Over the last five years, almost all the RI Presidents have told me that no place on earth celebrates Rotary events as colourfully and grandly as Rotarians do in India. Forget a Zone Institute which has so much of colour, music, dance and dazzle, even a district in India celebrates its annual meet with fun and grandeur, some of them in exotic places as the Rann of Kutch or near the Kanha forest.
So if Rotary in India was marking its centennial year, which had to be in Kolkata, as it was here and with the Rotary Club of Calcutta that the organisation made its footprint in India 100 years ago, and the Centennial Committee Chair is Rotary International President Nominee Shekhar Mehta, then the celebration had to be a mega one. And so it was; at the three-day event held at the sprawling Biswa Bangla Convention Centre in the city of joy. Beginning with the RI President Mark Maloney, Trustee Chair Gary Huang, incoming Trustee Chair K R Ravindran, RI directors in such huge numbers that President Maloney quipped that he could have almost planned a Board meet here, a plethora of senior leaders from RI were there. And this included trustees, both incoming directors and trustees, and the entire senior leadership from India, without exception.
The inaugural march of senior leaders at almost all prominent Rotary events in India is grand, but the one at Kolkata was nothing short of spectacular. It was A R Rahman’s mesmerising music all the way — as the senior leaders marched into the House of Friendship — oh yes, this seems to be a precursor to an RI Convention in India sometime in the near future, as Mehta himself indicated — it was the hit number Marhaba and the words Hindustan meri jaan that reverberated in the sprawling area decked up with cut-outs and electronic screens flashing Kolkata’s icons such as the Victoria Memorial, the Howrah Bridge and so on.
But even more impressive than the spectacular opening was the information that RIPN Mehta shared with the 4,000-odd delegates from 32 countries on the mind-blowing work Indian Rotarians have done through community projects, and its dazzling growth in both membership and TRF giving. Membership in India has consistently been growing in the last 10 years and “our membership now stands at 12.07 per cent of world membership,” he said. In TRF giving, India now stood at No 2, having given over $20 million in each of the last three years. Rotaract was thriving in India, which had 24 per cent of the Rotaract clubs and 41 per cent of Rotaract membership in the world.
If these numbers are impressive, the work done by Indian Rotarians through community service projects is even better. Here are some numbers to consider: Over the last 10 years, an estimated two million people have got their eyesight at over 200 eye hospitals that Rotarians run in India, and over 20,000 children have undergone heart surgeries, and today they are alive thanks to Rotary. Across India, Rotary runs more than 30 blood banks, and is committed to skill development of 30,000 widows and their children.
Small wonder that Nilima Joshi, past president of RC Calcutta, where the Rotary magic began 100 years ago, says the best part of her year as president was the gratitude and happiness expressed by parents of little kids whose hearts the Rotarians had mended. Nothing could match that sense of satisfaction, she said quietly.