If the Jaipur Institute was colourful and glittering, offering grandeur at the Pink City’s historic venues, Dubai dared to be different. Whether it was the Awards Night dinner at the Armani Pavilion of the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa, with its dancing fountains known officially as the Dubai Fountain, or a fun and frolic dinner with dancing at the Jumeira Beach.
The world’s largest choreographed fountain system set on the 30-acre manmade Burj Khalifa Lake, the Dubai Fountain, according to the Wikipedia, can spray 22,000 gallons (83,000 litres) of water in the air. To create the magic effect, over 6,600 lights and 25 colour projectors have been installed.
As the 930-odd Rotarians and their partners attending the Institute watched in fascination, the fountains, which have been programmed to give different performances set to various kinds of world music, including one number by the Indian singer Abhijeet, danced in the cool winter air, accompanied by vivid and changing shades of light. The beam of light from the fountains is so strong that it can be seen from over 20 miles away!
The Pavilion was booked for the Institute event, and we watched the fountains dance every 30 minutes, and presentation of Awards to the best performing DGs of 2015–16 were given out between performances.
Asked why he had chosen the awards function to be held in the open, RI Director Manoj Desai said, “Normally awards are given in the hall at the Institute venue and at the end of a session, when the hall is nearly empty, so the hard work done by the Governors and their teams goes unrecognised. Also, we ensured that only two people come to the stage so there is a proper opportunity to be seen and recognised by the senior leadership. This time RI President John, IPRIP K R Ravindran and RIPN Sam Owori were present on the stage and the Governors were properly recognised and felt rewarded for the hard work they had put in.”
123rd floor experience
For almost 100 of the delegates, including your Editor, the highest point of the Awards Night at the Armani Pavilion was a tour of the 123rd floor of the Burj, which towers to a height of 829.8 metres (2,722 ft), as the world’s tallest structure. The observation deck for visitors here is on the 124th floor and a visit has to be booked earlier online, and could cost between Rs 2,500 to 3,500 or so, depending on the time and the season.
But thanks to Rtn Jayantha Kumar, who lives in the Burj and is becoming an AKS member, many of us were able to go up in small batches to the 123rd floor to which residents have access. So along with RIDE C Basker and Malathi, PRID Yash Pal Das and Manju, DGE D M Shivraj and Manonmani and DG John Daniel, the last being a close friend of Kumar, my colleague Viswanathan and I were able to get to the 123rd floor just like that! As the elevator zipped to the 123rd floor at lightning speed, our ears popped and we were able to get a glimpse of the glittering lights of Dubai from that height, without any fuss, or long queues. Later we learnt that Kumar had organised visits of many such batches! Thank you Jayantha Kumar and spouse Sindhu.
The 900-odd DDZI delegates were put up in three different hotels but all of them were transported without glitches to the DDZI venue, which was the Hyatt Regency Deira, and where the TRF Centennial dinner was organised. The same was true for the inaugural at the Jumeira Beach Hotel, where dinner was also hosted the first evening and the next evening’s Awards Nite at the Burj Khalifa. Transporting 900-plus people to different venues, and giving them smooth airport transfers in a city like Dubai is a huge challenge, but DGN RVN Kannan (Chair of Transport Committee) and R Natarajan (Airport Reception) did a splendid job.
It was touching to see members of the DDZI team themselves loading heavy bags onto the coaches, no mean task, as the suitcases got heavier on the return journey, loaded not only with shopping from Dubai, but also the several bags of goodies given by the organisers! At one of the dinners, a special touch was a gift to the ladies, distributed demurely with the words “From the Chairman’s wife”; it turned out to be a very pretty necklace!
A leaner, though not meaner, Raja!
Institute Chair V Raja Seenivasan admitted that he had been involved in planning and organising this Institute for almost two years, when RID Desai had zeroed in on Dubai as a possible destination for his final Institute. “I have hardly slept for many nights,” he admitted, and an open secret was the fact that he had lost 7 kg while executing DDZI! RID Desai disclosed that to pull off a perfect Institute without any glitches “I have made 13 trips to Dubai and Raja has travelled here 17 times! We wanted to ensure that we give everybody an amazing time; that we conduct business but with pleasure, and most important, give enough time for fellowship.”
JB surprises, Dubai tourism obliges
PDG JB Kamdar had asked RID Desai’s permission for giving a surprise treat to the delegates at the GETS Convocation, TRF Centennial dinner and a general session later. This turned out to be a spectacular magic show that left the audience gasping for breath. Dubai Tourism’s patronage was in full flow; apart from transporting and hosting the VVIPs, the Tourism authorities had pulled out all the punches to ensure the delegates had a comfortable trip. And for this, the first requirement is a sim card. The Tourism authority made a rare exception to ensure that all the DDZI participants got a free sim card with some nominal talk time as soon as they arrived, and without submitting a copy of the passport! A rare feat in the UAE! “We are most grateful for their hospitality,” Desai said, adding, “I always talk about winning hearts and minds and they did just that.”
Shall we dance?
There was plenty of time for fellowship on both the evenings — at the Jumeira Beach and the Armani Pavilion. At the beach, there was a top class DJ to provide the peppiest of Bollywood numbers and before long the dancing DGs, DGEs, DGNs and their partners were joined by senior leadership… RI President John Germ, TRF Trustee Representative Gary Huang, Trustee Sushil Gupta and Vinita, IPRIP K R Ravindran, RI Director Manoj Desai and Sharmishtha, PRID Shekhar Mehta and Rashi… were all dancing away their blues.
But suddenly, somebody made a call for Tamil film music and in a flash RIDE C Basker was on the floor, with many of his colleagues from Tamil Nadu. Of course along with peppy Tamil songs, the Chennai Express hit Lungi Dance made the dancers go wild, and Desai and PRID Mehta were on the floor in a flash. The same number was used the next day for the promotion of the Literacy Summit in Chennai. As sounds of Thalaiva rent the air, RILM Chair Shekhar Mehta, dressed in a white shirt and veshti, with a thundu around his neck and wearing fancy coolers, strode on to the stage, accompanied by Desai, Literacy Summit Chair PDG J B Kamdar, PDG Ravi Vadlamani, and the entire Literacy Summit team dressed similarly. While Vadlamani made some fancy moves on the stage, Ravindran, who came up for the next session complimented Mehta for looking like a younger version of the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and exchanged banter which shall remain unpublished!
One area where the Dubai Institute managed to score over the Jaipur Institute was in the quality of the speakers chosen. Tennis sensation Leander Paes threw the Institute’s strict and tight time schedules to the winds and enthralled the audience with a speech that came right from the heart. Dramatically tossing aside his jacket to reveal the Rotary tee-shirt he was wearing, Paes proclaimed that he was a Rotarian too, and went ahead to disclose the secret behind his huge success while playing tennis doubles. Yes, partnerships mattered for success, a Rotary mantra too. Only later, a little bird told Rotary News that he had been made an honorary Rotarian barely a few hours earlier. But the way Paes talked about Rotary’s core values, and related them to the spirit of service that had been inculcated in him by his father and Mother Teresa when he was barely 9 years old, won the hearts and captured the imagination of people in the audience.
He went on to totally charm the senior leadership by presenting them with autographed tennis balls. RI President John Germ and Judy, Manoj Desai and Sharmishtha, PRID Ronald and Vicky Beaubien, Abhay Gadgil and Deepa got these precious gifts. So powerful and mesmerising was his address, that RI President Germ disclosed at the end of the session, to a thunderous applause that he had roped in Paes as a guest speaker for the Atlanta Convention. Just like that!
Similarly Dr J M Hans, who does cochlear implant surgery for poor children, put forth his story of service so convincingly that “he has already got at least two invitations to address Rotary meetings to raise money for this cause,” said Desai. The other absorbing address was by Mike McQueen, eminent speaker and author of the book Winning the Battle for Relevance. His gripping talk “Keeping Rotary Relevant” was lapped up by the audience.
Kalyanda was missed
The Rotary senior leader who was missed and who had been allocated several slots, beginning with the TRF Centennial dinner, was TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee. There was constant hope that he might suddenly come, even if for a short half day, but he could not make it due to his wife Binota Banerjee’s indifferent health. In his message before the meet, printed in the programme booklet, he had said it took both courage and planning to hold an Institute in Dubai but then RID Manoj was ably assisted by Raja Seenivasan “another bright star on the Indian Rotary horizon.” The two of them, he was sure, “would lead their team to a memorable event and maybe, it will convince the RI Board to seriously consider Dubai as a venue for a future Rotary International Convention.”
He added: “Knowing Manoj as I do, I am sure Dubai will be as eventful, colourful, and joyful an event as the Jaipur Institute was last year. Hopefully, even more so.” That Trustee Chair Banerjee was missing the Dubai Institute and his heart was really at its proceedings, could be seen from the occasional messages he sent to a couple of participants, asking how the event was going; “I know Manoj has put his heart into this event,” said one such message.