Chennai Journal
Monday, July 30, 2007
Community Service
On Saturday night I went to the annual meeting of a chapter of the Roundtable movement, a friendship and service group for young men aged 25-40. This chapter has formed an affiliation with a trust that, in cooperation with Ford, runs a health center near our plant, and for the last nine years or so the Roundtable has donated money and sponsored events that have benefited thousands of villagers. A modest and open air clinic, more than 80 people per day from nearby villages come for free treatment, trauma care, and testing. Our employees are not allowed to be treated there, so that care can be focused exclusively on the villagers.

As a movement, Roundtable is another British invention that has blossomed in India. The origin is only indirectly related to the famous Arthurian legend--the movement was inspired by a speech of the Prince of Wales in 1922, exhorting young men to get round the table and "adopt methods that have proved so sound in the past, adapt them to the changing needs of the times and wherever possible, improve them'. The Arthurian legend figures into the concept that all are equal around the table. Each table---the one I attended was #94---has one meeting a month that is purely social and often involves families, and the other is a business meeting. The theme for the India affiliate is "freedom through education" and the various Roundtables have a goal to educate 1,000,000 Indian children through the building of classrooms in primarily rurul areas. Despite the enormous rise of the middle class here, millions and millions of Indian children do not attend school but work from a very young age---so the twin scourges of child labor and illiteracy focus the attention of many service organizations.

Roundtable was founded by a Rotarian, and in fact, many of the young men--who "retire" at 40 to become "square legs" of their chapter, do then join Rotary, which is also a very big organization here---albeit one that accepts women (the spouses of the tablers have their own mirror affiliate, the Ladies' Circle). The tablers clearly have a good time at their meetings---there were nearly 20 speakers including myself at their annual general meeting, including a series of roasts of the outgoing officers. I am not normally a patient person at such gatherings, but it was rather good fun, and the work of the tablers is certainly inspiring.
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