This year we were accompanied on our immunisation work by “Geoff the Polio Bear”. All of the Rotary clubs in District 1240 were given a Polio Bear by the District Governor. The idea was that he/she would be taken on travels around the world by club members, they would pay the club a fee which would then go to Rotary Foundation for Polio Immunisation, and they would take a picture of him wherever he went.
So Geoff (having adopted the name of our club President) went with us to Terminal 4 to fly to Delhi as an important member of our Polio Immunisation Team and within a few hours he was in India. We had exactly the same difficulties having our fingerprints taken at Delhi Airport as we had last year and it was a very exasperated immigration officer who finally stamped our passports.
Geoff was soon wearing his welcome marigold garland together with the usual insects which infest the garland - a reason why the experienced traveller to India usually takes their garland off as soon as it is polite to do so.
The Friday before the NID starts with selling the very important (and compulsory to wear during the NID)
yellow shirts to those who do not have one, then a briefing from Rotarian Raman Batia
who has led the campaign to eliminate Polio in India for many years. The content of the briefing changes slightly from year to year and this year focused more on the end game for Polio.
One of the challenges for the Bhiwadi group was that overnight our numbers more than doubled. Last year, the groups which went to Karnal and Ludhiana were affected by riots occurring on the road between where they were and Delhi (there is more information on this in the blog for last year).
This year the prospect of more riots during the NID suddenly appeared in the news and whilst they were getting on the plane at Heathrow, the decision was taken not to send them to Karnal but to try to transfer them to Bhiwadi. It is to the credit of all concerned and in particular to the President of the Rotary Club of Bhiwadi, that by the time their plane landed in Delhi, additional hotel rooms had been booked, the coach had increased in size and the vaccination programme in Bhiwadi had been adjusted to accommodate them.
So the two groups found out that they had been combined into one when they were given their destination briefing in Delhi - to their credit they all accepted what had happened without complaint and regarded themselves as one larger than expected group.
Bhiwadi is a growing industrial town about 65 kms (two to three hours drive down and then off National Highway 8) south west of Delhi. We knew very little about the town before we went there other than that its population was in excess of 100,000 (55% male), the predominant language was Hindi. It is also in Rajasthan but only just over the state border with Haryana. They had very successfully hosted an RIBI group the previous year.
On our way there we stopped for lunch at a McDonalds - to many Indians a company which is a symbol of success and the new India although I would have to say that the new India has not yet arrived in many of the places we go to as Polio vaccinators. Being a vegetarian and having suffered their poor offerings for vegetarians in the UK, this would normally have caused me to grimace and say no thank-you.
However, being in a Hindu area, I knew that beef would not be on the menu and therefore there was a greater variety of vegetarian offerings as well as chicken.
The Economist’s BigMac Index says (if I have interpreted it correctly) that even when taking into account the poor performance of the £ against the Rupee after Brexit, when this blog was written, BigMacs were 33% cheaper in India than in the UK. So I splashed out on a Veggie Maharaja Mac Meal (cost 240 rupees or roughly £3)
which is the above plus french fries and a drink. It is impossible to eat politely and therefore I made no attempt so to do. McDonalds also offered the advantages of reliable food hygiene, clean toilets and able to serve 20 people quickly and cheaply.
Awaiting us when we arrived were drums (so loud that I have cut the sound track from a video I took at the time and use it as the ring tone on my phone)
and numerous members of the town’s three Rotary Clubs and its Inner Wheel Club
and much dancing went on
together with garland presentation and marking us individually with a Tilaka as a gesture of welcome before we were allowed into the hotel. I can safely say it was a unique welcome which we have never been given elsewhere and typical of the hospitality we were to experience during this tiring long working weekend.
That evening the Rotary Clubs arranged a reception for us and all of their members and families.
There were speeches (here Geoff is being introduced to them)
Yet more dancing both from professionals
and mutual presentation of brooches and other items, here Pat is afixing an Inner Wheel brooch upon the President of the Inner Wheel Club of Bhiwadi.