Amidst the training sessions and serious talk on the future of Rotary, the Chennai Institute had its lighter and memorable moments too.Here’s a bouquet.
Ravi Shankar’s plain speaking
The cynosure of all eyes at the Institute naturally was the man who has recently donated ₹100 crore to TRF — President of RC Bangalore Orchards D Ravi Shankar. Smashing all stereotypes of the pomp, show and often a chip on the shoulder some mega donors display, this donor delighted the assembly with his sense of humour and plain talk, packed with punches. Referring to himself as a “half-baked Rotarian”, Ravi did not pull his punches, when in a Q&A session with D 3190 DG Suresh Hari, he touched upon the ostentation that he often sees in Rotary.
Coming down harshly on the installation of district governors, he said he had seen that during such occasions, flowers were showered from helicopters or the dignitaries rode on elaborately decorated elephants. As Rotary’s motto was ‘service above self’ such acts “make me wonder where is the element of service here?”
Auctioning a Merc for TRF
Ravi Shankar also stunned the audience by announcing that the “luxury car” he owns — nothing less than a Mercedes Benz — has been of little use to him. He said that recently his wife Paola pointed out to him that while they used their SUV all the time, the Benz he had bought sometime ago, was simply lying unused at home. “So with her permission, I have decided to auction the car, and give the proceeds to TRF. It is a beautiful car, which has done barely 3,000 km….
Referring to RI Director C Basker describing him as “a chip of the old block” as his father too had donated all his land to Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement, Ravi Shankar said: “I am nothing in comparison to my father, who didn’t even bother to check the price of the land before he gave it all away.”
Then he pitched a googly to the women participants: “We find that sometimes when the husband wants to do something good, the wife wants to stop him… my appeal to the ladies, when your husband wants to do some good for society, please don’t stop him!”
After RI President Barry Rassin and Esther were welcomed at the Institute with huge rose garlands, which seemed to weigh a ton, and it was Rassin’s turn to make the inaugural speech he said, tongue firmly in cheek: “I have to tell you Director Basker that you’ve put me in a bad position because right now I have more flowers on me than I’ve given Esther in 10 years!” Then, striking a serious note he told the delegates: “You have an amazingly powerful and strong group of zones and I hope you appreciate the kind of leadership you have amongst you. My President when I was DG was Raja Saboo and with him and Usha, I first saw leadership that was humble and yet so strong and powerful that you’d want to spend your life following that model.”
“Then I also worked a little with Kalyan Banerjee when he was Chairman of the Trustees and I saw him in action; I managed to get him to the Caribbean so that we could learn from him. Then I had the honour of being aide to Ravi (K R Ravindran) and Vanathy. Wow, I had to run at twice my usual pace just to keep up with him! Appreciate who you have in your zones.”
Referring to the “upcoming leadership”, he added: “Then you have Sushil Gupta. I sat on the Finance Committee with him and saw him in action; I can tell you that you are going to have a great leader! And there is your director and a group of past and future directors. You have such strong leadership; I urge you to appreciate that, learn from them and I thank you for the service you do in your zones, which you should be proud of.”