Professor ‘Begs’ in Local Train to Educate the Poor

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“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” — Muhammad Ali.
After many years, over 12 – 15 years maybe, I boarded an Andheri-Churchgate fast train to get to Bombay Central. I had about 40 minutes before my meeting at the RTO office at Bombay Central to meet the RTO to discuss the organ donation option on the drivers license in Maharashtra. I thought the train would be the fastest way to get to my destination.

What followed soon after I boarded the fast train was nothing short of fascinating. I was catching up on news on the Times of India Blackberry Application and reading about Ajit Pawar’s resignation. I then noticed a ‘beggar’ who was well dressed and who introduced himself loudly in the first class compartment of the train in a deep, sure voice stating ‘I am Prof. Sandeep Desai’.

Just hearing the word ‘Professor’ caught my attention. A Professor? Begging? In a local train? – and someone who spoke such immaculate English? He could get a job anywhere, I thought.

I was now more interested in what he was saying than reading about Ajit Pawar’s resignation. The Professor continued saying that those who donated food to the poor, sort out their problem only for a day. But if the donations are made for their education, then it can resolve a poor man’s life. He added, ‘Education gives you the power to change your life. So I have decided to set up one English medium school in a year.’
What? You identify a problem and then make it so personal that you beg in the train for money? How crazy is that? Crazy it is, because Professor Sandeep Desai went on to add ‘So far, we have managed to start four schools in Maharashtra. The fifth school will be set up in rural Rajasthan. We have already bought land there and construction will start soon”. Four schools set up with money ‘begged’, and the fifth one in process!! UNBELIEVABLE!
He claimed to have won the Real Hero award by CNN IBN. Here was a ‘real hero’ begging in a train. I made a mental note to see if he indeed had won this award, and yes he did! I actually checked.

People choose their problems. Some choose their maids and drivers to be their problems; while others like Prof. Sandeep Desai make the country’s lack of education their own personal problem. How inspiring! Next time, remind me of Prof. Sandeep Desai when I complain about funding for the Gift Your Organ Foundation. Or maybe, I will not complain again? Maybe I will just get down to business – wonder if I have the courage that Prof. Sandeep Desai has?
Post Script:

I was so inspired with Prof. Sandeep Desai that I completed this blog (including checking whether or not he won the Real Heroes award before completing my journey home);
However, I had to speak to this man – I found his number and spoke to him – if there’s anyone who would like to support Prof. Desai’s efforts, I’ll be happy to forward his email Id and /or telephone number to you;
In case you are wondering – lots of people did put money in the donation box carried by Prof. Desai. And, he acknowledged, with the same grace, everyone who put a fiver, a tener or a hundred rupee note in his donation box. I also overhead a student volunteering to teach physics to the students of Prof. Desai’s school.

Such was this man’s impact!

Sameer Dua, Founder Director, Institute for Generative Leadership, India