Kalyan Banerjee, past RI president, has created a beautiful gallery of the gifts and mementos he received from all over the world since his election to Rotary’s highest office.
At Vapi’s GIDC area, in a beautiful bungalow, adorned with a lovely garden on all four sides, is a spacious room that has now become part of a folklore in the Rotary world in India. For, stationed above the porch of the bungalow, called Karubika, this 750 sqft room houses an immensely popular personal museum of PRIP Kalyan Banerjee. Known lovingly as Kalyan da in India, Banerjee, the third among the four Indians who have donned the RI president’s hat, led the Rotary world in 2011–12.
The museum, known as the Kalyan Banerjee Gallery, has one of the biggest collections of headwear from across nations, including hats, caps, boaters, bowler hats, beanies, fedoras and berets. They are made of all types of material and fabrics like silk, cotton, bamboo and straw and are embellished with innumerable designs and embroidery. These caps decorate the top layer of the wall in the antechamber, the mini entrance, of the gallery. With hundreds of exhibits neatly arranged in segments, the gallery offers a glimpse into Banerjee’s Rotary travel and the gifts he received in those tours and meetings. Photographs, books, sculptures, certificates, plates, scarves, trophies, wall hangings, artefacts, statues, paintings, rugs, shawls, flags, dresses, t-shirts, and many more exhibits, vie with each other for space and attention. The gallery has a basic core as the nucleus and then bhool-bhulaiyan (maze) like layered passageways around it. No space has been left vacant.
“It was entirely my wife Binota’s idea,” says Banerjee. “Over the years we had collected so many gifts and mementos. And she said, ‘why not we display them instead of packing them in cartons?’ She wanted to show how the world had responded to the RI president wherever he went.” As a TRF (The Rotary Foundation) trustee (2001–05), RI president-elect, then RI president and TRF trustee chair (2016–17), he had collected many souvenirs gifted to the couple as tokens of love and appreciation.
Though the idea was sound, the Banerjees did not know how it would pan out. They needed an expert’s help in taking it forward. And that expert was Mumbai’s interior designer-architect-
landscaper Mona Shah. The first step even before Mona began designing was to create a space for the gallery. So, the Banerjees got a spacious room constructed in the area above the portico of their bungalow in Vapi. Once that was done, Mona set out to use her creative genius. “The credit for the segments and design must go entirely to Mona,” says the past RI president. “She decided how to classify the exhibits into various sections and then arrange them. Though she took inputs from Binota and me, the designing was entirely her domain.” While the gallery was designed by Mona Shah, its execution including the construction, carpentry and the furniture design were handled by Rotarian Praful Dewani from Banerjee’s
home club, Rotary Club of Vapi.
Work on the gallery began after Banerjee’s term as the RI president ended. Operational since 2015, it has exhibits from the years 2009–10, 2011–12 and 2014–15. “I couldn’t do it in 2013–14,” he says. There are about eight to ten sections of which one is dedicated to PolioPlus, RI’s biggest success story throughout the world.
Other classifications and sub-classifications are China, Africa, Seoul, Dubai, Kalyan Banerjee Trustee Chair, Recognition from around the world, and The Rotary Foundation among others.
Along with the displays, Mona has also given due importance to photographs and the audio-visual content. While she has displayed photographs of a young Kalyan Banerjee, when he had just joined the Rotary world and also when he and Binota got married, she has also created a corner where five important speeches of the past president can be watched. Ear phones are available too. In two corners, the photographs keep changing to include the vast repertoire of his life. His late wife, the gracious Binota, smiles from many photographs. Those who have met this soft-spoken Rotary partner, pause for a few minutes before the couple’s photographs.
“I really enjoyed cataloguing and designing Kalyan Banerjee’s Rotary journey spanning multiple decades within four walls,” says Mona. “It was a surreal experience to take on a humongous task to success and see the joy and inspiration the gallery brought to fellow Rotary members.” She took one step at a time. “We started with something as simple as moving his entire collection from various lofts and parts of his offices and residences and organised them based on geography and years of the events. What I enjoyed the most was creating a spotlight for each of the mementos and gifts he received over the course of his life’s work towards the Rotary association.”
Adds Dewani, “Binota’s dream came true when she gifted her husband this gallery to keep ‘memories of their Rotary journey’ alive for years to come. There are countrywide mementos, documented pictures with important world and India leaders, pictures of world Rotarians at various occasions, countrywide tokens of love, crystal mementos from different clubs other than Rotary, presidential themes woven on different fabrics, pictures of RI board of directors of various years, pictures capturing varied shades of the past president and headgears from different part of the world and a family corner.”
As RI president, Banerjee visited 97 countries and about 45 as the president-elect. He also received mementoes and gifts as TRF trustee and trustee chair. The gallery displays those souvenirs from about 140 countries. Gurbani or a soothing music greets the visitor on entering the main gallery and plays throughout. “We have also kept another set of music as foreigners do not understand Gurbani,” explains Banerjee. Rotarians, GSE (Group Study Exchange) teams from various countries and pupils and college students are the main visitors.
There was a time when it seemed that the gallery would never take shape. It was Rotary year 2016–17 and Banerjee was the TRF chair. “In the last years of my trusteeship, Binota began withering away. She was ill and I wanted to devote my time to her,” he reminisces. A kind and quiet woman, Binota enjoyed much respect and love from Rotarians and their partners. She had always been by her husband’s side when he discharged his duties as a Rotarian at various levels. When her condition began deteriorating, he decided to give her time and attention. He resigned from his post. “I felt I could not discharge my duties when Binota needed me by her side. But then, many senior Rotary leaders told me that six months had already elapsed and any new person who would have to suddenly fill my position wouldn’t be able to do much in the next six months. So, it made sense for me to continue. I then withdrew my resignation.”
Banerjee, 82, is a chemical engineer from IIT, Kharagpur, and retired from the board of United Phosphorus last year after decades of service. He has been chairman of UPL, Bangladesh too. He has also been president of Vapi Industries Association and chairman of the Gujarat chapter of the Confederation of Indian Industries.
Is he happy with the way the gallery has turned out? “I think it has probably come up better than I thought. I still keep adding things in it.”
He is now reviving his efforts in the field of literacy and medical services. He is joined in this initiative by Prof Nayan Patel, who serves on the International Advisory Board at Somerville College, University of Oxford. A past district governor himself, Patel is working on leprosy prevention in India, with an emphasis on Maharashtra. “I am getting involved in literacy and health services again as I have been passionate about these right from the beginning,” says Banerjee.
“Even if you are old and retired, you do not have to hang up your boots. You can continue doing the good work. Perhaps someday I will have a gallery of our efforts in the fields of literacy and health too,” says the sports lover, who had recently returned from Wimbledon, as a parting shot.