Tomorrow morning I take a 3-hour cab ride from Pune to Bombay and then take a one-hour flight to the delightful Gujarati town of Rajkot. Rajkot has a special place in my heart, as it is the first Indian city I ever visited. I have made life-long friends in Rajkot. Most of them are Rotarians.There is my “big brother” Lal Rathod, a cancer physician with whom I stay every time I’m in Rajkot. I remember meeting Lal in 1997 when he hosted me on a Rotary exchange. He had been widowed a year earlier and was still deeply saddened. Ironically I now know how he felt. His home is large and expansive and named “Lisa” after his daughter, who is a physician in New York. I know every nook and cranny of that home, as well as I know my home in Winona. When I walk in Lal’s house I walk upstairs and put my suitcase in “my” bedroom. Lal and I are very close.
Unlike me, Bakul Rathod is Lal’s real brother. He is always fun and cheerful. Bakul once took me to a big “fair” in Rajkot, where villagers come for a week-long celebration. It was after dark and there must have been 100,000 people on the fairgrounds. We held hands while walking through the amusement ride area (In India adult men that are friends hold hands without any of the stigma associated with similar behavior in the West). All of a sudden a young kid came up to me and started rubbing my arm, as if he was trying to “remove” some white powder from my skin. Bakul explained that the child was probably from a village and had never seen a Caucasian. As such, he wanted to remove my “white powder” to expose my brown skin!
Vikram Sanghani is a real-deal entrepreneur who runs an IT business with hundreds of employees. Vikram is of the Jain religion, which has about 4 million followers in India. Jainism is based on non-violence. Jain cuisine is all vegetarian, excluding onions, garlic and root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and radishes. To kill an animal or to uproot a plant is considered violence, which creates bad karma. The Jain diet almost always guarantees slim, fit people. The health effects are obvious. Vikram is a soft-spoken man who runs a very profitable business He is admired and respected by his employees and fellow business owners.
Last but not least, there is Deepak Agrawal, who manufactures plastic bangles, bangle pipes and acrylic rings. Bangles are really big in India and there is no end to the demand for them in this South Asian country. Deepak is blessed with very good looks and a smile that disarms you immediately. I met Deepak in 2000 when he was the President of a Rajkot Rotary Club. I’ll tell you one thing; if I ever need a container load of bangles I’m buying them from Deepak! His company website is: http://www.banglesindia.com
I seldom attend New Year’s Eve parties, preferring to go to bed when the ball goes down in New York. A rare exception took place at the millennial New Year’s Eve party in Rajkot on December 31, 1999. The party was held in Lal’s front yard under a big tent. There must have been 200 people in attendance, complete with live music and singers. There was concern (Y2K) that a bunch of computers would crash, causing problems throughout the world. When midnight came and the lights didn’t even flicker in Rajkot I called Deb and told her not to worry 12 hours later when New Year’s Eve occurred in Winona. This was a party to remember! Rock on, Rajkot! I’m stoked to see you again!