At 100, Back to Roots

Rotary club members recount history of

movement that took off from Calcutta

Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu (left) speaks at the centenary celebrations of the Rotary Club of Calcutta at Biswa Bangla Convention Centre on SundayPictures by Sanat Kumar Sin

Aclub that was set up in a restaurant opposite Raj Bhavan, with the purpose of business and social networking, has developed into a mammoth organisation serving the poor and the distressed.
Calcutta was the city where the Rotary movement was born in India, about 15 years after it had started in the US in the early 20th century, members of Rotary International said.
A century later, the Rotary Club of Calcutta is one of the 3,500 Rotary clubs in India, 159 of them located in Bengal and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The Rotary Club of Calcutta turned 100 in January and celebrations for reaching the milestone were held at Biswa Bangla Convention Centre in New Town from Friday to Sunday.

Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu was present at Sunday’s programme.

“The Rotary movement in India started with the formation of the Rotary Club of Calcutta in 1920. This city is the birthplace of the Rotary Clubs in India. The club in Calcutta later sponsored the setting up of several Rotary Clubs across the country, like the ones in Bombay, Madras and Dhaka,” said Shekhar Mehta, a Calcuttan and president nominee of the Rotary International for 2021-22.

The Rotary International is the umbrella body for all Rotary Clubs across the globe. Mehta, who would be the fourth Indian to become the president of Rotary International, said the movement had spread to 200 countries.

Mark Maloney, the president of Rotary International, said: “Kolkata is the hometown of the first Rotary Club in south Asia. In 1962, an Indian Rotarian became the first president of Rotary International, which also brings me to congratulate Shekhar Mehta, who will be the fourth RI president. We are now in the transition phase, where a fellow Rotarian takes the baton from the previous one.”

The building at Government Place East, opposite Raj Bhavan, where the Rotary Club of Calcutta was born
The Rotary Club of Calcutta was formed at Peliti’s restaurant, a meeting place for the British in the city. The restaurant was in a building at Government Place East, across the road from Raj Bhavan.

Today, the building houses a number of commercial establishments, including an eatery. At the entrance to the building is a plaque that has the name of Federico Peliti, the owner of the restaurant where the Rotary movement was born in India, embossed on it.

A Rotarian said the club was formed following a request from a Rotarian in the US to his friends in Calcutta. “They had met at Peliti’s restaurant in September 1919 and the men from Calcutta were briefed about the activities of the Rotary. The Rotary Club in Calcutta was formed the next year. It was one of the first Rotary clubs in Asia,” said a member of the club.

The club members are proud of their movement’s rich history, heritage and association. Subhojit Roy, a member of the Rotary Club of Calcutta, narrated how excited he was when he came to know that Mahatma Gandhi had spoken at a meeting of the club in 1925. “I was so excited that I am associated with a club that had hosted Gandhi. I read the speech from our archives. Gandhi had spoken about ‘Economic and Spiritual Value of the Charkha’,” said Roy.

A plaque at the building bears the name of Federico Peliti, who had founded the restaurant where the club was set up
“The Rotary Club of Calcutta started as a club for social and business networking,” he said.

Over the years, the Rotary clubs in India came to be associated with several distinguished names. Freedom fighter Surendranath Banerjee was one of the first Indians to be given an honorary membership of the club in Calcutta.

Among other honorary members of the movement across the country were Atal Bihari Vajpayee and J.R.D. Tata. The current honorary members include Ratan Tata and Sachin Tendulkar. Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral was a subscribing member of a Rotary club in Delhi.

For many decades after its formation, the Rotary Club of Calcutta held its meetings in several hotels. The club is now headquartered at Rotary Sadan.

 

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