An all-women’s Rotary club in Chennai has dared to be different. Their signature project — Viriyum Siragugal (spreading the wings) — a cross-country car rally with four members, has completed its fourth edition with a Kanyakumari to Kashmir journey. “The expedition was both eventful and joyful with great memories as we got splendid receptions from 150 clubs at 45 places across 15 RI districts,” says project chair Sivabala Rajendran, charter president, RC Chennai Meraki, RID 3232.
The 15-day solo rally coursed through 5,500km of challenging terrain and inclement weather, “but mother nature helped us to make our travel smooth without any hitch.We had no mechanical glitches with our car, and our health was so good that we enjoyed every moment of the changing landscape,” she recalls. To align with the RI president’s theme, the car rally had a tagline ‘Imagine Impact Tour’ and the women crew noted down all the club projects and community initiatives they had visited along the way “so that we could spread the word around to enhance the public image of Rotary across the country,” she says.
RI director A S Venkatesh and DG N Nandakumar flagged off the rally in the presence of event patron Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, a Chennai textile baron, on Sep 29. They reached Kanyakumari in the wee hours. On the next day, RID 3212 DG V R Muthu, along with other district officials, inaugurated the rally from the southern-most tip of India.
Warned of risks
As this was the first time they were travelling across North India, “our families and few Rotarians were a bit apprehensive. But we convinced them that we are travelling as Rotarians, not as just women, and told them prior arrangements were done with clubs to take care of logistics and stay. After sensing our determination, they let us go,” explains Sivabala.
Project coordinator Kothangi Suchitra was on the wheel most of the time, and her supporting driver was club secretary Preetha Mahesh, while Sivabala and club president Shrikala Gopi were the other members of the quartet team. Go Green, End Polio Now, DEI policy, cancer awareness and women’s welfare are the themes of the campaign they took up on their journey.
Some of the noteworthy projects they visited during the rally include the 400-bed Rotary Covid Hospital, Erode; Karunashraya, a palliative care centre in Bengaluru; the Annapoorna Yojana, offering food to the elderly and a school for the visually-impaired in Solapur; a municipal hospital with incubators and human milk bank in Pune; a blood bank offering free service to the poor in Aurangabad; a vocational centre and school for special children in Khamgaon; a forest project in Akola; a deaf and dumb school in Amravati; a vocational centre in Chhindwara; and a vaccination centre and Rotary school in Jhansi.
“We carried the two ‘End Polio’ torches, an initiative of RC Madras that had passed around 63 countries, to get public support and they will be sent to Afghanistan and Pakistan in its final leg,” says Sivabala.
Never on road after 6pm
Having networked with clubs well before their rally, “we routinely halted at 6pm at places where a reception was arranged by Rotarians. We were taken around their projects and a comfortable stay was provided by the clubs,” says Suchitra. Recalling a nightmare when the Google Maps misguided them to a remote village on the way to Gwalior from Jhansi, she says, “as it is a straight highway, we went by the GPS indices. But it led us to a tribal hamlet… it was scary. But we got a peek into their farming and primitive life.”
In Jammu, they were received by DG Dushyant Choudhary, RID 3070, and other Rotarians on Oct 13 and reached Srinagar the next day. In the valley, RC Srinagar City secretary Safoora Javed and her family hosted the rallyists; while the club president Bhupinder Singh was present in Jammu along with the DG. Driving from Jammu to Srinagar, a distance of 250km, on steep mountains with minimal roads, gave them a big scare. “Unlike hill roads in South India where there are retaining walls from the gorges, in Kashmir there are no such safety or road standards. While trucks are coming from the opposite side, we have to negotiate well as there are no retaining walls (parapet) on the left facing the valley,” she says. Except in Kashmir, the rest of the national highways are of high standards, opines Suchitra. A gratifying experience has been the reception given by 10 district governors who were accompanied by PDGs, club presidents and DGs-elect during their pitstops.
Chennai to Vizag
The four-member crew had their fifth expedition from Chennai to Visakhapatnam, an 850km journey by car, to take part in the Visakha Vista zone institute. “RI President Jennifer Jones encouraged us at the Women in Rotary programme. She took a selfie with us and it was a defining moment for us,” says Sivabala. On the way to Vizag, they were hosted by Rotarians from RCs Sulurpet, Kavali and Tuni.
In their maiden rally in 2018, the quartet drove from Chennai to Dhanushkodi, a ruined island off Rameswaram. Then RI president Barry Rassin flagged off the rally in the presence of then RI director C Basker and incoming directors Bharat Pandya and Kamal Sanghvi. This was followed by a Chennai to Kolkata jaunt to participate in Rotary India’s centenary celebrations. After the pandemic, in 2021–22, they drove along the Cauvery River starting from Talacauvery in Kodagu district of Karnataka to Poompuhar in Tamil Nadu where it merges into the Bay of Bengal.
“River restoration, reforestation and saving environment were taken up as campaign issues,” she adds.
One of the cherished moments was RI director Mahesh Kotbagi and Amita hosting them in Pune for over an hour during their KK to Kashmir journey. Rally advisor PDGs R Srinivasan and E K Sagadhevan, its coordinator, were the architects of the successful solo car expedition by the women Rotarians from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.