Panduranga Setty: a role model, inspiring and trusted friend

Small in height, lean in structure, but bold and herculean in intelligence and vision, who embraced a range of thoughts, Panduranga Setty was a rare man. I got to know him before 1978 when he was the incoming district governor of District 319 and thereafter became close to him. In 1970, Pandu’s sisters Shantha and Nirmala came to Chandigarh to visit the Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama with Swami Shastrananda. They became our guests and were looked after by my wife Usha.

Panduranga Setty was on the RI board during the term of Rajendra Saboo as RI president.
Panduranga Setty was on the RI board during the term of Rajendra Saboo as RI president.

I visited Bangalore 2–3 times a year since my parents had taken summer residence there. Also, my sister Sneh and Gaja Nand could meet Pandu and visit RC Bangalore. I became interested in Rotary after becoming president of RC Chandigarh in 1971–72. During the period, I was in Bangalore, where my father had built a new house, but on the day of the housewarming ceremony in 1971, my elder brother Mahendra passed away. My cousin, Prayag Malpani, who was close to Pandu Setty’s family and Pandu arranged the cremation.

The Rotary story of Pandu started when he joined RC Bangalore in 1959. He became club president in 1969–70. He was ahead of me in Rotary and our journey was very pleasant, and became more so when I met him and his wife Vasantha at the International Assembly where I was group discussion leader in Boca Raton, Florida, where the incoming governors were oriented. The great class of Pandu had Dr Virendra Gangwal, Sudarshan Agarwal, Prem Bhalla and Dr Badar Maskati as incoming governors in 1978–79. He started business with the Krishna Flour Mills and expanded to manufacturing animal feed. He supported his younger brother Ramachandra and a few years later became district governor. With his vision, he parted ways with Ramachandra giving him the animal feed unit.

PRID Setty with President of India A P J Abdul Kalam.
PRID Setty with President of India A P J Abdul Kalam.

In 1979–80, RI President Jim Bomar was concerned about the per capita US dollars, which were blocked from Indian Rotarians. I was asked to know how the money could be remitted to RI in US. I was able to get an installment approved for the per capita funds, but not for the Rotary magazines. I chaired a committee to decide the printing of the Rotarian in India and also explore having a regional magazine. I knew the regional magazine should be in Bangalore and went to Bangalore and worked with Pandu to find the possibility. PDG Debu Hosali had earlier published Rotary News, which was not published every month, but occasionally. We found that Hosali had sold the magazine to PRID Ramesh Pai and when we talked to him, he was happy to hand over the publication to Rotary.

Pandu and I discussed taking control of the magazine and reconstituting it following the policies and guidelines set forth by The Rotary Foundation. As RI director, I took up the regional magazine and with the recommendation of a subcommittee, the RI board approved it. By 1983, the first issue of Rotary News was ready to be published by RI President Bill Skelton at the Asia Zone-II Institute in Calcutta. As a member of the RI board, I was able to get the magazine recognised and certified as the Rotary regional magazine for South Asia. Pandu became the editor and publisher of the magazine. It was kudos to Pandu.

PRID Setty with PRIPs K R Ravindran (L) and Saboo.
PRID Setty with PRIPs K R Ravindran (L) and Saboo.

Pandu became not only a Rotary colleague but a friend and then a family member. He had great influence in Germany, and though I had German collaborations, he helped a relative who was travelling through Germany and needed medical treatment. He immediately arranged with some senior surgeons to take up the case.

Pandu lost the RI directorship to Sudarshan Agarwal, but the next term, was unanimously nominated as RI director for 1991–93, the first from South India. At the Calcutta Institute, he was the incoming RI director.

As RI board member, I got Rotary News certified as the Rotary regional magazine for South Asia. And Pandu became its editor and publisher.

Let me recall the institute in Kathmandu. I was already nominated as RI president. I was challenged for RI president and the condition put to me was that Pandu should resign as RI director nominee. It was preposterous, Pandu was on my board and became my voice for any proposal on the board. After the Mexico Convention, our board meeting was at Cuernavaca, a resort. It was a custom that the board would travel from the location of the convention to some resort. However, the blocks of the complex were not comfortable at all. I was thinking of shifting to another place, which would be insulting to the local Rotarians who had organised the stay. I talked to Pandu, and he said that I should leave it to him. In the next board meeting the first item was our location, Pandu put it in a way that all the board members said that they would stay here. This was Pandu becoming totally dependable for me.

PRID Setty with PRIP Rajendra Saboo in Mexico.
PRID Setty with PRIP Rajendra Saboo in Mexico.

In 1991–92, Pandu phoned to say he had heard that at the election of RID 3080, there was canvassing against my strict directions. The report of PDG P C Thomas, my district conference representative, was clear. I called P C asking what had actually happened. Thanks to Pandu alerting me, I immediately asked executive committee chair Bhichai Rattakul to go to Chandigarh, and the result was an election with no disqualification of any candidate.

Y P Das’s nomination as governor was annulled but later he got, almost unanimously, elected as governor-nominee for 1993–94.

During 1991–92, Pandu was on RI committees and both Pandu and his wife Vasantha came up to our condo in Evanston. He was so humble and inconspicuous. Then came Orlando Convention, Florida, US, and Pandu took care of my family and the reunion. I cannot forget how Vasantha brought sarees for all the wives of the board members to wear at a social gathering.

In 1992–93, Cliff Dochterman, who had great admiration for Pandu, made him chair of the Executive Committee of the board and his influence was to get K R Ravindran as a training leader for the International Assembly, the first from Sri Lanka. This was the first step towards Ravindran becoming an RI director and finally RI president. Ravindran found in Pandu a teacher in life, in values. Pandu visited Sri Lanka during my year as RI president and initiated the artificial foot facility in Kandy.

PRID Setty greets noted industrialist Sir M Visvesvaraya.
PRID Setty greets noted industrialist Sir M Visvesvaraya.

Pandu served as chairman of South East Asia Regional PolioPlus Committee and guided it year after year to ensure that South East Asia was certified polio-free. His involvement in Rotary has helped a large number of our programmes, including providing comfort stations for girls’ schools, the literacy programme, housing for the poor, etc. He received RI’s Service Above Self Award.

Pandu was on a maximum number of nomination committees for RI presidents, including K R Ravindran, and recently Gordon McInally.

When I visited Bangalore, I had lunch with him, and long talks about his family, and who would head the empire of his trust after him. I visited his college R V College of Engineering; and Pandu always obliged when I recommended deserving students for admission. The college later became a university.

Pandu was on a maximum number of nomination committees for RI presidents, including K R Ravindran, and recently Gordon McInally.

Both Vasantha and Pandu were generous and cordial hosts. In their simple and elegant home we would have South Indian dinner. Later Vasantha had gout and could not move much. Past RI president Kalyan Banerjee greatly praised Pandu not only professionally but as a Rotarian at the highest echelons of the organisation.

Pandu and Vasantha’s Rotary life journey was for decades. Usha and I were lucky to have them as our co-travellers and sincere friends. Pandu’s qualities were such that even those opposed to his views, admired him.

Panduranga Setty with his wife Vasantha.
Panduranga Setty with his wife Vasantha.

My great disappointment was that I could not have Pandu to be the trustee of The Rotary Foundation. During the term of incoming RI president John Kenny, I pleaded with him to have Pandu as trustee, given his vast experience in managing a trust and other institutions. Unfortunately, he felt Pandu was too old and accepted my next recommendation, and Ashok Mahajan became the trustee.

Rotary Club of Chandigarh had the Project Heart Line for heart surgery of children up to 20 years of age, including those from Pakistan. In 2007, a handsome 13 year-old-Tauseef could not be admitted in PGI Hospitals where the club did the surgeries. However, it was a critical cardiac condition of pulmonary atresia, with a missing pulmonary valve and no blood circulation to one lung. I asked the surgeon in PGI, and they said that there is one person, Dr Devi Shetty in Bangalore, who could do this critical procedure. Both the boy and his father had visa for Chandigarh. With help from a chain of Rotarians in Delhi the visa for Bangalore was available in six hours and in the morning they both took a flight to Delhi and then to Bangalore. The chain ended with Pandu. I sought his help, and as he knew Dr Shetty well, he got into action immediately. An ambulance from the Narayana Hrudayalaya hospital met the boy and his father at the airport and Dr Shetty did the operation which took nine hours, giving Tauseef a heart which is half Pakistani and half Indian and after 72 hours his surgery was successful — a unique case. This again was Pandu.

I can tell numerous such stories. When personal help was needed for our watch retailing business, Ethos, Pandu arranged the places we wanted. Pandu never ever wished anything in return. He was a friend, special and unparalleled person. I have cherished and remain proud of his friendship.

Dr Meda K Panduranga Setty could have too many adjectives. He was a role model, an inspiring and trusted friend, a leader with humility, sincerity and integrity. He has been an epitome, deep like an ocean, high like the sky and practical like earth.


The writer is a past RI president

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