In no other organisation do group dynamics work better than in Rotary. Isaac Newton had said that “if I am able to see farther, it is only because I have stood on the shoulders of giants. I can say I am here in this position because of support from so many people,” said RI President Nominee Shekhar Mehta.
Addressing an event hosted in Mumbai by Rotary Club of Bombay, RIDs 3141 and 3142, and co-hosted by Districts 3030, 3131, 3132 and 3170, and Rotary Clubs of Bombay Hills South, Mumbai Downtown Sea Land and Mumbai Malabar Hill, he was responding to effusive compliments on his energy, dynamism, hard work and vision. “Whatever I have been able to achieve is due to group dynamics. My own ability multiplies four times when I am sitting with a group of Rotarians. I get more energy, my brain functions better when I work with others. I am a people’s man and can work better only when there are people around me.”
Mehta had the audience cheering when he said most of the meetings in which he was involved “begin on one day but they don’t end the same day. Not because there is any pressure on us to work like that but that’s how we love to work.”
I get more energy, my brain functions better when I work with others. I am a people’s man and can work better only when there are people around me.
— RIPN Shekhar Mehta
He was also responding to TRF Trustee Gulam Vahanvaty’s comment that after Kalyan Banerjee had completed his term as RI President and came out with the idea of taking up a mega literacy project in South Asia and a memorandum deed had to be finalised, when some of the core members including himself left after long hours of work, Mehta stayed behind with a couple of Rotarians and worked through the night to complete the draft. “Such work was possible only with a band of dedicated Rotarians,” the RIPN added.
Sharing his goals and vision for his presidential year, Mehta said he was banking on huge support from Rotarians of our zones to realise some of his goals. A primary one was getting the Nobel Peace Prize for Rotary’s work in polio, even before it was totally eradicated from the world. “We’ve reached the end; it’s like averting a world war. Earlier 3.5 lakh children used to get afflicted with polio every year; today it’s only 100. If you do the math, more than 40 to 50 lakh children have been saved from this dreaded disease thanks to Rotary. Add to this, 1,100 of our Peace Scholars who are trained to reduce/avert conflict in the world.”
Referring to the thousands of service projects Rotarians do in our zones, Mehta said the tragedy was there were no figures available to quantify that work. But this would change; a website has been developed which will be launched at the Indore Institute and here all clubs would have to fill in data on the worth of the projects they do.
Complimenting RI District 3141, he said this single district alone did phenomenal work; “I love coming to your district, because each time I come here I learn something new.” (RID Bharat Pandya intervened to say the lead host club for the event — the vintage RC Bombay, which turns 90 years old this year, alone had done projects worth ₹25 crore last year, and it has a record number of 11 AKS members, the highest for any club in the world.)
Urging Rotarians to do mega and structured projects at the national level, he said the literacy programme was a success because it was a structured one. “And we are going to do the same for both preventive health and WinS. Because we have a structure, GoI is partnering with us in literacy and Tata Technologies signed an MoU with us asking us to be their advisers! We can do the same in WinS and Health.”
Maintaining that India was the Kohinoor in the Rotary crown, the RIPN said that as he got ready for RI’s leadership in 2021–22, he would bank heavily on Rotarians in India to take their country to greater heights. Such as becoming No 1 in membership; we are now around 1.5 lakh; in three years if each Rotarian got just one member, India had the potential to cross the 2.5 lakh mark in membership, beating the US, where unfortunately, membership was declining, to the top post. “And if we have 250,000 Rotarians, our TRF contribution can go up to $40 million; we can have four instead of two directors, and two trustees! And at the CoL, the most effective voice will be that of Indian Rotarians!”
Our work in polio is like averting a world war. Earlier 3.5 lakh children used to get afflicted with polio every year; today its only 100. Over 40 to 50 lakh children have been saved from this dreaded disease thanks to Rotary.
— RIPN Shekhar Mehta
Increasing women’s membership and growing the Rotaract movement were his other priorities, “but for all this you will have to work very hard. Mere felicitations won’t suffice,” he added.
Reiterating his opinion that Mehta and Rashi will leave a distinct mark on RI leadership with their term in 2021–22, PRIP Kalyan Banerjee regaled the audience with an anecdote on how he had first met Mehta in 1995 as “a young colt, who thought he knew it all!” He was organising an international seminar in Nepal, to be attended by the then RI President and Queen of Nepal. He asked the late PDG Aloke Mitter to give him some young volunteers from his district which then included Nepal. He was allotted a team of “young and noisy Rotarians led by Shekhar, each of whom thought that he or she knew it all. It was a challenge for both the team and me, because here I was with a group of youngsters who thought organising an international event was a cakewalk and also because I had to harness those energetic but know-all colts to organise the event. Shekhar led the team hard; didn’t care or listen much to me but lo and behold, we had an excellent event.”
From then on, the two had developed “a mutual acceptance, admiration and respect that has lasted a quarter of a century.” Over the years, added Banerjee, he learnt that “this young fellow was a good race horse, a thoroughbred if I may say so, who could win any race.” And he proved himself by first becoming RI Director, then effectively leading the Literacy programme and now getting to RI’s topmost position. While doing all this, he trained people, built excellent teams and created new leaders, “keeping Rashi in good humour and letting her have her way most of the time and also looking after his parents in a manner as though that was the only thing he had to do.”
Congratulating Mehta for his nomination as RI President for 2021–22, RI Director Bharat Pandya said that from 2004, when he first met Mehta, and consequently watched him organise mega events, “I found that his organisational abilities are simply superb. When he organises something, he puts everything into it, and strives for excellence through intensive planning, passion, enthusiasm and sheer hard work.”
At the Kolkata Institute, Mehta had spoken on “where eagles dare… and I believe he has the leadership qualities of an eagle; acute and far-reaching vision and the ability to see from high up the smallest prey, swoop down and catch it. Eagles are high fliers, and fly at an altitude of 10,000 ft. Just like an eagle, Mehta dares to dream big, achieve big. Eagles are fearless, and when a storm comes, they ride above it. Similarly, Shekhar can meet challenges head on and make a success of whatever he undertakes.”
Drawing the analogy further, Pandya said eagles reinvent themselves and nurture their young; “Shekhar does just that as he believes true leaders are those who build more leaders and not more followers.”
Striking a lighter note, Director Kamal Sanghvi said the speakers had hitherto painted the image of a leader who was a very serious person, with great qualities of leadership, organising ability, etc. “But having spent several years with him, and working very closely with him, I can tell you there is a different angle to the man… he is a great friend to have.” Giving a free flow to his penchant for Urdu couplets, Sanghvi recited a plethora of them, some of them improvised for the occasion and the man in the limelight, to show that Mehta always leaves a lasting impression on you while claiming your utmost friendship, love and loyalty.
“From the morning people have been asking me what is he like, as I have spent such long years with him… all I can say is that Shekhar is yaaro ka yaar and everything to me.”
Shekhar Mehta has the leadership qualities of an eagle; acute and far-reaching vision, the ability to see from high up the smallest prey, swoop down and catch it. Just like an eagle, he dares to dream big, achieve big.
— RI Director Bharat Pandya
Endorsing Mehta’s leadership qualities, TRF Trustee Gulam Vahanvaty said this was evident to anyone who examined the amazing projects that his club RC Calcutta Mahanagar did, and the way in which he steps in with his team to rush relief to victims of natural disasters in the region. It was entirely Mehta’s leadership which had made RILM the driving engine in the task to eradicate illiteracy from South Asia by 2025.
While commending his goal for a Nobel Peace for Rotary, Vahanvaty also urged Mehta to strive to spread Rotary in regions where it had limited presence due to various factors — both China and several countries in the Arab world. Both the regions had substantial wealth and increasing membership in these countries would also benefit TRF and help it do more good in the world, he added.
Congratulating Mehta for the coveted position, PRID Ashok Mahajan said under his leadership RI will scale greater heights. Having known him for many years, he could vouch that Mehta was a “superstar and a dispassionate and even-minded leader who has never run after power; he gives a sense that he is always under control. A man of vision and clarity of thought, he can work with different people as he doesn’t thrust his views on anyone.”
PDG Aziz Memon from Pakistan, RID 3271, who has been nominated TRF Trustee, said he had worked with Mehta for long years in various capacities and found him to be an “outstanding leader with great vision and an eye for detail. It will be my honour to work with you in different capacities, and one of them will be to keep the promise we made 40 years ago that no child will suffer from a crippling disease such as polio. Under your leadership we will work harder and ensure a polio-free world.”
To celebrate the RIPN’s visit to Mumbai, Dilip Piramal, a member of RC Bombay, presented a cheque of $120,000 to Mehta.
DGs Harjit Singh Talwar (D 3141), Mohan Chandavarkar (3142), Suhas Vaidya (3132), Girish Masurkar (3170), Rajendra Bhamre (3030) and PDG Prashant Deshmukh (3131) congratulated Mehta on his elevation. Mehta released the GML brought out by DG Talwar.
President of RC Bombay Preeti Mehta and club member Sandip Agarwala addressed the meeting.
In District 3131, RC Pune Sports City, which is celebrating its silver jubilee, hosted the felicitation of RIPN Mehta and Rashi; with the former dressed in the period costume of Marathi hero Peshwa Bajirao. Prior to the event, accompanied by RI Director Kamal Sanghvi, DG Ravi Dhotre, PDG Mahesh Kotbagi, several other PDGs and Rotarians, Mehta participated in an event marking the setting up of 100 handwash stations at 100 schools. This was followed by a CSR meeting with 40 corporate top executives, who pledged to finance over 100 Happy Schools in Pune and Raigad districts through a partnership with Rotary.
At a TRF seminar, a pledge was made to collect around $1.6 million from District 3131.
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat
The power of prayer
Admitting that he was “not much of a praying person”, RIPN Shekhar Mehta said he and Rashi were “beholden to so many Rotarians from India, and South Asia, for the unimaginable love and affection they have showered on us over the last three months.”
And he was not talking about the high praise that was showered on him during the several felicitation events held in different districts after his nomination as RI President. “In mei to kahi na kahi jyasti ho jaati hei (people tend to go overboard). You treated me like a Shehenshah when you brought me into the hall for this meeting.” The previous day somebody had said “aap yoga kijiye aur Shekhar ka dhyan kijiye. Arrey, had bhi karo yaar. (There should be a limit),” he said, striking a lighter note, grinning, and adding, “And today you’ve compared me with Lord Ram and Krishna… for god’s sake…but of course it all comes from love and affection, I know!”
Striking a serious note, Mehta said he was overwhelmed by the extent and intensity of prayers that Rotarians had resorted to prior to his nomination in August. “I received thousands of messages before my selection, and each of them said we are praying for you. PDG Aziz Memon (TRF Trustee Nominee) called me one day when Rashi and I were watching a movie.
I told him I’d call him back but he said please come out for a minute.”
When he did, Memon told him that for two years he was praying every day that Pakistan should become polio-free. “He told me that now over the last 15 days he had started another prayer! And he said now you can return to your film.”
PDG K A Kuriachan (RID 3201) had said that while the selection was on the night of Aug 5 and 6 (in India), he had organised special mass on Aug 5,6 and 7; another Rotarian had vowed to go on foot to the Tirupati temple if Mehta was nominated President. Somebody else had resolved to go to Shirdi to express gratitude. “I did not pray even once that I should get this post, but thousands of Rotarians have done it and I am sure I stand here because of their prayers. I have now started believing in the power of prayer.”
The rare phone calls…
RIPN Shekhar Mehta said that the one man in Rotary to whom he most owed the pinnacle he has reached is past RI President Kalyan Banerjee. “Every time he speaks, I learn something new. Nobody else can use words and phrases so well as he does, and I have learnt a lot from him.”
Banerjee was present at every important occasion in his life. “I will never forget that when I held my conference (as DG), his daughter was getting married. But on the second day, leaving all the guests at home, he took an evening flight, came to Kolkata, delivered his speech and flew back.”
Giving an example of how Banerjee’s guidance to him was never “overbearing”, Mehta said that for the last several years Banerjee and he converse on the phone “every second or third day. He’d call me 80 per cent of the time. But from the day I’ve been selected, his phone calls have become rare. That speaks a lot of the man. Others would have increased the calls, but he has reduced them, because he doesn’t want to overbear his presence on me, and I salute him for this!”