A sterling interfaith service
The complex culture, faiths and beliefs of India and its unity in diversity, recent events notwithstanding, was displayed beautifully at the Interfaith Service as the Rotary Indian Centennial Celebrations kicked off in Kolkata. In a beautiful and dignified session, prayers were recited and short intros given to all the religions that form the composite faith fabric of India. While Sikhism took the floor we got to hear an interesting nugget. Apparently famous Hindi cinema veteran Balraj Sahni once asked Rabindranath Tagore that you’ve composed a great national anthem for India in the Jana gana mana, now why don’t you compose one for the entire world? And Tagore said: “But Guru Govind has already done that by his composition ‘Aarti’ in 1506, which is a song of unity.”
The reference was to Guru Nanak’s spontaneous composition of the Aarti as he stood in the Puri temple, in reverence to the “ultimate creator” whose glory, he said, could not be contained in anything humans had to offer. The gist of the Aarti is that the creator’s grandeur is too much to be sung with a small set of lamps and incense; the sky itself is the grand platter, the stars are the lamps, the wind is the celestial fan and the flower-
filled forests are the scent.
A heady cocktail of colourful costume, music, dance
It was as though the entire City of Joy reverberated to A R Rahman’s famous composition for the Bollywood film Jodha Akbar, as the delegation of senior Rotary International leaders led by RI President Mark Maloney and Gay; Trustee Chair Gary Huang and Corinna; RIPN Shekhar Mehta and Rashi; two serving RI directors and their spouses; and TRF Trustee from India; and several serving RI Directors and Trustees from other countries, wearing colourful headgear, marched to the regal tunes of the peppy melody Marhaba (which means welcome).
As the leaders slowly made their way to the House of Friendship, what rang out and resonated was “Hindustan meri jaan”. And after the inauguration of the sprawling House of Friendship where some 100-odd colourful booths had been put together, another Rahman immortal ‘Jai ho’ was played, and it had several RI Directors from overseas including Julia Phelps and Stephanie Urchick jiving to the song in typical Bollywood moves, which were ably demonstrated to the overseas guests by PDG Pinky Patel.
Gay Maloney is by now of course an Indian veteran, and sports the saree with both grace and ease. A terrific sport, as the grand march made its way to the House of Friendship, she spontaneously joined the dancers who were there to welcome the VIPs. And President Maloney followed her. Surely it was a memorable Valentine’s Day for Rotary’s first couple… colourful gear and Bollywood dance. Romance doesn’t come better than that!
Sushil Gupta was missed
That PRID Sushil Gupta, who is battling a health setback, was missed at the Kolkata centennial celebrations, was articulated poignantly by none less than RI President Mark Maloney in his opening speech.
Before beginning his address of felicitations, Maloney said: “I would like to recall a dedicated Rotarian who would have really liked to be here today. And I am talking about past director Sushil Gupta.”
He recalled how in 2018, Gay and he had the privilege to welcome Sushil Gupta and Vinita “when they arrived at the Rotary International headquarters in Evanston as he took on the role of RIPN. Of course his health has not allowed him to continue in that position.”
He disclosed that the couple had taken the opportunity, as they travelled to Kolkata through Delhi, to “visit Sushil and Vinita in their home and have a conversation with them about Rotary and life. Sushil is still absolutely dedicated to Rotary. Even though he could not speak with his voice we had a conversation about the wonders of Rotary, the success of Rotary in India. We are delighted we had this wonderful opportunity and he sends his greetings to all the Rotarians who are here in Kolkata.”