The New Year had just begun and hope was in the air, that this year would be better than the last. Then on 8th January, just as the new year was getting into its stride, came the sad, even shocking news - Rtn Surya Prakash 'Suri' Bhat had passed away after a brief but intense illness. Two weeks prior to his passing, Surya Prakash Bhat suddenly fell ill and went into a coma due to complications arising from acute diabetes. He was undergoing treatment at the ICU at Yenepoya Hospital, Kodialbail when he passed away. His largely attended funeral was held on January 9th 2020.
It was a sad day for many a Mangalorean, for many an Aloysian, and many a Rotarian, for Rtn Surya Prakash 'Suri' Bhat was all of these and more. Besides his immediate family, Srimathi and two daughters Shruthi and Shravya, many a friend, acquaintances’ even, wept inconsolably that day for he was that kind of person; a friend to all in need of one. During his accomplished life here on earth, he was a renowned city-based tax accountant. He was also a former Rotary District Governor.
Rotary - his life
Surya Prakash Bhat aka Suri was born in Mangalore on 8th May 1957. His early education was from Milagres High School and he graduated from St. Aloysius College. He did his articles under Kamath & Rao, Chartered Accountants. Post that, since 1980, he practised as a Tax Consultant specializing in the fields of Goods & Service Tax (GST) after its implementation.
Suri was an active Rotarian. But before he became a full-fledged Rotarian, he was an active member of the Rotaract Club of Mangalore Central and then joined Rotary Club of Mangalore in 1989. After holding various positions at the club level and the district level including Rotary District Secretary during the year 1995-96, he became club President of Rotary Club of Mangalore during its Golden Jubilee year in 1999-2000. For Suri, because of his abilities and personality, the sky was the limit. He rose to the position of District Governor of RI Dist. 3180 during 2003-2004. At the time of his death, he was a member of the Rotary District Advisory Council.
He attended the Rotary International Conventions at Singapore in 1999, at Denmark/Sweden in 2006 and New Orleans, USA in 2011, and Sydney, Australia in 2014. He initiated unique District Projects like “Sanjeevini” – Students Parents Insurance Scheme, “Jeeva” Highway Ambulance Project, mid-day Meal for students of 6th & 7th Std children, Mobility Training Centre for the Blind etc.
During his District Governorship of RI Dist.3180, the District topped the world in membership development with 15 new clubs and 852 new members. He represented the Dist.3180 to Council on Legislation (decision-making body of Rotary International) at Chicago, USA during 2006-07. He was also awarded a “Citation for Meritorious Service” by the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International in recognition of his devoted efforts for the furthering of better understanding and friendly relations of peoples of the world.
He was also awarded “The Service above Self” citation of the Rotary International for the year 2011. He was the coordinator for Zone 6A & 6B covering around 12 countries for Literacy Programme of R.I for the year 2006-07. He was the Chairman of the Dist. Trainers Training Programme at the Rotary Institute 2017-18 at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
But though the Rotary movement was a big part of his life, Suri was active in many other organizations - both social and commercial. He served as the Treasurer and Secretary of Kanara Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Mangalore. He also was a Member of Finance & Banking Committee of FICCI, New Delhi; Member of Advisory Board, Department of Commercial Taxes as well as of Customs & Central Excise. He was one of the founders of The Karavali Automotive Sports Club, Mangalore and a Trustee of Shri Somanatha Temple, Someshwar, Mangalore.
His social activity list does not end there - He regularly anchored programmes like “Janadhwani”, a programme which highlighted problems of the common man, Elections Special and Budget Analysis on a local TV Channel.
Here is what Isaac Vas, the current President of the Kanara Chamber of Commerce and Industry had to say on his passing.
"It’s hard to say goodbye to you, Suri. How can we say good-bye to someone who has been an integral part of our lives for so many years? How do we reconcile ourselves to the heart-breaking reality that you no longer are with us? We feel cheated that you were taken away from us ahead of your time. We are in pain that you left, without a goodbye. Yet we are grateful that you were a part of our lives. We will miss your quick wit that was inimitable. We will miss your wise counsel. We will miss the motivation that you gave us when we were down. We will miss your leadership when we were lost. We will miss your never-say-die attitude, your indomitable spirit. The solutions you had for every problem. The causes you stood for and the challenges you took, to achieve what seemed impossible. More than all, we will miss the glow you brought around by your very presence.
You taught us that the most important part of life was the people in it. Just a few months back after our regular Rotary meeting, we were sitting and having a few beers; which we did every Thursday, for long years. We were talking about community service, politics, religion, business and our lives. When it came to life and philosophy, your oft-repeated statement in native tulu was - live your life in a way that when you are no more, you have at least four people besides you to carry your mortal remains. Not just four dear Suri, today you have the shoulders of a thousand to hold you. You have graced our lives more than you will ever know. You taught us never to be ashamed of the scars; they were reminders of us being warriors. They made us stronger. God bless you and take you in his fold. Rest in peace my dear friend. You will always be remembered as the lion of Rotary."
A good friend to all
Maya Angelou, an American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist said thus: 'I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel", and Suri, made people feel good. There were and are no second thoughts about it. His infective smile and humour, brought joy to many who were fighting their own battles even as he fought his own with Diabetes. He was sweet, even while the sweetness was hurting him on the inside. This is what his classmate and friend wrote about him in his tribute on Mangalorean.com.
"I write this tribute with great sadness over the unimaginable loss of a close friend to diabetes illness. He fought a brave and strong battle for a while but seems like the disease would not allow him to get better. He took each day in stride, never really complaining, always feeling in a good mood and interacting with Rotarians and friends jovially and socially. Prolonged diabetes may take away the joy we have from having these people with us on this earth longer than if they didn’t have that sickness. But Suri's illness couldn’t dim his smile. And what a peculiar smile it was! He was a man of humour and always jovial while interacting with whomsoever he meets. Everything good, everything wholesome, everything pure about manhood was found in his unique smile and humour".
A good friend and Rotarian too Dr Ravishankar Rao, Prof. of English at the Mangalore university echoed Alfred's sentiments. "Friends, a great tree of Rotary has bowed in the breeze in all its majesty in the silence of the evening. Our dear Suri is no more. Our Rotary world is poorer by his absence and richer by his inspiration. We are blessed that we came into his light. We learnt much from his diligence and dedication, his forthright responses, his sense of uprightness, and his staunch commitment to the cause. And we were always bowled over by his robust sense of humour, his ability to look at the sunny side of life. And we have a great responsibility to carry forward his illustrious legacy. Farewell, dear Suri, we will miss you, but you shall always be with Rotary, cheering us on our way. Farewell, dear friend, fare thee well... With heartfelt condolences and prayers that God will grant his family, including his Rotary family, the strength to bear this great loss with fortitude, from me and all of us here at the Rotary Club of Deralakatte, adieu, Suri, adieu, Om Shanthi"
Vinod D'Souza another Rotarian, was deeply saddened by his loss. He told me that his association with Suri went all the way back to 1985. "It was in 1985 that I joined Rotaract club Mangalore central with Suri as the President. From then on up to his hospitalisation he has been a friend philosopher & guide. I had the pleasure of working with him as district secretary as the Chairman of Marc 86 district Rotaract conference. It was in 2000 again with Suri as the golden jubilee president that I joined Rotary Club of Mangaluru. I resigned after a couple of years due to personal reasons. Again in 2013, I joined Rotary Club of Mangaluru. On both the occasions I had the pleasure & privilege of having my membership proposed by Rtn Suri. He was the tallest Rotary leader from the Southern Zone.
Not only was he a king himself he was also a kingmaker. It was well known in our Rotary district that if one wants to be a governor of our district he had to do Surya namaskar and obtain the blessings & support of Suri. Goodbye, my friend. You have gone ahead to a better place filled with the values of Rotary you loved".
His life can best be summed up in the words of Mary Angelou: "My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return".
Those of us who knew him, those of us who didn’t, we can all learn from him - the way he lived his life - full of positivity and hope till his last breath. Let that be his legacy for all of us. May his soul rest in peace.
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