Club History
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The Old Number One

History of Club

The ROTARY CLUB OF CALCUTTA now in its 96th year was organised on the 26th September 1919 and received its Charter on 1st January 1920 (charter No. 587)
At its inception it was the only Rotary club between the English Channel and the South China Seas, there being only two others in Asia, viz. Manila and Shanghai, both organised in 1919 a few months prior to Calcutta.

However Manila became inoperative for four years during World War II and Shanghai having gone out of existence after the 1935 communist takeover, has only recently been granted a provisional status. This makes our club the longest continuing Rotary club in Asia with 95 years of uninterrupted service.
We held our 4500th Regular Weekly meeting on 22-July-2014. Indeed, we can claim to be in existence even before Rotary officially changed its name to "Rotary International” in 1922. We are also one of the few clubs having its unique Presidential badge. The emblem itself depicts in red, the Rotary motto, "Service Above Self". Below is a crown reminiscent of the British legacy of 1919. Two adjutant storks, typical of the Gangetic plains stand guard on either side. Inside are two green palm trees - commonly found in these parts. We see the British Lion insignia in red in between and below it a sailing ship which connected Calcutta with distant shores. At the bottom is the Presidential motto inscribed in Latin, "Per Ardua Stabiles Esto." (Be firm in adversity).

How it all started:

In 1919, an expatriate businessman dealing in Steel R.J. Coombes returned to Calcutta from a business trip to the USA with authority from Rotary Headquarters to organise a club in Calcutta. He had come to know of the establishment of Rotary. He succeeded in interesting a few of his European friends mostly Freemasons, and at a luncheon meeting of some 45 men a formal resolution was passed to organise a Rotary Club.

On September 26th 1919, the first meeting of Rotary Club of Calcutta was held at Peliti's Restaurant with a membership of twenty. The club was granted its Charter on January 1, 1920.

Soon, other clubs were formed in Burma, Ceylon, Malay, Java and Siam. Rotary named the region IBCMJS from 1927 to 1930. This was changed to Middle Asia in 1931 with the Rotary Club of Calcutta becoming the central piece and information centre, which gained it the name of “Old Number One.” Our club bulletin The Chaka became the official bulletin for the area.

In 1927 our club founded the Rotary club of Lahore (now in Pakistan), the second club in India. With the preliminary work done by Old Number One, Hony. Commissioner James W. Davidson of Canada residing in Batavia was able to organise the Rotary clubs of Bombay, Madras and Delhi in 1929. In time our club sponsored many other clubs including Dhaka in 1937 (now the capital of Bangladesh).

When the Four Avenues of Service came into vogue, our club can be proud of suggesting one of the services namely Community Service. Rotary Club of Calcutta has taken full advantage of Rotary ideas and has worked unceasingly in the application of Rotary principles, not only in its members but in its community as well. Be it a project of rural upliftment in the villages of Gangarampur or Begumpur or turning the Garcha basti into a habitable place with health and literacy centres, or in various health projects for control of tuberculosis, cancer, poliomyelitis and hepatitis our club has always been in the forefront rendering service to humanity.

We have in the past engaged ourselves in serving the people of the country be it because of flood, drought, tidal wave or typhoon or be it the outbreak of disease attributable to external aggression, we have always come forward ably supported by our spouses. The Unemployment Relief Fund (1923), Reform by Lecture in the Alipur Jail (1924), Leprosy Prevention Campaign (1925), construction planning of the roadway for the Vivekananda bridge over the Hooghly at Bally (1926), creating the necessity of a bridge (Rabindra Setu) at Howrah (1927) and the construction of the Vagrant’s Home are the results of our endeavour.
Perhaps one of the most valuable ventures was the establishment of the Crippled Children’s Clinic, which for many years was run with great credit and was then handed over to the West Bengal government and today has been incorporated into the B. C. Roy Polio Hospital.
Our club also manages a well-equipped Health Care Clinic (1973) manned by many of the doctor members. Two homeopathy clinics are also under operation. The Annual Children’s Treat has become a historic club event since 1925. Every year orphans and underprivileged children from various parts of the city are treated to a day of fun and sunshine.

If there were clinics for the ill, there were clinics for businesses also, which helped in solving commercial and organizational problems of small business establishments. The members of the club took particular care at the time of calamities and also of the wounded soldiers after the war with Pakistan in 1971. The training of youth and self-employment programmes were also carried out successfully and was adapted by other organizations.

Nitish Chandra Laharry a Past President of our club became the first Asian to hold the high office of the President of Rotary International in 1962-63. In 1991-92 Rajendra Kumar Saboo, the son of T.C. Saboo, a past member of our club became the second Indian RI President.

Some of the outstanding personalities who were members of our club are Sir Surendranath Banerjee, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, Sir Deva Prasad Sarbadhikari, A.F.M. Abdul Ali, Rev. Tom Cashmore who later became President of R.I.B.I.. Dr. A. C. Ukil, Mohammed Ali-former Prime Minister of Pakistan and G. L. Mehta – India’s Ambassador to the USA.

The weekly speakers have come from all walks of life. Some illustrious names are Mahatma Gandhi, Sir C. V. Raman, Sir Stanley Jackson, Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, Mr. Clement Atlee, Dr. B. C. Roy, Pussyfoot Johnson - the crusader against alcoholism, V. V. Giri, Jyoti Basu, Satyajit Ray, President of India Giani Zail Singh, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw, ex Prime Minister I. K. Gujral and many other prominent personalities including Late K. R. Narayanan, the former President of India.

In 1991 the club set up the Rotary Archives and named it after Paul Harris. It contains the club’s priceless records, books, trophies, memorabilia, photos, and articles used by the Late N. C. Laharry. The Rotary Consumer Centre also came up that year to assist with consumer redressals and spread consumer awareness.

In September 1994 the club celebrated its 75th Anniversary. The R.I. President Robert Barth visited the club in January 1994 to take part in the Platinum Jubilee celebrations. The mega event of the club during 1995-96 was of being the local partner of “Heart to Heart International” of Kansas, USA and organising a free airlift of medicines and equipment worth Rs 42 crores to Calcutta for distribution amongst to the poor through some Government and non-Government hospitals.

In early 1997 the splendid Rotary Sadan complex was completed with an auditorium and exhibition halls. The focus is children’s activities. The Nitish Chandra Laharry Children’s Library is housed here with its 15,000 books and more than 800 members. There is also a cultural section where classes on dance, singing and painting are regularly held. A children’s playground on the spacious lawn enables our young visitors to unwind after a hard day in school. The Hall is a beehive of activities with many functions of the district and sister clubs also being organised. A monthly lecture on health subjects has been popular with the public. R.I. Presidents Raja Saboo, Luis Giay (Dec 1998), Carlo Ravizza (Dec 1998) and Frank Devlyn (Dec 1999) during their visits to the Sadan have all praised our efforts. On 13-Aug-2006 RI President William B Boyd visited Rotary Sadan and wrote in the guest book kept in our Club Archives, "A wonderful asset for Rotary." RI President Wilf Wilkinson (2007-08) visited us on 10-Dec-2007 and was happy with our activities for deprived children.

The club is also not lagging in this information age. In 1997 it was the first club in India to install the Clubmate Rotary software (now RI-CAS), a web page was hosted in 1999 and members email group formed. We are slowly in the process of computerizing our activities and building up a database. With the inauguration of an Internet Communications section of the Rotary Archives in 2000, the club has truly moved with the times and stepped over the threshold into the new Information Age.

The new millennium dawned and between 2000 and 2004 the club membership crossed 300 and became 312 on 14 June 2001. It was also during this time that the District awarded us the Best Club Trophy. A hepatitis B immunization programme of 3.500 children were undertaken through a 3-H Grant.

In 2003-04 the Rotary Sadan Complex was completed and the club meeting shifted there from the Oberoi Grand Hotel. A free computer training for indigent students was started as also free English Speaking classes at the Sadan. On the occasion of Rotary's 100 years, the Centennial Bell was displayed in our club. As a Centennial project the club undertook the unique "Flight of Fancy" programme wherein 75 underprivileged children were given a free one hour flight along the Bhagirathi river from Kolkata to the Bay of Bengal