India Inspiration

The Begging Professor

The begging professor
The begging professor

Begging for the Greatest Cause: Professor Sandeep Manohar Desai Continues Giving Hope to Hundreds of Poor Children

A former marine engineer and a professor at a reputed management institute in Mumbai, Sandeep Manohar Desai is often seen in Mumbai’s suburban trains holding a begging bowl. He asks commuters for contributions to teach underprivileged slum children.

Begging on trains may be a crime punishable under Section 144 of the Railways Act, with an imprisonment up to one year and a fine, but that does not deter 51-year-old Prof Sandeep Manohar Desai from virtually going around with a begging bowl on Mumbai’s suburban trains for two to three days. A marine engineer-turned-management studies lecturer-turned-social worker, Desai unabashedly admits that he has, for some time, been resorting to the unusual means of seeking money from commuters travelling by Mumbai’s suburban trains.

When he began this unusual routine nearly one-and-a-half years ago, Desai would commute in locals between Goregaon in north Mumbai and Churchgate, the Western Railways’ terminus in south Mumbai, as many times as possible, for six hours at a stretch in a day.

Desai’s brief speech in Marathi is what differentiates him from the other beggars. As the crowded local train departs the Churchgate or Goregaon station, he encourages commuters to donate by saying, “Vidya daan sarva sreshtha daan aahe” in Marathi (imparting free education is the greatest offering or donation one can make). He emphasizes to people that it is essential for them to make even the smallest donations for the noble cause of imparting education to children from poor families. He fluently repeats the same speech in Hindi and English.

Despite facing some rude commuters occasionally, people have mostly supported him and in 2011 alone, he raised Rs. 21 lakh (approx. $38,000).

Hearing about his charity work, Bollywood actor Salman Khan contacted him and offered to match his portion of the donations that had been collected so far, which was Rs. 4 lakh. Not satisfied, Desai made an unusual request to Salman, asking him to speak to commuters on his mobile phone. The actor readily obliged. He not only urged the commuters to donate generously, he also sought to allay suspicions in some minds about Desai. As word spread, Desai began collecting as much as `8,000 to `9,000 a day for the next several days.

“Unfortunately, I have not received the promised donation of `4 lakh from Salman Khan so far. I reminded the actor’s associates a few times and the star himself and was assured our Trust would receive the promised donation soon,” Desai rues.

What does Desai do with the money he collects? He is a man with a mission. Among other things, he uses the money for a charitable Trust floated by him and a few like-minded persons. The Trust runs Shloka Missionaries Public School, a free, English medium school for children, from Goregaon slums. “It is a very small school located in a slum rehabilitation building. Our Trust also imparts training and holds certificate workshops on various subjects. As part of the exercise, we conduct courses on copy writing, creativity, campaign planning, Advertising and Communication under the Shloka Institute, Mumbai. In addition, we conduct creativity workshops for children of different age groups,” he says.

He may have set up the first of the schools, Shloka, just six years ago, but Desai is ambitious when it comes to his future plans. “I have plans to run 100 schools before I leave this world. Our Trust will also run a home for the aged. All depends on God’s mercy on us. Our Trust is a multi-purpose one, but we have not yet taken a decision on diversification,” he says.

Set up in 2001, the Shloka Missionaries — a public charitable trust — is managed by three trustees Noor Islam, who is one of the founder-trustees, Capt Shirdhar Bharatan and Capt Ajay Badaamikar
Suffice it to say, while, for most, charity begins at home, for Desai running trains serve as the wheels to reach out for charity — in the form of education — to the poor and the needy.