In the bylanes of Colaba, sitting in the living room of an old Parsi house, with his wife Perin sitting to his right, and about twenty-odd visually impaired, along with a few peers, he looked extremely content with his life. Fondly called Captain Saib by all, Capt. Hormazdiar Jamshedji Muncherji Desai is famed for his unconditional support and contribution towards the welfare of the visually impaired.
Among the many accolades he has won, Capt. Desai was honoured with a Padma Shree in 1987, NAB (India) the coveted Rustom Merwanji Alpaiwalla Memorial Award, Takeo Iwahashi Award of Japan along with 20 other awards.
Although wePeople in the room were barely visible, audible and partly recognized by him, however, at the age of 100, he wore his best smile to greet everyone as he sat on that wooden chair.
The Jovial Journey
Born on October 20, 1916 at Khadki, near Pune Capt. Desai, has played a pivotal role in founding seven institutions for the visually challenged in Mumbai and India. However, he would gracefully say, “I didn’t do it alone, it was team work.”
Penrin, (82) and told dna about his journey. “He has narrated this story to me several times, hence, I remember it very well,” Perin vouched, as she added, “He was inspired by his father who worked at Victoria Memorial School for the Blind, Tardeo. He would often accompany his father to the School as he was quite moved looking at the people he wanted to understand their plight make terms with their hopes, aspirations and wanted to figure out means to improve and expand services in this field. At the age of 32, he entered the field of work for welfare of the visually impaired despite being so occupied. After completing his M.A. LLB, he worked at the court and then moved to a fulltime Government job. He had joined the Civil Pioneer Force during the war as a captain.” Capt. Desai authored a number of publications on rehabilitation and employment of the visually challenged, which were supported by organizations like WBU, UNICEF, CARE and so on.
Speaking about his achievements, his daughter Dinci, (49) recalls, “He is like a library of knowledge for me. For all the good work he had done, we were the ones who were blessed. I learnt more about culture and life than I ever learnt in any book. I honestly do not have the kind of courage to continue the kind of work he has done in his life. For all the cash prizes he had received, I have never seen a dime of it come to my house. Each dime was accounted for. He is an outstanding administrator and most of all a great humanitarian,” Her brother, Jamshed echoed to her as well.
While his wife, Perin, who fell in love with him for his philanthropic nature and have been married to him for 58 years said, “We had an age difference of 18 years, but as I grew older, I was sure, I wanted to be his life partner. I knew it would always be his work first, I was happy about it. He is a content man and living with him, I too have learnt to be content in life.” She remembers, “One day a Muslim man came to our house and showed him a bundle of fixed deposit certificates he had collected. Apparently, after being trained at one of the institutes, he had retired at Mahindra and Mahindra after 20 years of service. He told us that he was going to open a school for the blind with all this money. I can proudly say, my husband has in some way made a difference to the lives of over 500 visually impaired.”
S.V. Divan, (79) who has worked with Capt. Desai for over 40 years said, “I have seen him spent days and nights with his head into the account books of these institutes and never complain at all. In fact, he has been an inspiration for many like me, who joined him in his journey.”
After retiring as the Joint Secretary, Finance Department, State of Maharashtra in the year 1974, Capt. Desai dedicatedly continued welfare, with the help of people from all walks of life, donations from the people and grants from the government. He was first Honorary Secretary General of the NAB (India), Workshop for the Blind and NAB’s first Industrial Training Centre – the M.N. Banaji Industrial Home for the Blind, Jogeshwari, The TATA Agricultural and Rural Training Centre for the Blind, Pheroze and Noshir Merwanji Rehabilitation Centre for the Blind at Mt. Abu in Rajasthan, Lions Home for the Aging Blind, Khandala.