Of felicitation & nostalgia

From left: DGN Pinky Patel, TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee, RI Director Manoj Desai, PDG Jatin Bhatt.
From left: DGN Pinky Patel, TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee, RI Director Manoj Desai, PDG Jatin Bhatt.

If The Rotary Foundation could set a cheeky target of raising $300 million during this, its Centennial year, it is because today “Rotary is bigger, better and bolder than ever before,” said its Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee at a felicitation meet organised by the seven Rotary clubs of Vadodara to felicitate him.

Disclosing how he had fixed the target at $300 million, and describing how there was initial reluctance to accept this challenging figure, he said, “I had a hard time convincing everybody. The staff and then the former Trustee Chair Ray Klinginsmith were all doubtful we could reach this figure. He had raised around $230 million and raising another $65–70 million above this mark was not easy. Incoming RI President John Germ had said: ‘Ok, Kalyan, you can take the chance if you wish! I will do all I can to support you.’”

The target of registrations from India to the Atlanta Convention was 1,300 but till October end, the registrations had crossed 3,300!

Trustee Sakuji Tanaka, who was supposed to succeed Banerjee, was on board; he “never says no”. Unfortunately, he had to step aside from the Trustee Chair position due to both his wife and daughter facing some health problems. Trustee Paul Netzel was chosen to succeed Banerjee. Paul is an American fundraiser and expert at this task. It required two breakfast meetings with him and he came on board and said: ‘Yes, we can have the target of $300 million! Let’s go for it!’”

Banerjee said he was heartened to find the “greatest enthusiasm coming from India”, from where the target is to raise $26.5 million during this year, no easy task by any means. And, he was most pleasantly surprised by the gung-ho attitude of the District Governors. “I thought they might say yeh kaha phas gaye, (we’ve got trapped), this target will break our backs, empty our pockets and loot our banks… all of it together! But leaders like DG (3060) Hitesh Jariwala and RID Manoj Desai, as well as all other Governors, are doing the work and they seem to be happy doing it. They are doing their best.”

From right: TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee, D 3260 DG Hitesh Jariwala and Sharmishtha Desai.
From right: TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee, D 3260 DG Hitesh Jariwala and Sharmishtha Desai.

The Trustee Chair was confident that “worldwide too it will happen, but all of you need to come to Atlanta to see it happen. Jet Airways will give you a 10 per cent discount.” Urging Indian Rotarians to register for Atlanta, he disclosed that the target of registrations from India was 1,300 but till October end, the registrations had crossed 3,300!

Congratulating Pinky Patel, the DGN for becoming the first woman DG from D 3060, Banerjee said, “Our district is very special in many ways; we are very quiet, don’t make much noise but some of the things we do are really unique.” He apologised for his inability to come that morning to inaugurate RC Baroda Metro’s art exhibition featuring nine navaratnas from the MS University. “As they say, man proposes and god disposes and wife refuses. As Manoj said earlier, my better half (Binota) has been having some health issues in recent times and she hopefully will be on her feet again pretty soon but till then my programme remains uncertain. Binota is a fighter, and wins many fights… particularly the fights she has with me. So she should win this one also.”

In those days becoming a PHF meant giving out only Rs 8,000. So those who missed out being a Paul Harris Fellow missed out a lot!
– TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee

Revealing that he always had a weakness for art, Banerjee recalled that as a young engineer in United Phosphorous, when he was getting a salary of only Rs 1,000, he had bought his first painting spending Rs 300. “I used to spend good money in those days buying art and I am glad I did that because I can’t afford such works today, considering how much they cost.”

He had a special word of appreciation for RID Desai; “I know how hard you have worked last year, trying to get things right in India. I don’t know if you have told this to your club but everyone used to be scared of Manoj… if he comes, they run away. He was always known for getting things done properly… getting them done right, bringing in discipline and integrity into the whole system.”

Addressing the meet, Desai said when people “ask me how can you keep such a hectic schedule I tell them I have learnt it from one man, and in India nobody asks me who… they all know it is Kalyanda.” But, he added, in reality more than Banerjee, his real mentor was Binota Banerjee. When he became DG, Banerjee was the RI Director (1995–97) and “he was too busy. He could attend neither my Assembly or the district conference. But she came for both and conveyed the message ki ladka achcha kaam kar raha hei! (The lad is doing good work).” Before going to an important trip to Bhavnagar he called her and asked for a slogan and she said “Never expect anything”.

President of RC Baroda Metro Sonal Desai said that as a revered Rotarian from their own District had become the Foundation Trustee Chair, we “thought the city’s clubs should honour him and make a contribution to TRF.” With every Rotarian from Vadodara city contributing Rs 1,000, a cheque for Rs 3.35 lakh was handed over to Banerjee for TRF. The felicitation was organised by RCs Baroda, Jawaharnagar, Metro, Sayajinagar, Cosmopolitan, Kalanagari and Sunrise, and along with Sonal, the other six Presidents — Sharad Modi (Baroda), Bhupendra Juneja (Jawaharnagar), Shreyansh Mehta (Sayajinagri), Beenit Tanna (Cosmo), Anil Jain (Kalanagri) and Narendra Tiwari (Sunrise) — presented the cheque to Banerjee.

RID Desai announced that the Baroda Rotary Humanitarian Foundation was handing over a $10,000 cheque for the Kalyan Banerjee Endowment Fund started in 1997–98. “We started with $25,000 and it has now grown to $47,000 and the interest income has started coming. As a mark of honour we would like to contribute $10,000 towards that Endowment today.”

Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat

Kaha gaye woh din

From left: TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee, RI Director Manoj Desai and Sharmishtha Desai.
From left: TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee, RI Director Manoj Desai and Sharmishtha Desai.

Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee said attending a District 3060 event was like returning home. He knew most of the people in the audience by first name; “Many present here are the people I’ve grown up with, and grown old with, in Rotary.” Pointing to PDG Jatin Bhatt he recalled the day “the two of us had spent a whole night in Mumbai eating chocolate and drinking what I won’t tell you. But I can tell you that for some reason Jatin kept laughing all the time!”

Striking a nostalgic note, he said: “Kaha gaye woh din when I met Manoj (Desai) for the first time. He was my aide at the then District 306 conference in Udaipur; that is the time I fell off the stage. Himanshu was the DG and he made me open a door, not expecting me to go beyond the door. I did… he hadn’t told me there was nothing beyond the door, and fell 10 ft in. I’m glad I didn’t break my leg.”

Kaha gaye woh din of the conference in Baroda where Fateh Singh Rao Gaekwad was the chief guest and the late Adel Adaljee from Nagpur was the RI representative. Adaljeebhai became the first Paul Harris Fellow of our district. We are now mostly talking about Arch Klumph Society only, but in those days becoming a PHF meant giving out only Rs 8,000. So those who missed out being a Paul Harris Fellow missed out a lot, I can tell you that! Kaha gaye woh din when I was fighting my District elections for the first and only time. I fought a DG election only once, and somehow made it the first time.”

Those were the days that “really got us hooked to Rotary, that made us enjoy and love Rotary. Times have changed and so has Rotary. Governors can today hold two District conferences in the same year, one after another as our District did last year… this is one of a kind in the whole world. This was done because the registrations were too high.”

Banerjee added, “The other day it struck me with some force that I was pushing the age of 74. While smart people may talk endlessly about how you are old as you feel and not as old as the calendar shows, let me tell you that this is all okay for making speeches and fooling people. But in real life, real time, your arthritis or you blood pressure will tell you exactly how old you are!”

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