Both Rotary and writing are his passion

with-garhwal-children
PDG Prem Bhalla with students at a Garhwal school.

He is not only a committed and passionate Rotarian but an avid writer as well, having under his belt nearly 50 published books, ranging from his maiden work with the intriguing title A handbook for the housewife, published by Orient Paperbacks way back in 1972.

Other books followed in quick succession, with PDG (District 3080) Prem Bhalla’s writing journey meandering around a myriad of themes ranging from motivational book series such as “way to…” and “how to succeed in…” as also one on cookery, to his present deep interest in writing on religious themes.

To the question why a handbook for housewives, which by the way, “did very well”, he says, “The main reason was that I saw a lot of highly educated women, including within our own family, who were very good in academics but needed some guidance on how to run the house, take care of the children, the husband and maintain good relations with the in-laws, who are an important part of the family in Indian homes. I thought then, and still think now, that a housekeeper’s work is endless. And she needs to be smart in a lot of things to make the home run smoothly.” Interestingly, the first chapter is on happiness and it asserts that every woman has the right to
be happy.

I have learnt more from Rotary than I could have from any college or university.

Once he wrote this book, and it became successful, many people asked why not a handbook for men, “so I wrote one for men — A handbook for the progressive man”. Next came A handbook for young people published by Jaico Books, Bombay, followed by the one titled A complete guide to careers.

Ask Bhalla from where he gets the inspiration or energy to write so many books, and in a flash he connects it with his 56 years in Rotary. “Rotary has played a great part in inspiring me to write, as in Rotary we were always providing service and I thought giving knowledge and writing for young people is also service.”

 

Rotary journey begins

Bhalla is the only surviving founding member of RC Haridwar, which was started in 1962. He was only 26 years old, and joined as “I thought it was a good opportunity to serve and a great platform to learn. Frankly, I think I’ve learnt more from Rotary than I could have from any college or university.”

His is truly what can be called a “Rotary family”; both he and his father were founding members of RC ­Haridwar, with his father being the founding president. His son too imbibed the passion for Rotary and is a founder member of RC Ranipur. “Earlier he was a Rotaractor; they invited him to become a Rotarian and he is very active in Rotary. He in turn passed on the passion for Rotary to his children,” he adds.

PDG Prem Bhalla with PRID Y P Das at a school site in the Garhwal Himalayas.
PDG Prem Bhalla with PRID Y P Das at a school site in the Garhwal Himalayas.

Bhalla became club president at 34 and district governor at 42. Always an active and passionate Rotarian, he has played a very active and crucial role in developing the Him Jyoti School for disadvantaged girls that was started by Past RI Director Sudarshan Agarwal into a fine institution. “I worked there since the beginning and we did three TRF grants totalling some ₹ 62 lakh, which included giving furniture for the school, the dining hall, etc, getting a bus and a van and putting up a solar system for heating water.”

He served for nine years as treasurer of the trust that runs the school. “Since inception, all our girls have passed out in the first division, with 8 to 10 of them scoring above 90 per cent every year.”

I am a very disciplined eater and even if the best of dishes are placed before me, I take just one helping and stop.

Another mega project where his passion, experience and hard work helped is in the rebuilding of schools in the devastated areas of the Garhwal Himalayas after the 2013 flash floods in Kedarnath. “We built 32 schools there and Yash (Past RI Director Y P Das) and I were totally involved; I dealt with the contractors, suppliers and oversaw the construction, along with him.”

On his long association with PDG Bhalla, Past RI President ­Rajendra Saboo recalls that both of them were presidents of their clubs during the same year (1970–71) “under the leadership of the great district governor Som Dhingra. My journey with Prem (Bhalla) has continued for all these years and I respect him for his total dedication to Rotary and serving humanity, as much as for his flair for writing. He has always upheld Rotary’s strong ethics and I have tremendous regard for his value-based life journey with his very supporting wife Uma.”

 

Writing on Hinduism

Returning to Bhalla the writer, he writes only in English, though some of his books have been translated and are available on Flipkart and Amazon. “The book on housewives was sponsored by the Government of India and is there in all government libraries,” he adds.

Over the years and after he had done a couple of series on 7 steps to success; time management; effective communications, leadership, team building, better relationships, etc, his foray into spiritual and religious writing began, resulting in books on Hinduism.

It all happened when after a break, he resumed his writing in 2003, and did a series of books for Pustak Mahal, New Delhi, including The portrait of a Complete Man and The book of ­Etiquette and Manners.

Past RI President Carl Stenhammer with (from R) PRIP Rajendra K Saboo, Usha Agarwal, PRID Sudarshan Agarwal (then serving as Governor of Uttaranchal), then DG Ranbir Singh and his spouse Harvinder. PRID Y P Das (standing L) is also seen in the picture. PDG Prem Bhalla can be seen standing behind with the past governors of the district.
Past RI President Carl Stenhammer with (from R) PRIP Rajendra K Saboo, Usha Agarwal, PRID Sudarshan Agarwal (then serving as Governor of Uttaranchal), then DG Ranbir Singh and his spouse Harvinder. PRID Y P Das (standing L) is also seen in the picture. PDG Prem Bhalla can be seen standing behind with the past governors of the district.

With his background being from Haridwar, this publisher was keen that Bhalla should write some books on Hinduism. But he was initially reluctant because “of lack of sufficient knowledge on the subject”. One fine evening, the Editor sent him some material on Hinduism in Hindi and requested him to write a book in English.

But there was a hurdle; “in 1947, I was in Class 5 when India became independent, and prior to that we used to study Urdu, and not Hindi, in our schools, along with English. So only from Class 5 to 10, I started learning Hindi but my knowledge of Hindi was rather dismal.” His lack of knowledge in Hindi held him back but she requested him to at least give it a try.

 At the International Assembly in April 1978 at Boca Raton with the then incoming RI President Clem Renouf (left).
At the International Assembly in April 1978 at Boca Raton with the then incoming RI President Clem Renouf (left).

So like a true warrior he ploughed on, also taking it as a signal from god and within six months put together the book Hindu Rites, Rituals, Customs and Traditions, “which has become a real money spinner for the publisher!” First published in 2006, it has had several reprints and multiple editions and is selling across the world. “The publisher has really made it big on this book, which has sold tens of thousands of copies and has become a reference point on Hinduism for many people,” says Bhalla.

This was a trigger that led to a few more books on Hinduism; “and I thought this was also service… to bring knowledge that is available in Hindi to English readers”.

 

Translating the Mahabharat

His writing journey continues; at present he is translating the Mahabharat and “trying to highlight those aspects of the epic that provide knowledge.
I believe the Mahabharat is a complete book on living well and on hope. I am weaving in several stories so that it makes for easy reading and easier grasp of the message in each story.”

Bhalla is halfway through this venture, and hopes to complete it in a “year’s time.” On advice to aspiring writers and the discipline required to churn out nearly 50 books, Bhalla says he has made it a point to write about 500 words a day and most of the time he’s followed this routine religiously. But, he hastens to add, “writing is only a spare time activity for me. I have to take care of my work in Rotary and then my own work in farming. Basically I am a farmer, and get my bread from there.”

Originally, his family held a very big farm but “after the two land ­ceilings that I have seen in my lifetime which have been tortuous for people like me, we had to dispose of land and divide it.” He is now left with a 15-acre farm where he grows rice, wheat and has a small mango orchard too. As the land is bang on the main road from Rishikesh to Haridwar, he has plans to convert a part of it into facility for pilgrims.

Meanwhile, even after 55 years, Bhalla’s involvement and active participation in Rotary and its projects continues. For instance, after building the 32 schools in Rudraprayag, “we still had some money left and I suggested to Yash (Das) that let’s do up a Public Health Centre (PHC) for the government in Phata, the place through which all the pilgrims to Kedarnath pass and from where a 7-minute helicopter ride is available to Kedarnath.” This PHC was functioning from a totally run down building; “we didn’t build a new building but fortified it with a steel structure and ensured it will remain good for use for another 25 years. About 32 deliveries are done in this centre every month. We spent  ₹ 12.5 lakh on this as we thought let’s leave one more mark of Rotary in the area where we did so much work after the 2013 devastation.”

 

A disciplined eater

On the secret behind his sprightly and trim frame, the PDG says categorically: “Let me tell you that I have never done any yoga in my life or gone for morning walks, but I have been a farmer all my life. Whenever I am at the farm, I walk all over the place. And if I have to go to the bank or nearby places, I don’t take my car and prefer to walk, as you also meet people when you walk.”

Another secret is that he is very disciplined about his meals. “I have always eaten on time and eaten right, and that has kept me going all this time. Even if the best of dishes are placed before me, I will take just one helping and then stop. A very disciplined eater, I prefer to under-eat rather than overeat.” He adds that normally food is a weakness with most people, as he sees it in most of his friends. “But with my disciplined eating I’ve been able to maintain my weight between 65 to 70 kg!”

While concluding the interview, I ask him for some good pictures, and get a response that could have knocked me down with a feather. Bhalla says even though he is a good photographer himself, “I have very few pictures of myself. When I was DG, for all the 12 issues of GML, you will not find any pictures of mine or my wife. Because I’ve always believed that people want to see their pictures and not yours!”

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