“Ehsaas Hai?” – Do you feel?

"Ehsaas Hai?" – Do you feel? – An interview with Rotarian Mahesh Nihalani.

 That is the name of the concert being hosted by the Rotary Club of Cupertino to support it's Global Polio Eradication program featuring world renowned flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and the famous Bay Area sitarist Pandit Habib Khan. Many people have been working behind the scenes for the success of this project but the Medha Journal would like to acknowledge one man who has been tirelessly promoting the cause to the world – Rotarian Mahesh Nihalani.

Mahesh Nihalani, a jeweler by profession, lives in Cupertino and is very committed to community service. He is a Rotarian and sits on the board of directors of the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce. He is also on the advisory board of the organization for Special Needs Families, Ekal Vidyalaya and the Cupertino Cricket Academy. Mita Das of the Medha Journal met him to learn more about his passion for giving back to the community. Here is an interview in Mahesh's own words.

1. The Rotary Club of Cupertino is hosting a fund-raising concert to support its global polio eradication program. Tell us more about the Polio Plus program and your involvement with it.

Did you know that more 10 million children will be paralyzed in the next 40 years if the world fails to eradicate Polio?

Only four countries are are left with trace of this crippling disease….India is one of them. Polio Plus was started by Rotary in 1985 with a commitment to immunize the worlds children against Polio. To date Rotary has contributed nearly $700 million to this eradication effort, and an amount that will grow to more than $850 million by the time the world is certified as Polio free. Thanks to Rotary and its partners, the number of Polio cases has been slashed in the past two decade by more than 90%, preventing 5m instances of childhood paralysis. But now a strong push is needed to root out Polio once and for all.

My involvement with Polio Plus started early this year when I attended a Rotary District conference in San Jose and had several senior Rortarian mention that final eradication of Polio is the main focus of Rotary and other world health organization for coming three years. This made me and a few of my colleagues think about doing something and we decided along with the support of our club to host a Polio benefit concert called "Ehsaas Hai?" meaning "Do you feel?" presenting the world renowned flautist Pandit Hari Prasad Chauraisia and the famous Bay Area sitarist Pandit Habib Khan.

2. With the introduction of IPV and OPV vaccines, polio has been eradicated from the industrialized nations and most of the developing nations. However, India still has one of the highest incidence rates. What in your opinion is preventing India from reaching the goal of complete eradication?

In the two decade that Polio Plus was introduced in India to eliminate this menace it has been a journey of sacrifice, hardwork, perseverance, and today the incidence of Polio in India has declined by more than 99%. Only two states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are Polio endemic. Nowhere in the world, is the battle to eliminate Polio is as strong as in India. But there are still parents who are ignorant and need to be educated about our campaign against Polio. There still are politicians, bureaucrats, and religious leaders who have to be mobilized for the campaign. Most importantly there are still people who are unaware of Rotary's Polio eradication program.
3. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made a $100 million grant to Rotary with the challenge that Rotary should match the grant dollar to dollar in the next three years. How does Rotary plan to meet this challenge?

Rotary International with nearly 33,000 clubs in over 200 countries and a membership base of over 1.2 million people worldwide needs to contribute just $3000 per club in the next three years to meet its $100 million challenge. To ensure that we are doing our part, the Rotary club of Cupertino has taken the initiative and is hosting this Polio benefit concert in which we hope to raise much more than our $3000 commitment.

4. You are also a board member of the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce. You have been organizing the Diwali festival in Cupertino for the last few years that’s become a major event. How did you make it all happen? And what prompted you to?

In 2000 ,when we moved to Cupertino, I saw that there were a lot of cultural events happening in Cupertino and though there was 5% Indian population we did not have any Indian event to share our culture with the local community. That made me talk to city officials and the chamber C.E.O , and they all agreed and supported the idea of having an Indian cultural event. Since it was just before Diwali time , I spoke with some of my friends and we decided to organize a Diwali Festival in 2003. It was just a three hour event with cultural performances followed by a banquet. It was so well accepted that the chamber and city decided to make it an annual event and each year it grew in size,and today its a full fledged, day long mela, which attracts more than 15,000 people. This mela is made possible with dedication of more than 100 volunteers.

5. Your commitment and dedication to your community is quite evident. What is behind this passion for serving your community? How do you balance your professional and personal life with your interests in community and social service?

Volunteering and community services goes back in my family right to my grandparents and parents, who all believed in service to mankind and so it got imbibed in me. Although I have been involved in community service from a young age , my real passion for this evolved after I suffered a serious stroke in 1997 when I lived in the U.S virgin Islands. I was in rehabilitation and off from work for three months and my wonderful wife ,Kamal, who is a kind and a spiritual person took care of me and talked to me often about life and the goodness you can do. This made me decide that for whatever time I have left in this world I will dedicate a portion of it in serving the community. My family is my first priority and they have been so understanding in my decision to serve the community that it has been a real source of strength for me. So also in business, my partner has understood my desire to serve the community and it has worked out very well.

6. I notice that your personal email has a tag line saying “Kindness is an inner desire that makes us want to do good things even if we do not get anything in return.It is the joy of our life to do them.When we do good things from this inner desire,there is kindness in everything we think,say,want and do.” Would you like to share your philosophy on this with our Medhavis?

The philosophy of my tag line at the bottom of every note form me basically says …. even when what you do is not recognized or reciprocated or appreciated , still you have had the priceless blessing of doing it. If you constantly seek the validation of others, you will often be disappointed. Yet, when you live and love and act, in each moment with the best that you have to give, the real value you create can never be diminished. This evolves into happiness and happiness is the meaning of life, the whole aim of human existence.

7. Anything else you would like to share with us at the Medha Journal?

No good effort is ever wasted, for even if it fails to produce any outer value, the inner value is always there.

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