Every year Mohanbhai Patel, Past President of RC Bombay West, Chairman of the Patel Extrusion Group and a former Sheriff of Bombay, organises an event where he honours five scientists for their original research finding useful application in industry.
Four years ago, at one such event held in Anand district in Gujarat, the chief guest was the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. As the awards meeting was on, the CM suddenly halted the proceedings and said: “Where is your family? I want to take a picture with them.” The family was put together, the chief guest stepped off the podium and such a picture was taken (Above). “Even then I told him that in 2014 I will invite you to a similar function, but then you will be the Prime Minister of India,” chuckles the grand old man, all of 85.
But Patel’s claim to fame is not astrology. This Rotarian of 56 years, born to a farming family in Gujarat’s Kheda district, loves to give away his money for charity, and not in small dribbles. Recently he donated Rs
1.5 crore to the Rotary Service Public Charitable Trust, through his family Trust (Surajba Charitable Trust), to reward brilliant students from 50 educational institutions in Mumbai. But giving away what he has is not new to him.
Patel had his primary and secondary school education in Gujarat and when he “joined an English medium school in Bombay, I was thrown out because I didn’t know enough English.” So he completed his school education in Gujarati medium before being sent to London. After schooling he wanted to become a barrister, but there he met another Patel who advised him against a profession that “would give me income from pitting one brother against another, and similar cases, and advised me to become an engineer.”
At the Matriculation Examination of the London University, he topped in English, Math and Chemistry and later graduated in mechanical and electrical engineering from a London College, paying for his education through part-time work.
He joined the London office of the Tatas in 1952 and later sought a transfer to work with Tata Sons in India, where he headed the electrical department of one of its subsidiaries.
“You asked me when I began giving away my money. It happened with my first salary of Rs 1,500 in India, which I donated to my village school. Second month’s salary went to my sister, the third to my hospital and fourth to my parents,” says Patel.
Surely he wasn’t married then, or else his wife would have stopped this trend, I joke with my Gujarati interviewee.
Pat came the reply: “Luckily she was the daughter of a Patidar (Patel) and not a Bohri (my community), so
I faced no such problem!”
We owned our building in Bombay in1965 … even before Rotary owned its building in Evanston.
It is the light touch with which he wears his wealth and the generosity with which he gives it away which makes Patel special. As also the fact that he is the sole creator of this wealth.
A pioneer in packaging
In 1958 Patel started his own company to make collapsible aluminium tubes, then a West German preserve, and also pioneered the making of the aluminium ophthalmic nozzle for eye ointments. Next year came the blind nozzle aluminium tubes for adhesives and rubber solutions. These innovative products gave a fillip to the indigenous pharma industry by making available cheaper Indian-made packaging material.
Much earlier he joined the freedom movement and in 1942 an arrest warrant was issued for him. “It still remains; so you can say I am an absconder,” he grins.
Reminiscing on his Rotary years, the octogenarian says that after joining Rotary in 1958, he has remained an “active Rotarian all through 56 years.” He first became secretary of RC Bombay West and its president the next year. “The huge Rotary Service Centre in Santacruz was built in my time; both the idea and execution were mine. We had two halls and medical facilities. I think we were the first in the whole Rotary movement to own our own building in 1965 … even before the one in Evanston, Chicago.”
He explains that this building is very prominently located at the Juhu circle; the plot was at least 2,000 sq yards and the whole structure cost around Rs 15–17 lakh. On why he didn’t become district governor, Patel says, “The governorship was offered to me, but I declined because it involved too much work, which my business responsibilities did not permit. And apart from business, I had social, educational and other responsibilities too.”
While he has been making “small donations of Rs 2–5 lakh for Rotary, this was the first time I’ve made such a big donation of Rs 1.5 crore,” he says. He set up the Rotary School for the speech and hearing impaired in the memory of his mother 12 years ago.
When I press for more details about his philanthropic ventures Patel says, “I normally don’t like saying this but because you’re asking, I donated a few years ago Rs 4 crore for the University of Science and Technology in Kheda district.”At this campus there is a large college (the Chandaben Mohanbhai Patel Institute for Computer Applications) named after his late wife. His total contribution to this University is around Rs 8 crore.
So what does Rotary mean for him?
“It has given me good company; I enjoy listening to good speakers, some on health, others on education. Now of course I go only for special meetings.”
So how do his three children — two sons and a daughter — look at their father giving away so much of his money to charity, I ask him.
“You must ask them. My daughter is right now beside me; I’ll give her the phone you ask her.”
But before doing that Patel says he enjoys giving his money to charity. “When all your needs are taken care of … beyond a point what is the use of money? And anyway, I might have two or four more years to live … and
I can’t take my money with me.”
He next explains how in the Taittreya Upanishad, the muni has said to his students….
deiyam, deiyam, deiyam (give away). “But he had said samjhi ne aapo (give with knowledge and understanding.) You may be a Bohri but you have Brahmin blood in you as you people were converted 800–1,000 years ago. So you should know all this!”
When he hands over the phone to Nisa Sagar, (“she is the daughter-
in-law of the famous film maker Ramanand Sagar,” he says proudly), she says all his children are very proud of their father’s philanthropy.
“He has earned all his money and his giving away teaches us that we should also give back to the society. We see Papa doing it all the time and that is a great inspiration for us. There is so much to learn from him; if I can be even 5–7 percent of what he is, I’ll be thrilled,” says Nisa.
As for the future, Patel says he will continue to give away his money … “this is only the beginning.”
The Rotary Service Centre in Mumbai was packed to capacity with bright, cheerful academic achievers, their parents and Rotarians on September 5 when the Smt. Chandaben Mohanbhai Patel Rotary Excellence Awards were given to deserving students.
Rtn Mohanbhai Patel staunchly believed that an investment in knowledge pays the best interest. He had been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from RI, apart from other significant decorations.
Patel created a corpus of Rs 1.50 crore for the Rotary Service Public Charitable Trust to institute the Smt Chandaben Mohanbhai Patel Rotary Excellence Awards for students who have topped their Board exams from schools and institutions in western suburbs of Mumbai and tribal schools in Dahanu Taluka, Maharashtra.
Students from 50 schools, colleges and institutions securing the first three ranks are given cash prizes of Rs 10,000, Rs 5,000 and Rs 3,000 every year from the income earned from the corpus. The cash awards and certificates were given to the students by former Vice Chancellor of SNDT University, Rtn Dr Rupa Shah in the presence of Patel, Rtn Mohan Joshi, President of Rotary Club of Bombay West and Rtn Arvind Shah, who heads the Award Committee.
RC Bombay West, RI District 3140 recently celebrated its diamond jubilee. Through its permanent and humanitarian projects over the last six decades, the club has touched several thousand lives. The club owns and manages the KDN Shruti School for hearing-impaired children, Popatlal Prabhudas Charitable Medical Centre and Rotary DG Goenka Blood Bank. The Rotarians provide interest-free loans for vocational courses and women’s self-help groups, and sponsor skill enhancement programmes at schools for under-privileged.