A zone institute in challenging times

Pulling off a zone institute in India, always a gala, colourful and power-packed event, none like anywhere else in the world, as every RI president who has attended one of our zone institutes has never tired of saying, is itself a challenge. That convener RI Director A S Venkatesh and his chair, PDG M Muruganandam, managed one during the Covid pandemic, without any major glitches, with many senior leaders, led by RI President Shekhar Mehta himself, making it physically to the enchanting temple city of Mahabalipuram, is a commendable feat. The very opportunity to travel to a beach city, about 60km from Chennai, and stay in sprawling, lush green resorts with access to the cool waters of the Bay of Bengal during the balmy, mild winter days — that’s all winter that we in Chennai get — must have been a boon to the 700-plus delegates who made it to Mahabs 21. As Venkatesh explained, with one wave after another of the coronavirus compelling a series of lockdowns, till the very end, the organising committee members were on tenterhooks asking each other — will it happen or not!

Add to this the North East monsoon inundating the city and suburbs through unprecedented rain spells, flooding several parts, he was left answering calls from one anxious participant after another; is it happening; do we need to cancel our travel plans; how will you manage such a big crowd, and so on. “Well, I had faith in Muruga and his team, and the almighty, and in the end, everything turned out well,” said the relieved convener, at the closing session, and invited the delegates to enjoy the traditional elai sappadu (meal served on a banana leaf). I quickly cancelled my plan to dash back home, a little weary of hotel food for three days, and sat down, with my vegetarian colleague Jaishree for a veg meal, even though the deep-fried fresh seer fish, stacked in heaps on the table at the other side of the hall, was really tempting!

But I didn’t regret my decision, and returned home, for a well-earned siesta on a Sunday afternoon. How well Venkatesh, Vinita (his shock absorber in the preceding few weeks, as he lovingly admitted), Muruganandam, and the rest of the institute committee members, must have slept that night, can only be imagined.

As we step into the new year, let’s do that with hope and optimism that we have seen the worst of the coronavirus and henceforth the dark clouds of fear, uncertainty and grief as we mourned our loved ones, dissolve away, ushering in a dawn filled with happiness and cheer, hope and resolve. Resolve that we, who were able to ward off the dangers and worst consequences of this virus, thanks to the privileged position we enjoy, will spare a thought for the less fortunate, and share a tiny portion of our privileges with them. If anything, the pandemic has taught us how transient our life is, and how suddenly everything can end.

On that sombre note and hoping for a Covid-free 2022, we in Rotary News Trust extend to you season’s greetings and wish you a great year ahead.

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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