Responding to the felicitations on his nomination as RI President 2020–21 in Kolkata, RIPN Sushil Gupta said he had many precious bonds with Kolkata; “my first meeting as a Director was done here by PRID Shekhar Mehta, and I have so many friends here. But so many accolades have been given to me here that I am wondering ki meri manzil kaha hei (where is my final destination).” The event was hosted by Districts 3250, 3261, 3262, 3291 and 3292.
A passionate hiker and keen mountain lover, he said while climbing a mountain one kept looking at the peak, and saying, “I have to get there, you keep climbing. With that feeling and resolve in mind, I’ll make the journey to the pinnacle of RI. But it’s not going to be an easy journey; to fill into the shoes of PRIPs Rajendra Saboo and Kalyan Banerjee is a daunting task indeed, but I am sure with god’s grace and blessings of my gurus, I will be able to meet your expectations.”
Describing Rotary “as my stress buster”, Gupta said this was his 41st year in Rotary and in this journey, “I can’t describe how much love and opportunity I’ve got to serve the community. Shekhar (Mehta), by bringing this girl child (6-year-old Barsha Pramanik), you’ve really touched my heart.” He was referring to Mehta’s statement that five heart surgeries had been done on children under the Gift of Life programme in the RIPN’s name, and Barsha was introduced to the Guptas.
The fourth RI President from India will be a fine leader. His Rotary commitment and engagement are unmatched. As a host and a hotelier, his and Vinita’s hospitality is unparalleled, as is his ever-booming laughter.
– Past RI President Kalyan Banerjee
He then gave an example of how Rotary works. In 2006, while he was attending the Copenhagen Convention, his phone rang. “In Udaipur we had put up a heart camp and identified 20 patients with heart disease of which 12 children needed surgery. I asked them what next, and they said the project/camp has been completed. And I said how can it be completed; it has just started. Now the people who know they have heart disease — earlier they didn’t have a clue — will wonder at the road ahead. Whether they will be able to do the operation or not; if yes, where will they get the money from. Every day from henceforth they will die a death.”
This was how he had got involved in the Gift of Life programme which did children’s heart surgery. “Till date we’ve done over 3,000 operations with a 100 per cent success rate. That’s how Rotary should do its projects; take them to their logical conclusion.”
Dedicating “this honour to all of you Rotarians who work so hard for Rotary and which has got me this position”, Gupta said it was also a recognition of his values and hard work. He had entered the hotel industry “without even knowing what this industry was all about. I hadn’t even run a private company till then. But if you have the passion that I have to learn this and I will work hard to do so and will succeed; if you move forward with confidence and courage, things will fall in place.”
The values that he learnt from his parents, specially ethics, had taken him towards success. As also the support from his wife Vinita — “She is quiet, doesn’t say much or sometimes says this is too much, but when it happens, her full support is there for me… it is 100 per cent not a single per cent less.”
Addressing the meeting, Past RI President Kalyan Banerjee said: “I have been trying to get used to the wonderful idea of India having its fourth RI President standing on the threshold of taking charge.” India provided its first president in 1962–63 when Nitish Laharry, a Rotarian from Kolkata, was chosen. “In those days, presidents were chosen at the convention and at the 1960–61 convention, senior Rotarians just came to him and said, ‘Nitish, we want you to be the Rotary President’, and there he was. And his outstanding theme is still quoted often: Kindle the spark within.”
He has served on some 20 or 25 RI committees; on half of which he was either the chair or the vice chair!
– Past RI Director Shekhar Mehta
The second Indian president came in 1991–92, 30 years later. “Rajendra Saboo, known to the Rotary world as Raja, also Kolkata-born, came in to lead us and he left a huge mark, both with his theme of Look beyond Yourself, as also his leadership. Twenty years later, I followed my leader. I too, was Kolkata-born, and everyone said that to be an RI President, you need to have a Kolkata connection!”
But in Rotary, you can always expect the unexpected, and Sushil Gupta, born in Punjab had now been chosen, but his wife “Vinita was born in Kolkata. He will take over, only 8 years later, after me. So you can see that we are moving on to fast forward now — first 29 years, then, 20 years, now 8 years. And perhaps, the next leader from India will come in 5 or 6 years. And we could well be going back to our Kolkata connection again!” After all, Rotary came to India in 1919 in this city, he added.
Touching upon the “solid Rotary background” of Gupta, Banerjee described him as the “Polio eradication pioneer of India. We had worked together on polio in the late 1980s and ’90s to make it happen. He has pioneered Rotary’s exciting journey into providing clean, safe water to the countries of the world.”
Also, Rotarians should know that Gupta had helped to conceptualise RAGS — Rotary Action Groups. And whether it was getting to work with corporates through CSR, or TRF Stewardship …. “Gupta has always been in the thick of it.”
Banerjee disclosed that when Gupta said “he wanted to be in the thick of not only small initiatives but Rotary International itself, we all said, ‘come on Sushil — that’s the way to go.’ The Nomination Committee for President in Rotary is a unique committee. It has elected representatives, all past directors, from 17 of the 34 zones worldwide, and these are all seasoned, experienced Rotarians. And Sushil had a competitive field from both the Americas and Europe as well.”
Banerjee described the sleepless hours he had spent on the night (in India) of reckoning and after exchanging many phone calls with Gupta, he finally got a call from PRID Shekhar Mehta, a member of the nominating committee, telling him that Gupta had made it.
He then added: “I know that the fourth RI President from India will be a fine leader. His Rotary commitment and engagement are unmatched. And as a host, and a hotelier, his and Vinita’s hospitality is unparalleled, as is his ever-booming laughter. May he keep laughing and setting new benchmarks, along with Vinita, who is a very special human being. She will add so much to Sushil’s presidency as the first lady of Rotary. And we thank her for her Kolkata connection!”
It’s not going to be an easy journey; to fill into the shoes of PRIPs Rajendra Saboo and Kalyan Banerjee is a daunting task indeed.
– RI President Nominee Sushil Gupta
Banerjee then told Gupta, as he gets ready and plans his year, to keep in mind that “Abhi toh asli manzil pana baqi hai /Abhi toh irado ka imtihan baki hai. /Abhi toh toli hai mutthi bhar zamin. /Abhi tolna aasman baki hai. So, Sushil, plan and work and lead so that you can outdo, outshine and better all of us before you.”
Past RI Director and Convener of the meet Shekhar Mehta said he was really happy because his two mentors in Rotary, Kalyan Banerjee and Sushil Gupta were present in the hall. “The first big event I did even before I could become a Governor was with Banerjee and the first big assignment I got, was because of Gupta, who recommended my name as a training leader, and has mentored me after that at every stage.”
He said that as the two Indian members of the nominating committee, he and PRID Manoj Desai “went on to do our task in accordance with the Manual of Procedure (MoP) which says you have to choose the best man for the job. I assure you we did just that… we selected him not because he is an Indian but because we followed the MoP in letter and spirit. He was miles ahead in experience and the variety of work he has done, having served on some 20 or 25 RI committees, and on half of which he was either the chair or the vice chair!”
I can safely say that with Gupta at the helm, we will not be the Indian mafia but the Indian troika!
– RI Director Elect Bharat Pandya
Mehta then added, “With all due respect, the others, all excellent Rotarians of course, did not match his experience or work.”
Congratulating Gupta on his nomination, RIDE Bharat Pandya said those who have made a mark on the history of the world are “people who rose to positions of leadership and influence through sheer force of determination, self-confidence, hard work and perseverance. Gupta is one of them.”
Recalling his nearly 20-year-old association with Gupta, Pandya said he had first met him as “the RPIC at our district conference where I made a presentation on the GSE team and at the end he shook my hand and said ‘well done’. Some years later he became RI Director and I became DG nominee. As DG, one of my focus areas was water conservation and management, and of course one of my inspirations was the great work Sushil Gupta had done in this area.”
Later both of them served on a membership committee; “it was my first experience on an RI Committee and he held my hand and guided me on how best to function in an RI committee”.
Over the years, he had learnt that one of Gupta’s strongest quality is “his organisational skills. Whether it was organising Rotary Institutes at Mumbai and Kolkata which I attended, or water summits or Presidential conferences, he brought his tremendous organisational skills to the fore. Because he firmly believes that success in any organisation is not an accident but always a result of commitment to excellence, intelligent planning and proper execution. And that is what he does in whatever he undertakes. I have identified three Cs in Gupta: commitment, confidence and competence.”
He was committed to any task he took up; competent in everything he did, whether business, Pranic healing, water conservation, the Himalayan Trust or Rotary.
Gupta also had a focused approach; “he brings focus and concentration to any task he undertakes. Focus has tremendous power; the sun is a powerful source of energy and every hour the sun bathes the earth with billions of kilowatts of energy but with a hat and a sunscreen you can bathe in the sun for hours on end without any ill effects.”
The laser, on the other hand, was a very weak source of energy, but it takes only a few kilowatts of energy, focuses it into a coherent stream of light and using a laser you can cure a cancer, cut glass and drill a hole in a diamond, the toughest substance known to mankind. “Focus has tremendous power and that’s what Gupta brings to whatever he does,” Pandya added.
One of Gupta’s most endearing qualities was his “caring nature and generosity”, which Pandya said he discovered recently when his wife Madhavi had fractured her shoulder in an accident. In April 2018, during a felicitation meet for the two incoming Directors, Gupta noticed Madhavi’s discomfort and offered to do some Pranic healing. But for lack of time it didn’t happen. But later, at the Toronto Convention in June, he recalled his promise and did Pranic healing on Madhavi. “She is in less pain and has more mobility; but most important is this showed his caring nature. Kamal and I will be fortunate to work with Gupta, when we will be serving on the RI Board as Directors and he will be at the helm of RI (in 2020–21).”
Recalling PRIP Kalyan Banerjee’s statement that in 2011–12 when he was RI President and Y P Das and Shekhar Mehta were RI Directors, the other Directors used to call them the ‘Indian mafia’. “I can safely say that with Gupta at the helm, we will not be the Indian mafia but the Indian troika! We assure you that in 2020–21 we will do our best to see that the flags of India and our zones fly high in RI so that you can lift your head with pride and say that as an Indian president, Indian Rotary is right up there!”
Welcoming the gathering, Convener of Abhinandan, RIDE Kamal Sanghvi, said he remembered vividly looking with awe at the glittering and brand new Hyatt Regency in Delhi (Gupta’s first hotel) and asking his dad for a meal there. “And my dad said get 90 per cent marks and you will get your dinner. I worked hard but managed to get only 85 per cent, but yet I got dinner in that grand hotel.”
Later, when he joined Rotary, RIPN Gupta was one of his role models and he tried to emulate him in all kinds of different ways, including wearing smart suits! “When I became a DGE and went to Delhi for training for GETS, I realised the headmaster in the school in which I was getting admitted was Sushil Gupta (Gupta was RI Director from 2003–05) and now when I am going to be a Director, the college in which I am entering, the lecturer is Gupta. (Gupta will be RI President in 2020–21 when Sanghvi will be serving his second year as Director).”
Chairman of the event PDG Sanjay Khemka said he had taken a lot of effort to get Gupta’s guru Swami Nilanjan Saraswati to the event to bless the RIPN. “We wanted to surprise you; he had agreed, but at the last minute we got a message that he is not keeping well.”
Gupta’s response: “If you had managed to get Swamiji here, mere liye toh Diwali aaj hi ho jaati! (My Diwali would have been today itself, a week earlier).
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat