’s clear that he isn’t cultivating the Jesus look. He’s thin but whippet-fit.
Let’s call him Pat, the way everyone addresses him. He wouldn’t mind at all because he sees himself as a very ordinary kind of guy. Which in many ways he is. One-liners and ridiculous puns punctuate a conversation that goes in the oddest of directions.
He sees an acolyte standing and quips, ‘Why are you standing up? You want to grow tall?’ You listen in disbelief because things don’t seem to be matching up. What you’ve heard about him, and people speak only with reverence, doesn’t fit this 53-year-old from Goa, who travels 28 days a month, two cities a day, except Calcutta, because it’s far, and Delhi, because there are over 3,000 patients who have to be healed.
So this man is not so very ordinary though he seems determined to appear that way.
It comes up that he’ll be travelling to Europe soon. He’s just back from Perth where among other things he gave a three-minute lecture on dog biscuit recipes. Yes. He’s also been doing some ‘nice things’ in LA. And he’s writing a book about his trip to New Mexico, Tacos and Wackos of New Mexico. We’re not sure if we want to believe this but I’m not about to start reviewing all the other stories I’ve just heard. As Patrick later says, there’s no point in being judgemental. You take him. You leave him. What you see is what you get.
He was also paralysed once. Pressed to tell the story he can’t help another quip: ‘I was paralysed. In the brain. From birth’. He gets down to the story. It was sometime in the ‘70s. He tripped, landed on his back, and fractured his spine. The best medical opinion, including a specialist from Switzerland, diagnosed an irreparable condition. Patrick defied all odds. He ‘talked to God’ and that’s where it all began.
Apropos of nothing, Pat’s favourite word is ‘blast’ as in ‘having a blast’. I really like this man. Talking to God is a blast. Talking to God to make him walk again is a blast. Talking to God to heal people is a blast.
If reports are true he has indeed healed many, many people, including patients diagnosed with terminal cancer. Some of these people have come together to support Samarpan, an NGO Patrick set up about six years ago with no fixed agenda other than doing what has to be done.
He says that many people come back to thank him. But ‘thank you’ means nothing. So perhaps they could do something, donate, contribute, volunteer, anything, and that’s how you say ‘Thank You’.
It’s time to move to the inner room for a private conversation. Let’s enter Patrick’s world.
He started talking to God when he was very young. Sickness and suffering and pain angered him and he would go to God and demand repair. He is quick to insist that he has no healing power, a point he repeats many times in the course of the afternoon. But he does have implicit faith. When he wants something to happen he asks God for it. It has to come, and it comes. It’s what he calls ‘the spoilt brat attitude’. God has certainly been an indulgent parent, humouring him for three decades and counting, much like his Dutch mother and doting father did when he was young.
I push and prod, trying to get him to admit that there is something metaphysical about his healing, but he is quick to refute in a tone that’s close to rebuke. There is nothing supernatural about his powers. It all just happened. One thing led to another and each time he was determined to get what he wanted. That’s healing — asking for something you want. “I want to be Santa Claus”. Try as you might you cannot make metaphysic out of that.
Yet it cannot be as simple as Patrick makes it out to be. There are too many people in India and all around the world who have absolute faith in him, who have been touched and who have been changed forever. Perhaps it is some extraordinary power of mind he has been able to instinctively tap into. Perhaps he was born with the ‘gift’, like some people are born with second sight. Perhaps he was born with a mission. Perhaps his brain was wired in a different kind of way to allow him to tune into things that lie beneath the skein of reality, like an artist is.
So I ask him if he sees himself as a kind of artist. He takes me a bit too literally. ‘I can’t paint,’ he says. My cleverness has just been snubbed. Patrick has a way of closing doors you’d like to open.
He is indeed a man of paradox. He mixes easily with very big and famous corporate honchos, he keeps more than corporate hours, he flies a corporate schedule, and his business is healing people 28 days a month across every ocean, for free. He is a Healer who does not dress or speak the part. He is married but his home is everywhere. He does not carry a wallet but he has ‘abundance’. He has no religion in the institutional sense, but he talks a lot about God.
God is the universe. God is like the ocean and we are drops of water in that ocean. Patrick is also full of home-grown wisdom.
He says things you know but don’t stop to think about, and he says it in charmingly simple ways.
He says, for example, that wisdom comes from living in reality. Patrick has quite a few takes on reality. He is not in contact with it (a phrase whose significance comes to me much later); he just knows it; or: we live in a world of illusion; I cast aside all illusion and get to the heart of reality. His healing in fact is all about understanding reality and applying it.
We’re back to the healing business and while Patrick tries to make it so simple, I’m not getting it. What I do get is his facetious inversion of Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage and I’m the only audience. The whole world is for my amusement.” This is levity that is tantalisingly profound. “God has put us here to have a blast”. And we’re back to his favourite word. He heals hard and he parties hard. And everything is a blast and everything is divine. Healing is indeed divine, he says. He gives nothing of his own because it is God who does the healing. God does the job in the quiet backroom. Patrick is the frontman who faces the patients. And he is quick to point out: “God has it quiet”.
I’m beginning to wonder about all this. Is this Patrick’s vocabulary to describe what he does and how he does it?
I turn the conversation to practical things. Where does he get his funding since he charges nothing from his patients? The logistics are simple. His patients buy his plane tickets, arrange for airport transfers, provide location for the healing sessions, put whatever donation they want in a little box, and what more do we want?
Lots more actually, because Patrick runs all kinds of projects all over the country. He now begins to talk with a different kind of clarity and lucidity.
It turns out that Patrick is also a full-time inventor and innovator. In his hands, a plastic bottle, filled with mud, becomes a brick to build a school room, or a house that will last forever, since plastic is not bio-degradable. His inventions are all about common sense. He’s concocted a contraption that allows you to ‘walk’ up a coconut tree to break off the coconuts. He has used salt accumulating mangroves from the Sunderbans to extract fresh water from brackish lakes in Chennai. He has busied himself with tidal power generators and with a hydroelectric project he calls the water battery. He has even gifted a famous IT company an idea for unbreakable password encryption.
Has he patented any of his inventions? Obviously he hasn’t. Patrick lives a very different reality and works by very different logic.
He goes about his projects the way he goes about his healings. He starts a project without capital. He knows only that the money will come. God will make it happen. So a patient from Chandigarh provided the money to buy land to build a clinic in a remote area of the Sunderbans. The clinic is up and running and providing treatment to villagers who have little or no access to healthcare facilities.
This need to do what has to be done goes back to Patrick’s childhood in Bangalore where he put together a leprosy centre and funded it by baking cakes. Now he has projects all over the country. His wife runs the Tamil Nadu projects which include the greening of the state, forestry, village health camps, and waste management. This is serious social conscience. But Patrick reminds you that it’s all about having a blast. The volunteers, most of whom have day jobs, joyfully concur. So you’re free to queue up as a patient or enlist as a patient-turned-volunteer, go off to the Sunderbans or wherever it is that things have to be done, and have a blast, change the world, change yourself.
Patrick has a little rhymed slogan: “If more people were for people, all people everywhere, there’d be a lot less people to worry about and a lot more who care.” Sums it up, doesn’t it? Simple but catchy.
So Patrick is not an ordinary guy. He knows that people idealise him but he wants them to see that he is just like them, which he is not. It’s impossible to deconstruct him or, as I gradually realise, to ‘know’ him. His eyes are opaquely intense. What you see is what you get, but what about all that you can never see? He is like running water. He does not stop or rest. He has no attachments, no roots, and as I watch him closely it strikes me that he is not interested in people in ways you or I would be. He looks at people as souls to be saved or healed.
Does he have a legacy for posterity? In a sense, yes, since he holds workshops on the art of healing. Does this mean he has processed his healing techniques into some kind of protocol that can be taught. Of course, he stumps me again: he teaches people to heal by first making them aware of the power they have and then showing them how to put it to use. What do you do with that?
Leave it, I guess, and look on Patrick simply as an artist whose canvas is the universe.
Pat visits Calcutta: On alternate Saturdays every month.
Healing sessions: 8am-11am
For information contact: 9331001887 and 9831275252
Bertie Da Silva is the Dean of Arts and Science at St. Xavier’s College Calcutta and also a rock musician