A most generous donation — of ₹100 crore to TRF from a single Rotarian — D Ravi Shankar from Bengaluru — had shown that Rotary in India is ready to take a quantum leap in “our commitment to the world for creating everlasting peace while serving humanity,” Rotary International President Nominee Sushil Gupta said, as he went down memory lane at both the felicitation events held at the Chennai Zone Institute and his home districts 3011 and 3012 (erstwhile 3010) to relate how Rotary had transformed his life.
His father was very fond of the Himalayas and would take Gupta as a child for holidays usually to Nainital or Mussoorie and “at one of the places I’d see a board which said ‘Rotary meets here’.” Though he didn’t know what Rotary was, it aroused a curiosity and a desire that “when I get older, I must join Rotary. It left a photographic impression on my mind.”
In 1977 this dream came true and he joined RC Delhi Midwest and became President of the club in 1981.
Water conservation has become my passion. I’ve seen how the availability of water changes the life of people.
In between he had ventured into the hospitality business and undertook the arduous task of constructing “a hotel in Delhi, not an easy task. I encountered hurdles at every step and then I saw the magic of Rotary unfold! Also, I was lucky enough to enjoy the patronage of senior leaders in my district, including PRIDs Manoharlal Manchanda and Sudarshan Agarwal, who always held my hand to overcome all the obstacles in my new venture.
“In India, all of us know, nothing happens by itself. At every step there is a hurdle and you need somebody who can use some influence or power and that’s how I was able to construct my hotel in a record time of 30 months. That’s how the Hyatt Regency in Delhi opened!”
Gupta added he also got a lot of help from his club members… I always saw the magic of Rotary and how you stand to benefit through Rotary.”
Sushil Gupta’s biggest positive quality is when I say I want to try something new, he smiles and always says, ‘Why not?’. The encouragement he gives you is phenomenal.
– RI Director C Basker
A new chapter begins
In 1985 he was elected DG of D 301 comprising Delhi and the NCR, and thus started a new chapter which exposed him to both the Indian and global Rotary.
Gupta admitted that till 1988, when he was asked to take the role of vice chair in the Rotary Polio Eradication Task Force, “my Rotary journey was more of fellowship and friendship, but this responsibility changed my outlook and I realised that Rotary was not only fellowship but more so service to mankind”.
As he got busy in the task of educating and mobilising Rotarians in polio eradication, gradually service projects came on his plate… water projects, heart surgeries and so on. But before becoming a Director of RI, “in the ’90s, I became associated with the Himalayan Environmental Trust and that brought a totally different perspective of how precious the environment, specially water, is to mankind. And I became an environmentalist and water activist!”
And this interest, while he served as a TRF Trustee, fetched him the role of global chair for WinS. “Water conservation has become my passion. I’ve seen how the availability of water changes the life of people.”
The journey continued; last year he completed his term as TRF Trustee and “now I have been given the responsibility of this august office — to lead RI in 2020–21. This is a great recognition of Rotary in India and our zones. I am the fourth RI President after Nitish Laharry in 1963–64, Raja (Saboo) in 1991–92 and Kalyan (Banerjee) in 2011–12, and now this Punjabi puttar from Amritsar has got this opportunity.”
“As I look back,” he added, “Rotary has come a long way and has changed a lot over the years, and more so in the Foundation. Our service projects… hospitals and health projects, the literacy and WinS programmes, and our getting rid of polio from the country, all denote the great work all of you have been doing.”
When I looked at my schedule for 2 years and 9 months, and it’s still not complete, I was stunned. But when I see President Barry and Esther sitting here so coolly, and so cheerful, I feel inspired and think we too can handle it!
Gupta dedicated his achievement to “my parents who inculcated in me values and courage to go for lofty goals, and my wife Vinita, who has always stood as a rock behind me, and also to my son and daughter-in-law who said ‘Yes, we’ll hold the fort (in business), don’t worry… because I’ll be missing from action for a long time. And last but not the least, to my gurus, who taught me the art of pranic healing and who have been a constant source of inspiration to me.”
The couple was blessed at the Chennai Institute through a special archana done at Tirupathi and the prasad brought to Chennai by one of the priests at the Lord Venkateswara temple. A visibly touched and grateful Gupta thanked RID Basker and PRID P T Prabhakar, saying these special blessings meant a lot to the couple.
Such blessings inspired the confidence that “we are ready to fight the many battles before Rotary, including the total eradication of polio. We are ready, with my colleagues and seniors such as President Barry Rassin, RIPE Mark Maloney, and all of you. Together all of us will make Rotary a service organisation of choice.”
Turning to PRIP Saboo, Gupta recalled how as RI President “you had painted one eye of the Japanese Daruma doll at the United Nations in 1991. It had been decided that the second eye of the doll will be painted only when we are done with polio (elimination from the entire world). You said in your speech here that it might happen during my presidency; I pray ardently that I get the opportunity to paint the second eye of that doll.”
Paying a tribute to RIPN Gupta, RI Director Basker said he felt very lucky because “two important recognitions have been bestowed on India during my term as Director. First, an Indian, Ravi Shankar, contributed ₹100 crore to TRF on July 1; within a month the RI nominating committee rightly selected Padmashree Sushil Gupta to become the fourth Indian to lead our organisation in 2020–21.”
He has knowledge in a range of subjects. I’ve personally had so many interesting debates with him on Islam, particularly Shia Islam.
– TRF Trustee Gulam Vahanvaty
Having worked with him when he was a TRF Trustee, “I know I am no match to him in knowledge and experience, but his biggest positive quality is when I say I want to try something new, he smiles and always says, ‘Why not?’. The encouragement he gives you is phenomenal.”
Basker said last June when he had frantically called Gupta saying it looked like we will not get to the position of No 2 in TRF giving this time, “he asked me what figure I thought we’d reach. When I said $16 million, he said ‘Trust me, we’ll be No 2 once again in contributing to TRF; don’t worry everything will fall in place.’ I had little hope but it happened; we collected over $19 million. This showed me his thorough knowledge of how Indian Rotary works!”
The RI Director recalled that when Gupta had visited his District 3000 two years ago, the serving DG was R Theenachandran, who took the RIPN to the Madurai Meenakshi temple. The latter looked around the place, found garbage lying all over and observed that not only Indians but foreigners too visited this wonderful temple. Why not a Rotary club take it up as a project, let us show what Rotary can do to this city with such a lovely temple. RC Madurai Metro took up the cleaning project and within a month the whole place was cleaned up.
Also, till then D 3000 had been collecting barely $200,000 for TRF; Gupta said they should aim for at least $500,000 and “under the same DG we touched a record high of $572,000.”
Rotary has come a long way and has changed a lot over the years, and more so in the Foundation. Our service projects… all denote the great work all of you have been doing.
– RI President Nominee Sushil Gupta
Basker then added: “Former President of India Abdul Kalam has said that success is when your signature becomes an autograph. Today, your signature has become an autograph!”
Congratulating Gupta on his nomination TRF Trustee Gulam Vahanvaty referred to his skills in pranic healing and described his personal experience in being healed at the RIPN’s hands. “When he finished, he had taken on my ailment and I could see the tremendous amount of tension and sweat on his face. I have never forgotten that experience.” He also lauded Gupta’s “interest and knowledge in a range of subjects. I’ve personally had so many interesting debates with him on Islam, particularly Shia Islam. With your qualities of head and heart, 2020–21 will be one of the best years in Rotary.”
At Chennai, Gupta’s batchmate PDG R Raja Ramakrishnan introduced him, and at Delhi, where all the senior Indian Rotary leaders participated, Convener of the event PDG Vinod Bansal and DGs Subhash Jain (D 3012) and Vinay Bhatia (3011) felicitated Gupta.
When destiny beckoned
RIPN Sushil Gupta, addressing the felicitation meetings at the Chennai Institute and Delhi, recalling Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘tryst with destiny’ speech, asked the assembled Rotarians: “How many of you believe in destiny?” And then he went on to relate the anecdote of how as a DGE he had gone for training to the International Assembly in 1985, and was given the usual Rotary tour at the headquarters, then in Chicago. “Finally, we came to the RI President’s office. It was a small corner office, not like the grand one we have now on the 18th floor in Evanston. The President was not there and the guide said: ‘Sushil, do you want to sit on that chair?’ I said ‘no’, I didn’t say ‘Insha Allah’. I said I will do so only in that capacity. I don’t know what power made me utter those words but look at how destiny played its part.”
Drinking from a firehose
RIPN Sushil Gupta and Vinita came straight from Evanston to the Chennai Zone Institute, the first event where they were felicitated. Said Gupta: “I am overwhelmed and humbled by this reception; we’re coming back straight from our orientation in Evanston and I am still taking in the flood of information they were trying to give us in the last five days. And everybody at RI said: ‘Well you are drinking from the firehose; that is the term they use when so much information is being thrown at you! When I looked at my schedule for 2 years and 9 months, and it’s still not complete, being still a work in progress, I was stunned. But when I see President Barry and Esther sitting here so coolly, and so cheerful, I feel inspired and think we too can handle it!”