The Rotary World Festival organised by District 3141 at Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi Race Course was a fun charity event… packed with races, music and dance, stalls offering the most delicious Mumbai street food and of course drinks for thirsty tipplers… all at a cost, of course, because the objective was fundraising for The Rotary Foundation.
Right at the onset, DG Prafull Sharma and spouse Vidyottama struck the gong to mark the packing of 10,000 free meals for underprivileged girls in certain areas of Mumbai. Jaishree Dave, a Rotarian from RC Bombay Nova, who was busy packing the grains in bags, along with 30-odd international student volunteers, said this was Rotary’s contribution to reducing hunger in the world.
Dola Mohapatra, from RC Bombay Worli, who runs the NGO Rise Against Hunger India, said meal packaging events are at the heart of this NGO, which works on donations; the cost of feeding one person for a month is Rs 1,100. He said RC Bombay Worli, his club, and his NGO had partnered for three years. About 30 persons can pack a meal for over 10,000 people in two hours, he added.
We have set a goal of $3 million for TRF this year and have already given $370,000, which have been deposited in the TRF account.
– DG Prafull Sharma
“The meals packed today will go to undernourished children from Matunga, Mahim and Ghatkopar; they are children of ragpickers, vegetable vendors and others.”
DG Sharma said the Rotary World Festival, which had earlier been held for a couple of years, after which there was a break, “has now been given a makeover, and is totally different this year.” The main objectives were threefold — showcase Rotary to the world, fellowship and generate funds for TRF. At the Mahalaxmi Race Course, which had been totally taken over for the event that was akin to a mega gay, colourful and buzzing carnival, seven races were conducted, each sponsored by a Rotary club from his district. In all $260,000 would be raised from the races. “This is over and above the money committed by the clubs.”
TRF goal of $3 million
Sharma added that during his year as DG he has “set a goal of $3 million for TRF; we have already given $370,000, which have been deposited in the TRF account.” He is also making a big bet on CSR funding, and hopes to get the who’s who from Mumbai’s corporate world during the sit-down TRF dinner planned in Mumbai on December 12, during RI President Ian Riseley’s visit. “During the same event, which will be an august gathering of some 150-odd people, we will recognise the AKS members from our district,” Sharma added.
Mutton kheema toh khatam ho gaya, lekin seekh kabab mei se kheema gravywala bana dengey.
– The person manning a food stall
He thanked PDG and TRF Trustee Designate Gulam Vahanvaty, who is the Chairman of the Board of Stewards and a member of the Managing Committee of the Royal Western Indian Turf Club, “for getting us this location, exclusively for our use, free of charge. Normally this venue would cost around Rs 20 lakh on a Sunday.”
Vahanvaty said there were two challenges in putting together the races for this event; “they wanted it in November, but that is also the month when the Mumbai race season begins. Also we had unseasonal rains which make the track unfit for holding the races.” However, the day proved to be a sunny one and the races were conducted without any hitch.
A special postal cover
The festival had a wide participation from both governmental and non-government agencies. The Postal Department had an impressive presence and a special cover to mark the Rotary World Festival was released in the presence of PRID Ashok Mahajan.
Sandeep Shah, Assistant Governor and chief coordinator of the festival, said a major project of the festival was raising money for girls’ education. “A single artist — Sohail Degani — is donating his three years’ work, a total of 56 paintings, and the money raised from their sale, about Rs 17.5 lakh, would be utilised to educate girls.” A desk calendar for 2018, carrying all these paintings, has also been brought out, instead of a catalogue, which has a limited shelf life.
Kavita Godbole, President of RC Bombay Worli, the host club, said a lot of hard work had gone to ensure that this carnival, while being a fundraiser for TRF, also became a fun-filled family event.
DG Sharma said planning for this mega colourful event had begun a year ago and the attempt was to unleash the power of collaboration, and free stalls had been given to NGOs such as the Marrow Donor Registry, National Burns Centre, National Liver Foundation, Rise Against Hunger, Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorder Society. One of the counters showcased ISKCON’s midday meal scheme to explain to the Rotarians and non-Rotarians — about 2,000 people — how the organisation assures both quality and taste of the food served to schoolchildren.
Music par excellence
The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai was another participant and questions were answered and doubts cleared on the handling and segregation of waste.
A highlight of the evening entertainment, by which time the crowd had swelled, was the Jazz Kathak with saxophonist George Brooks, famous for combining jazz and Indian classical music, and jazz maestro Louis Banks, Sheetal Kolwalkar (Kathak), Isheeta Chakravarty (vocalist) and drummer Gino Banks, which presented a special composition. This was followed by a performance by the Salim-Sulaiman duo, who cast a magic spell with Allah hooo Allah hoo, Ishq wala love, Qurbaan hua etc. The Manganiyar Brothers from Rajasthan — Raj Pandit and Vipul — enthralled the audience next.
For me, the most defining moment of the festival was the opportunity to walk around the food stalls, recall childhood and adolescent moments spent devouring Mumbai’s street food. But not before enjoying a few races, seated in the comfort of Vahanvaty’s box at the Race Course. It was a great opportunity to rub shoulders with two celebrities — former Mumbai Police Chief Julio Ribeiro, who was advising a group of youngsters on how to bet and which horse/jockey to back, with small sums of course, and the other celebrity was the gutsy woman IPS officer from Karnataka D Rupa, who was in the limelight recently.
After making a grand profit of Rs 20 from betting, at 2.45 p m, the stomach growled and I made my way to the stall I had eyed the entire afternoon — the Tikka Mughlai counter — which was offering dum biryani, mutton seekh kabab, brain masala, brain fry etc. As expected, it was too late for the brain fry and brain masala; the dishes that simply fly off the counter in any eatery. So, I settled for mutton seekh kabab with naan. Predictably, it was delicious, being freshly prepared and with the right mix of spices. I next wanted to try mutton kheema, but alas, it was over.
But then came the never-say-die spirit of the Mumbaiker; “Maam, seekh kabab mei se kheema gravywala bana dengey.” (I’ll make kheema with gravy from the seekh kabab), offered the ‘chef’, and it was an offer that couldn’t be refused. With the happiness of a glutton I have returned to Chennai, mouth still watering from that delightful gourmet experience!
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat