He has worked very hard in Rotary to come to this position of an RI president. Today, as he takes over, so many memories are flashing before my eyes. His special qualities are that he is a team player who takes everyone along, motivating them. He is super meticulous yet he ensures that everyone is having a lot of fun. This is what his fellow Rotarians love about him,” Rashi Mehta said, during the mega felicitation zoom meet organised to felicitate RI President Shekhar Mehta on the first day of his office.
The meeting was curated by PRID Kamal Sanghvi, who has worked very closely with Mehta for long years on literacy and providing shelter kits to victims of natural disasters, among other projects.
Rashi added that while leading from the front very firmly, “he is always accessible to everybody. The other admirable quality is his positivity and optimism. Even in the most challenging situations he rarely gets fazed and between his coolness and street smartness, which by now is enhanced by the street food he loves, he finds solutions to most problems.”
On the home front too “he is extremely caring. In the middle of an extremely important meeting, he will remember to check on the children… if they have reached wherever they were flying to. That is Shekhar, a 100 per cent guy. Add to that his wit and humour, and you have the recipe for a good leader, a great partner, a peerless family man and a genuine human being. That is why the opportunity that he has today is hard-earned and well-deserved.”
I am amazed at the changeover system in Rotary, which is like a rainbow with seven colours. The way the different colours blend into each other, seamlessly, just as day transforms into dusk, night, and then dawn, the same way the Rotary wheel keeps moving year after year.
In the star-packed virtual meet, Mehta was offered felicitations by top leaders in the government such as Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, then Union Information Minister Prakash Javadekar and Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan; past RI presidents Rajendra Saboo, Kalyan Banerjee, K R Ravindran, Mark Maloney and the top leadership from RI, including general secretary John Hewko. TRF Trustees Gulam Vahanvaty and Aziz Memon, outgoing directors Kamal Sanghvi and Bharat Pandya, and all the past directors from India also felicitated Mehta.
A sizable segment of the RI leadership said they were really enthused by Mehta’s declaration to focus on the empowerment of girls and expressed keen interest to work with him towards this worthy objective.
Addressing the meet the RI president expressed his amazement at the “changeover system in Rotary, which is like a rainbow”. It was not only the seven colours of the rainbow “but the way the different colours blend into each other, seamlessly, just as day transforms into dusk, night, and then dawn. The same way the Rotary wheel keeps moving year after year.”
He said outgoing president Holger Knaack and Susanne deserved a huge round of applause as no other RI president “has faced tougher times than he did, but despite that, at no point did we see him ruffled. He was always smiling and positive and that is what Rotarians do under adverse conditions.”
He is super meticulous yet he ensures that everyone is having a lot of fun. This is what his fellow Rotarians love about him.
– Rashi Mehta
Congratulating the outgoing directors from the RI board, particularly Dr Bharat Pandya and Kamal Sanghvi, for doing “an amazing job”, and welcoming all the directors on his board, Mehta said he was happy that “Jennifer (Jones) will serve as president after me”, as they shared common thoughts and goals.
Thanking Rotarians for having “faith” in him, he said: “I feel humbled and a little embarrassed at this whole event curated by Kamal. This makes me more determined that I need to be worthy of all these accolades and to make the dream even bigger. Such occasions make me wonder am I really worthy of this?”
Thanking his parents, Mehta said his father had heard the news of his son’s nomination as the RI president but could not see him in that position. “I thank my mother who is struggling for her life. The president of RI saw her but she could not see him. I hope she will be able to.” (Mehta’s mother passed away the next day).
Apart from Rashi and his children who had always supported his Rotary journey, he had drawn inspiration and learnt a lot from past presidents such as Rajendra Saboo, Kalyan Banerjee and K R Ravindran. “I thank all of them for opening doors, giving me opportunities, and letting me become what I have today. I also thank my larger family, the members of my own club — RC Calcutta Mahanagar. I stand here because of the strong foundation my club gave me. I could try out all my dreams there. If I failed, they stood by me, if I succeeded, they pushed me further.”
I am humbled and a little embarrassed at this whole event curated by Kamal (Sanghvi). This makes me more determined that I need to be worthy of the accolades and make the dream even bigger.
Mehta also thanked Rotarians across the globe; “my inspiration and dreams come only because I work with you. Thanks for your friendship, for having faith in me, for encouraging me to dream and standing by me when a dream failed, and supporting me to dream even bigger. And there can’t be a bigger dream than ‘grow more and do more’.”
Once again, he reiterated his dream to grow Rotary’s strength to 1.3 million. “A crazy dream? Of course, as crazy as the dream to eradicate polio. That dream has taken 35 years and we couldn’t have been closer than we are today to realising that dream. Who knows, if the last two cases of polio we have seen in Afghanistan and Pakistan, may well turn out to be the last two in the world?”
Mehta added that only “if we grow more, can we do more”. Giving his own example, he said when he joined Rotary as a young man, he did so for friendship and fellowship. But when his club project took him to a place barely 50km from his home, a village full of huts, the service aspect of Rotary hit him, and jolted him out of his comfortable life filled with luxuries. Juxtaposing his position with that of these villagers, who had no toilets at home and used the water from the local water body they shared with buffaloes, he began to do serious work with just one goal — changing the lives of people through service in Rotary.
Each extra Rotarian brought to the Rotary fold can contribute to change forever the lives of the people in their communities, he added.
When does he dream?
RI directors A S Venkatesh and Mahesh Kotbagi, who will serve on Mehta’s board at the RI, entertained the participants with a tete-a-tete done in a lighter vein. Said Kotbagi: “Hey Venky, now that Shekhar has become the RI president, how do we call him… Sir, Shekhar da, boss, or world president?”
Quipped Venkatesh: “You don’t have to call him, he will call you. Particularly if it’s a call at night!”
They then exchanged notes on the normal time Mehta calls in the night; “it’s not actually pm but am”, said Kotbagi, adding, “and after getting a call at 2am, he will call back again at 7am to ask if you have followed up on his earlier call!”
Venkatesh added that for several years, as Mehta continued his penchant for calling him at late hours, “I thought he must be working on Evanston time, till one day I got a call at 9am India time. I need to ask Rashi if he sleeps at all.”
With Kotbagi sharing a secret about Mehta snatching bits of sleep while sitting on a chair, or during a drive, the two then switched to a discussion on his two favourite edible items: Diet Coke and masala dosai.
Commented Venkatesh: “This man has thought of a rare combo with Diet Coke, which even its manufacturers would not have thought of. A combo of masala dosai and Diet Coke. Now in Chennai, the home of masala dosai, which of course Shekhar refuses to accept, saying that you get better masala dosai in Kolkata, they have now introduced the president’s combo: Masala dosai with Diet Coke!”
Kotbagi added that the best quality in the RI president he found was that “he is such an approachable leader… all around the globe people say he is my friend. This is one of the best qualities a leader can have.”
Venkatesh said that having worked with Mehta for long years in several big events, “I have seen that he has the ability to pick the right man for the right job and then relax.”
He concluded the chat by saying that everyone “says that he has big dream. I always wondered how does he dream when he doesn’t sleep. When I asked him… he said: ‘These are not the kind of dreams that you see when you are sleeping, but dreams which don’t allow you to sleep’.”