Bhavesh Bhatia was born with a condition known as “Retina Macular Degeneration”. As a result he had very poor sight and he knew that his sight would slowly fade and eventually he would become totally blind.
The vision finally left him at the age of 23. This was the worst possible moment for him as he was working as a hotel manager, scrambling to save money for his mother’s treatment, who was suffering from cancer.
His mother was the backbone of his life, and he was desperate to save her.
She provided the support he so badly needed to navigate life with his disability. Bhatia recalls, “I used to be bullied in school because of my poor sight. One day I came home and told her that I wouldn’t go back to school the next day. Everyone was ganging up on me and taunting me about my sight.”
“Instead of forcing me, or worse giving in to my demands, she gently stroked my hair and told me that the boys were not cruel.
“They want to be my friend, but are thrown off by how different I am. She told me that bullying was their way of getting my attention.
“I had a hard time believing her but did as she told me to. The following day, instead of treating them with the hostility they deserved, I approached my bullies with an offer of friendship. I became friends with most of them for life.”
He continues, “It is this early life lesson that has been my guiding principle in business as well. My poverty and disability have created insurmountable challenges for me. But her wisdom has lead me to make the right decisions.”
Now as his eyesight finally gave up on him, he lost his job, and as they ran out of money his mother too passed away due to lack of proper treatment.
“I was lost without her,” says Bhatia. “She was not very educated herself, but worked tirelessly to make sure that I was. I could not read the blackboard. She would pore over my lessons with me for hours — a practice she continued till my post-graduation.”
Bhavesh wanted to make something worthwhile of himself for her. That she would pass away when he was just getting started felt like the world’s greatest injustice.
Wracked with grief, he found solace in what Bhatia says is, “The best advice I’ve ever received,” given, unsurprisingly, by his mother. She told him, “So what if you cannot see the world? Do something so that the world will see you.”
Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Bhavesh set off in search of that elusive ‘something’ which would make the world see him. That thing was not hard to find.
“Since childhood I was interested in creating things with my hands. I used to make kites, experiment with clay, shape toys and figurines, etc. I decided to dabble with candle making because it allowed me to harness my sense of shape and smell. But mostly because I am, and always have been, attracted towards light,” he says. With no resources, except for a burning passion, he had little idea on how to get started.
“I took training from National Association for the Blind (Mumbai) in 1999. They taught me how to make plain candles,” he recounts.
“I wanted to play around with colors, scents and shapes, but dyes and scents were beyond my budget.”
So he would make candles all night long and sell them from a cart, standing at a corner of a local market.
“The cart belonged to a friend and he let me use it for Rs. 50 a day. Every day I would set aside Rs. 25 to buy my supplies for the next haul.” (1 US Dollar is approximately 63 Rs. at the current exchange rate.)
It was a lonely and backbreaking mode of survival.
One day, out of the blue, things started looking up. It began when a lady came by his cart to purchase candles. He was struck by her gentle manner and lively laughter. They struck up a friendship on the spot, conversing for hours.
“It was a more a connection between kindred souls.” He recalls.
Her name was Neeta and soon he became determined to marry her. She felt the same way, returning to his cart every day to talk and reminisce about their life together. Neeta faced backlash from her home for her decision to marry a penniless, blind candle-maker. But she was firm and the two soon embarked on a shared life, living in his small home.
Neeta was a relentless optimist. Since he could not afford to buy new containers, Bhavesh used to melt the wax in the same utensils that he cooked food in. He worried that this would offend his wife. But she laughed his concerns off. She soon procured a two-wheeler so she could ferry her husband around town selling his candles and later, as their circumstances improved, even learnt how to drive a van so she could accommodate the larger quantities of candles that they were now dealing with.
“She is the light of my life,” smiles Bhavesh.
That is not to say that his struggles became any easier once Neeta came into his life. But now that he had a comrade to share the burden with, the load did not seem quite as heavy.
“Sighted people were not ready to accept that a blind person could stand on his own feet. One time some miscreants pulled all my candles from the cart and threw it in the gutter.
“Whenever I used to go around asking for help, I was told to my face, ‘You are blind. What good can you do?’
“I tried to get guidance from professional candle manufacturers and other institutes. But no one helped me.”
While loan requests earned him outright rejections, even simple non-monetary requests were met with hostile reactions. He wanted advice from experts on candle manufacturing, but received derision and scorn.
“So I would go with my wife to malls and tried to touch and feel the different varieties of the overpriced candles displayed there,” recalls Bhavesh.
Based on what his senses could accrue, and basing the rest on his talents of hustling and creativity, he tried for a greater variety in his creations.
The turning point came when he was granted a loan of Rs 15,000 from a Cooperative Bank, where National Association for the Blind had a special scheme for blind people.
“With this, we purchased 15 kilos of wax, two dyes and a hand cart,” says Bhavesh. This would go on to become a multi-million dollar business, with prestigious corporate clients from all over the country and the world and a dedicated team of 200 employees — all of who are visually impaired.
Bhavesh says, “We train blind people so that they can understand the work and not just help us at our unit, but some day go back home to set up their own business.”
While he likes to concentrate on the creative aspects of the firm, Neeta takes care of the administrative duties of the enterprise. She also imparts vocational training to blind girls, aiding them to become self-sufficient.
Bhavesh says, “When I look back, I realize the reason so many people turned me away when I asked for a loan was because the way the world does business is ruthless. Everyone thinks with their mind and not their heart.
“I have come to realize that the only way to run a successful business is to think with your heart in the equation. It will take time, a lot of time, and untold sacrifice and hard work. But if you are doing what your heart tells you to do, you will achieve what you set out to achieve.”
Credit: This has been culled from various sources, primarily from here: The Blind Street Vendor Who Founded A Million Dollar Company
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