“At TISS, we build people not structures,” says Prof Armaity Desai, the Iron-lady of the institute
The former director strongly feels that the values system practiced by the Tata group should not be forgotten by TISSians
When we met Prof Armaity Desai, she was waiting for us in her cosy bedroom filled with a large number of books, and select pictures of her brother and parents, that adorned the space which gave away a sense of warmth and wellbeing.
Prof Armaity Desai has aged with grace, she looks elegant, poised with confidence and is beaming with energy. Even at 84 years of age, she is appears charismatic, who can bring immense value in any venture she takes up.
Prof Armaity Desai was so quick in answering all our questions, and her responses were loaded with wisdom, which reflected values nurtured carefully over the years.
What strikes the most while one interacts with Prof Armaity Desai is that she has excellent memory. She could not just remember the names of her faculty, colleagues and students, but in some cases she went on to describe how some of them looked like in those days. She described a gentleman, with whom she had worked with in 1980s and went on to describe from which institute he had completed his studies.
Prof Armaity Desai had so many incidents, events to share with us, specially her interactions with the two legends, Mr JRD Tata and Mr B G Deshmukh.
During the meeting, Prof Nasreen Rustomfram requested Prof Armaity Desai to share her views on why did she shut down a programme for Construction Managers during her tenure as TISS Director?
Prof Armaity Desai immediately answered, “at TISS, we build people and not structures, we work on issues concerning them, rather than concentrating on bricks and walls, we help people grow.”
Prof Armaity Desai narrated an experience of a TISSian who, in spite of several reminders to repay educational loan borrowed by him and his financial ability, had been refusing to pay. The reason cited by him was TISS had lot of funds. It was then Prof Armaity Desai wrote a strong letter to him, warning that if the amount is not repaid back to the institute, his degree would be revoked. The result was quite obvious he returned the loan amount.
Prof Armaity Desai has an amazing capacity to understand people's skills, nurture it, encourage and groom them in their area of interest. “I would give projects to faculty according to their interests. I wanted them to grow and specialise in a particular field, become a well known expert at national and international level,” said Prof Armaity Desai.
With her kindness, politeness and humbleness, Prof Armaity Desai puts you at ease. Nothing in her behaviour makes you feel that she was once the Director of India’s premiere educational institute (TISS) and the Chairperson of University Grant Commission (UGC).
During our meeting Prof Armaity Desai made us have several servings of the delicacies, saying the plate which the snacks were served is so small, and the quantity is just not enough. 'You should eat more since you have travelled from so far,’ she stated firmly, directing us towards the dining table which had a variety of colourful food items displayed on it.
By the end of the meeting we were spellbound. As we bid good bye to her, we felt so full, as the doyen of TISS has shared details of her odyssey which brought the golden era of the institute alive in front of us. With a sense of responsibility we climbed down the stairs of her building, deciding within self that the pearls of wisdom which we received from her had to be shared with all of you.
Sharing some details of Prof Armaity Desai
Prof Armaity Desai is an eminent alums of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), who graduated in 1956, specialising in Family and Child Welfare. Prof Armaity Desai did her doctoral studies in the United States and returned in 1969.
Prof Armaity Desai, is known as a leader in Indian social work education, she was the principal of the Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work, Director of TISS. Prof Armaity Desai became the Chairperson of the University Grants Commission in 1995.
Prof Armaity Desai was awarded the Katherine Kendall Award of the International Association of Schools of Social Work in 1992, for her contribution to international social work education. During her tenure at TISS, Prof Armaity Desai set up the Rural Campus at Tuljapur. She played a key role in rethinking the social work curricula, making the profession more community and rural oriented.
Prof Armaity Desai parents were a part of the Indian freedom movement. Her mother volunteered as a social worker, and her father worked for The Parsi Punchayat Funds & Properties. Her aunt was also an alum of TISS.