In a tete-e-tete with RIPN Sushil Gupta and Vinita, PRID Shekhar Mehta fired a series of questions to the couple, as well as PRIP Kalyan Banerjee and the two incoming Directors Bharat Pandya and Kamal Sanghvi.
Shekhar Mehta: Your feelings when you came to know you’ve been nominated RI President for 2020–21?
Sushil Gupta: I sent the first message saying ‘Guru has showered his blessings’ to Vinita and my son-in-law. Vinita responded with: ‘Oh my god!’
SM: In your interview (with the Nominating committee) you had spelt out your broad vision on eliminating polio from the world, on working with Pakistan PM Imran Khan, and other important issues. Can you share that with us?
SG: My broad vision? There is scope to bring down the average age in Rotary and correct the gender imbalance. We have only 20–22 per cent women… women do take their time to decide whether they want to join Rotary or not, but once they decide, they are far more committed than men. They can contribute a lot to Rotary. We also need the millennials, who have extra time and money to increase our membership.
Coming to polio, since the day I got nominated, it’s in my mind 24×7 what more can we do to complete the task of eradicating polio from the world. Imran Khan is not a typical politician and we have to make him get really involved in this task.
I also mentioned that CNBC had rated Rotary as one of the 10 organisations that are changing the world and my dream is Rotary should be considered the most preferred partner in the world. As a single person you can only do so much, but when we join hands, we can truly change the world. I mentioned all this!
SM (To Kalyan Banerjee) You’ve been like an elder brother to him. What is the quality in Gupta that you admire the most?
KB: What I admire the most in him is that he immerses himself totally in whatever he is doing. There are too many of us Rotarians who talk big but do little. He is one who talks less but does lots. That kind of leader is what our organisation needs.
SM: You are a man with the Midas’ touch, have one of the best hotels in the world, you are passionate about the environment, healing, Himalayas, water conservation… and on top of that there is golf. How do you do justice to all these; what is your typical day like?
SG: (Laughs) Rotary is my stress buster.
Vinita (intervening) I’ve told him baki sab chhod do… (leave everything else!)
SG: I get up at 4.45 am, do yoga and then go for golf. For 35 years I’ve been doing yoga, much before Baba Ramdev came on the scene! On return from golf, I have breakfast and go to my office. I’ve never allocated time for anything. Whatever comes before me, I take it on and give it my time and attention. I have no time allocation, and believe ki ho jayega (It will be done). But the one thing you must have, is the capacity to bounce back. Everybody gets adversities and difficulties. Whatever you want to achieve, you can, if you have the capacity to bounce back.
SM: RIDE Kamal Sanghvi, what do you feel is Gupta’s outstanding quality for which you’d like to work with him?
KS: What I admire most about this extraordinary human being is the belief he has in people, the tremendous trust he has that Rotarians can deliver; he gives the opportunity and creates a path for every Rotarian to excel and join any project.
SM: RIDE Bharat Pandya?
BP: He is very passionate and brings both passion and excellence to whatever he is doing. As Kamal said, he gives a lot of opportunities to Rotarians but then he also encourages them to deliver. It is his encouragement which makes all the difference.
SM: PDG Ramesh Aggarwal, you’ve worked a lot with Gupta, what inspires you when you work with him?
RA: He never loses hope; when we were working on WinS, I’d often get frustrated and say ki Governor jawab nahi de raha (the Governor is not responding), and he’d say: ‘Ramesh keep patience, the programme will be successful.’ He walks the talk; he will never tell you to do something that he will not do himself. And he always recognises people who perform.
SM: What about you, PDG Aziz Memon (from Pakistan)?
AM: I’ve worked with him very closely for a long time and I endorse whatever has been said here; He is a doer, when I called to congratulate him when we got the news of his nomination, he said, “Aziz, I want a polio-free world” and this dialogue continued. We were on the same flight from Delhi to Kolkata and for two hours he continued to talk about what to do in Pakistan and Afghanistan to make the world polio-free! His persuasion and out-of-box thinking are really great.
SM: Vinita, what do you like the best about Rotary?
Vinita: There are a lot of good things in Rotary but the best one I like is that you make friends all over the world. For example, when he was a Governor, we became friends with the DG from Karachi and his wife. He has passed away, but his wife and I still keep talking. So many years have gone by but that friendship remains. Thanks to the troubled relations between Pakistan and India we are not able to meet but she always calls me on Diwali, and I have such friends all over the world.
SM: PDG Kalpana Khound, would you like to ask the RIPN a question?
KK: Not too many Rotarians know this, but Gupta has been to one of the most remote parts of India in Arunachal Pradesh, where we had a medical camp. It was a very difficult terrain; and he came using all modes of transport, including a boat. What prompted you to go there… many people don’t travel to the North East, leave alone remote areas.
SG: My heart bleeds for the North East and its tribal areas. I believe that we have short-changed them and not ensured development for those areas. If I get any opportunity, I want to go there and serve those people.
SM: Your love for the North East is reciprocated by D 3240; we had to stop their registrations for this evening’s event. We expected 20 and they crossed 65! You are a food connoisseur; what is your favourite cuisine?
SG: I love good food, it doesn’t show on me much because I also try to control myself! I love Indian food and there is no match to it. One of the things on my agenda is to promote Indian food throughout the world. I also like Italian food, I can’t eat bland food, I am very choosy.
SM: What is going to be the theme of your year?
SG: It is work in progress and will continue till Jan 2020! (When the incoming President’s theme is unveiled at the International Assembly). But one thing I can tell you is that it will have some spiritual connotation.
SM: Why don’t you dye your hair?
SG (with a hearty laugh) I retain jo bhagwan ne diya hei!
SM: You favourite destination?
SM: Your favourite heroine?
SG: She is seated next to me! I see very few movies.
SM: Role model or models in Rotary?
SG: I can’t single out one… but Kalyan (Banerjee) and I are great friends. I love, support and admire his work… because whatever he does, dil se kartey hei, dum se kartey hei (does it with his heart and with all his might). I’ll say only that.
SM: Vinita, your favourite food?
Vinita: I’ll tell you, but it doesn’t mean that you keep feeding me that all the time! But I love Idli and Dosai!
SM: Favourite hero?
Vinita: Only one?
SM: Your favourite destination?
SM: Finally, as RIPN what is your message for Rotarians in India?
SG: I have only one message: whatever you do, do it with your heart and take it to its logical conclusion. You may do only one project, but do it well.
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat