Lead, kindly Light,
amid the encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark,
and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
With these words of verse Nitish C Laharry concluded his final address to the international Convention in St Louis, Missouri in June, 1963. They were familiar words to those close to Nitish. He used them frequently.
The “home” he contemplated when he spoke these lines was not the place he called his abode at any time. Nitish was an intensely spiritual man. It was his nature and his instinct to identify the spiritual motivation which he conceived to be at the root of man’s activity and, in particular, those activities attributable to a man’s affiliation with Rotary.
This quality of the man who was the first President of Rotary International from Asia impelled him to challenge Rotarians of the world to “Kindle the Spark Within.” In his words, “By doing so we shall realise that the path to an ultimate destiny lies in the resignation of the fact that all humanity is one and that each one of us is a spark from the Divine Godhood.”
The 52nd RI President was born in Calcutta and educated there. He was well educated. He received a bachelor of arts with honors in English from the University of Calcutta, also a master’s degree in economics and political science and a law degree. After practising law for four years he turned to the rapidly growing motion-picture business, in which he spent the rest of his working life. In 1926 he became a member of RC Calcutta under the classification “Motion-Picture Distributing.” A history of the Calcutta club contains this note about Nitish: “He was appointed the first Indian Secretary of the club. Although at that time the writer knew him as a quiet, even shy, young man he was in the thick of it right from the start.”
Eighteen years later he became President of RC Calcutta, and 18 years after that he became RI President at Tokyo, Japan. Quiet, modest, sensitive and humble he has always been, throughout the 38 years he served Rotary. Yet he has always been “in the thick of it.” Space permits but one example: his part in the 1958 Asia Regional Conference held in New Delhi.
Nitish served as Chairman of that Conference described by informed men of India as the largest non-political, non-religious gathering of Indians ever held. I accompanied Nitish on a visit to the late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru prior to the opening of the conference, and we invited him to join the Rotarians at a garden party closing the conference. It was a gesture of courtesy. We scarcely expected Mr Nehru would find it possible to attend a social function devoted to Rotary fellowship. However, when the garden party was its peak with 2,000 Rotarians and members of their families in attendance, Prime Minister Nehru walked into the garden, alone and unescorted, greeted the Rotarians, and joined in the conversation. It was a dramatic event and many interpretations could be placed upon it. I had my own interpretation. I felt quite certain that Nitish had indeed kindled the spark on his fellow countryman Mr Nehru, and that the Prime Minister, with equal sensitivity, was giving personal recognition to Nitish for his service, devotion and diligence.
At a time, in the evolution of Rotary, when the age-old distinctions between East and West were coming into ever sharper focus, Nitish Laharry came and walked among us as our leader. He was the living example of the fact that in truth East and West can meet. He was an inspiring symbol of his own deep belief in “the essential oneness of mankind.” And now has gone to walk with the Master. Let us all give thanks for what he was and what he gave to us. Let us reverently rejoice that the kindly Light has led our Nitish home.
The writer is past president of Rotary International (1958–59).