Sometimes chance meetings can lead to major initiatives. It was one such encounter that led to the much-feted Mithai Mission of the Rotary Club of Chandigarh, RID 3080. My better-half Usha was travelling to the national capital on the Delhi-Chandigarh Shatabdi Express in 2016 when she met this dashing young army officer. The affable young man who wore a big smile struck a conversation with Usha. Intrigued, she inquired about the challenges faced by army personnel.
The officer shared the daily hazards, the dangers encountered at every step, and the big sacrifices routinely made by jawans and their families to safeguard the nation. It was from him that Usha learnt about the vagaries of army life. She discovered that a jawan posted on the high reaches such as the Siachen might receive just one or two buckets of water for personal needs, obtained by melting snow over kerosene. Also, the majority of his food was dehydrated and packed, a far cry from our delicious daily meals.
This encounter planted a seed in Usha’s mind for a mithai mission. With Diwali approaching, we decided to send mithai boxes to the soldiers as a mark of our gratitude.
In the first consignment, the Rotary Club of Chandigarh sent 4,500 carefully selected boxes of sweets to our Indian soldiers stationed in areas like Leh/Siachen during Diwali, where courageous jawans endure challenging conditions. These boxes, filled with non-perishable treats from a renowned shop, were loaded onto army trucks at the Rotary House. The first consignment of 2,000 boxes was airborne, with Member of Parliament Kiron Kher flagging off the mission.
Each box carried a heartfelt message, Aap Hain Toh Hum Hain, symbolising gratitude and solidarity. The response we received from the soldiers was equally heartwarming: “We are for you,” they responded.
Since then, this compassionate initiative has grown, earning the Rotary Club of Chandigarh the Best Project Award in June 2017. Usha’s vision is simple yet profound — to extend our gratitude to those who give their all for our safety. As Diwali approaches, the focus remains on celebrating not just the festival but also expressing appreciation for the soldiers, who spend the occasion away from their families.
Usha highlighted, “They give their lives for us; we should at least express our thanks to them during Diwali.”
This noble endeavour drew national attention in 2017 when famous actor Amitabh Bachchan thanked the Rotarians for celebrating Diwali beyond their families with the soldiers during his show Kaun Banega Crorepati.
In 2018, 5,000 boxes from RI District 3080, covering Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, Uttarakhand and UP, were sent to the soldiers. The batch of 3,000 boxes was flagged off by then Governor V P Singh Badnore. Our Rotary club, with over 1,700 boxes, played a pivotal role in this consignment.
For four consecutive years, Rotarians have rallied funds to send Diwali sweets for Indian jawans. Notably, in 2020, 2,000kg of sweets were sent during Gurpurab amidst the challenges of the pandemic.
2021 witnessed an overwhelming participation from Rotarians beyond Chandigarh, who sent 6,000 boxes of sweets. Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit flagged off the trucks from the Raj Bhavan.
In 2022, under Rotary District Governor V P Kalta, the tradition continued, and in November 2023, 6,000 boxes were flagged off by the Governor of Punjab and Administrator
of Chandigarh UT.
Looking ahead, our club plans to extend its compassionate efforts to Naval bases in Kochi, Visakhapatnam, and Porbandar, recognising the sacrifices made by those at sea. Rotarians, irrespective of religion, always unite to support our armed forces during various festivals.
These activities embody timeless values and unwavering integrity, serving as an expression of our deep admiration for the armed forces, and their families.
The writer is a past president of Rotary International
This article first appeared in The Indian Express.