52-year-old Professor Sandeep Desai is a familiar face on Mumbai's local trains. He goes around begging on the crowded local trains to raise funds for running English medium schools for underprivileged children in rural Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Desai has been doing this for more than two years and has raised more than 50 lakh rupees that is used to run four schools. And the fifth school in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra is set to open next month. All this has been done because of the commuters who donate generously every time Professor Desai boards their compartment.
Raunak Mehta, a commuter on the Western Railway tells NDTV: "He has several news paper cut-outs about himself which he carries around with him. I have been travelling in this train for two years now and I see him every day, if he wasn't genuine he wouldn't come here every day. There are a lot of young children in India who are unable to receive education. Iif these children are getting support and are being educated because we made a small donation, then we are very grateful."
Professor Desai says, "We are not organised as of now, but soon we will have the right people because people are now themselves taking interest in what we want to do in the future and volunteering to come up. We are not only going to have volunteers, we are also going to have some employees who will be demarcated for certain responsibilities and every year we plan to start one more school."
Meanwhile, for the five hundred students who benefit from Professor Desai's endeavour, it is a life changing opportunity. In Umarkhed taluka of the far-flung Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, which is in the Vidarbha region known for farmers' suicides children spend four hours in school everyday learning, free of cost. Dhiraj Dongare, an Auto-Driver, who makes around Rs 100 a day, says "I used to save money every day to ensure my kids get education. I never imagined I would be able to send them to an English medium school. Professor Desai has made it possible for us to send our kids to an English medium school. He is like a god for us."
Professor Desai however continues with his mission ever evening cajoling commuters with his talks on the trains. He says his job has just begun and there is a long road ahead. He begins his talk with these lines: "Good Afternoon to everybody, "Donating for education is the ultimate form of charity". My name is professor Sandeep Desai, I am the founder trustee of Shlok Public Trust, in rural areas we operate English medium schools. I invite all of you'll to join my mission."
Professor Desai adds that he has been able to do this not only because of the generosity of commuters, but also the support from railway staff. As we reach our destination and board the train we hear him share yet another message with his fellow commuters, "If you give a man food, you only feed him for a day. If you give him education, you feed him for a lifetime."
And as his box starts filling up with donation, Professor Desai smiles at us and says, "What is amazing is the number of people who want to do something but don't know how to do it. And many of them are here on these local trains. I am hoping all of them will join me."