For years now, 42-year-old Bhavesh Bhatia has been crafting beautiful candles in myriad shapes, sizes and hues. What makes Bhatia’s story poignant is the fact that his eyes are unable to perceive the light they bring into this world, each time one of his candles are lit up – Bhatia is visually impaired, having lost his eyesight to retina macular degeneration in his early 20s. And yet, the gifted man is today at the helm of a thriving candle-making business, with a team of 85 totally or partially blind people working with him to mould thousands of aromatic candles every day.
When he first started out, Bhatia eked out a living as a street hawker, selling plain white candles outside Holy Cross Church in Mahabaleshwar. Today, he has a workshop of his own in the village of Moreshwar, which has generated jobs for many of his ‘blind friends’ as he lovingly refers to them. >Demonstrating his skills to MiD DAY, he moulds wax effortlessly, as he recounts his eventful journey: “I did a course in candle-making at the department for rehabilitation in the National Association of Blind (NAB) in 1999. Here, I picked up other skills like acupressure and body massage as well. However, my inclination towards art and my creativity motivated me to start my own candle-making business. I started on a very small scale, selling a handful of candles on a cart outside Holy Cross Church in Mahabaleshwar.”
Bhatia suffered from night blindness as a child. Soon after completing his graduation in Arts, he was plunged into complete darkness, but didn’t allow the impairment to come in the way of professional success.
Candle-making however was not Bhatia’s first choice of career. After graduating, he started working as a telephone operator at a hotel in the city. After spending a decade in service, his eyesight started deteriorating, and the management was not too keen on having him continue. “My mother was battling fourth stage cancer and there was barely any income, as my father worked as a caretaker at a guesthouse in the same city. I did not want to sit at home like a piece of furniture and decided to enter some training in order to get work,” recalls Bhatia.
Once he completed his training, Bhatia started working at one of the hotels in Mahabaleshwar as a masseur. He wanted to take up candle-making and explore his creative side, but knew that the business would require investment, as casting dyes are costly. “I collected the money I made working as a masseur, and started making candles. It was also a risk to buy 20 kg of wax, as there was the fear that the candles would not sell. We are fortunate that these days, even 20 tonnes of wax is often not enough,” he said. In 2003, a social club in the city invited him to set up a stall at an exhibition. There has been no looking back since then.
Today, he has his own registered company, called Sunrise Candles. They come in all shapes and sizes, from 5 gm to 10 feet. Top corporate companies in the country are his clients. In fact, he says that 50 per cent of his business comes from corporate giants, for whom he prepares aromatic candles in specific designs. He said that he owes a debt of gratitude to Dhinubhai Gandhi from NABH, who played a vital role in encouraging Bhatia start taking corporate orders.
Besides preparing Diwali gifts for corporates, he also has continued with his stall in the city, which his other blind friends manage. A lot of hotels in Mahabaleshwar have given him space, where his associates sell candles to tourists.
Meet some of Bhatia’s ‘blind friends’
There is an aura of positivity in the workshop, where workers listen to soothing music as they craft. Kanchan Pawar (33) moulds candles and also mans the stall outside the church in Mahabaleshwar. Pawar lost her eyesight at the tender age of five, after a bout of high fever. “Since I live far from the workshop, I stay over often. We work in two shifts when there is a major order,” says Pawar. Those who drop the candle makers to the workshop are also given odd jobs. “This way, people volunteer to accompany our blind friends, in hope of earning some money in the process,” said Bhatia. Sanjay Prakash, a student in Std X, turned partially blind when a stone was flung at him in Std V. “He has found a new purpose in life -- to brighten people’s lives,” says Bhatia.
Bhatia’s workshop in Moreshwar is a treasure trove for lovers of wax art. Candles are displayed in every corner -- aromatic candles, candles in bottles, candles in the shapes of fruit, food, and flowers -- there’s something for everyone. Floating and gel candles are also an integral part of his collection.
The eye-catchers are of course a 46-kg wax idol of Shivaji, and a wax bust of Mahatma Gandhi. “Some day I hope to have a full-fledged wax museum which would encourage much more tourists to visit the city,” said Bhatia.
Candle-making has not just brought Bhatia professional success. Almost 20 years ago, a tourist stopped by his cart to buy candles. Mesmerised by his dedication and skill, she kept coming back to meet him. “One day, she asked me whether I would marry her. I was left with no words. I wondered why a normal girl would want to marry someone who cannot see. Even she did not have a suitable reply,” recalled Bhatia. Today, Neeta (40), Bhatia’s better half, is actively involved in his business. “When I met Bhavesh for the first time, his determination to do something with his life impressed me. I am happy managing the business. I do not do things for him out of sympathy. Whenever he or his sightless friends are stuck anywhere, I guide them on how to go further,” she said.
85 The number of totally or partially blind people working on his team
12K The cost of each dye indispensable in candle-making
5K The number of ‘blind friends’ in Satara
20 tonnes Average requirement of wax to complete a big order
9 hours The time spent on a single 4-inch long candle