Among the ₹20-crore worth projects planned by the Rotary Club of Calcutta, RID 3291, during this landmark year, the focus is clearly on health, hygiene and literacy. Immunisation and access to healthcare for slum children through St Thomas Home and Howrah South Point will cover 100,000 by the end of this year; over 700,000 have been already covered. Prevention of childhood blindness by timely screening of 10,000 children with special focus on retinal disorders and operating 1,000 children is yet another project.
Other centennial projects, Club President Purnendu Roy Chowdhury says, are heart surgeries in partnership with the Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences. Over 700 children and adults have been operated and by the end of year “we hope to achieve our target of 1,000.” Also, equipment worth $271,000 is being acquired through a global grant for Mercy Hospital.
Two other ambitious projects are a school hostel for 200 Adivasi children and building 1,000 toilets and 300 borewells.
Another projects, he adds is “the Howrah South Point bridge school for street children mentored by a French priest who was the inspiration behind Dominique Lapierre’s book City of Joy.
Most senior Rotary leaders in India, while congratulating the Rotary Club of Calcutta for its centennial, have mentioned the burden and heritage of 100 years resting on the young shoulders of its president Chowdhury.
RI Director Bharat Pandya put it very eloquently when he said at the Charter Day of the club in Kolkata: “Undoubtedly, the club’s past has been splendid; we take pride in the past but it is time to move into the future. The torch of leadership is in the hands of your young president Chowdhury. I urge you to hold that torch a little higher, make it burn a little brighter and pass it on to future generations.”
Chowdhury is trying to do just that, and first among his many priorities this year it to “make a connect within the members, make the club stronger and also make connections outside.”
Towards that goal the club’s Centennial Committee headed by past president Saumen Ray is trying to connect with all the vintage clubs in Asia that are 100 years old or turning 100 soon. “We are planning an Asian Tigers meet; Shanghai, Manila, Calcutta and Tokyo, which turns 100 next year. We’re forming a consortium of these clubs and the first meet was held at the Centennial Summit,” says Chowdhury.
But what is heartening is that the cooperation on the ground has already begun. The Shanghai club has identified a Nigerian baby girl who needs a heart surgery, which will be done in Kolkata, says Ray.
The club also has huge plans on building schools. “After polio, we see literacy as the next big thing. So we want to build bridge schools. Two of them are on course and the third one is being planned in Purulia.”
The first one is being built in Howrah, in partnership with a German club (RC Kaufburen-Ostallgau) through a global grant, and the second in Darjeeling.
Does he feel burdened with a 100-year-legacy? “Not at all, because the members are sharing the work; the history book is being given finishing touches by Ritwik Gupta, and the project is led by PDG Rohatgi, a Rotarian of 61 years, and he doesn’t even look 61,” says Chowdhury, pointing to his senior’s yet-to-become-grey hair!
Do you dye your hair, I ask Rohatgi. As he smiles and shakes his head, wife Sashi says: “Never, it’s in their family. His mother never had a single grey hair.”
“Well, I already have grey hair and I am 50,” sighs Chowdhury.
“Finish your year, and you’ll be lucky to have any hair left,” quips the senior.
Jokes apart, Chowdhury adds, “nearly 40 club members, led by Saumen Ray, are sharing my burden!”
He adds that for many years the club members having been working on a school at the Bishnupur RCC near Kolkata “and recently we formed the Sri Aurobindo Siksha Kendra Rotary Primary School. Now our plan is to make Bishnupur a model RCC,” says Saumen Ray.
The icing on the cake is of course the club’s most beloved project — Children’s Treat — which has been going strong for 95 years, and perhaps gives more joy to the Rotarians, their Anns and the Rotaractors involved than the 1,500-odd children who get a special treat every Christmas.