A shock absorber called Vinita
Planning a zone institute during an unprecedented pandemic such as was inflicted on the entire world by the minuscule coronavirus is indeed a daunting task. RI Director A S Venkatesh had to grapple with this huge challenge for over 18 months, wondering all the time if he and the event chair, PDG M Muruganandam, would be able to pull off an in-person institute at Mahabalipuram. In his welcome address, Venky, as he is popularly known in the Rotary world, said he “started thinking of an institute when I was declared director nominee, but little did I know that the next institute after Indore (of PRID Bharat Pandya) would be mine. There was nothing in between to watch and learn from.”
There was “so much of uncertainty, apprehension, fear… so many doubts, not only among the delegates but members of the organising committee as well, if this would happen.” First Lockdown 1 and 2 happened, and then came the terrifying Covid second wave which left India reeling. He doubted if any institute organising committee had been forced to hold so many meetings online. “We saw the venue for the first time about 22 months ago and visited it the second time only two months ago, as it was practically under lockdown for most of the time in between,” he said.
“And to compound matters, just about 11 days ago, Chennai had unprecedented rains. The city was flooded; I got at least 40 calls wanting to know if the institute was going to happen. Well, I trusted my team and the almighty. And he has been kind; without his blessings we couldn’t all have met here.”
These were the travails “we went through but finally, seeing over 700 of you at this meeting I realise that it was all worth the anxiety that chair Muruga and I went through.”
But, admitted Venky, with a smile, though he presented a picture of calm and confidence to his entire team, he was under tremendous pressure and tension, “and all of that was absorbed wonderfully by Vinita (his wife). She has been a wonderful shock absorber all along, and I am really grateful to her for that!”
The endearing Kapil Dev
Cricket legend Kapil Dev virtually took over the stage, the auditorium and the audience at his session at the institute. Totally enjoying the spotlight on him, when quizzed by RI Director Venkatesh about frequently changing his look through different hairstyles such as a pony tail, or sporting the Sardarji look through a turban, he said, “change is interesting. Sometimes my wife says ‘you look horrible’ but that’s ok. You can’t eat the same food every day.”
Turning to Vinita Venkatesh, he then joked that maybe she should try changing her husband’s look!
When asked about his famous knock of 175 (not out) against Zimbabwe and the pressures he must have faced while playing in important tournaments, he said playing cricket made him happy and did not give him stress. And when a batsman goes on to the field during challenging times, he is only thinking of “how to take care of your family, and your team is your family. And I am always ready to do anything for my country.”
Also, forget getting stressed on the field, “I do not even understand the word ‘depression’. Perhaps that’s because I live in a joint family and in a joint family you can’t get depressed. Only when you live alone and have nobody to talk to, you may feel depressed.”
Freely mingling with the audience, exchanging hugs, greetings and smiles, and making it clear that he had all the time in the world to spend with the doting audience, Kapil Dev threw the institute schedule timing for a toss, but then nobody was complaining as he turned out to be an entertainer par excellence!
An MMM club
All the senior leaders at the Mahabs Institute, including RI President Shekhar Mehta, went gaga over the institute chair PDG M Muruganandam involving the 30-odd members from his office to help out with the planning, organisation and execution of Mahabs 21. When it was his turn to give his closing remarks TRF Trustee Chair John Germ’s representative to the institute, Trustee Aziz Memon, said it was heartening to see so many of the personal staff of the PDG, known in the Rotary world as MMM, helping him to put together the institute. In fact, as he had an entire Rotary club in his backyard; “I suggest you form a MMM Rotary Club with these people.”
Memon, who regaled the audience with the innumerable instances his name was changed in India to ‘Menon’, said that he had accepted the inevitable and when people said he had misspelt his name when he signed in as ‘Memon’, “I quietly change it to Menon, to make things simpler!”
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat