Bhavesh Bhatia with his wife Neeta Image Credit: Supplied

Mumbai: Bhavesh Bhatia, 42, became completely blind due to a retinal degenerative ailment in his early 20s when the prospect of retaining his job as a telephone operator in a hotel remained bleak. A course in candle-making from the National Association for the Blind, Mumbai, then launched him into what he thought was a low-key but self-reliant career. Little did he realise that it would embark him into a fulfilling journey not only for him but also for other visually-impaired people – into crafting beautiful candles that would bring light into other people’s lives.

The strong belief that the visually or physically impaired should not waste away their lives sitting at home and being dependent on others but learn to be self-reliant has brought him to the status of running a factory, Sunrise Candles, in Mahableshwar, a hill station in Satara district, Maharashtra. Producing over 9,000 designs of candles made by 85 blind people living in the surrounding areas, Bhatia told Gulf News: “This is a busy time for our business starting from Eid and now the festive season when we get enormous orders for our varieties of candles.” Floating candles, gift basket candles, gel candles or unique novelty ones in myriad shapes and colours—Bhatia’s factory cannot keep up with the huge demand. But the appreciation from people is a great inspiration to achieve even more, he says.

Sharing the story of his life that brought him to the threshold of success, he recounted how as a young man, he would quietly stand in front of Holy Cross Church in Mahableshwar selling hand-made candles from a cart to holiday-makers who trooped in from Mumbai and other places.

Never did he imagine that Neeta, a postgraduate student on holiday from Mumbai, would come into his cocoon with a big bang, transforming his life into a candle-lit romance. Impressed by his determination, she volunteered to help him sell candles in the evening. “She even brought all her relatives to my stall and instructed them to buy my candles,” said Bhatia. “And within 10 days, this friendly, chatty young lady dropped a bombshell and asked me if I would marry her? I felt the ground slip beneath me and was totally stumped.

“And then I told her that she would regret it later but she told me she had thought about it a lot,” says Bhatia, still emotional when reminiscing that decisive day. Her people opposed the marriage but Neeta remained adamant and got her way. They got engaged in January 1997, married in September and a year later their son was born.

Hard work, determination and a wife by his side to help him every which way—buying a cycle first, then a two-wheeler and later a van to ferry her husband and his wares—the Gujarati couple’s business grew from a small stall to a large one and now a factory. His wife also handles all the bank and paper work as well as train blind girls. The couple holds exhibitions and workshops with Bhatia often giving motivational talks.

“My dream is to ensure that all my blind friends are not just employed but find contentment in the work that they do.” At Sunrise, there is research on candle-making and an emphasis on quality control, he says proudly. “There is pride in every design that we make manually.”

Yet, the one big dream that the visually-impaired nurture is that modern science through its high-tech research finds a way of bringing sight to the blind, he says. “There is talk of stem cells and computers being used to help you see. So we still have hope,” says Bhatia.-