Sandeep Desai, 51, looks like any other commuter at the Churchgate station climbing into a Borivli slow train, except for the transparent box filled with money cradled in his hands.
Once inside the train, Desai, a professor at the SP Jain Institute for Management, transforms into the gutsy, indomitable, yet humble ‘hero’. Standing in the aisle, the Goregaon resident begins talking aloud, “My name is professor Sandeep Desai… I am here to ask for vidya-daan (education alms).”
Desai, who is often referred to as the ‘beggar on the trains’, has collected Rs21.5 lakh on the locals in the past one year to help set up two schools in rural Maharashtra (Rajapur and Kankavali) and one in a Goregaon slum. For this effort, Desai has been declared as one of the 24 winners of CNN-IBN’s annual Real Heroes Awards.
“Everyone thought I was crazy, but it is the intention that counts,” said Desai, who was tense and scared on his first day on the trains. Now, despite being ridiculed and pushed out of the train, he collects up to Rs700 a day and even has commuters mailing cheques to his trust — Shloka Missionaries.
Desai, who moved from marine engineering to corporate management and then to teaching, established Shloka in 2001. “I realised that the real need for education is in rural schools. Our aim is to set up one new school in a village every year,” said Desai.