Rotary club members recount
movement that took off from
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
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
“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
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