A teary-eyed farewell
How much the meticulous planning and successful execution of a Zone Institute means to an RI Director hit the participants at the Indore Institute when in the concluding moments of the five-day spectacular event, RID Bharat Pandya broke down while thanking his chairman and close friend PDG T N Subramanian for helping to put it together.
Pandya ran a tight ship, and was particularly strict with the timing, pulling out the whip or slipping in a courteous comment when required, with the result that the timing was mostly adhered to, something unusual in the last five Institutes I have attended and covered for Rotary News.
His eagle eye ensured that all those who had helped him plan and execute the event were thanked adequately and given a memento to take back home. But his extremely efficient and businesslike self melted when it came to thanking Institute Chair, fondly known as Raju Subramanian, in the Rotary world. Neither Pandya nor Subramanian could hold back their tears, and Madhavi too yielded to the emotional moment.
Picking up the buzz at the dinners and the lunch venue on the final day of the Institute, it became apparent that the organisation of the event, choice of city, the various sessions and particularly the food on offer, had gone down well with the participants. “The grace both Bharat and Madhavi showed was incredible; Madhavi actually came and personally gave each of us a little gift; I was really touched,” said an aide.
Felicitating RIPN Shekhar Mehta at the Indore Institute, PRIP Kalyan Banerjee said, “all of us knew that some day our Shekhar would be President of RI, but none of us would have dreamt he would make it at the first attempt. He is always in a hurry, always on the go; when he wants to do something he just goes and does it. And wherever he goes Rashi is always with him, giving him the balance and strength to work till 2 am, sleep for three hours and then take a 6 am flight to somewhere the next morning.” There he meets people, addressing meetings throughout the day, “snacks on pizzas and pani puri in between and then goes on to work till 2 am. I used to be called ‘energy Banerjee’, when I started out 10 years ago, but Shekhar is in a class of his own. And he makes others move too on their own; he is truly an amazing motivator. Where he gets his zest for life I don’t know but we do know that when he was announced as the new RIPN, all Rotarians felt they had all become presidents themselves.”
Banerjee added: “They say morning shows the day, but as he prepares himself to get into the groove for the RI President’s role, we need to tighten our seat belts and get ready for one heck of a trip. It’s not going to be an up and down one, but up, up and away.”
A promise from Maloney to Mehta
In his inimitable style RI President Mark Maloney began his inaugural address at the Institute on a lighter note. Addressing RIPN Shekhar Mehta and Rashi, he said that at Evanston, the RI maintains two condos, one for the President and one for the President-elect… you move into one and stay there for two years. There isn’t a presidential condo and president-elect condo. “So Shekhar and Rashi will move into Gay and my condo on the 14th floor; Holger (Knaack) and Susanne stay on the one on the 13th floor. So come July, Shekhar and Rashi will move into our condo and Gay and I have promised that we will not trash the condo in which they will move.”
A long, long trip
President Maloney disclosed that this was Day 21 “on our 30 day trip. This is our longest trip so far in our presidential travels and may be the longest we will have. As you can tell I haven’t seen my barber in a while. I was looking at the pictures in the intro video and thought he is pretty handsome and then I saw the photo of me live and thought: ‘Wait, who is that shady guy? Anyway, that is one of the challenges of being RI President.”
In this trip, he added, they were circumnavigating the globe. “Gay and I left separately; Gay from Alabama, and I from Evanston. We were to meet in Los Angeles and then travel to Kobe in Japan but Gay had flight problems and I didn’t see her again till we met in Kobe at the Japan Institute.”
Next, they went back across the Pacific to the Panama Institute “and again crossed the Pacific for the third time for the Korea Institute, visited Vietnam, and came to Indore and before going home we will visit three districts in Turkey. It appears that Gay and I are making an attempt to fly on every commercial airline that exists in the world.”
Too much political advice floating around
At the Indore Institute, Union Minister Smriti Irani was one of the most popular speakers and had the audience eating out of her hands with her sharp replies and witty rejoinders. Irani disclosed that she had been a Rotaractor too, amidst a roar of approval from the DRRs in the audience. When asked for “one advice to youth”, she said for one, she was already 43 and not sure if she was young enough to do that (“though age is a matter of the mind, as I’m sure the many grey-haired men in the audience agree”), and anyway there is “too much advice going around from politicians. But I can make one request. We are poised to lead in the next industrial revolution. But do we want to be just consumers of technology or its owners? How many tech companies in India are owned by women?”
Also, more women needed to get into science and mathematics. “With regards to youth in rural India, let’s inculcate in them a sense of innovation; there are many who are already innovating but don’t know how to turn that into an enterprise. If you can help them commercialise their ideas, it will be a step forward. This is just a request, not advice!”
Fewer plenaries in Honolulu
Inviting Rotarians in India to join the Convention in Honolulu, President Maloney said this would be the second RI Convention in Honolulu, the first being held in 1969, and will have a revamped schedule with more flexibility to enjoy Hawaii. “We aren’t foolish. We know people would rather be on the beach rather than inside the Convention centre. So there will be fewer plenary sessions and breakout sessions will end earlier in the day so that you can enjoy all that Honolulu and Hawaii have to offer.”
Saving… and giving
At the TRF Dinner during the Institute, where PDG J B Kamdar and Marlene were inducted as AKS members at a higher level (Chairman’s level with a donation of $500,000), Kamdar said Marlene and he were blessed in many ways. Though born into “families of modest means, we grew up in an atmosphere where there was always a richness of heart and a philosophy of sharing whatever we have, thanks to the influence of our elders. We learnt to save and to share what we saved with others.”
They had even saved some money on this induction, he added. TRF Trustee Gulam Vahanvaty “gave us the option to get inducted at Evanston or here. Flying business class to Evanston for two of us would have cost some ₹10 lakh. We saved that money… probably Gulam will collect it for the Annual Programmes Fund.”
Another unique way they saved, added Kamdar, who is fond of “expensive cruises and watches, while Marlene is fond of jewellery”, was by deciding that “I will give my money to TRF and she will use hers to buy me expensive watches.”
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat