“At TISS, we build people, not structures,” says Prof Armaity Desai, the Iron-lady of the institute

File Picture: Prof Armaity Desai is seen with Mr JRD Tata.

The former director strongly feels that the values system practised 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 appears charismatic, who can bring immense value to 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 an excellent memory. She could not just remember the names of her faculty, colleagues and students, 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 the 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, especially 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 a 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 the 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 premier 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 goodbye 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.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Chitra! I missed joining you all. Prof. Armity Desai comes across as so simple, relevant and fresh even after decades of leadership. Hallmark of a destined leader!

  2. Thank you for your response. It is so nice of you to message us. We would like to hear more from you about her. Please connect with us on tissaaa2013@gmail.com. thank you.

  3. I am fofortunatefthat i was her student in 1982_83 when she was principrin of college of social work Nirmala niketan... She taught us social work teaching practice, she was very kind and lovable to all vernacular ststudents her understanding was perfect ... Salute you madam wherever you are ... Live long n long and always remain in good health ... Kundan Jadhav mob. 99420242159

  4. Thank you for sharing such as important aspect of Prof Armaity madam's personality.

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